Monday, February 27, 2012

kisses and sardines

Easton (3) has been very verbal lately. He loves to explain how things work. His flashlight has a "handy button" that you can push to make the light come back on. His "logic" keeps us all in stitches. Dress-up clothes are a staple of his daily activities, and we never know whether he'll walk into the room as a fireman or a swimmer, a ballerina or a baseball player. Often it's some combination of all four, the more layers the better. He's been especially snuggly as well, and asked the other day, "Mom, may I kiss you on your kiss?" Adorable.

Emma (6) is trying out new words as well, and she doesn't let grammar get in the way of a good explanation. Yesterday, as she wrapped her head with an elastic ice pack (?!), she annouced, "I am busy fascinating my hair." She and Easton often play house (sometimes Eliana joins them), and Emma is always the mom. That makes me "grandma," and I'm now accustomed to responding to "grandma" and ignoring Easton when he calls for "mom" because he doesn't mean me.

We've recently discovered a few new games that the entire family enjoys. Sardines is the current favorite. In case you're not familiar with it, sardines is like hide-and-seek except that only one person hides while everyone else counts. The counters then split up to look for the hider. If you find the hider, you hide with them until only one person is left looking. Our house is ideal for this game, especially with all the lights off, and last night Eliana set a new record. We searched the entire house, thoroughly, several times before I found her huddled in the dark basement shadows. I joined her and another 10 minutes or more elapsed before Emma found us, and then Danny and Easton. Fun times. Easton has been especially brave about searching through the dark house. Sometimes he tags along with one of us; sometimes not.

Last week we enjoyed getting to know our house guest from Germany who was here interviewing for Wheaton's PhD program. She demonstrated just how well-rounded she is by reading to the kids, discussing theology, helping me with German, sharing some of her story, and . . . playing hide-and-seek with us. The whole family was delighted to hear that she was accepted and will be coming to Wheaton in the fall! Whenever she needs a study break she can head on over to our house for entertainment (as long as she brings us German chocolate) :). Congratulations, Eva!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

looking back on a mid-life crisis

It's probably safe to call me middle-aged now that I'm rapidly approaching the half-way point between 30 and 40. My hair follicles got the memo and have stepped up the production of lovely silvery gray hair that started years ago already. I plan to be middle-aged for a good while. But I got my mid-life crisis over with early.

I was reminded of this today when I came across an unpublished post on my old blog. It was sitting in the wings, waiting to take shape, written in the middle of the wrestling that we experienced in the Philippines. It still isn't finished, but I thought I'd share it here, partly because it's wonderful to look back seven years later and be able to say "the crisis is over." And partly to affirm my 27-year old self by giving public voice to her questions. The answer, Carmen, is "yes, that was a mid-life crisis." I guess I can't promise it will be the last, but it was the real thing.

After surfing the web a while in search of a definition, I've given up. Some say mid-life crisis happens between 40 and 50 years of age when a person suddenly wonders who they are. Some say there's no such thing as a 'mid-life crisis'. Another stated that it's a period of personal identity crisis that happens around 40 years of age, give or take 20 years.

I'm 27. It's unlikely that this is a full-blown mid-life crisis that I'm experiencing. Call it what you want. But the dominant feelings are restlessness and a questioning of what direction I'm heading. Having chosen a vocation, I find myself constantly wondering when I can pursue my true calling in life, the purest expression of who God has made me to be.

But where does obedience fit in? I have this nagging suspicion that God's first priority may not be a fast track to self-actualization. So how can I tell?

