Saturday, October 29, 2011

Biblical Theology made accessible

I just finished reading a good book: T. Desmond Alexander's From Eden to the New Jerusalem. Alexander traces the story of Scripture from beginning to end, showing God's plan for creation and our place in it. Though the book is very accessible (i.e. you don't need a seminary degree to understand it), it offers helpful insights to those who have had years of formal study of the Bible (i.e. I learned a few things!). It reminded me a lot of Greg Beale's Temple and the Church's Missionbut Alexander's book is more suitable for a wider audience. He includes scripture references in full to help make his points, and still manages to keep the book under 200 pages.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to better understand the Big Story that the Bible is telling, how the Old Testament and New Testament fit together, and what role the people of God play in the unfolding of God's plan.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Easton: cuter than ever

Today, after Danny walked out the door to go to an appointment, Easton (age 3) realized it was just the two of us. "Mom, are you gonna babysit me??!!" After my initial surprise, I realized that he must have meant we'd get to play together. Sometimes his sisters "babysit" him, which means he gets their full attention.

Upon hearing that we were going on a family bike ride to the playground, he nearly jumped with excitement and asked, "Can I wear underwear to the park?!" How could we say no? He's had dry pull-ups for weeks. We've now had 3 happy days of being diaper-free!

We had about a week of poopy diapers a few weeks ago, while we searched for something that would motivate him to do his business on the potty. Then we found it! Now, we'll be playing or reading happily when suddenly Easton jumps up and announces, "I need to go poop and then I get to play computer!!!"

This kid is thankful. I mean really. At church on Sunday the character quality of the month was unveiled: gratitude. Though he had a hard time saying the word, Easton has got this one down pat.

"Dear Jesus, Thank you that we could have dinner. Thank you for the mac 'n cheese that I'm gonna eat, and the grapes that I'm gonna eat. And thank you for Mommy's burrito. And thank you for Eliana's spaghetti. And thank you for Emma's pancakes. And thank you for Daddy's salad. And thank you that we could play baseball today. And thank you that we could ride bikes. …"

He regularly thanks us for things that most kids cry about, like cutting his finger nails, putting on or taking off a band-aid, even making him eat foods he doesn't like. "Thanks, Mom" is something I hear a lot.

Speaking of moms, he talked with mine on the phone yesterday. I overheard him suggest, "How about we play 'I spy,' Grandma?" She's a good sport, and so they did. It was hilarious watching him walk around outside pointing to things. "Is it this tree, Grandma?" "Is it this car?"

Easton: "We carved pumpkins at preschool today!"
Mom: "Really? With a knife?"
Easton: "No, I carved mine with glue."
He pointed to two squares on his paper pumpkin. "These are his cheeks. He's a happy pumpkin!" Easton's own cheeks are still quite a prominent facial feature, so apparently he was carving in his own image. Which is cute, even on a pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

when life is too normal

I have never wanted to be normal. (That's probably obvious to most of you by now). But normal life has a way of creeping up on you gradually. For an idealist like me, it's easy to question whether something truly significant has been lost in the process. That's why I want to share this insight from Wheaton graduate Lisa Beamer (wife of Todd Beamer, also a Wheaton grad, who died on September 11, 2001). Lisa is the author of the book entitled Let's Roll, which tells the story of Todd's heroic death. She was the keynote speaker at Wheaton's graduation this past May. I wasn't there, but according to Wheaton's Autumn 2011 magazine (page 4), she reassured graduates with these words:

"Don't be dismayed to find your life turn ordinary soon enough. When you realize that today is kind of similar to yesterday and a bit like tomorrow, ask yourself who is becoming whole again on your watch, what is being healed through your influence, how is God redeeming His creation by way of your life? Your good answers will surely be the mark of significance even in an ordinary life."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Halloween: should Christians participate?

This is a controversial issue. My husband, Danny, posted a question about Halloween on Facebook, and within a day or two there were several dozen comments. Here's the way I see it:

I can discern at least four approaches Christians might take to the Halloween question.

1. Full Participation. Those who take this approach typically argue that dressing up and eating candy are "good, clean fun." If there is a dark history to this "holiday," it is no longer relevant today because people don't think of Halloween in those terms. Both Danny and I grew up with this mindset. My family dressed up and went trick-or-treating until I was 11 or 12. I was even a witch one year! When I was in junior high we started to become aware of the reality of Satan and his work in the world, and the idea of pretending to be witches or ghosts very quickly lost its appeal.

