Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy 10th months, Hadassah!

Our baby is quite the little girl now...

Toys: her dolls and stuffed animals. She goes "awww!" and snuggles up with them in the cutest ways! She also really enjoys a kitchen set, with fake veggies with velcro that she can separate.
Food: Anything she can feed herself... but she's always ready for yogurt when it comes even on a spoon!
Songs: "My God Is So Great" and "If You're happy and you know it!"
Games: "Patty Cake" - she's got the clapping down, and recently has started mimicking the "roll it up" on her own!
Words: "Dada", "Mama" and "Dassah" are going strong, with occasional "Bye-bye" or other attempts at repeating what we say
Activities: Walking with help :) She still scoots instead of crawling on all fours (though she pushes up sometimes) but she gets around quickly! She much *prefers* if I take her hands and walk her around, but I can't do that all day! She's gotten her first small bruises from falls, and definitely makes a big fuss about it, and errs more on the safety side. But we've had a few stumbling steps as we test her balance, and I have a feeling that when she takes off, she won't stop.

She also really enjoy reading books, especially her favorites. She now has favorite pictures in some boosk - usually of a child with a silly face - that she'll turn to again and again and laugh. Such fun! She's starting to imitate my growling like a bear too on a certain page. Lots of cuteness is in this house for sure!

She's always curious, and learning so much! I've recently been trying to get her to say "Mama" and do the sign for "up" when she wants to be picked up, instead of crying and fussing at me. Today as I was trying to finish my Chinese lesson (she'd woken from her nap before it was done) she crawled over and said "Mama" and lifted her hand with no fussing at all. Made me feel like we're getting somewhere, and of course melted my heart!

She's also pretty good at doing things she knows she's not supposed to too. ;) If I'm on the computer, she'll crawl over and hold the cord and look at me. Other times she'll start scooting towards our bedroom, which I don't allow her to go in by herself, and start giggling and scoot even faster when I walk towards her and tell her "that's a no, Hadassah." But, we're making progress. ;) Now there are some off limits things she'll reach for, but then stop, look at me, and shake her head "no." Sometimes she touches them still, but other times she doesn't. Consistency pays off slowly but surely!

Our little 'Dassah isn't as outgoing as she used to be. Sometimes she'll be all smiles and go towards someone, but usually if someone holds their arms out, she'll snuggle in to me instead, and sometimes won't even look at or smile at people, not wanting to give them any encouragement to take her. ;) I'm enjoying the snuggles while they last, as she's never been a huge cuddler.

All-in-all, it's been amazing to see her grow, find she understands SO much, and look at her and realize again that she's MY daughter. Wow. Time goes so quickly! Trying to savor each moment...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A trip to the post office (that actually worked!)

Call me stubborn, but I was determined to find a place to mail letters. I looked on Google maps (and it actually worked - instead of freezing up like it often does on Shanghai maps) and found a post office that said it would take about 24 minutes to walk. The route wasn't too hard for directionally-challenged me to follow, and I ran it by Ryan to make sure.

So when Hadassah woke from her afternoon nap yesterday, we had a snack and then headed out. It had been threatening rain all day and sprinkled on and off, but one thing I've learned is that if you put things off in Shanghai due to chance of rain, you'll never get anything done. ;) Hadassah enjoyed the vibrations in her stroller from the bricks on the sidewalk as I walked at a brisk pace, determined to make it.

On another note, when did my baby get so grown up looking??

 The walk seemed like a long time, and I was starting to wonder at what point I should turn around if I didn't see anything, when I saw "China Post" and the welcome green and yellow sign. I'd found one! I checked the time: 30 minutes from my door to here. Not bad. ;)

To be fair, by car the maps said it would take 7 minutes of driving. So while it seems so hard to find a post office here, I know a lot of it is due to the fact that I no longer have the option of driving. There's probably a bus that would take me close, but so far we haven't figured out the bus system (with different numbered buses and destinations) as it's all in Chinese. In the future, I may have Ryan take me by e-bike, but I didn't want him to take time off of work (since this closed at 4:30 PM) in case it was a failed mission.

But it wasn't a failure this time! Amazing how something working can give you a high. :)

A guy sitting at a desk by the door saw me enter, spoke some English, and brought me to the counter, walking me through all the steps. They weighed the letters and gave me 3 sets of 5 stamps each. As I surveyed the small corner where a stamp would normally go, the man directed me to put them on the back. I licked the first set only to have him exclaim and direct me to a table on the side with a paint brush and some sticky liquid to affix the rest of them. All three letters completed, he showed me the mail slot, and we were done.

