Wednesday, December 15, 2010

embracing change

Though life is very happy for us here, all of us are excited about the changes ahead.  I have the "itch" to clean out closets and get rid of as much as possible so that we can more easily stage and sell our house in the spring.  Eliana is totally on board.  (And Danny wonders why we kept it all in the first place!)  Emma is usually a "saver," but she did us a favor by puking on her whole box of old coloring books last night, making it much easier to part with them.

Easton (age 2-1/2) is showing his own unique version of flexibility.  Yesterday he announced that he was poopy. 
I said, "Well, let's go in your room and I'll change you."
He said (enthusiastically), "Change me A LOT, Mom!"


I can hardly keep track of the cute things the kids say.  Tonight Easton told me, "Mom, my throat hurts.  Can you put some cream on it?"

And I overheard Emma (age 5) in the living room teaching Easton the difference between "opaque," "transparent," "fluid," and "viscuit" (that's viscous).  Her kindergarten teacher is obviously doing a great job!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Recently Danny offered to help me fill out financial aid forms for the various schools where I've applied.  I was so glad to be able to work on it together because, quite frankly, I would have no clue where to begin.  One school asked for detailed figures that would give them a picture of where we are at financially.  I took a deep breath and read Danny the list.  "First we need to know the total cash, checking, savings, and other liquid assets. Then we need investments, stocks, and IRA's."  I settled in for a long wait while he calculated all this information.  Less than 10 seconds elapsed before he had the answer.  Seriously.  See, it pays to be married to an accountant!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Handel would be so pleased...

Even more powerful than seeing Handel's Messiah performed live is our new all-time favorite video clip.

If you're not one of the 18 million people who have already watched it (or, more likely, the 6 million who have watched it over and over ...), the five minutes that you spend watching it may be the most inspiring of the whole season.

Perhaps like me, you didn't realize that Handel had retired from composing before he wrote the Messiah.  He felt his career was over.  He had nothing left to give.  But when Dublin commissioned him to write the Messiah, the Spirit of God took over, giving him the gift of music so breathtaking that we are still listening 279 years later.  Handel had a special concern for orphans, for those on the streets of his city who needed to know what Jesus had accomplished for them.  I think that's what grabs me each time I watch this video.  The message of the Messiah is not meant merely to echo within the walls of cathedrals.  Handel would have wanted it to echo up every street and down every alley ... or, uh food court.  Real life meets really good news.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

a tale of two performances

Eliana and I watched two holiday performances this month.

The first was the Nutcracker Ballet, which we attended with her 4th grade class.  It was the first time either of us had seen it.  One of her classmates danced as an angel and a soldier in the ballet.  While everyone did a good job, and some of the dancing was truly amazing, I left with a sort of hollow feeling about the overall storyline.  A girl who is rather ill-tempered gets lots of presents on Christmas, falls asleep, and dreams that her toys have come alive.  Did I miss something?

The second performance was Handel's Messiah, which we attended last night at a church across town.  The 2-1/2 hour free concert included not only a live orchestra flanked by hundreds of choir members, but also a dramatization of Handel's life as he wrote the oratorio.  Screens overhead displayed the words straight from Scripture that serve as the lyrics to Handel's masterful compositions.  Eliana and I were both mesmerized.

I have always loved Handel's Messiah and listen to it every year, but this was the first time either of us had heard it performed live from start to finish.  I had no idea that Handel wrote the oratorio as a commission by the city of Dublin to raise money for the care of orphans and widows.  That made the music richer than ever. Another surprise was hearing that Handel himself came to a real faith in Jesus as the Messiah while writing this music.  The passion that gripped him them was so evident as we listened.  Eliana and I left with hearts full of gratitude for God's gift to us in Jesus, and for such a deeply meaningful evening together. 

If you ask me, the Nutcracker doesn't hold a candle to the Messiah!

lasts and firsts

Yesterday was my last day of class on campus at Gordon-Conwell.  Wow.  It's been 4 1/2 great years of learning!  I still have one more course to take via Semlink (GCTS' distance learning), and I'll be writing my thesis in January.  Then I'm done with my MA in Biblical Studies!

Yesterday was also a first.  I handed in my final paper on Friday night at 9:30 pm.  Dr. Brown handed it back to me, graded, at 9:00 am the next morning.  That has got to be a new world record!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

blind spots

There are certain things we will simply never be able to see until someone brings them to our attention.  The global slave trade for one.  But there are other issues closer to home, like the barriers we erect for people with disabilities to function as full members of our communities.  And racial inequalities.  And other things.

When I showed up for the meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society last month in Atlanta, I wondered if I had made a mistake.  It looked more like men's retreat than anything else!  One participant joked that he had arrived at "White Males R Us."  I can count on my fingers the number of African-American attendees I saw over the course of 3 days.  And there seemed to be fewer women than last year.  In a crowd of 2500, I would be surprised if there were 250 women.  As confident as I am, my instinct was to head back home.  But what was obvious to me was not so obvious to everyone.

In the first session I attended I met a nice, white, balding man who teaches at a seminary not far from here.  At the end of our conversation he said, "Well, maybe I'll see you around."  I replied cheerfully, "I'll be pretty easy to spot!"  He looked confused.  "What do you mean?"  I quickly explained, "Well, I am a woman."  He frowned at that and insisted, "There are lot of women at ETS!"  I simply raised my eyebrows, surprised, and said nothing.  I watched as he turned in his chair and scanned the entire room.  His eyes changed as the realization washed over his face.  "Oh!  I see what you mean!"

Until we can put ourselves in someone else's shoes and see things through their eyes, we will never notice the ways we are complicitly contributing to their exclusion.  And as long as disparities of race or gender exist, we have not entered fully into the new creation realities made possible at the cross:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

May our friendships, our communities, our churches, and even our theological societies move towards a greater reflection of God's design for redeemed humanity.

Monday, December 6, 2010

27 million reasons

I was startled yesterday to learn that there are more slaves today than at any other time in human history.

27 million of them

And we can sit back and be glad that we were born free and that slavery was abolished from our nation a long time ago... or we can decide that we are not willing for any human being to be exploited on our watch.  We have 27 million reasons to take action.

I'm grateful to be part of a church that is willing to do something about it.  Our services for the entire month of December are devoted to the issue of the global slave trade.  And two of our offerings, including Christmas Eve, will be given entirely to the International Justice Mission.

That's cool, but it's not enough.  IJM has freed 1000 slaves so far.  But 200 people a day, many of them children, are captured and forced into slavery.  The sex industry is one of the largest forced labor industries in the world.  A growing demand for younger women has meant that girls as young as 8 are forced to work as prostitutes.

I'm not ok with that.  Are you?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

of apple trees and other miracles

Easton has undergone a language explosion in the past month.  In a two-week span of time he literally went from caveman grunts to full sentences.  His comprehension has always been good, but his entire vocabulary was under 40 words, many of which were names.  He lacked a lot of the basics, like "ball," "truck," "please" and even "Easton."  About 3 weeks ago he started picking up new words every 10 minutes or so.  Literally.  Very quickly he was stringing them into sentences, complete with prepositional phrases, proper verb tense, and good enunciation.  Amazing.  We've had the sheer delight of hearing what is going on in his little mind and heart. 

His favorite prepositional phrase is "at the beach," and he says it in a low and serious voice. Lots of things in his world happen "at the beach": "I like pumpkin pie at the beach!" We did go to the beach in October, but I assure you there was no pumpkin pie. I'm not sure how the association got made, but I suspect it was simply the delight of making the sentence even longer.

Yesterday we stepped into church, where beautiful Christmas trees were decorated with red and silver balls.  "Mom, look!" Easton exclaimed. "An apple tree!"  He was mesmerized.  And yes, it did look an awful lot like the apple trees in his favorite book (never mind that it was a different species of tree).

This afternoon we were baking Christmas cookies and he kept asking in his adorable little voice: "Mom, can I please have a little, tiny bit of dough to eat?"  It was very, very hard to say no, but when I did he would ask, with an irresistible sparkle in his eyes, "Mom, can I have it a little later?"  I must say that such a precious miracle as this called for a bit more cookie dough than usual.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

how does a poem mean?