2. Alternative Events. In the Pacific Northwest, it's very common for churches to offer an alternative event where kids can come and have fun without the danger of trick-or-treating through dark neighborhoods or encountering scary costumes. When Danny and I moved to Charlotte we were surprised to find that no churches in our area offered alternative "harvest" events. This forced us to rethink our own stance towards Halloween. We could either hide in the back room or participate.

3. Missional Participation. We decided then that Halloween was an opportunity to build memories with our neighbors, deepen our roots in the neighborhood, and minimize the "weirdness" of Christianity. The first year, we gave out mini water bottles to trick-or-treaters with a printed labels that read,
"Thirsty from all that candy?
'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water
welling up to eternal life.'" 
- Jesus (John 4:13-14)
Another year we gave out little flashlights that said "Jesus is the light." After 3 or 4 years of participation, though, we began to wonder if it was really making any difference. We'd rather our kids not be out where they can be exposed to hideous costumes. Even though it's just "pretend" it can be traumatic for kids to be confronted with gruesome, evil masks.

4. No Participation. And that's why we're toying with the idea of having a simple family night on Halloween. Why participate at all in a "holiday" that celebrates what is dark and gruesome and scary? Our Jehovah's Witness friends seem to have happy, well-adjusted children, even without letting them trick-or-treat. Will our children really be worse off if we abstain?

I don't think there is one right answer for Christians. As one friend pointed out on Facebook, it's possible to participate in Halloween yet have a well-developed understanding of the reality and danger of evil. He argued that Halloween has largely lost its connection to its pagan roots. A comic from the latest Christianity Today magazine depicts pagans who are disgruntled over the commercialization of their sacred day. Just as we insist on recognizing the real meaning of the Christmas holiday, so I think we ought to take seriously the historical significance of Halloween.

I'd like to suggest a couple of questions that Christians could be asking as they wrestle with this issue.

What does Halloween mean in our context?
What will our level of participation communicate to our neighbors?
How does our level of participation affect children (ours or those we come in contact with)?
Would Jesus be comfortable joining our family on Oct 31?
Most importantly, how can we represent him well this season?

There is not one right answer to these questions. It will depend on your situation and the specific sphere of ministry to which you are called. As you discuss these issues, you might find the following Scriptures helpful: Deuteronomy 18:9-13; Romans 14; Philippians 4:8; 1 Peter 4:14-16.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Colossians 3:17

Thursday, October 6, 2011

on being a Blockhead (in the best sense of the word)

All of Dr. Block's students, present and past, are known as the 'Blockheads.' Having a short-hand way of referring to my colleaues has been handy. As in, "Today I'm having lunch with the Blockheads."

We have the joy of eating together every other week in Wheaton's 5-star cafeteria (I'm not kidding, it's consistently rated in the top five cafeterias in the country). The best part is not the food, though, but the great conversations we have with each other. Someone usually comes with an announcement (such as, "I have an interview tomorrow!" or "I finished writing a chapter yesterday!"), and there are always questions ("Dr. Block, can you explain the way covenants work in the Old Testament?" or "Can anyone recommend the best text book to use on the Minor Prophets?").

During our most recent two lunches, Dr. Block has resorted to writing on a napkin to illustrate what he is trying to explain. My only regret is that I did not rescue those napkins from the trash can. They should have been framed, not incinerated! It would be one way of making time stand still the way I wish it would when Dr. Block is drawing from his deep reservoir of knowledge and wisdom and sharing it with the rest of us.

Dr. Block is probably the world's best supervisor. I was told that before I came, but now I know it for myself. In academia it's hard to find someone with both a warm heart and a sharp mind. Dr. Block has both in abundance. The joke around here is that when Dr. Block is part of the conversation, sooner or later it comes back to Deuteronomy, which he calls "The Gospel According to Moses."

That's why I'm super excited about Dr. Block's latest book, just released a few weeks ago. The world has been waiting for his NIV Application Commentary on Deuteronomy ... and that's in the works. (Believe me, it's good! I'm reading a draft right now.) Meanwhile Wipf & Stock has gathered 8 fabulous essays on particular texts of Deuteronomy that Dr. Block wrote for other venues and bound them in this one volume. Be on the lookout for volume 2, due to hit the shelves by Christmas. The second volume of collected essays will treat various themes in Deuteronomy.