Hadassah was done too, as by this time she'd gathered a crowd and wasn't enjoying the attention all that much. So I picked her up, a lady helped me maneuver the stroller out the door, and we headed out.

Each letter cost the equivalent of $3.58 USD, so trips to mail letters will probably be few and far between. But at least now I know where to go. :)

Across the street there just happened to be a McDonalds, and a cone is just about 75 cents (in USD) so it seemed fitting to celebrate...

I also tried out my Chinese, since I'd just finished up a shopping and food topic with my teacher. "Xiāngcǎo bīng qí lín" I said, and they actually knew what I was asking for! So that also helped make my day. :)

 Hadassah was much more interested in the cone than smiling for the camera, as you can see, and I admit: she's not even a year and I let her taste my ice cream. But once her mouth came in contact with it, she made a horrible "that's cold!" face and didn't want to try it again. ;)

 Then we set out on the long walk back. It seemed longer since we didn't have the anticipation of finding something, but I still hurried as rain still looked imminent.

 I ldid et Hadassah out to walk some, since she'd been so good in her stroller for quite some time, but when all she wants to do is pick up leaves, we don't make much progress. ;)

But it's hard to resist that face!

The whole trip just took 1 1/2 hours.And it was encouraging to see that the walk wasn't too tiring to me. Guess I've gotten stronger. :) And, I saw what looks like a pretty extensive park with trails and lots of greenery really close to the post office, which wouldn't be too far by e-bike, so we may go there on Saturday.

I was reading in Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret this morning while I nursed Hadassah that God called him to China, and to prepare - while he was still living in England - he started eating very little, mostly just oatmeal and rice, and living in less comfortable surroundings. Kind of puts our missing of little comforts to shame...

And we now have two working phones today, after a trip to a China Unicom store over lunch. The guy restarted our phones, called some number, and voila! Don't know if they just needed a reboot or what (he didn't speak English) but we're thankful.

What are you thankful for today?

Monday, August 25, 2014


"Did you buy that yogurt locally?" asked my neighbor, who had come over as we were finishing supper. I'd recently introduced yogurt to Hadassah, and she was loving it. "Yes..." I answered. "You shouldn't," she replied, "as it's probably not stored at the right temperature." Later that week a friend a church corroborated with "Don't drink the milk - they don't produce it well here."

So we added those things to the long list of things we buy imported from an online, and yes, higher priced supplier.

The water? We finally got a Berkey water filter, and started putting water from the tap in it. But we soon weren't wanting to drink the water, as it tasted funny, and it often smells pretty bad, especially in the evenings as I'm washing dishes. Then I ran across reports that in 2013, over 13,000 pig carcasses, some of them testing positive for swine flu, had been pulled out of the Huangpu River, which supplies the water to Shanghai. That made us want to drink water even less. So we now have a longer process, filling jugs of water from what's supposed to be a pretty good source (when we moved in, friends told us "You can drink this water - but it's better to boil it"), paying just 1.5 kuai instead of 18 kuai a day for bottled water (the equivalent of 25 cents instead of 3 dollars), carrying it back and running it through our water filter for extra safety.

Fruit and veggies? It's hard to know for sure. I thought I was good peeling everything we bought locally, but news articles report high high HIGH use of pesticides in China. How do you know for sure what's safe, and what has stuff that's seeped in below the skin? My dad reminds me that "the three most important things about poisons is: dose, dose and dose" so what we're getting probably isn't horrible, but still... it doesn't leave you too assured about the things you're trying to eat to be "healthy."

We knew the air quality was a risk when moving here. Thankfully, recently it hasn't been horrible - it's just at "unhealthy for sensitive groups" on the air quality index most days, which if that sounds bad, there's still 3 more levels of "unhealthy" to go. Most days I don't notice it, but we're not looking forward to the winter, when we hear it's way worse. We have one air purifier, and should probably buy more...