The intellectual highlight of my time at ETS/SBL in Atlanta was the Sunday morning session on the Theology of Hebrew Poetry.  An outstanding line-up of scholars presented papers and responses on the topic of how Hebrew poetry conveys theology. It's common, I think, to assume that we have to rely on the prosaic sections of Scripture for our theology (the Old Testament law, for example, or Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, or Paul's letter to the Romans).  This group of scholars explored the ways in which poetry makes a distinctive contribution to theology.

John Goldingay, of Fuller Theological Seminary, suggested that poetic metaphors make it possible to say things that are difficult to express otherwise.  He said, "Poetry makes it possible to describe the indescribable." At the same time, the genius of poetry is that it obscures things.  It makes people think and yield before they fully understand. Difficulties in the text are sometimes deliberate, requiring readers to wrestle with the message.

Andrea Weiss, from Hebrew-Union College, also talked about metaphors.  She focused on cases where mixed metaphors are used to describe God (for example, see Isa 42:13-14, where God is like a warrior and a woman in labor).  She concluded that no one metaphor alone can capture what needs to be communicated about God.  When metaphors are mixed, it sparks our attention and invites our consideration, delight, and surprise.

Julia O'Brien, from Lancaster Theological Seminary, gave the most thought-provoking address. She spoke about the poetry of the Old Testament prophets. The style itself is violent, disruptive and jarring, seeking to shock the reader into new insights about our inscrutable God. Poetry obscures reality, yet translators and commentators try to smooth out and soften it, making the text more coherent. O'Brien urged us to stop trying to tame the Bible, and to enter the fray and experience it the way it was written.  She says that the prophets, by jarring us from our complacency, show us the absolute power of Yahweh.

After a semester of translating Hebrew poetry, I can say that O'Brien is right. The poetry of the Old Testament is jarring.  Short, choppy lines with hardly any connecting words, bizarre metaphors and rapid changes of subject are the norm.  I have always loved the prophets for their boldness and willingness to say what is unpopular because the Spirit of Yahweh burns within them.  Perhaps we do a disservice to the readers of Scripture when we try to tame the text so it can be clearly understood.  We are meant to wrestle with its message, bitter though it may be, so that we can know the will of God.  He is serious about sin and not interested in mincing words.  God is love, but he is also holy, and we cannot have one without the other. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

a divine appointment

Last year at ETS I experienced a rapid succession of divine appointments for 3 days straight.  This year felt different because I did a lot of leg work ahead of time to set up appointments with 10 different scholars.  That pretty much filled my schedule, but I prayed that God would orchestrate any other run-ins that I ought to have while I was there.  One of my most treasured divine appointments was with Edsar.

My roommates and I had headed to the mall next door to grab a quick lunch between conference papers.  The food court was packed, and there was simply no way to find 3 seats together that were not directly beside other people eating.  So the 3 of us sat side-by-side across the table from a young man who was eating Chick-fil-A for lunch.  He smiled and noticed our name tags.

"Are you all here for the theology thing going on at the Hilton?"

"Yes, we are."

"Can you tell me what it is?  I mean, like who comes to it?  Is it something for Christians?"

This started a lengthy conversation about theology.  Edsar had a few questions about the Bible that he had been saving up for just such an occasion.  He wanted to know how we got the books in the Bible that we have, and if anything might have been left out.  He was curious how the decisions were made.  Brittany, my conference roommate from Wheaton, did a great job explaining the process of canonization.  Then, under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, she asked Edsar a question:

"May I ask what prompted you to start thinking about these issues?"

It was the perfect question.  We had both assumed that his questions stemmed from bestselling books like The DaVinci Code or some prime time fixation with the "Lost Gospels."  They had not.  Edsar opened up to us, sharing that he had grown up in the church but had recently come to terms with the fact that he is gay.  He knows what the Bible says about homosexual behavior, and he still believes it should be our authority, but he is wrestling deeply with the questions about God.

"How could a loving God create me like this, and then condemn me for it?"

It was a moment drenched in grace.  We all felt it.  Brittany and I affirmed him as a man created in God's image, and that his question is both deeply personal and very important.  We expressed that all of us are affected by our "fallenness" in different ways.  Some are tempted in areas of anger, some by heterosexual lust, some by gluttony. Homosexual behavior is no worse than other areas of sin.  People feel strong desires to do many things that are contrary to God's will.  Desire is not an indication of the rightness of a behavior. 

I told him that we had wrestled in similar ways as women who loved the Bible and felt a strong pull to teach it.  The Bible clearly states that women should not teach, and I have often asked, "God, why would you give me such a strong desire to teach the Bible if I'm not allowed to do it?"  It's a question that cuts to the core of our gender, our identity, and our search to find our place in the grand scheme of things.

Because he was an intelligent guy who would not be put off by an academic book, I recommended one that has been helpful to me: Slaves, Women and Homosexuals by William Webb.  Webb looks at all three issues (slavery, women's roles, and homosexuality) as they are presented in Scripture and concludes that we must follow the trajectory of Scripture beyond what the Bible actually says.  Because the Bible was written to particular people in a particular cultural setting, we cannot assume that the specific prohibitions are timeless or that behavior found in the Bible should always be emulated. This could be a problematic approach in other areas, but with these three issues Webb's conclusions are sound. 
  • The Bible does not condemn slavery outright, but it was right for us to outlaw it. 
  • The Bible says explicitly that women shouldn't teach, but we are right to affirm women as teachers, even of men.  (If you want to know why you'll have to read the book.  This is a post about homosexuality, not slavery or women!)
  • Homosexuality, though, is unilaterally condemned in Scripture.  There is no 'movement' or 'trajectory' that would allow for a change in position on this issue.  About the time that Paul wrote the books of Romans, homosexuality was being exalted as the epitome of love,  yet he is clear that it is contrary to God's will (see Romans 1).
I hope that we communicated this in as loving and gentle way as possible.  We encouraged him that this is his own journey, and that he would have to wrestle with the issues for himself.  Each of us is on a journey to become more like Jesus, and the process of becoming more like him can be painful.  Brittany urged him to bring his questions right to God and seek out his answers.  We told him we'd be praying for him.  And we did, on our way back to the hotel.  We just couldn't go another step without praying for that dear brother who was willing to give us a glimpse into his soul.  It was a great reminder that the study of theology has a huge bearing on everyday life.  May each of us have many more divine appointments such as this one.

Friday, November 26, 2010

the good bishop himself

I saw and spoke with many outstanding scholars during my time at the ETS and SBL annual meetings in Georgia, but the highlight was Sunday afternoon.  Marianne Meye Thompson and I were headed to have lunch together.  (Dr. Thompson is a professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.  She is quite well known herself in the 'Biblical Studies' crowd as an expert on John's gospel and has published many books.  We were meeting so that I could learn more about Fuller's PhD program.)  She turned aside for a moment to shake hands with a good friend.  It was none other than N.T. Wright. 

"Tom" Wright is the former Bishop of Durham for the Anglican Church, now a research professor at St. Andrews University in Scotland.  He is the author of 64 books and has spoken innumerable times to large crowds of people, both in person and on T.V.  He was the main speaker for both ETS (where 2500 were gathered) and the Institute of Biblical Research, which met Friday evening between the conferences.  Though IBR only has 400 members, 1000 people filled the room to hear Bishop Wright speak on "The Kingdom and the Cross."  You may remember my trip to Wheaton College back in April where N.T. Wright's work was the focus of discussion for the over 1000 people who had gathered.  In addition to all of these honors, N.T. Wright also has the distinction of being the only non-fiction author whose books appear on both of our bedside tables.  I told him so.

I had rehearsed a few short lines in case I had the pleasure of meeting him (and since I was just 3 feet away I was not going to let the opportunity slip by!).  His work has made a profound impact on my thinking about the Bible and about Jesus.  I've read at sections of Jesus and the Victory of God, Following Jesus: Reflections on Biblical Discipleship, Paul in Fresh Perspective, and Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. Danny's men's group has also benefitted from his work, reading both Simply Christian and Following Jesus together.  It is a rare author who can significantly impact the world of biblical scholarship and at the same time speak deeply to the hearts of the average Christian.  For his academic audience he is known as "N.T.", while he publishes at a popular level as "Tom."  Bishop Wright, more than any other author, has nurtured both of us in our spiritual journey and enlivened our conversations about God, the Bible, and theology.  It was an honor to be able to thank him personally for the way he has brought fresh insight to our study of God's Word.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

mental marathon

I reached the finish line Monday just before midnight, following 6 long days of meetings in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) had their annual meetings back-to-back at adjacent hotels downtown.  I spent about 12 hours each day listening to scholars present papers reflecting their latest research, meeting with potential PhD supervisors from the five schools to which I've applied, and meeting friends new and old.  My roommates and I stayed up late into the night talking and woke up early each morning to get ready for a new day.  It was mentally intense, but emotionally exhilarating.