 I've learned since that self-actualization, if that's what Wheaton is for me, is still a lot of hard work. And I do think that God's first priority is his own glory, not our comfort. Obedience has taken our family around the world and (almost) back and all along the way God has shown us more of himself. I've learned that our zip code doesn't matter as much as the state of our hearts. I've learned that ministry can happen anywhere. And I've learned that while God does have gifts to give us that can only come wrapped in suffering, these are not his only gifts, and we need not look for them. He has armloads of other blessings for us, even when life is "easy." The simple fact is he loves us. A lot. And because of his great grace he leads us into green pastures and beside still waters.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spiritual Life of Missionaries: Lessons Learned from the Field

If you're new to my blog, then you might not know that Danny and I have been missionaries with SIM for the past 10 years. I was recently asked to share with undergraduate students at Wheaton on the topic of spiritual formation for missionaries. I thought that perhaps some of you would appreciate hearing our story as well. Living in the Philippines was very difficult for us spiritually, not so much because of Filipino language, culture, or climate, though learning to live there had its challenges. The biggest challenges for us were internal, related to our expectations and identity, and missional, related to our roles and opportunities for service. I hope that our story is helpful to you in some way!

Danny and I were model candidates for missions. We were both Bible college graduates with supportive families and a strong sending church. We had experience in short-term missions and in church ministry. We were considered “strong Christians” by all who knew us. We passed our psychological and other evaluations with flying colors. We set a new record in SIM: In less than 12 months we had completed all of SIM’s pre-field training requirements, sold or stored all of our worldly goods, raised all of our support, and were on a plane bound for the Philippines. Our vision was crystal clear: we were going to see a reproducing church planted among a minority ethnic group in the Philippines.  Danny would serve our SIM team by handling the administrative tasks that bogged them down. I would engage in outreach and eventually Bible teaching and discipleship. We planned to stay a really long time.
But then we landed in Manila and reality hit. Learning Tagalog would not be easy. Sweating all the time was not fun. Our team was spread out across a sprawling metropolis with some of the worst traffic jams in the world. We were isolated, lonely, and discouraged. But worst of all, after a grueling year of language study, it was no longer clear to us how we could even help. Danny’s administrative tasks only took him a few hours per month. Our team was too small to need a full-time administrator, and SIM was actively considering whether any more westerners should even be sent to the Philippines. I tried no less than 7 different ministries inside the local neighborhood where our target people group lived. Every one of them was a flop.
We thought we were going to the Philippines use our gifts to build God’s kingdom. But we were frustrated at every turn. Danny is most fully alive when he is in some kind of helping role -- working behind the scenes to make things happen (which is why I’m here speaking while he is shuttling our kids between school and after-school activities) -- but Filipinos wouldn’t let him set up chairs or clean up after an event. Such tasks are too menial for a white man. And our western teammates didn’t actually need his help. It was very debilitating for him. I, on the other hand, had gone to teach, but for the first time in my life I sensed very strongly that God was asking me to keep my mouth shut. It was time to learn. As time dragged on my confidence gradually drained away. I began to doubt if I had anything worth saying.
I remember very distinctly one day walking in the tropical heat down a crowded street to the open market to do my shopping. I looked at the street vendors lining the sidewalk … watched them arranging their goods. I knew they would be lucky to make 50 pesos of profit in a day, and that they had left their babies home in the care of older siblings, some only 5 or 6 years old. At any moment the police could show up and clear the place out. Sidewalk vending was illegal. But it was the only way they could find to survive. Suddenly I felt very empty. What did I have to offer that these people actually needed? My sophisticated methods of Bible study were useless to them. Their modes of thinking and learning were almost entirely oral. Their focus was on survival. What’s more, they were already cheerful, generous, selfless. When I looked deep inside myself, I saw no great reserves of those qualities, or any others that would give evidence of a spirit-empowered life -- joy, faith, peace, gentleness, self-control. Spiritually-speaking I was just about bankrupt.
About a year after we arrived in the Philippines, I wrote this poem in my journal and later posted it on my (old) blog. It will give you a window on my heart in that very dry and difficult season.

before I journeyed here
my heart was full
now I sojourn
far from home
emptied of all I once knew

afraid that before I find
my voice in this culture
I will have nothing left to say
what was profound and meaningful before
now seems

so, Lord, I sit here
like the jars at Cana lacking wine
thirsty for You to fill me again
with your living water
so I can pour
into the lives You've gathered
around me