Then today we read about lead poisoning. How it's extremely common in China, as their paint isn't regulated, it's likely in the water, electronics, plastics, soil, and above all in the air all around us and the dust that settles on the floor. How it's extremely toxic, especially for kids, and more of a danger to those crawlers who are always at floor level and putting things in their mouth. The recommendation is to at least damp mop all floors every day - and I cringe, wondering how I can add one more thing to the list that never seems to get done. Then there's apartment and paint testing to consider (costing more money, of course) and the recommendation to test your child's blood every few months. But we just had a check-up for Hadassah and it took all afternoon to get there and back...

It's hard. Life here sometimes seems completely overwhelming. Yesterday I tried again to mail a letter, having researched where to go on the university campus, finding a map of their shuttle bus system in English (since their campus is huge - walking there would take too long) and finding online the times it ran. But when I got there, it wasn't there. After waiting for 10 minutes, I thankfully found an English speaker in their gift shop, who told me the next bus would leave at 4:30 PM - an hour from then, and the time the post office was said to close. I guess it was the month that classes aren't going on, so maybe the bus wasn't running? I was tempted to just try to walk it, but with no working phone (yes, it randomly stopped working that morning... and Ryan's hadn't been working for a few weeks) it didn't seem wise.

We have the same amount of time everyone else does: 24 hours. We choose to try to get enough sleep, eat as well as we can (which means cooking each meal at home from scratch), spend time with the Lord, and try for time as a family and a couple. Laundry and cleaning and cooking fill so much time already, that when things take hours that used to take a few minutes (mailing a letter? Just put a stamp on it and clip it outside the door on our mailbox, or at most drive 5 minutes to the post office)... it's very hard.

This post sounds depressing, which isn't where I want to leave it. We're fighting for joy, and life is sweet. We are blessed with each other, with developing relationships here, and with the sweetest little almost-10-month-old that fills our home with giggles. And those things, like needing to walk to mail a letter, can be a blessing in disguise as it gives time to get exercise and enjoy the world God's made - as long as you don't think too much about what's in the air. ;)

Hadassah is learning and experiencing so many new things, sucking on her toothbrush after mommy brushes her teeth each night is her current most favorite thing ever, and we play "ring around the rosy" and giggle as we all fall down after supper most nights. The things that take more time (like filling jugs of water) even bring her joy, as she loves to press the buttons to start and stop the water for me. She's getting experiences she never would have had in the US. But as parents, we also want to be wise about what we're exposing our precious little one to.

There are no conclusions yet. We're still researching, trying to weigh options, see what's worth the money and time, and look to the Lord. We know God is in control, that He has His purposes, that coming here wasn't a mistake in His grand scheme. That even if we have lasting adverse effects, He can work through those. But we're praying we don't. We appreciate your prayers. And while you're at it, please pray for wisdom for us, to know what's really important, and to take one step at a time instead of just sitting down overwhelmed.

Now excuse me while I go and damp mop our floors...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

They gave up natural relations

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27 ESV)

Friday night, I woke up (I'm a chronic insomniac), started, and finished, Sam Allberry's book "Is God Anti-Gay", and then went back to sleep. It's definitely the best treatment on the topic of homosexuality I've ever read and I know I'm not going to do as well a job at treating it at 4:14PM on a Sunday night after being wiped out by going to church. So if you have it, read it.

So since we're going through Romans 1, I thought it would be appropriate to hone in on this paragraph (1:26-27) to see what Paul says about homosexuality. Not only is it a crucial hinge in Paul's argument, it's also a misunderstood issue today.

Teaching us about nature

People often take the space given to homosexuality in Romans 1 to mean that homosexuality is the chief of sins. I've heard it said that once a culture accepts homosexuality, it's all downhill from there. That's a complete misreading of this passage. Homosexuality isn't mentioned here because it is of superior guilt, but because it is of superior pedagogical value. Homosexuality tells us something about the sin in all of us.

See, what Paul accuses the homosexual of, (namely, exchanging natural relations for those that are contrary to nature), is actually not something that only those who practice homosexuality do. "Nature", here, represents the ideal that God intended for this earth. In verse 25, people turned their backs on the "Creator". In verse 26 and 27, they live that out by using His creatures the way they want instead of how He (as the Creator) wants and intends. That's what "contrary to nature" means.

What is "contrary to nature"?