Imagine you are visiting the baseball hall of fame and you discover, much to your surprise, that all of the baseball greats who are still alive are gathered there.   As you walk the halls your jaw drops when you see the name tags of all your favorite players, just inches away.  You have complete freedom to mingle with them, and if you're brave enough you can strike up a conversation.  That's what ETS and SBL are like for a young biblical scholar.  I was surrounded by the men and women who had shaped my thinking in so many ways, and had shaped the thinking of my professors, and now I was seeing them face to face.  James Kugel. Karen Jobes. Daniel Block. Richard Hays. Frank Theilman. Alan Culpepper. Joel Green. Patrick Miller. Thomas Schreiner. Marianne Meye Thompson. Seyoon Kim. Peter Martens. John Goldingay. Eugene Merrill. Erhard Gerstenberger. J. Ross Wagner. Andreas Kostenberger. Rikk Watts. Craig Keener. Grant Osborne. Walt Kaiser. Paul House. Jeff Tigay. Sandra Richter. Bernard Levinson. David Pao. John Oswalt. (Eliana is watching me type and she says you get the idea...)  It felt like a living bibliography.

There's no way to capture even just an overview of what I learned in my blog, but I'm hoping to tell you about a few of the things that stood out to me during my six days.  So stay tuned...!

profoundly grateful

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of them all. Not because of the event it commemorates, but because it's the least commercialized and the one most conducive to reflecting on God's goodness to us. Every year we sit together as a family and read Deuteronomy 8 and Psalm 100. Then we make a list of all the things for which we are thankful. It's always easy to fill a page. This year as the candlelight flickered, I wrote these blessings at the top of my list:
  • three precious children who are learning so quickly and growing up so nicely
  • a whole team of professors, mentors, parents, and friends who have encouraged me on my journey
  • a wonderful husband who has given me wings to fly and supported me all the way
I never imagined that I would have the blessing of being a mom and a student at the same time.  It's been such a gift!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

peace in the storm

The pace of life is rather dizzying these days. Between school schedules for 3 kids, housework, schoolwork, PhD applications, and preparations to attend the annual conferences of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society for Biblical Literature in a couple weeks, I hardly know whether I'm coming or going. Your plate may be full of other things, but I'm guessing you know the feeling.

It hit me this morning that finding peace in the midst of a crazy schedule is a lot like childbirth. During labor the goal is to breathe deeply, relax completely, and stay focused ... precisely when the pain and pressure are so great that you know you can't keep going for another minute and you think you might die. It's a very real challenge to keep our eyes on Jesus when life is hectic, but it's the most important battle we fight. Allowing stress to build and panic to set in only adds to the burden.

We serve a God who is fully in control, even when we feel out of control. He is never overwhelmed, never stressed, and never worried.

"Happy is the one who fears Yahweh,
who finds great delight in His commands...
Surely he (or she!) will never be shaken ...
He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in Yahweh...
His heart is secure, he will have no fear." - Psalm 112

Take a deep breath. Relax. God is on the throne.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Psalm 24

The Psalms are beautiful in English; they are stunning in Hebrew.

Hebrew poetry is laid out in exquisitely balanced lines where several components work together to give the sense that the second line belongs somehow with the first and enhances its meaning.  Biblical poetry doesn't have rhyme, rhythm, or meter (the way we think of it), but it is artistically captivating.  If you have studied Hebrew (or if you haven't but are highly motivated), I highly recommend two books on the subject: The Idea of Biblical Poetry by James Kugel, and The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism by Adele Berlin.  Both were very, very helpful to me.

I've immersed myself in Psalm 24 this week, writing an exegesis paper on it.  Here is my translation, with a few notes on what has stood out to me.

Psalm 24
1 Of David, A song.

The earth and its fullness (are) Yahweh’s,
the world and those dwelling in it.
2 Because he himself laid its foundation upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.

Yahweh is the God of the whole earth.  This is remarkable, because other nations of that day claimed to have their own deity, specific to their region.  Israel declares that her God is the Lord of the whole earth.
Why does the whole world belong to Yahweh?  Simple.  He made it!
He subdued the chaos of nothingness and made a place we can inhabit.

3 Who may go up on the mountain of Yahweh?

And who may stand in his holy place?
(One who has) clean hands and a pure heart
who does not lift up my soul to vanity
and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will carry a blessing from Yahweh
and righteousness from his saving God.
6 This (is the) generation seeking him,
the seekers of your face. Jacob. Selah.

How, then, can those who are citizens of this world made by Yahweh please Him? We must have clean actions and pure motives.  What we say we will do, we must do. That is the kind of person Yahweh blesses.  The descendents of Jacob, the deceiver, are unlikely candidates, but God delights in new beginnings!  Take note that the one who ascends is not bowing in worship but standing, perhaps making a request.  Those who want their prayers to be heard need to be this kind of person.

7 Lift up your heads, O gates

and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
so the glorious king may come in.
8 Who is this glorious king?
Yahweh, strong and mighty;
Yahweh, mighty (in) battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates,
and lift up, O ancient doors,
so the glorious king may come in.
10 Who is he then – this glorious king?
Yahweh of armies;
He (is) the glorious king. Selah.

Most commentators suppose that this section of the Psalm is a liturgy celebrating the bringing of the ark of God into Jerusalem.  If they are right, Yahweh would have been seated above it with his feet resting on the cherubim.  The gates would certainly have needed to 'lift their heads' for God to fit through! 

But here's my nagging question, and none of the commentaries are asking it.  David asks who may ascend the hill of the Lord (i.e. Jerusalem), and describes the kind of righteous person who is allowed to stand in the presence of God.  Next we see Yahweh Himself making the ascent and entering the city.  Is this to suggest that He alone is righteous?  Does this hint that He will have to be the answer to the quest for a righteous person who can intercede for the people?  If so, David's song points forward to the New Testament (see John 12:12-16).

N. T. Wright says this: "Jesus' prophetic vocation thus included within it the vocation to enact, symbolically, the return of YHWH to Zion." (Jesus and the Victory of God, 653)

Lift up your heads, O Gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the glorious king - JESUS - may come in!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

lessons from little house

We're transitioning to a new form of family entertainment.  After watching 9 full seasons of Little House on the Prairie, we're moving on to Christy.  No show is perfect, but there are a lot of things I liked, and will miss, about Little House:
  • Pa.  He reminds me of my Dad.  Strong.  Wise.  Caring.  Courageous.  A good, hard worker who can do just about anything. And lots of dark, curly hair.
  • Real life issues.  If it's been awhile since you've seen Little House you may remember it as a squeaky clean show.  Not so.  Little House deals with all sorts of gnarly issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, adoption, revenge, child abuse, physical and mental illness, gambling, natural disasters, and deep-seated unforgiveness.  Through it all the Ingalls' kids learn honesty, forgiveness, perseverance, and the importance of faith.
  • Laura.  There was something special about watching her grow from a toothy little "half pint of cider all drunk up" to a young woman with grace, dignity, spunk, courage, and a whole lot of her pa's wisdom.  Incidentally, Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura all those years, now plays Ma on Broadway.  I like that.
  • Mr. Edwards.  I'm so glad they brought him back for the last season.  He's so rough around the edges, not at all refined, but knows just what to say when it needs sayin'.  And he's not afraid to love.
  • A close-knit family.  The Ingalls family had their challenges, but they were committed to each other.  How unusual to have such healthy family dynamics onscreen for all to see.  They faced a lot of real life, but they did it side-by-side.
  • No commercials. 
It's been a fun tradition to pop a huge batch of popcorn on Sunday evenings and watch Little House together.  It took us about four years to get through all nine seasons.  Now that's a lot of popcorn!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

theological interpretation

Joel Green, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, wrote an article back in 2004 that I just discovered this afternoon.  It's called "Practicing the Gospel in a Post-Critical World: The Promise of Theological Exegesis" (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47 no 3 S 2004, p 387-397).  Since I'm in the biblical studies orbit, the terms "theological exegesis" or "theological interpretation" are not new to me, but I found Green's explanation of it very helpful and I thought you might, too.

