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!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

glue or nails?

Emma (age 4-3/4) is strapped in her car seat pondering the best way to put on a roof.  "They could have used glue instead of nails!" Most roofs in our neighborhood are in the process of being replaced thanks to a recent hailstorm.  Just about every day another house on our street gets a makeover.

"Glue?" I asked her.  "Why?"

"It would be quieter, and it wouldn't waste so many nails," Emma explained.

"I would be worried that the hot sun would dry up the glue and crack it so that the shingles don't stick anymore."

"Good point," she conceded, but went on thinking. "What if they glued Jesus to the cross?"

I had to fight to hold back laughter.  It just hit my funny bone!  "Well, that certainly wouldn't have hurt as much, but they were trying to hurt him."

"Do you think he cried?" She shuddered, "I sure wouldn't want to be Jesus!"

"Well, the good news is that he did it so you wouldn't have to!"  I love happy endings, and so does Emma.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

my favorite children's Bible

One question I'm asked fairly often is whether I have a favorite Children's Bible.  And I do!  We have several children's Bibles, but one is by far our favorite, and we've read it from cover to cover many times.  It’s not perfect by any means, but here are the things I like about it:
  • It has beautiful, realistic illustrations (painted, not cartoon).  I want my kids to know that the Bible is reliable, trustworthy and true.  I'm afraid that cartoons, while cute, do not send that message.
  • It has a LOT more stories than most children’s Bibles, including many that you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere! 
  • It does a good job of connecting the stories with one another so that the child has the feeling that it’s one, big story rather than a series of totally random events.  Most kids don't know the Bible at all, but those who do know the key stories have no idea how they relate to one another or in what order they belong.  This Bible helps with that issue.
  • One thing I really like is that the angels do not have wings. This is remarkably difficult to find in a children’s Bible!  Are you scratching your head?  I have searched high and low for biblical evidence that angels have wings ... and have come up with nothing.  (Cherubim are not the same as angels!)  If I'm wrong, please help me out!
On the down side,
  • There are a small handful of stories that are uncharacteristically embellished. That is, most stories stick to what the Bible says, but a couple of stories insert a great deal of interpretive material that distracts from the Bible story itself (such as the 10 lepers, where the author offers reasons for why all the other lepers didn’t come back to say thank you).  There's just no adequate substitute for reading Scripture itself to your kids, but a children's Bible can be a great introduction to the best book in the world.
  • And unfortunately, our favorite Bible can be hard to find. We bought ours in the Philippines, but it is sometimes available through Amazon.
It’s called The Children’s Bible retold by Anne de Graaf and Illustrated by Jose Perez Montero. Our copy is published by Scandinavia in Slovakia in 1991.  Click here for a picture of the edition we have. The later edition has brighter versions of the same illustrations. I'm not aware of any changes to the text. At the moment both editions are available used on Amazon.

I wish you all many happy hours of reading Bible stories to your children!  Bible Time is one of my favorite parts of being a mom. :)