The argument that some people make is that if we can just prove that some people are born with a homosexual orientation, we can disprove Paul's assertion that homosexuality is "contrary to nature". ("After all", they say, "if homosexuality is contrary to nature, then how can someone be born that way?") But that's a misreading of Paul. Paul's argument wouldn't at all be undone by the existence of a "gay gene" because the "gay gene" itself is contrary to nature. For instance, if a baby was born with only two months to live (e.g. missing key organs, etc.) we might say that such births are "contrary to nature" because they are not the design God had for the birth process when He created it. In the same way, we say that homosexuality is contrary to nature because it is not how God had designed intercourse when He created it. Things that are "contrary to nature" happen in nature all the time.

It's not just homosexuality that is contrary to nature. Actually, any deviation from the purity God demands is "contrary to nature". 1 Corinthians 6:13b says "the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." So any sexual immorality is contrary to nature. Only pure sexuality, as God designed, is according to nature. Man and wife, unashamed, as God mentions in Genesis. But nothing else. The problem is that we're all sexually deviant. None of us measure up. All of us, in one degree or another, have turned to something other than what God designed. Don't you see? We all have gone after unnatural relations when the Divine natural relation was offered all along.

I am trying to show that verse 25 (we have turned our backs on the Creator) and verse 26 (we therefore turned our backs on the created order) are very critically related. Verse 25 says that we worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. Verse 26 and 27 vividly portray an example of how this happens. And rather than distance ourselves from these verses as something only "those kinds of people do", I think Paul means for us to stand in horror at our own hearts.

Wrath as sin

But now, "horror at our own hearts" isn't the only thing that is going on here, is it? Of course, it is one of the things going on. Paul mentions that our hearts are "foolish" and "darkened" (v. 21) and that our minds are "depraved". But we are also to see homosexuality as a punishment on the human race. That is the argument of Romans 1. The argument starts out stating the "inaugurated eschatology" of God's wrath. And we're supposed to see homosexuality as a sort of "already-not-yet" of hell.

In other words, we are not supposed to be afraid for America because they're legalizing gay marriage. As in, "Oh no! Now God might judge us! Maybe this is what ISIS is about!" But, biblically, not counting the final judgment, our sins in this life are God's temporary judgment on us, not the precursor for it. God's wrath is most harshly manifested in this life when He gives us what we want.

This is so radically different than (a) most religions, and (b) what most people think Christianity says. I remember discussing with a non-Christian recently on this very point. He was trying to find some common ground with me on how to think about morality. He is an atheist and so, of course, has a very difficult time finding a basis for morals. But he was saying to me, "Well, Ryan, don't you generally want for America to be a society of people acting morally? Because otherwise, God may judge you, right?" And so I explained that in the Christian religion, we don't really expect to get full judgment for our sins in this life. And that actually, the way the Bible talks, the sins themselves, in this life, are the judgment. That definitely was new to him. But it's exactly what the Bible says.

I remember Matt Chandler's application on this point was that when you get busted for your sin, that is God's grace to you. God's wrath would be most manifest if He let you get away with it.

Society or the individual?

But who does this sin-retribution cycle describe? Are these sin-retribution cycles in Romans 1 a description of what happens to society as a whole, or is it a description of what happens in each of our lives individually?

We can easily see that the pattern in Romans 1 is that sin produces more sin which in turn produces more judgment in the form of more sin, and so on. Everyone agrees on the fact that there is a reiterating sin-retribution cycle described in the text. But the question is: Who is it that is caught up in this cycle? Is it the individual or the society?

The individual?

The most natural reading of the text is that this cycle is happening in the lives of pagan individuals, described as a corporate whole. In other words, this view would say that the people committing idolatry in verse 23 are the same as those committing acts of homosexuality in verses 26 and 27. The homosexuality, in this view, is the consequence of their idolatry.

The society?

But many have pointed out that this is another place where Paul's argument could be weakened by the findings of science. If the sin-retribution cycle is happening to the individual, then it would seem that the idolatry is the cause of their homosexuality, not genetics or whatever else. So there are some interpreters (Sam Allberry and John Piper included) who interpret this passage to say that actually homosexuality is a judgment on the human race, not the individual per se. They say that the sin-retribution cycle is actually talking about humanity in general. "Humanity in general committed idolatry. So God handed humanity in general over to all kinds of sins, including homosexuality." This is an attractive position. Because it seems that a person was given their genetic dispositions before they even had a chance to commit idolatry.