Green says that the main hurdle to overcome in understanding the Bible is not the historical distance between me and the text (i.e. the 2000-year gap), but the theological distance between belief and unbelief.  Because the Scriptures are written for the benefit of the people of God, in order to truly understand them we must be part of the believing community.

This is huge!  Do you have any idea how many schools offer a doctorate in biblical studies but ask students to leave their faith at home?  There is a sense in most university settings that faith clouds our ability to read the Bible objectively.  To be scholarly, faith must be put aside.  This has been a sobering part of the search for PhD programs, but an important issue to think through.  I agree that faith is a biased perspective from which to read the Bible, but un-faith is no less biased!  And those who bar faith from the classroom end up with skewed interpretations of the Bible because the Bible was intended for the faith community!  So ... three cheers for schools where faith is integral to the learning process and professors who are brave enough to say it publically!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

raising MMK's

When I was a kid, I really wanted to be an MK (missionary kid).  Unfortunately, this isn't something you can choose for yourself.  Your parents have to do it.  And, try as I might, I couldn't talk them into sub-saharan Africa.  So I was an MMK (missions-minded kid) instead.  At about 8 years of age I remember a missionary couple speaking at our church.  They fed us African stew and showed us slides of their work in Sierra Leone.  And then they challenged us to commit our lives to helping others hear the good news.  I distinctly remember thinking it over in a matter of moments and realizing, 'Hey!  I don't have other plans.  I could be a missionary!'  A few years later, in junior high, my Bible teacher asked us to memorize Matthew 28:18-20.  That was the beginning of a two-week period of time where that passage followed me everywhere I went.  We went to two different churches that Sunday, one in the morning and one at night.  In both churches the same passage was read.  I would open a Bible and it would fall open to that reference.  I would open a hymnal and my eyes would land on it.  I would turn on the radio and hear a song about it.  I couldn't get away from the sense that God was calling me to "go and make disciples."

As a teenager I devoured everything I could get my hands on that related to missions - biographies, magazines, newsletters - and poured over brochures about summer mission trips.  It was all I could think about.  I headed to Venezuela and Panama in 1992 and 1993 respectively, sharing the gospel with a bunch of other crazy teenagers using drama.  {Note: My parents may not have been called to go themselves, but they were tremendously supportive of my own desire to go.  Imagine putting your 14-year-old on a plane to Latin America without knowing anyone else who was going!}  And then I headed to Bible College to learn the skills that I would need as a missionary.  If you've known us for a while, you know that Danny and I did end up as missionaries.  We lived in the Philippines from 2002-2005 reaching out to several minority tribal groups there.  Eliana - our first MK - was almost 2 when we arrived and 4 when we left.  I loved it that she was experiencing another language and culture at such a young age.  Our second MK was conceived shortly before we returned to the States.  And though we are in the US, we are still serving as missionaries with SIM.  So technically speaking, we have 3 MK's.

But this week I had a startling realization.  (Don't ask me why it took so long).  We are living a normal, American life.  Our children attend public school.  We buy groceries at Wal-mart.  We own a house and 2 cars.  And on nice evenings we ride bikes in the cul-de-sac.  Though they have far more ethnic diversity in their classroom than I ever did, I'm not sure if they really "get" missions.  It's probably not fair to call them MK's.  Weird.

So on Wednesday evening I pulled out a map and spread it across the living room floor.  We put stars on all the places where we know people who are working full-time to tell others about Jesus.  Very, very cool.  They loved it.  Eliana and I are currently reading a great book by Joanne Shetler: And the Word Came With Power.  It's the story of Joanne's life as a missionary among the Balangao people of the Northern Philippines.  Joanne translated the Bible into Balangao and watched God transform an entire people group from fear to faith.

I'd like to be more intentional about praying together for missionaries, too.  Just because I read newsletters and pray, doesn't make our kids MMK's.  I want them to grow up knowing how important it is for the good news to be shared with all nations.  And I would love it if they wanted to be part of making it happen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a beautiful thing

There's nothing more beautiful than to watch someone doing just what God created them to do.

We spent 5 wonderful hours with our friend, Mindy, yesterday.  She absolutely exudes the joy of the Lord.  Just being in the same room is inspiring!  Mindy is one of only 10 foreigners living in a city of over 400,000 people in the developing world.  For her, all of life has one purpose: introducing others to Jesus.  Like the apostle Paul, she doesn't want to build on another man's foundation.  So she has her sights set on moving to another city, one where no foreigner has ever lived.  Her eyes sparkle as she tells us one story after another of recent opportunities to share her faith.  In less than a year, before she has even grasped enough language to talk freely about spiritual things, a fledgling church has been born.  She insists that it was others who sowed the seeds, she was just in the right place at the right time to catch the fruit as it fell off the tree.  But she makes it look so easy!

That's usually how it is with spiritual gifts.  The evidence of the Holy Spirit's empowerment is obvious.  After our time with Mindy I mentioned to Danny that I couldn't help questioning whether getting a PhD was the right thing to do.  Maybe I should just tell people about Jesus all day long.  Danny quickly reminded me of what I already knew:  each of us has different gifts.  It's easy to look at someone else who serves so effortlessly in some capacity and think, that's what I should be doing.  But the Spirit empowers each of us uniquely, using our personalities and life experience to contribute something beautiful to His kingdom.  We can't take our cues from someone else, because what looks effortless becomes a mess in the wrong hands.

So, in the words of Dr. Suess*:

"So that is why
I think that I
Just wish to be
Like me."

May His Spirit empower you today to do precisely what He has created you to do!

*Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Suess), writing under the pen name Theo. LeSieg in I Wish That I Had Duck Feet.

Monday, September 27, 2010

the view from 3 feet high

Dinner time conversations at our house have been pretty well dominated by one topic lately:  doctoral studies.  Do you ever wonder how much little ears are picking up?  Here's proof that they are always listening:

Emma (age 5, quite animated):  "There sure are a lot of doctors!  Dr. Suess ... Dr. Block ... and the doctors who help us feel better..."

Dr. Block is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton Graduate School.  And yes, his name has become so common in our house you'd think he's a member of our family.  To Emma, he's right up there with Dr. Suess!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

nothing wasted

It's been a strange week.  Researching doctoral programs has absorbed virtually all of my study time.  And in the morass of administrative details (due dates, requirements, fees, policies, recommendations, procedures, and an unrelenting volley of emails with admissions departments all over the country) it can be hard to hang on to the joy that has characterized most of the rest of this journey.  Spreadsheets, checklists, and surfing the web have replaced the hours I usually spend reading, translating, and thinking.  It's not that I'm not detail-oriented, but PhD handbooks just can't hold a candle to the Bible!

This is a necessary part of the journey.  One of my mentors reminded me that the time I'm spending on it will not be wasted.  Someday a student will be sitting in my office asking me about PhD programs, and I will actually know something about schools other than my own.  So while my sights are already set on a place to study, I'm pressing on because it's the wise thing to do and because I hope it will one day be useful to someone else.  God doesn't waste anything.

There's an immediate payout from all this preparation, too.  As I've worked on my resume and written my life history I've been reminded of the tangible ways that God has used my experiences to shape me.  The language I studied in high school turns out to be a modern research language.  My friends from college have been instrumental in connecting me with all sorts of helpful people at other schools.  The book I read this summer will be a key component of my ability to articulate my research interests.  The professors who have invested deeply in me will launch me into the next stage of my journey by writing recommendations.  And my weekly meetings with Jehovah's Witnesses have been a constant reminder of what is at stake in the study of theology.  Telling my own story has helped me find my voice again.

Even in the event that every door is closed to me, I trust that God will not waste this season of preparation.  I do think it's possible to waste your life.  But in a life surrendered to Him every little thing, no matter how insignificant, can bring Him glory.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

my curriculum vitae

(With deep apologies for writing more than you have time to read...)