Come, Lord Jesus,
do your miracle in me.
God’s answer to my prayer was not what I expected. There was no instant miracle. I hoped for overflowing joy or successful ministry opportunities or at least peace that we were on the right track. He gave us none of these. But he did give us a gift that we learned to treasure – his gift was longing. Danny and I became desperate for God. We were constantly and painfully aware of our own weaknesses, our inabilities, our absolute need for Him. We lived every day for months on end with an ache in our souls that would not go away. A craving for God to do something. A thirst for his presence. And we waited. We waited beyond what we thought we could bear and then waited some more.

During that lonely season, authors—dead ones, even—became some of my most trusted spiritual guides. Henri Nouwen, Larry Crabb, Lettie Cowman.
Henri Nouwen taught me (in his books Wounded Healer and Reaching Out) that ministers of the gospel must be unafraid to venture into the depths of their own soul so that they can lead others to wholeness in a fragmented world. Being broken is not the end of ministry, it is the surest beginning. I was certainly broken, and I did not like what I saw in my own soul. But Nouwen said this was as it should be.

Larry Crabb’s book Shattered Dreams also ministered to me deeply. In it he wrestles with the same questions we were asking. He wonders out loud why God allows suffering: "He could do something. Yet He does nothing, at least not what we ask Him to do. Why? To deepen our desire for His Presence, to strengthen our passion to pursue Him, to help us see how preoccupied we are with filling our God-shaped souls with something less than God." (121)
Crabb says, "When God seems most absent from us, He is doing His most important work in us." (157) I clung to the hope that somehow God was using our isolation and struggle to do something deep in us.

Lettie Cowman’s Streams in the Desert was also a source of hope. I learned that some of God’s most precious gifts can only come to us wrapped in suffering. There is simply no other way to receive them. God does not delight in our pain, but he delights in the deep work that he is able to do in us in the midst of that pain. "There are blessings we can never have unless we are ready to pay the price of pain. There is no way to reach them save through suffering." (Sept 19, quoting Dr. Miller)
My season of silence did not end until we came home from the Philippines. It was the longest two and a half years of our lives. Eventually SIM recommended that we change fields and serve where Danny’s skills were more critically needed. We returned to the states and moved to Charlotte, NC where Danny began working for a new ministry of SIM based out of the International office. The six years we spent there were some of our richest and happiest years. Everything seemed to go our way. Our kids had great schools, we found a great church, lived in a great house in a great neighborhood with great neighbors. I got to go to seminary, which I absolutely loved. Danny’s job with SIM was a perfect fit for his personality and gifting. After six years in Charlotte God opened the door for me to continue my education here at Wheaton. I’m working on a PhD in Old Testament under Dr. Block. Once again our situation is totally ideal – house, schools, jobs, everything. Danny has been able to continue serving in his role with SIM remotely, and this year we’re approaching our 10-year anniversary of service with SIM.

We are of course relieved to have moved out of a dry and difficult season of life and ministry. But happiness has its drawbacks. I have carried with me a deep sense of appreciation for the spiritual desert that we lived in for 2 years in the Philippines. I met God in a powerful way, ironically, through his “absence.” I discovered new things about myself, my own limitations, and my desperate need for the Savior. That gift never comes through success and victory and ease. It only comes wrapped in suffering. And it has changed me, I hope, forever.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

is Christianity essentially masculine?

John Piper says so.

(let that sink in for a second)

Certainly no one would argue with the assessment that current church leadership is predominantly male. But Piper is going much further than this by saying that the church not only ought to be led exclusively by men, but that their leadership ought to be thoroughly masculine because God prefers masculinity. Masculinity, as Piper defines it, is best for everyone.

Ben Witherington III of Asbury Theological Seminary thoughtfully disagrees. Click here to read his excellent response to Piper. (Thanks to James-Michael Smith for bringing this post to my attention.) I am intentionally not trying to replicate his exegetical arguments here because his are very well expressed, but I will add some reflections from two other sources along with my own.