The individual's Act (not the temptation)

But I don't think this is necessary interpretation on the part of Allberry or Piper. In my view (and Tom Schriener's if I understand him correctly), Paul is giving an example of how this sin-retribution sequence works itself out in the lives of some individuals. Those individuals were the same ones who committed the sins of verses 21-25 (i.e. dishonored him, exchanged the glory of God for images, etc.). And for these particular people in Paul's example (which are supposed to be a paradigm for all of us), their initial sin of dishonoring God led them into the practice of homosexuality.

But that is the key word. The "practice" of homosexuality. Notice that I didn't say that it led them into the temptation of homosexuality. Of course, the temptation for homosexuality may just as well be result of the fall. But the sin itself - the "practice", - not the temptation (i.e. same-sex attraction), is what is in spelled out in verses 26-27. So there doesn't seem to be (to me at least) any contradiction between this passage and the current or potential findings of science about where homosexual desires come from.

Long story short, the same-sex attraction isn't the sin - the "inflamed with passion for one another" is. The temptation isn't the sin until it becomes the burning with desire and exchanging the natural use of their bodies for what is contrary to nature. And that (the sin) is what God gave them up to in response to their idolatry.

Another Great Exchange

The "great exchange" in this passage is the exchange of natural relations for unnatural relations. Zooming out a little, this is supposed to show us the wrath that God is revealing against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men (Rom 1:18) and looking ahead, we are to see that God's wrath is also, even more greatly, demonstrated in another "great exchange" in which we get God's righteousness and Jesus becomes sin for us. God "laid on Him the iniquity of us all." I think this passage lends extra weight to that Isaianic phrase.

So I don't know if you've thought about this, but since homosexual acts are actually seen as the judgment for sin (1:27b), this is one of the most vivid, real-life portrayals of God's wrath that we see (in Romans at least). And if Jesus is dying for us with God laying on Him the iniquity of us all, then that means that in some ways, Jesus understands the horror of being bound to a homosexual lifestyle. Not that He ever has been or ever will be. But the suffering associated with the sexual deviant, according to this passage, is under the category of "the wrath of God", and therefore is something underwent for us at the cross.

Jesus took on him homosexuality. He became sin. But He also rose again. And if we unite ourselves to Him in His death, then we will reign with Him in life.

One of the things I loved about Sam Allberry's book is that he really seemed to "get it". He understood the demands of the Christian gospel. He was willing to say that the only alternative to marriage is celibacy and that is the route he took with his own life. The Christian gospel invitation is not an invitation to "your best life now" (the way the world thinks of it). It's a call to the army, to radical suffering, to alienation, suffering, and oftentimes humiliation. But it is precisely in that suffering that we are most ably able to place our faith and trust in Christ and so be united to Jesus in His cross. And the scriptural promise is that if we are united with Him in His death, we will be united with Him in His resurrection.

Amen, come Lord Jesus. Come.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Two years of "I Love You"

 Two years ago, on August 18th, 2012, Ryan asked me to marry him. I answered "Yes - with all my heart." And our hearts have been soaring ever since. :)

I also heard "I love you" from him for the first time, and was able to say back what had been bursting in my heart: "I love you!" Saving that and holding hands until the day he proposed has made both of those things a treasure to us, something that communicates true, committed love.

There have been hard times. A LOT has happened in what seems like such a short time. But it's been amazing walking by the side of the one I love.

 I made a fancy dinner and wore the same dress I wore when he proposed, even doing my hair the same way, french braided and pinned up with pearls. Then Ryan did what he does many evenings, playing with and reading to Hadassah while I cleaned up the kitchen. What he didn't know was that I was trying to clean up extra quickly, because people were coming...

Around 6:15 PM the doorbell rang. I was waiting for a delivery of groceries, so told Ryan that maybe that was it. To be fair, I thought it might be, since they were supposed to be delivered before 6 PM. Ryan's face when the people who came up the stairs were our friends, the only other Americans we know of that live in this area, was priceless. :)

"We're going for a walk" I told him. "They're here to watch Hadassah."

I was so glad the surprise worked. Two years ago he surprised me with a walk before supper, in which he asked me to marry him. Our friends had been so kind to come and babysit, even walking through the rain, so that I could surprise him this time with a walk after supper, to remember. :)

 Because of the rain, we didn't walk far... just down the street and across to the university campus, headed for the gazebo by the lake. Since it was raining, we had it to ourselves!