The kids all went happily to school this morning, and I'm working on my resume (or CV, as they're called in academic circles).  I've set a mental deadline of September 30th by which time I hope to finalize where I will apply for doctoral studies.  Finishing my CV is part of the process.

How does this sound so far?

Mother of 3 Growing Children  
2001- present

  Responsibilities include (but are not limited to):
  • procuring food that is both healthy, delicious and affordable and preparing it in such a way as to please the palattes of the entire family
  • selecting and maintaining size- and season-appropriate clothing for all 3 of them (includes sorting, stain-removal, washing, ironing, folding, and lobbying for proper treatment of clothes)
  • maintaining household cleanliness and supervising clean-up crew
  • planning and implementing yearly birthday parties, holiday celebrations, and other events
  • teaching children to count, read, use manners, pray, share, pick up after themselves, throw, stop throwing, jump, stop jumping, and many other things
  • pregnancy, childbirth (2 natural and one c-section), nursing at least one year per child (49 months experience), burping when needed, and changing enough diapers to fill several semi-trailers
  • drying tears, bandaging scraped knees, kissing owies, and giving hugs during thunderstorms
  • healing the sick, maintaining positive relationships with other medical professionals such as doctors and dentists
  • celebrating successes
  • keeping track of homework assignments, field trip permission slips, school newsletters, and the rest of the paperwork that comes in the door at an alarming rate
  • teaching children all they need to know about God, themselves and the world before they hear it in a twisted form from somewhere else
  Awards include:
  • "You're my best Mom" - Emma, age 5
  • "Lovee, Mom" - Easton, age 2
  • "I'm so glad you're my mom." - Eliana, age 9
Whaddaya think?  Should I include all this on my resume?

Monday, September 13, 2010

a long nose (and other virtues)

I'll never forget the birthday when my grandma gave me a needlepoint she had made of a sweet little girl dancing.  Above her head were the words, "Patience is a virtue."  I'm afraid she was hoping that it would rub off on me.  It didn't.

I do okay being patient about some things: long lines (on the rare occasion when I'm not in a hurry), deadlines (when I'm not finished with my project), other people's birthdays (when I haven't thought of what to get them) and my own lack of growth in this area.  Um... yeah.  It's time to stop being patient when it comes to my impatience!

Patience is still a virtue.  And it's not one I possess, at least not in my own strength.  Call me Eager.  Driven.  Energetic.  Or call it what it is ... impatience.  Impatience and motherhood do not make a good combination.

In my Hebrew class this weekend we were translating Psalm 103.  The Psalmist tucks a quotation from Exodus 34 right into the middle of his own poetic celebration of God's goodness.  In verse 8 he says, "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, long of nose and great in lovingkindness."  Long of nose?  Unlike Pinocchio's long nose, which signified his dishonesty, this long nose is a good thing.  'A long nose' is the Hebrew equivalent of having a 'long fuse.'  The God who made us does not snap at us in anger.  His anger takes a long time to kindle.

I realized that dealing with my short fuse (or nose!) is not just a matter of acheiving a more peaceful home, but a matter of becoming more like God himself.  If God is slow to become angry with me, shouldn't I be slow to become angry with my children?

The New Testament offers some specific guidance for how I can become more like my maker.  Galatians 5 says that the fruit of a Spirit-filled life is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, faithfullness, gentleness, self-control."  These are not qualities we try to conjure up by sheer will power.  (I've tried.  It doesn't work.)  No, this is what our life will look like when we recognize our constant need for the Holy Spirit's power at work in us.

Come, Holy Spirit.  Stretch my nose.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

depression of biblical proportions

I've been thinking about depression lately for two reasons.  First, there was a suicide in our extended family.  Really, really, sad.  Life has to be pretty bleak and hopeless to see no other way out.  Then, the very day after we got the hard news, I had to translate Job 3 from Hebrew to English.  Woah.  I know I've read it before, but this was the first time I was forced to consider each and every word, slowly.  I felt as if I had been given a window into a suicidal soul.  Listen to this:

"Why does he (i.e. God) give light for the troubled?
And life to the bitter of soul?
Those waiting for death and there is none,
those digging for it more than hidden treasure.
The glad, they are rejoicing. 
They exult because they have found the grave."
Job 3:20-22

Did you catch that?  Death is sought more than buried treasure.  The only happy people are those who have been buried.  Wow.

If you thought the Bible was lofty and sublime, take note.  The Bible is not a book that sugar-coats reality.  Somehow God saw fit to include this passage in his holy book.  He is not afraid of our emotions.  Perhaps you are struck, as I am, with the fact that even godly people struggle with depression.  Job, a "blameless and upright" man wanted nothing more than to see his life end.  It was that bad.  He wrestled openly with God, and eventually God answered (see chapters 40-41).  His answer may not have been gentle, but it was just what Job needed to give him a proper view of himself in relation to God.

I haven't read it myself, but I've heard great things about a book by Kathryn Greene-McCreight called Darkness is My Only Companion.  The author is an Episcopal priest and a professor at Yale Divinity School who has struggled deeply with depression herself.  She asks the hard questions and offers hope for those who find themselves in deep shadows.  A book I have read that was very helpful to me in my own season of struggle is Larry Crabb's Shattered DreamsHis point is that God uses suffering to do deep work in us and show us how much we need him.  You can read more about this idea in my old blog here or here.

Job's story ends on a happy note, but not without first dismantling the idea that 'the wicked suffer but the righteous are blessed.'  Life is not always fair (from our point of view), but when we learn to dig for HIM more than buried treasure, we will discover more than we ever dreamed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ready or not ... !

I'm not sure where I got the idea that summer vaction is 3 months long.  Well, it's not.  It's barely 2 1/2 months.  And it's ... officially ... over.  Time has a way of marching on whether we're ready or not.

Easton started preschool today (gulp!).  He's in a class for 2-year-olds at our church.  That means he's in for a really good time, and I am, too!  (You can find me in the library. :))

Emma LOVES Kindergarten.  She's making friends and learning songs and teaching us all the rules.

Eliana started 4th grade.  The crazy thing is that I remember 4th grade well, and it doesn't seem like it was so long ago.  I remember where I sat in Ms. Kallemyn's classroom, and who was beside me.  I remember reading a novel about a tsunami in Japan and writing a report on tsunamis.  And I remember Ms. Kallemyn telling me that I couldn't read the Bible during free reading time because I needed to read more ... um ... broadly.  (I was incensed.  It was a Christian school, after all, and my teacher was telling me not to read the Bible!) 

I guess you could say I'm a person of limited interest.  After 12 years in a Christian school, I headed off to Bible College and just couldn't get enough.  As soon as it was feasible, I started taking seminary classes.  Now graduation is just around the corner (only 2 courses + my thesis left!), and I spent Easton's preschool hours filling out an application for a PhD program.  Yep.  You read that right.

This is not a new idea.  We've been talking and praying about it for years, and for the past 15 months we've been actively researching our options.  (Remember when I took the GRE in January? And studied German?  And started attending theological conferences?  This is why!)  Our sense of calling to walk this road has only grown with time.  And now you're in on it, too.  So ready or not ... here we go!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

giving kids the big picture

I can hardly contain my excitement about a new book that just arrived in the mail (in time for Emma's 5th birthday tomorrow)...

'The Big Picture Story Bible'

Unlike other children's Bibles that give a random assortment of Bible stories, this Bible tells the 'BIG' story that begins with creation and ends with God's promise to be king of the whole world.  It's the best of biblical theology, presented in a clear and winsome way for kids.  The story is told in such a way that kids will be able to make connections between key events - like the Passover and Christ's death - and really understand the significance of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. 

This book is not meant to be the only Bible your family owns.  It picks very few of the stories and does not present many details.  The goal is to give the big picture, so if you have another beloved children's Bible (like this one) you can keep reading it and allow 'The Big Picture Story Bible' to tie it all together.

It does, unfortunately, depict angels with wings, and I noticed that the story of David and Goliath did not incorporate what scholars now know about that event (i.e. that Goliath was likely over 6 feet tall, not 9, and that David's stone probably hit him in the shins, not the forehead).  But these are very minor complaints in light of the huge contribution this book makes to a family's grasp of the message of Scripture.

