Thursday, November 28, 2013

full of thanks

I've said before that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Along with millions of Americans, I'm counting my blessings today. Right at the very top of my list this year is a man who has invested the past 43 years of his life ministering to students like me. As we gather around his table to give thanks my heart will be full to bursting. You can be sure of that.

I arrived in Baltimore last week Wednesday for 6 days of annual meetings for the various academic societies of which I am a member -- ETS, IBR, and SBL. I presented papers at each conference, reunited with friends, interacted with scholars from around the world, and stayed up late talking with roommates night after night. But the highlight was undoubtedly the ETS session on Thursday afternoon. A world class cadre of scholars gathered in the Baltimore Convention Center for a session entitled “Deuteronomy as Good News: A Conversation with Daniel I. Block.” The event was billed as a response to Dr. Block’s work on Deuteronomy following the publication of his NIV Application Commentary and two spin-off volumes of essays on the book. It was that, but it was also the unveiling of a surprise Festschrift in his honor. In commemoration of his 70th birthday earlier this year, Dr. Block’s friends, colleagues, and former doctoral students contributed 597 pages of essays relating to the message of Deuteronomy, published by Eisenbrauns. In the academic world, a Festschrift is probably the highest honor one can receive. It's a symbolic induction into the scholarly hall of fame, the Oscar award of academia, the proverbial "well done, thou good and faithful servant."  

For Our Good Always: Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy in Honor of Daniel I. Block is a treasure-trove of reflections on the biblical book that has become Dr. Block’s favorite. The entire work is edited by three of his former doctoral students, a labor of love for their mentor (Jason DeRouchie, Jason Gile, and Kenneth Turner). A Festschrift doesn't make anybody rich (least of all the publisher), but it celebrates the riches of a lifetime of scholarship and teaching ministry.

By the time I arrived at Wheaton in the fall of 2011, the Festschrift was already planned and the essays were in production. However, I was in the right place at the right time to help with reconnaissance and arrange for a celebration dinner with all the contributors. At the dinner I had the privilege of listening to tribute after tribute to Dr. Block's scholarship and character. I count myself among those whose lives have been forever changed because of this man. He has shaped my writing and thinking, trained and modeled faithful study and teaching, and most of all, he has opened his heart wide and welcomed me in as his own daughter.

It's not difficult to figure out why Dr. Block's students love him so much. His enthusiasm for God's Word is contagious, his scholarly output formidable, and his love for his students knows no bounds. Outside the classroom, he and Ellen have walked with students time and again through unspeakable pain and exhilarating joy, and those ups and downs have forged an unbreakable bond. I'm profoundly grateful that God saw fit to weave our stories together, and that this year we can join hands around the table and give thanks together.

Monday, November 25, 2013

lessons from the school of hard knocks

When life's journey takes you into the desert, it can seem like "real life" is on hold, waiting for problems to be resolved, waiting for questions to be answered, waiting for momentum to return. But desert seasons are where some of God's most important work gets done—inside us. This morning I read reflection #171 from Charles Ringma's profound devotional, Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen. Time after time, this book has spoken life to my soul. Today I simply must share the whole reflection with you, because it captures so well the idea that the desert is God's classroom:

   "Much of life is spent preparing for and gaining knowledge for future roles and tasks. And many of our educational strategies are based on the premise of learning first in order that we may do later. For some, this has resulted in much learning but little doing. For others, it has meant quite a deal of unlearning once they have experienced the real world."
   "Yet it should be obvious that many things are learned by doing. One learns to pray by praying, to serve by serving, and to love by loving...."
   "Nouwen hints at this. He writes, 'The great illusion of leadership is to think that a person can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.' No only can we not look to spiritual guides who lack life's difficult experiences or who have failed to make sense of them or acknowledge them, but we also need to walk our own desert experiences and learn from them."
   "Because spirituality does not embrace only an aspect of life, but all of it, all of life's experiences become the testing ground for linking faith and practice. Thus, in being, living, doing, praying, serving, risking, loving, and participating, we are weaving a pattern for understanding our spirituality."
The school of hard knocks may not be your choice of a classroom. It's not mine, either. But the lessons we learn in the desert classroom cannot be gained anywhere else.

Show me your ways, LORD; Teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

silver linings

Some seasons of life we'd rather not endure. Heavy black clouds dampen everything and choke out joy. We long to turn the corner, to pack up and move on. But there are graces even on the darkest day, graces we cannot see in the sunshine. If we have the courage to stare into the blackness with our eyes wide open, looking for Him, we'll discover untold riches.

When trials are more than we can bear alone, we discover that we are not alone. Hugs are longer. Prayers are deeper. And the Scriptures come alive in fresh ways. We realize anew that He knows what we're going through, and He made provision for us long before we entered this valley. What's more, our eyes are opened to the sufferings of others. We recognize the burdens they carry, because we've carried them, too.

When things look bleak, we discover the power of gratitude. Each hour not saturated in trouble becomes a gift. Each good night's sleep a blessing. Each friend who knows and cares a boon to the soul. Each part of life not touched by trouble carries a new sparkle that we once missed. When our appetite returns and our stomach behaves normally, we receive it with thanks.

When perspective is hard to gain and harder to keep, we discover the urgency of spiritual disciplines. We no longer read the Scriptures because we should, but because we must just to make it through the day.  Confession and forgiveness have immediate bearing on our ability to cope. It no longer seems like a stretch to pray without ceasing.