 We love our little girl SO much. But sometimes, we just need to be the two of us. Able to walk hand in hand and very close, without trying to push a stroller too or hold a baby that increasingly wants to get down and try to walk herself. :)

Two years ago, this was the scene Ryan surprised me with... the details are still so vivid in my mind.

 Two years later I still have the same dress, and even the same shoes, though they're a little beat up now. ;)

After many attempts, Ryan got the self-timed camera aimed perfectly :)

 There "just happened" to be one dry bench in the gazebo for us to sit on. I made a card with pictures from that day and thankfulness to where God has brought us since. Our Father is so faithful!

 I'm pretty sure Ryan never thought he'd get a call at work from his wife saying "If the food processor is smoking, should I submerge it in water?"

Yeah... In my haste (Hadassah was occupied with a toy and I knew it wouldn't last long so was hurrying!) I accidentally plugged it in the wrong output plug from the converter we brought, so that's the end of that. But, it worked long enough to make a peach smoothie which made me happy, since a peach smoothie is what Ryan gave me before our walk...

So we enjoyed a peach smoothie two years later. :) So thankful!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

God gets even

(18) For[1] the wrath [2] of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 

(19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

(21) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves

(25) Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (28) And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Romans 1:18-31, ESV (except the capitalization of "Because" in verse 25). All emphasis my own.

Have a feeling this will be a long post. Really, you don't need to read it. But I need to write it. With a passage this large in front of us, it's almost impossible for it not to be. We are helped out, though, by three things: (1) I've already covered the issue of natural revelation and the issue of our dishonoring of God in previous posts. And I plan on taking up homosexuality in an upcoming post. So we shouldn't need to get sidetracked with those in this post. In this post, my main objective is to see the top-level perspective of Romans 1:18-31. We're just trying to get a 30,000 foot view of it.

In Greek, they tend to start out the text with the most important thing. And here, the defining characteristic is the wrath of God. (Verse 18 starts it saying "For the wrath [Gk. orge] of God is revealed from heaven...") So that's where we're headed.

Another of the main ideas that Paul is trying to communicate throughout this first part of Romans is the righteousness of God (see our post on verse 17). God does things justly. In fact, throughout this first section (1:18-3:20) where Paul is trying to show that everyone stands condemned before God, one of the things he keeps coming back to is that God is completely just in His judgment of us:

 - 1:20: "so they are without excuse"
- 1:27b: "receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error"
- 2:1a: "you are without excuse"
- 2:2: "God's judgment is always according to truth"
- 2:5: "God's righteous judgment"
- 2:6: "He will render to each one according to His works"
- 2:11 "For God shows no partiality [in judgment]"

So there is this legal dimension to what Paul is getting at. It's not just unbridled wrath with no constraint. God is showing "patience, forbearance, and kindness" (2:4a), and His judgment is always according to truth. Lex talionis.

This legal category of how God's wrath plays out is very important to keep in mind. Because where Paul takes the text is about to get really interesting. He starts to talk in vindictive terms.

Did you notice that in the text above, I added formatting to the text? The underlined phrases show what man's initial sin that dishonored God. We covered these last week. Basically, man spit in God's face. God showed Himself to us (unveiled Himself as it were, verse 19) and instead of being thankful, we dishonored (verse 21), turned our backs on Him (verse 25) and tried to forget Him (verse 28).

The question we left off asking last week was this: Does God let us get away with this? Does He let His glory lie in the dust and let His public shaming stand?

The answer (No!) comes in what you see bolded above. God responds with His wrath (verse 18) and this is seen not only in the legal, tit-for-tat, eye-for-eye judgmental sort of way, but also takes on vengeful, retributive sense.

God doesn't just get even, He gives them a taste of their own medicine. (I am indebted to Douglas Moo and G. K. Beale for pointing this out to me.) Look at the following pattern:

1:21 They "dishonor" God.

--> 1:24 "Therefore God handed them over... to the dishonoring of their bodies"

1:25 They "exchange" [Gk. metallassow / μεταλλασω] the glory of God for images

--> 1:26 "For this reason, God handed them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged [Gk. metallassow / μεταλλασω] natural relations for those that are contrary to nature.

1:28a: They didn't approve [Gk. edok(i)masan [3] / ἐδοκίμασαν] to to acknowledge God.

--> 1:28b "God handed them over to an disapproved [Gk. ad(o)kimon / ἀδόκιμον] mind.