Christians for Biblical Equality put together a chart that shows the disparity between church attendance and church/academic leadership in terms of gender. I'm sharing it here with their permission because I found it fascinating. They are tracking seminary enrollment and membership in the Evangelical Theological Society, rather than pastoral ministry, but the numbers would be comparable. As a female member of ETS with a seminary degree, I can say that this chart fits my own experience.

A few weeks ago I read a very thought-provoking book by Carolyn Custis James, entitled Half the Church. This is one book about women that every man should read, especially those in church leadership. Carolyn calls into question the idea that Christian women, who make up over half the church, ought to sit back and let men do the hard work of leading, ministering, and reaching the world. In light of the global slave trafficking problem, where women and children are the primary victims, can women afford to sit idle and assume that it is up to somebody else to take care of the problem?

Carolyn James would agree with Ben Witherington that the church needs men and women, working alongside each other as leaders, if we want to see the mission of God carried out in the way He intended. Men need our strengths. They need our perspective. They need our help. Together we can fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Remember God's diagnosis for Adam's problem? "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen 1:18). God solved this problem by creating a woman to stand alongside him to "help" him. This is not a subordinate role, as Carolyn James insists. God is assigning woman alongside man the task of subduing the earth. Most of the other times this word "help" occurs in the Bible it describes God himself as Israel's "helper" (see, for example, Psalm 70:5).

It doesn't sound like Piper welcomes this kind of "help" from women. And that's really too bad. Because while I would certainly not want to exclude masculinity from the church, I am firmly persuaded that men are not more suitably equipped to further the kingdom of God, nor is masculinity somehow spiritually superior. On their own, men will only ever be half the church.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

life at Wheaton

This is an exciting time of year at Wheaton.
  • Three Faculty positions in Bible and one in Theology are close to being filled. A dear friend of ours is one of the finalists. We're hopeful!
  • Seventeen applicants to the PhD program have been invited to come for campus interviews. (In case you're curious, like I was, three of them are women).
  • Those of us in our first year have written a draft of our dissertation proposals and are getting ready to defend them.
  • Three doctoral students are scheduled to defend their dissertations this semester.
  • The annual missions conference is next week for undergraduate students. I'll be speaking in a breakout session on 'Spiritual Formation for Missionaries: Lessons Learned from the Field.'
  • In March a special conference on Evolution and the Bible will be held on campus.
  • In April the Wheaton Theology Conference will take place. This year's focus is Bonhoeffer.
  • The campus is undergoing a complete overhaul of vision and major strategic planning that will affect both facilities and programs for years to come.
Your prayers are appreciated for these major decisions and events. If you're interested in the advice I have for candidates who are coming to interview for the PhD program, check out the Wheaton Blog.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

once-a-month baking day

People often ask me, "How do you do it?" Organization is key. Being married to an administrator helps. A LOT. For years we've talked about doing "once-a-month cooking" or at least making extra meals to freeze. But we didn't have a big freezer until now, nor did we have a need to be this organized. So, in hopes that this method might help somebody else out there in cyberspace . . . here's what we did this morning.

Some of our favorite homemade and (relatively) healthy foods are wheat bread, baked oatmeal, bran muffins, and whole wheat peanut butter cookies. Life is way too full to bake as often as we want to eat baked goods, so Danny devised a method to make it easier to bake with limited time.

We put all the dry ingredients for a batch of homemade bread in a ziplock and store it in the freezer. When it's time to bake, we only have to add water, butter and yeast. We use a breadmaker for the bread and make about 2 loaves/week. (Making a loaf of bread is one of Eliana's chores on Saturday. It's easy enough for a 10-year-old to do it!) What you see in the photo is 10 "loaves" of bread all ready to go. We reuse the bags each month to cut down on waste. Baked oatmeal works the same way. I made pancake mix this morning as well, so we have a container of dry pancake mix that's ready for water, eggs, and oil.