Hurrah for a forward leap in children's literature!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

three keepers

Many a day goes by where I sincerely wish that I could get a transcript of our conversations at home. Each of our kids are in such a delightful stage!  I would, of course, cut out all the whining and arguing and keep stuff like this ...

Emma On Kindergarten (which starts tomorrow... gulp!):

[What I thought Emma said] “I’m gonna look for people who are lonely and scare them...”
[What she really said] “I’m gonna look for people who are lonely and scared and be their friend.”
(Phew! That’s much better!)

Emma: “Will there be math in Kindergarten?”
Mom: “Yep!”
Emma: “Oh, good! Math is my favorite category!”

Eliana on the death of her parents: “Who’s gonna get Rosetta Stone Spanish when you die? Can you put it in your will for me?”  (Evidently it's a hit!)

Easton, holding a can strainer up to his ear: “Hehwo?” (All the cell phones in the room were currently being used.)

Easton, counting straws enthusiastically: “B! O! I! D!” (He gets the idea of counting, but hasn’t figured out the difference between letters and numbers).

And then there was Easton, struck speechless in the grocery store parking lot as a semi truck drove by close enough to see the driver. The driver noticed him frozen there, waved, and then honked (REALLY LOUD!). That was the highlight of the morning. Somehow I don’t remember this stage with the girls!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

melodious stories

I'm reading a book by Peter Leithart called Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture. Great book so far!  Leithart wants us to get to the place where we are experiencing Scripture the way it is written, rather than rushing to get to the 'timeless moral truth' that is being taught. 

He likens reading to music.  Music is impossible to appreciate in one moment, and there is no fair way to summarize it.  Instead we must take the time to listen to the whole thing, appreciating the beauty of each note in relation to the others.  The more times we hear the entire piece, the more we will know it and the more that music will shape the way we think and feel. 

Here's what Leithart says about the Bible:  "God in his infinite wisdom decided to give us a book, a very long book, and not a portrait or an aphorism.  God reveals himself in his image, Jesus, but we come to know that image by reading, and that takes time.  God wants to transform us into the image of his image, and one of the key ways he does that is by leading us through the text.  If we short-circuit that process by getting to the practical application, we are not going to be transformed in the ways God wants us to be transformed.  'Get to the point' will not do because part of the point is to lead us through the labyrinth of the text itselfThere is treasure at the center of the labyrinth, but with texts, the journey really is as important as the destination." (55, emphasis mine)

Perhaps this is why I so often have trouble distilling what I'm learning from Scripture into a blog post.  Short cuts are never as beautiful as the scenic route, and a photograph is a poor substitute for a journey.  Hopefully the snippets I share here will spur you on to take a few trips yourself.  Take your time, and enjoy the ride!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

a (heel-) grabbing story

This summer I've been immersed in the Jacob Narratives (Genesis 25-35), translating them from Hebrew to English and reading them over and over again.  Each time I read them more things stand out to me.  The author did such a beautiful job of arranging and telling these stories!  There is so much that could be said about Jacob, but here are some big things that stood out to me:

Jacob's name means 'heel-grabber', a designation which applies to him both literally and figuratively.  Not only did he grab his twin brother Esau's heel as he was born, but he continued to claw his way to the top into adulthood.  We're told he deceived his brother twice, once for his birthright (Hebrew: 'becorah') and once for his blessing (Hebrew: 'beracah').  Jacob's deception was so well-known that 'heel-grabbing' became another word for deception.

But being a heel-grabber is not all it's cracked up to be.  Jacob reaps what he sows. Fleeing for his life from his angry brother, Esau, Jacob ends up in Haran, at the home of his future father-in-law, who arguably beats Jacob at his own game.  After working for Laban for 7 years to win the hand of Rachel, Laban's younger daughter, Jacob wakes up the morning after his wedding to find he has been duped.  Just as Jacob tricked his blind father out of his older brother's blessing, so Jacob has been tricked under cover of darkness by his intended bride's older sister.  The chickens have come home to roost.  In a scene dripping with irony, Jacob asks Laban, "'What is this you have done to me?  Was it not for Rachel that I served with you?  Why then have you deceived me?'  But Laban said [using the same words to describe his daughters that have been used to describe Jacob and Esau], 'It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn.'"  Jacob is stuck.  How can he argue against this?  It is also not an acceptable practice to give the birthright and the blessing to the younger son!

Fourteen years later, his relationship with Laban is so strained that again he flees, this time homeward.  As he nears home, again under the cover of darkness, he wrestles all night with a man whose identity is unknown to him.  As the dawn breaks Jacob grabs the man (he's good at this!) and begs for a blessing (have we read this before?).  The stranger asks Jacob, "What is your name?"  This question we have also heard before, in the darkened tent of Isaac, who suspected that someone was impersonating his firstborn, Esau.  This time Jacob passes the test and owns up to his own identity: "Jacob."  In this moment of truth the man declares a new name for Jacob; he will now be called Israel.  In his weakness and admission of the truth he finds his greatest blessing.  Jacob has now heard enough to know who this man is, and he calls that place Peniel, which means 'Face of God'.  Jacob has encountered God himself and been changed.

All through his story two threads are woven together.  The first is Jacob's own striving, his heel-grabbing.  He is constantly trying to get things to work out in his favor.  But quietly beneath this another theme shows itself consistently: God's purpose to bless Jacob, the heel-grabber.  Jacob doesn't deserve it.  He's difficult to live with and too often relies on his own strength.  In spite of this God continues to reaffirm his promise to be with Jacob, to bless him and make him the father of many nations.

During the night of his wrestling match Jacob had finally hit bottom.  He is terrified of meeting his brother Esau again, afraid of the hatred and revenge he expects to find.  He prays fervently for God's favor.  Then he prepares an enormous gift, 550 animals, for his brother, hoping to appease his anger.  He bows down to him and treats him like a king (exactly the opposite of what had been prophesied of them!), begging Esau to accept back the blessing that was rightfully his.  Esau accepts, and they are reconciled. 

As a reader it's exhausting to follow Jacob's life of striving, deception, and anxiety.  He is always trying to get things to work out right for himself, trying to cover his own back, when all along God is there, ready to bless him if he will just own his sin and admit his need.  Are we any different today?

If you've never read Jacob's story before, or if it's been awhile, I encourage you to do it.  It will take less than an hour, and you will be struck by what a remarkable story it is.  True stories are the most inspiring of all.  If God can bless and use Jacob, then he can use anybody!

Friday, July 23, 2010

gone "fish"ing

This summer may be the fullest one yet for us.  Between schoolwork (lots!), summer day camp, swimming lessons (x2), and a major project under the house, there just hasn't been much time to write new posts.  You may have wondered if I was gone fishing ... and in a sense, I was! 

Emma graduated from swimming lessons today and went from being pretty nervous in the water to swimming like a fish!  Yeah, Emma!

This week was vacation Bible school at church.  The theme was 'Backstage with the Bible' and worship was led by the 'Go Fish! Guys'.  The girls loved the music and had a lot of fun.

Another summer project has been getting ready for my grandma's 90th birthday.  We made her a photo book on Snapfish that turned out great.  There's something really cool about retelling the family story.  God has been so faithful through the years!

For school, I just finished a major read, Michael Fishbane's Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel.  The kids cheered me on through all 543 pages of it. :)  It's about the ways biblical authors quote each other.  While intertextuality (the fancy name for it) is one of my all-time favorite topics, this will not make it into my top 10 book list (though I suspect I'll be consulting it for years to come).  I did learn a whole lot, but Fishbane and I do not exactly see eye to eye!  He finds evidence here, there, and everywhere for occasions where a later author supposedly changed the text, and he sees lots of contradictions in the Bible.  Identifying those 'changes' is a rather subjective enterprise, though.  Here's one example:  Prophecy, according to Fishbane, is by definition vague and open-ended.  Therefore, any time there is something specific in a prophecy (such as a name of a person or place), it can be attributed to somebody else, years later, who added it in.  Laws, on the other hand, usually start very specific.  So if you come across a law that is based on a general principle, then it must have been added later.  In one case specificity is evidence of originality, in the other case it proves editorial activity.  Hmmm.... does this sound fishy?