The word for "handed them over" above is the same in all three sentences (παραδιδωμι) so the peculiar repetition is there in the original document (not just our English versions.)

They dishonored God, so God dishonored them.

They dishonored God by making an exchange. So He dishonored them with another exchange.

They disapproved God, so He disapproved them. [4]

God throws their sin back on them, so to speak. It's like when Haman gets hung in his own gallows (cf. Esther 5:14 and 8:7), and countless other great stories of revenge. God gets His satisfaction by pouring His wrath out on His enemies. This is how He restores His honor.

This is a great thing. How terrible it would be if God just let people dishonor His name. If He just let His defamation have the final say. God had to have the last laugh or He would look tiny and impotent. In some ways, He would be tiny and impotent. God's wrath being revealed from heaven is a good thing and, even if we don't understand this right now, someday we will. In heaven, we will go out and look on the dead corpses of our enemies (Isaiah 66:24) and rejoice that God got His glory (Rev. 16:7). God gets the last laugh.


That was a good way to end the post. So actually, that counts as the end of the post. But I wanted to answer a misconception about what I just posted. From the looks of Romans 1:18-32, it might look like the sin itself is the only punishment meted out to His enemies. And so some God-haters might actually respond to this as follows: 

"Hmm.. Well, that's not so bad actually. If I read this text rightly, it says that if I dishonor God, I will be given over to a host of other sins, like homosexuality, envy, etc. But what if I like my sin? This doesn't really seem like such a bad course. Tell you what God, I'll dishonor You, and You can just continue to give me over to more sins. Quid quo pro. Deal?"

But the sin lists in 1:18-32 are proleptic punishments. They are not the end of the story. Notice that Paul says God "hands them over". God is handing them over to a slave master (satan) who has them chained, gagged and shackled until their final execution. I love the way John Owen puts it: "he gives them up to one sin as the judgment of another, a greater for the punishment of a less, or one that will hold them more firmly and securely for that which they might have possibly obtained a deliverance from." [5] And not only that, but Paul explicitly says in the same passage (2:5) that there is a future judgment that is coming. When we see a prisoner on death row who deserved to be there, we say "he got what was coming to him", even if he isn't dead yet. Same sort of thing here. If we see a person infected with ebola, we feel intense compassion and dread for them, even if none of the symptoms have started to show yet. This is because we anticipate what is going to happen. But here, the sins are not just pointers to the coming judgment that is going to happen. They serve three purposes:

(1) They hold them as prisoners. (They are too enslaved to their sin and blind that they cannot repent and so escape the judgment of God, cf. 2:3-4.)
(2) The sins are a punishment in and of themselves. This is the straightforward interpretation of 1:18-32. (Sin is destructive and keeps the person from having the joy of having God be the center of their affections as He is meant to be.) In this way, they are prolepses of the coming judgment. Part of Hell will be the natural consequences of sin (but this is not all that Hell is said to consist of.)
 (3) The sins actually are actually adding to the horror of the coming judgment. Romans 2:5 says calls it "storing up wrath." Each sin adds more and more wrath to the anger of God that will some day be inflicted on them "on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed."

This is definitely a sobering post and I don't have much time to close it out with more reflective thoughts.

A brief note though: If all of this is new to you, don't take my word for it. Look over the verses I mentioned. Also, please do realize that while this is all completely true, it is not the end of the story. But.. what I've just written is absolutely essential to understanding any of the rest of the story.

Thank You God, for Your wrath.

[1] There is debate over what the "for" that starts out verse 18 is referring to. (a) John Piper and Douglas Moo think it is answering an implicit question that was raised by verse 17. In their view, when Paul says "for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith", maybe Paul was also intentionally raising the question of why it is necessary for the righteousness of God to be revealed. And then he answers that implicit question in verse 18. This seems a little far fetched. (b) Some people (this is the way I used to think) think it points back to verse 15. In verse 15, Paul has said he is eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome. Then in verse 18, he would be picking up this thought again. "I am eager to preach the gospel to you because the wrath of God is being revealed." But this is unlikely, since there are so many subordinate clauses in between verse 15 and verse 18. Paul says, "I am eager to preach the gospel to you for I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation... for in it the righteousness of God is revealed... for the wrath of God is revealed." It's very unlikely that, at this point in the game, he's referring all the way back to verse 15. (c) The most likely option, then, is that it is explaining the clause that comes right before it. Namely, verse 17, where Paul says that the righteousness of God is being revealed. But then that leaves us with an interesting question. How is that the wrath of God being revealed is an explanation for the righteousness of God being revealed? Mark Seifrid answers this conundrum well [Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 2007, page 611] by pointing out that most often, in the Bible, God's salvation is revealed through judgment. So why should we expect it to be different here. If we are biblically aware, and we hear that God's salvation and righteousness are being made manifest, we should be asking, "But where is the judgment on His enemies?" And Paul answers that question in the next verse (verse 18) by saying "for the wrath of God is being made manifest against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (i.e. His enemies.)