Cookies and muffins are different. We make a double batch of our favorite healthy cookie recipe every couple of months and freeze the cookies in large freezer bags. At our house we have cookies for snack on Sunday afternoons. (They're so healthy, though, that I confess we had nothing but cookies for lunch today while they were hot and fresh.) They're made with whole wheat flour, wheat germ, oats, powdered milk, and natural peanut butter. Yum!

Danny found a method online for making muffins ahead of time. We mix up 6 batches of muffins all at once and then freeze the batter in quart-size freezer bags. The night before we want muffins, we move one bag from the freezer to the fridge, and it's thawed by morning. In the morning we cut off one of the bottom corners of the freezer bag and sqeeze the batter into muffin tins and bake. So easy! Nothing beats fresh hot muffins, especially Raspberry Bran muffins! Obviously the muffin bags can't be reused, but the rest can.

I did a big batch of muffin batter last weekend, and this morning we did the rest:

  • 10 bags of bread mix
  • 6 bags of baked oatmeal mix
  • 1 large batch of pancake mix (for 3 meals)
  • 8 dozen cookies
We slept in, lazed around for a while, and were still done by noon! Yes, we made a colossal mess, but we'll be eating the results for up to 2 months. It requires planning ahead to make sure we have enough ingredients on hand. (We got tired of trying to find aluminum-free baking powder around here, so we order it from Amazon). In case you're curious, most of our favorite recipes come from the More With Less Cookbook. It's a Mennonite cookbook that focuses on healthy and affordable meals that families will actually eat. We're delighted to have found a way to keep using these recipes, even with limited time for baking. Hope some of you will find ways to do it, too!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

coming soon . . . from Daniel Block

For all you Old Testament buffs out there, Dr. Block has several books in various stages of printing at this moment. It would be hard to find a more productive writer! He routinely spins off an article over the weekend while churning out hundreds of pages at a time for commentaries. Amazing.

Don't you wish you could get your hands on Block's NIVAC commentary? It won't be long now!

The good news is that Block’s long-awaited NIVAC commentary on Deuteronomy is undergoing final edits. The page proofs arrived here in Wheaton a few weeks ago, and several of us had the joy of combing all 817 pages to compile author and scripture indices. (I will never again look at an index in quite the same way!) Dr. Block tells me that Zondervan is now doing a final edit before they print it. Unfortunately, the book could still take many months to hit the shelves, but this one will be worth the wait.

Meanwhile, the longer 3-volume (1800-page!) version of Block’s Deuteronomy commentary is under consideration by two publishers. If this one goes to press, it will hopefully include all of Block’s Hebrew diagrams for the entire book, making it an excellent set for teaching exegesis courses.

provisional cover

Yesterday, Dr. Block sent off the corrected page proofs for his second spin-off volume of essays on Deuteronomy. Wipf & Stock published the first volume last fall with the title, How I Love Your Torah, O LORD!: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy. That volume included essays on particular texts of Deuteronomy. The second volume, which includes essays on themes that span the whole book of Deuteronomy, should be available by the end of next week (Wipf & Stock are FAST!). It is entitled, The Gospel According to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy. This photo shows the proposed cover as of last week. If you order a copy directly from the publisher and mention coupon code TGATM, you'll receive a 40% discount!

Wipf & Stock are also publishing a commentary on the latter part of Ezekiel by esteemed Jewish scholar Jacob Milgrom. Milgrom passed away before the project could be completed, and his family asked Dr. Block to oversee the printing of it. Milgrom chose the title himself: Ezekiel’s Hope: A Commentary on Ezekiel 38–48 — Jacob Milgrom and Daniel I. Block In Conversation. It's also at the publisher. Watch for this sometime soon!

Dr. Block also has a book on worship in the pipeline, a short commentary on Obadiah for a new series he is editing for Zondervan, and he will soon begin working on an 800-page commentary on Amos for a series edited by Seow. I’m sure he has other projects up his sleeves, too. Every day around here brings more surprises!