If you take my advice and buy yourself a copy, I won't get any commission, but you'll have my dissertation in a nutshell (chapter 3). You'll also have my name in print! Can you find me? The last 8 names are Dr. Block's current students who are in various stages of writing their dissertations (all are pictured in the photo above except Rahel, who wasn't able to come, and me, because I'm taking the picture).

What a tremendous privilege it is to be a Blockhead!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

top 10 things to love about life in Wheaton

Make that 20. There is a lot to love about this place!

20. Trains. More than 100/day, we're told (though I don't notice them often). Easton is in boy-heaven.

19. Church Bells. On the quarter hour.

18. Bicycles. There are bike racks everywhere. Often they are full. It probably comes from being a college town where Freshmen are not allowed to have cars. We love it. Just 2 blocks from our house is a great bike path that leads to playgrounds, bridges, and beautiful scenery.

17. No yard work. One of the coolest things about the house we're renting is that it came with yardwork and snow removal and ...

16. Two of the best landlords on the planet. Chuck and Vicki are so responsive and generous. Their family owns 5 houses in a row, which makes for a great community.

15. A small elementary school. In Charlotte our kids' school was one of 99 elementary schools in the district. Here there are only 13. We can really tell the difference. Less beaurocracy. More freedom for teachers and parents.

14. Aldi. Our favorite grocery store is here. The store is small and quiet. The food is delicious and inexpensive. There are no decisions to make, because there is only one brand of everything!

13. The Gym. Wheaton College has a great gym, and it's free for students and their families. Four gymnasiums, an indoor track, an exercise room, and a huge swimming pool. This morning we spent an hour playing indoor soccer as a family and trying out the track. When it gets too cold to play outside, this will be awesome!

12. Events on campus. We're just a few steps away from endless opportunities: film screenings, concerts, meetings, lectures by world-renowned experts on various subjects, chapel services, etc. Tonight Eliana and I watched Wheaton's symphony orchestra perform ... free! In a couple of weeks, Emma will walk with her public school class to Wheaton's campus for a concert.

11.The Cosley Zoo. It's small. It's free. It's less than 2 miles away.

10. The public library. We can see it from our front door. It's the biggest and best library we have ever seen. And Eliana can walk there by herself!

9. A full basement. Though unfinished, it holds a LOT of stuff. It's part shower room, part laundry room, part storage, and part play area.

8. Friendly neighbors. Yesterday Easton gave a concert-on-training-wheels to Mark & Julie and me. His face just lights up whenever "Mr. Keith" comes home from work. Emma sparkles when we tell her she can go out and play with the Wall kids. Eliana's had play dates with two of her friends from school already.

7. The Popcorn Shop. A converted alley between two stores has been popping fresh batches of popcorn pretty much non-stop for over 100 years. They still sell penny candy, the popcorn is only 75 cents, and we can walk there!

6. My study carrel. It is a HUGE blessing to have a little office of my own where I can leave my books and supplies. When I close the door it's just me and my books, with nothing but e-mail to distract me. Wheaton is unique among other schools in providing this kind of space for doctoral students. I am really thankful.

5. Time. My Amazing Husband has figured out how to do almost all the shopping, laundry, cleaning, dishes (by hand!), and cooking while still getting his work done so that I can focus on my studies and spend time with the kids. Last weekend he took all 3 of them camping for 3 days while I studied and studied and studied. Wow. Wow. Wow.

4. Glorious weather (so far, anyway!). The leaves are turning colors, and there is a chill in the air. We packed away our A/C units and fans weeks ago, and have been wearing coats and scarves ever since. Lovely.

3. Learning Community. Around noon most of the PhD students emerge from their study carrels and convene in the library cafe to eat and talk. A few of us are meeting to share dissertation resources. On Wednesdays, Danny and Easton join us. Very cool. Every other thursday all of Dr. Block's PhD students (a.k.a. "Blockheads") have lunch together in the cafeteria, his treat. If only we could freeze those moments in time. Priceless.

2. Pedestrians. Everywhere. This is definitely a walking culture, and we're in a prime ...

1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. I walk down the street to school. Danny walks the kids to school. Then he walks upstairs to work. We walk to the library. We walk to downtown Wheaton. We walk to events on campus. We walk to the campus restaurant (where the whole family can eat for $12!). We walk to the train that will take us to downtown Chicago. We can even walk to church, though we haven't settled on one yet. We're probably putting 8 miles/week on our van. :)