Spiritual hunger is one of the gifts God grants us when life is hard. So are gratitude and deeper community.
Though I don't suggest that we wish for suffering, when it comes (and it will) we can open our arms to receive what God has to give us in that season. The black clouds of suffering always come with the silver linings of his grace. We can't necessarily discern it right away, but if we keep staring, we'll learn to see what's there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dr. Daniel Block: the gospel according to Deuteronomy

Dr. Block's love for Deuteronomy is legendary on Wheaton's campus. He can find a way to bring Deuteronomy into just about every conversation, every lecture, and every dissertation defense. He's convinced that he could show you gospel on any page of the book. (Speaking of pages, you should see the pages of Deuteronomy in his Bible . . . they're falling to pieces!) That's what prompted him to title his recent collection of essays on Deuteronomy The Gospel according to Moses. And his gospel-saturated vision is contagious. It inspired Clayton Keenon to plan a whole grad chapel series devoted to this topic. So it should come as no surprise that Dr. Block was asked to give the final message in the series, highlighting gospel in his favorite book of the Bible—Deuteronomy.

As you probably know by now, Dr. Block is my dissertation advisor and beloved mentor. This message will give you a great taste of my Wheaton experience!

Here are links to the whole series:

Dr. John Walton - Genesis
Dr. Philip Ryken - Exodus
Clayton Keenon - Leviticus
Carmen Imes - Numbers
Dr. Daniel Block - Deuteronomy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

eschatology when it matters most

In the classroom it may seem like eschatology (the study of the "last things")  is a frivolous topic. Why speculate about how things will play out in the future? Don't we have enough to worry about today? It will all unfold the way God planned it, whether or not we understand what, when, or how.

But actually, eschatology does its most important work in the mess of everyday life, with its worries and fears, trials and struggles.

For the family stunned by a terminal diagnosis ...
For the one falsely accused and misunderstood ...
For the couple whose marriage is falling to pieces ...
For the addict who can't get free ...
For those whose loss is more than they can bear ...
For the one struggling to cope with mental illness ...

Eschatology is a lifeline.

There are a whole host of views about the end times, and each view has practical consequences. That's a topic for another day. The most important truth that all Christians hold in common is this: God wins in the end. Evil will be finally and decisively defeated. Truth will prevail. Hurts will be healed. Everything will be restored to its created design. In the words of the Old Testament, "each of us will sit under our own vine and our own fig tree, with no one to make us afraid" (cf. Micah 4:4). In other words, we'll be able to truly rest, to enjoy the fruits of our labor with no fear of what's to come.

For the family stunned by a terminal diagnosis ... it's ok to be angry. Cancer is not God's intention. And it's not the final word.
For the one falsely accused and misunderstood ... God will bring ultimate vindication.
For the couple whose marriage is falling to pieces ... He offers healing and full reconciliation.
For the addict who can't get free ... He will release the captive.
For those whose loss is more than they can bear ... there will be unbounded joy.
For the one struggling to cope with mental illness ... true peace, inside and out, is guaranteed.

Eschatology speaks to our brokenness, pain, and strife with the precious promise that this is not all there is. God is not finished yet with what he is doing. From our vantage point it may look like a losing battle, but he will prevail. We can bet our lives on it.

And as we cling to that truth -- that God will win in the end -- we find strength to face today.

"The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.
Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing." (Isaiah 51:3)

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion,
'Your God reigns!' . . .
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God." (Isaiah 52:7, 10)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Carmen Imes: the gospel according to Numbers

Gospel? In Numbers? I admit I was a bit taken aback by this assignment. (The only disease worse than Numbers is Leviticus!) I quickly remembered, though, that the priestly blessing is found in Numbers 6:24–27. That was my ticket. Surely a blessing counts as gospel. So I said, 'yes.' And then I got back to work on my dissertation. That was July.

August and September were quickly swallowed up by dissertation work, TA work, getting kids back to school, etc. When I turned the page to October (yes, I still use a paper calendar), I knew it was time to nail down my chapel message. By that time I had heard Dr. Walton speak on Genesis and Dr. Ryken on Exodus. Both of them did such a great job of setting up the whole book as gospel. That's when I realized that the priestly blessing was a cop out. If I didn't read the whole book, I would never know what gospel I was missing. And so I did. Starting with chapter 1, I read clear through to the end.

Wow. Was I in for a surprise! Not only did I find more gospel, but in the most unlikely place. I would tell you where, but that would spoil it. You'll just have to watch for yourself and see. So grab a Sharpie (you'll need one), sit back, and enjoy!

The gospel according to Numbers is that we're counted as his.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Clayton Keenon: the gospel according to Leviticus

Clayton Keenon delivered the third message in Wheaton's grad chapel series, "The Gospel according to Moses," offering an up-close look at one of our least favorite books of the Bible: Leviticus. If you have been bored, baffled, or grossed out by Leviticus, this message is for you! Clayton explained the big idea of Leviticus this way: Here's what needs to happen when God moves into the neighborhood.

I can just about guarantee this will be the most enlightening and refreshing 25 minutes of your week!

So far the series has included messages by Dr. John Walton on Genesis and Dr. Philip Ryken on Exodus. Next week I'll post my own chapel message on Numbers, followed by Dr. Daniel Block on Deuteronomy.