I don't argue with his idea that the Bible was 'edited' or 'compiled' by later authors, but he takes it all much farther than I'm willing to go.  Thankfully, I don't have to fully agree with him to benefit from all his hard work.  I'm ready to head back to the Bible and read more carefully than ever before.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

text and canon for 4-year-olds

I've spent nearly a year teaching the young four-year-old Sunday School class at our church.  They are a precious group of kids.  It's such a privilege to help lay a biblical foundation in these little ones.  I love to tell Bible stories in such a way that they are alive and interesting to the kids.  One idea has gone over particularly well.  It wasn't premeditated, I just realized when I saw blank looks that they needed more info!

Whenever I tell the story I have a Bible in front of me, even though I'm telling the story without reading it.  I like to tell them where in the Bible the story comes from.  Here's an example of the kind of thing I've been telling them throughout the year:

"Today I'm going to tell you a true story from the Bible.  It's found in the book of the Bible called John.  Why do you think it's called John? (this is a rhetorical question, by the way, and I don't wait for an answer!)  Because a man named John wrote it!  John was one of Jesus' disciples.  He followed Jesus around and watched what he did.  John listened to what Jesus said.  And it was really amazing stuff!  After Jesus died and rose again and went to heaven John thought to himself, 'People really need to hear about Jesus!'  So God helped him remember all those things that he heard Jesus say and saw Jesus do so that we could read about it and know Jesus, too!"

The kids seem to really get it.  And I hope it's sinking in for the long haul.  Because even more than the specific lesson I have to teach in a given week, I want them to know that the Bible is living and true, and the only reliable way to find out who God is!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

when I run...

It's been years since I've seen the movie Chariots of Fire. But one scene sticks with me. Eric Liddell is explaining why he wants to keep running. "God made me fast," he said. "And when I run I feel God's pleasure."

Why study when I could have a less intense hobby? It's simple. When I study, I feel God's pleasure.

What has God made you to do? What do you do that makes him smile?

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Well, we made it through tree pollen season, had a short respite, and now its time for grass pollen.  I don't think it's affected me at all, but poor little Emma (age 4-3/4) is sneezing her head off.  Here's what she said to me the other day:

"Mom, I am not feeling well today.  My consequence is going to be to have no sugar for a whole week!"

Gotta love this girl!

And later she came to ask me, "Mom, am I unique?"

Yes, I would say so!

Monday, July 5, 2010

do we live in a Christian nation?

On this most patriotic of holidays, it's worth asking the question, "What should the relationship between church and state look like?"  Consider this quote from German scholar, Theo Sorg,

"The New Testament knows nothing of a Christian state, but it knows of Christians who profess their Lord in public life and in their political responsibility, and who make every effort to realize symbolically something of his good rule.  It is not they themselves who create the coming reign of peace; God alone will bring it about.  But they have this goal before them and can therefore seek to bring about peace wherever and however that is possible, in every weakness and fallibility, but nevertheless with the breath of Christian patience."

From Theo Sorg, "Die Bibel zum Thema Frieden," Theologische Beitrage (1982): 264-265. Quoted by Helmut W. Ziefle in Modern Theological German: A Reader and Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 243.  My translation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

was Paul a hypocrite?

This past Sunday's sermon was a unique one.  Rather than preparing ahead of time, Pastor Talbot was 'on the spot', ready to answer questions from the congregation about the Bible.  The series we're in is called 'Text Message', a series all about the text of Scripture and what it has to say.  Appropriately, we were asked to text our questions to Talbot during the service.

Someone texted this fascinating question:  Why does Paul tell the Judaizers that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised to join the faith, but then he makes Timothy get circumcised?

The story is found in Acts 16:1-3, directly on the heels of the biggest doctrinal showdown in the early church.  Acts 15 records a debate that arose between those who taught that Gentiles must first be circumcised to be saved (the Judaizers) and those who strongly disagreed (including Paul).  All the big wigs gathered in Jerusalem to duke talk it out.  Peter gave a testimony about how God had poured out the Holy Spirit on uncircumcised Gentiles (Acts 15:7-11).  This in itself would have been a strong indication that Gentiles were "in" because the Old Testament never predicts the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Gentiles, only on the restored people of Israel.  Then Paul added his two cents (Acts 15:12).  James followed this with a knockout punch by using Old Testament Scripture to demonstrate that Gentile inclusion was envisioned by the prophets long ago (Acts 15:13-29).  His quotation from Amos 9 is bolstered by allusions to as many as 5 other prophetic passages, each of them contributing to the overall message that Gentiles can be included in the faith community as Gentiles, that is, without converting first to Judaism.* 

Why then, just a few verses later, does Paul require Timothy to undergo this most unpleasant surgery?  Acts 16:1 tells us that Timothy's father was Greek (apparently his Jewish mother had been unable to convince her husband of the value of such painful mutilation).  Timothy had a good reputation among the believers, and Paul wanted to take him along on a missionary journey.  Acts 16:3 tells us why circumcision was part of the orientation process for him: "because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek."  Timothy's circumcision had nothing to do with his standing before God.  It was not part of "being saved." It was for the sake of those to whom they hoped to preach.  Paul didn't want anything to stand in the way of the important message they had to share about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.  If anyone asked Timothy, "Why should I listen to an uncircumcised scumbag like you?" He could honestly tell them, "Oh, but I am circumcised."  The door would open once again for their message.

Paul was no schizophrenic.  He was an outstanding theologian, and what's more, an apostle sent to bring the good news far and wide.  And his modus operandi was this: "I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some." (1 Cor 9:22) This doesn't mean that Paul led a double life.  He lived by his convictions.  But he was willing to make sacrifices if it meant that the gospel would gain a wider hearing.  And so was Timothy.  Listen to what Paul said about him later to the church in Philippi:

"I hope to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. [no kidding!] Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel."  (Phil 2:19-22)


*If you want to dig more deeply into James' sermon, I recommend an absolutely brilliant article by Richard Bauckham.  Fair warning: It's rather scholarly, but so impressed me that I nearly framed it for my bedroom wall! [“James and the Gentiles (Acts 15:13-21).” Pages 154-184 in History, Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts. Edited by Ben Witherington. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.]

Monday, June 28, 2010

rules or romance?

A lot of you have read and responded to yesterday's post, and I want to add a couple more thoughts.  First of all, a post on "rules" doesn't sound very romantic.  After all, wouldn't it be a better time to talk about passion?  But I'm convinced that having solid boundaries such as these makes it possible to have a passionate marriage.  We both have the settled security of knowing that our spouse is not out there flirting with someone else or griping about us.  So we have total freedom with each other.

And I thought of two more "rules" - one that has been great, and the other that has not been practical.

For years and years now we have shared an email inbox.  Danny set up the computer so that all of our email accounts - work, school, and personal - empty into one inbox on Outlook.  For some professions (pastors, counselors, etc) I suppose that would not be possible because of confidentiality issues.  But it's been great for us.  I see all his emails with co-workers and he sees all of mine with classmates.  It's great accountability to ask myself, "How would Danny feel reading this?"  And it's also nice to have the inside scoop on each other's world.

Another rule hasn't worked out as well.  Someone suggested years ago, perhaps in pre-marital counseling, that if either of us have an acquaintance with a member of the opposite sex we should make a point to know their spouse even better than we know them.  We thought that was a great idea, but there are a few hang-ups.  If I have class for 30 hours in a semester with a professor or a male classmate and I collaborate on a school project, when will I have an opportunity to spend time with their wives?  What about Danny's co-workers who are single females?  There is no spouse to get to know!  And there's no way I will be able to see them as much as he does.  So this one hasn't worked out in practice, but it has been a good ideal to hold out there in our minds.  Whenever possible, I like to meet and get to know my professors' wives.  And I often ask my male classmates about their wives and kids, or talk about Danny.  It's helpful to keep the whole family in view (when possible).  And with single friends of the opposite sex it's important not to become a confidant or relational counselor unless you can do it together as a couple.  It's different, of course, if you are a professional counselor or on pastoral staff, but the same caution holds true.

The Right Rules => The Right Romance (i.e. with your spouse, not someone else!)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

twelve ... and counting

Today we celebrate 12 years of marriage!  And while that may not seem long enough to make me a marriage expert, since this is my blog I thought I'd write about some of the keys that have kept our relationship strong through thick and thin.  These may seem like rather stringent 'rules', and they are certainly not the norm.  But our culture doesn't have the best track record when it comes to marriage, so we're not trying to fall in line!

1. No cutting each other down in front of other people.  This includes sarcasm.  This is a nasty habit that's hard to break.  But we agreed to this very early in our dating relationship and it's paid great dividends.  And since we're not in the habit of cutting each other down when we're apart, it never happens when we're together either.  Recently Danny came to a seminary event with me.  It was great how many people said to him, "I've heard such great things about you!"  And a man from Danny's Bible Study sought me out once to tell me how highly Danny talks about me in their group.  Now that's cool.
2. No being alone with someone of the opposite sex.  This is a rule we adopted from our days in Bible College.  Even if you're not doing anything wrong, other people who happen to see you alone together don't know that.  There's never a time when we're not representing Jesus to the world around us.
3. No compliments to members of the opposite sex.  If you've just had your hair cut or have a great new dress, you'll never hear Danny tell you that.  And if you're wearing a snazzy tie, don't expect a compliment from me.  You just can't be too careful when it comes to members of the opposite sex.  Even if you don't mean to be flirtatious, the other person may not be in a place emotionally to be able to handle it well.
4. We make decisions as a team.  From little things like 'What should I do on Thursday night?' ... to 'Should I accept this job offer?' ... from 'Should we switch to organic milk?' to ... 'Should I put more money into this car?', life is something we share together, and we honor one another's opinions enough to check first.  Sometimes we disagree, sometimes we defer to each other, other times we push off the decision, but the important thing is that we discuss it together.  I imagine that Danny has gotten some flack for saying, 'I'll check with Carmen and let you know.'  It doesn't sound very 'manly'.  But our marriage is a priority for him and that is such a great feeling.
5. Divorce is not an option.  It hasn't been an issue yet, anyway, but we made a 65-year committment to each other, and then we plan to re-evaluate. (We figure after that long divorce would not be worth the effort!). :)

I'm so thankful for those who helped us navigate the 'dating' scene so many years ago and who gave us good advice at key junctures.  Reilly and Miriam, Ray, Karl, Mary, Mom and Dad, Bonnie and Wayne, Jeff ... each of you helped us to lay a strong foundation for a lifetime together.  Thanks!

Happy Anniversary, Honey!  I'm so glad you picked me!  I just love being your wife.

Friday, June 25, 2010

a nugget from nazi germany

Here's a nugget from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian who resisted the Nazis and was consequently imprisoned and executed in 1945, just prior to the end of the war. This is a man who knew the true meaning of life!  (He also knew how to write long sentences!)

"Everything that we with good reason await from God, that for which we are allowed to ask, is found in Jesus Christ. ... It is certain that we are permitted to always live in the nearness and amidst the presence of God and that this life is an entirely new life for us, that there is nothing impossible for us, because there is nothing impossible for God; that no earthly power can touch us without the will of God and that danger and need only drive us closer to God; it is certain that we must demand nothing and yet are permitted to ask for everything; it is certain that in sorrow our joy is hidden, and in death our life is hidden; it is certain that we are in a fellowship that sustains us in everything. ... Had Jesus not lived, then our life would be meaningless in spite of all the other people who we know, honor, and love."

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Widerstand und Ergebung (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag Munchen, 1951), pp 196-197. Reprinted in Modern Theological German: A Reader and Dictionary, Ed. Helmut W. Ziefle (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997). My translation.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Our littlest kiddo is getting to be a big boy! Easton turned two yesterday. We're celebrating two delightful years with him as part of our family. What a gift! Here are some of my favorite things about him:

He is so sweet and loving, and enjoys snuggling.
He likes to be part of whatever we're doing!
He sings. Most often the Hallelujah chorus (which is beginning to sound a lot more like Hallelujah than it did at first). :)
He loves books. (Score!)
He has a cautious nature in new situations rather than barreling into trouble.
He loves animals (real or stuffed), and plays trains like a pro.
It is so fun watching him discover the world around him.
His number one priority each morning is finding every family member (or asking where they are). His best words are all of our names, and he uses them any chance he gets. So precious!

We love you, big boy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

this summer ... by the numbers

0- number of kids who signed up for the summer reading program at our library before Eliana this year
7- number of hours Eliana read in her first 3 days of summer vacation
8- number of days until Easton's 2nd birthday
12- number of years we've been married as of next week
15- number of cents Emma has earned so far this summer
         Emma: "I think I'm rich!  Mommy, am I rich?"
18 24- number of words Easton can say
32 - number of hours I study each week
44- number of words on the kindergarten sight word list that Emma can read (of 46 total)
2800+ - number of dollars Danny has saved us by digging a trench under our house himself
         Thanks, honey!

a house that runs like clockwork

Those of you who read my blog primarily for theological insights will have to forgive me this summer.  Since the kids are out of school I'll be wearing my 'mommy' hat for more hours of the day ... and I'm guessing that will mean more 'mommy-related' posts.

For the past few years I confess that I have been nervous about summertime.  Eliana just thrives on structure, and when summer comes I love to wallow in spontaneity, seizing the moment to build memories with the kids.  What usually happens is that a lack of schedule from me either provokes a sour mood in her or inspires her to create her own structure, and pretty soon she thinks she should be able to run the show.  (Should I mention that she has every half-hour block of her first week of summer planned out already??!!)  She's a born leader, and it's not always easy to know how to give her opportunities for leadership and planning without handing over the reins entirely.

This summer is going to be different.  I actually can't wait to have her home all day!  A big reason is that she and I are doing much better.  I've made more of an effort to make plans, and learned to communicate my plans up front so that the day isn't hijacked.  But there's another reason I'm excited about this summer.  We recently heard about a chore-management, child-training program called Accountable Kids and decided to try it.  From day one it has worked wonders in our home!  One of my biggest parenting problems is that I'm so busy doing my own chores and thinking about what I want to do with the kids that I forget to make sure they have done their chores.  With 3 kids to keep track of, I find it hard to make sure that everyone is on task.  When I am thinking about what they need to do, I hate feeling like a drill sergeant, following them around and asking over and over if they've put their clothes away or cleared the table or made their bed or picked up their toys or brushed their teeth....etc etc.  But the Accountable Kids system has almost completely eliminated both of those issues.  I rarely have to remind them what they should be doing, but it's all getting done!  What a relief!

So how does this work?  We've adapted the program to fit our family best.  Here's how it works: Each of the girls has a pegboard with reminder cards for all the chores they need to do in a day hanging on the first peg in the order they should be done.  As they do each chore, they move the card to the "finished" peg.  Games, reading, playing outside, watching a show, and playing computer are things that have to wait until they come to a 'priviledge card'.  There is one hanging after their stack of morning chores, and one hanging after their stack of afternoon chores.  If I find them playing before they have finished their chores, I simply remind them that they need to get to their privilege card first.  If they are moving as slow as molasses, I gently remind them that if they take all morning to do their chores, then there won't be enough time left to play.  It's their choice!  It's made my job more fun, because they are focused on getting their work done so that they can play with me, instead of hearing me nag them all morning.  I am less stressed because by dinnertime the house is in pretty good shape instead of having a day's worth of chores all piled up to do.

There's more to the program than that.  One of my favorite parts is the 'extra chores' peg.  These are optional chores that can be done to earn money or prizes.  Emma is currently earning a 'bonus buck' for each extra chore she does (washing the front glass door, emptying out the trashes into the kitchen trash, folding all the squares in the laundry, etc).  When she has 5 bonus bucks she can pick out a Silly Band [If anyone without young children has read this far ...Silly Bandz are rubber-bands in the shape of something fun, like an ice cream cone, that can be worn as a bracelet.  They are the craze right now, and someone is laughing all the way to the bank that people will pay 25 cents each for rubber bands in the midst of a recession!!!].  You can call me crazy for buying a pack of Silly Bandz, but Emma earned her first one this morning, and I have a clean house!

Eliana in particular LOVES the Accountable Kids system.  After watching the video on their website she BEGGED us to buy it.  When Easton is a bit older, we'll hang his pegboard up, too, so he can join in the fun.  Three cheers for a program that has helped me be a better parent, and helped my kids love accountability!