[2] "Wrath" is an unpopular idea anywhere, and academic circles are no exception. C.H. Dodd (academically active circa 1930-1960) tried to make a case that this was not the personal, vindictive wrath of God, but rather just the way nature naturally ran its course in the moral universe God created. Nobody really seems to care about the issue anymore because it's been answered so well by Leon Morris. Indeed, Douglas Moo only passingly referred to the idea in one sentence of his commentary. But pretty much everyone, when they talk about the idea of wrath in Romans, has to at least say what it's not thanks to C.H. Dodd. You can find a nice summary against Dodd's thesis in The Cross of Christ (2006 ed.), pages 105-106.

[3] Someone really needs to come up with an ISO 9 way of representing Greek. This is important for when you need to pass along text documents to other people and still retain the Greek transliteration. I have my own representation that you see above. Namely: (1) for accents, I enclose the vowel in parenthesis, (2) for "η", I actually type "ay", and (3) for "ω", I use "ow".

[4] Actually, the text, 1:28, leaves it passive. It just says that their mind was "disapproved." G.K. Beale says it was God that was disapproving them. But I'm not so sure this is set in stone here. It could also be that other people are disapproving their mind. This could be a sort of public humiliation that God is putting on them.

[5] Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers in Overcoming Sin and Temptation, 2006 ed. Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, pp. 88-89.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A tour of our home

Apologies in advance for the many pictures...

With our boxes finally here and touches of home up, since I cleaned the house today I took pictures to show what life and home looks like for us here. Of course, not everything is the way we want it... but I've learned things won't ever be "done" and it's almost done! :) We truly feel blessed with the furnished apartment we found. God has blessed us, and it truly feels like home now. 

So, here we go...

 Our apartment, building 44. Climb to the 3rd floor and you'll come to our door...

Stepping inside, you can put your shoes into the cabinet on the left. 
Chinese apartments have many smart storage compartments, that help greatly!

To the right, you'll see our dining room. Through the sliding door straight ahead is a small enclosed balcony that holds a washing machine, sink, and drying space. The cabinet on the left holds dishes that makes setting the table a breeze.

The plants are ones we're watering for our neighbors while they  vacation for a month. But they make a house so homey, that maybe one day we'll have our own. 

Hanging on our dining room wall, this gift made by a dear friend when when we were teens makes me smile... neither one of us would have ever dreamed it would be hanging on a wall in China!

And funny story: my Chinese tutor today was shocked to see it and hear I'd gotten it from a friend in America, as she thought only people in China did cross stitch. I guess it's a universal art. :)

The cute kitchen feels open to the dining and living room, which is nice. Hadassah can play in the living room or scoot around and all I have to do is peek my head out to check on her. :) Though the smallest kitchen I've had yet, it doesn't seem too tiny and has just the cabinets we need.

And no, under the stove (which has both burners working - they actually both worked all along, I just had misunderstood... though one only cooks WAY high so I've had my share of boiling over and scorching...), that is not a dish washer. It's an "anti-bacterial" that heats washed dishes very hot to kill parasites from the water...

The view from the sink where it seems I am a lot during the day... I use a dish pan on the counter to wash now, as the low sink was giving me a backache. I get a lot of those as a taller person living in a shorter society ;)

Surrounded by people... it makes life interesting sometimes, and is a good reminder to pray as I do dishes.

So happy to have an oven, atop another great storage compartment. The lowest drawer I just "gave" to Hadassah for spoons and other kitchen things for her to play with. First time she sat at it she was occupied for almost 20 minutes - which is huge to a mom!

 To the left when you come in our door, you'll find our living room. The curtains and tan couch were here when we moved in; we bought the black & white couch used and after much deliberation went with a bold rug choice. We're still working on adding a few more touches of red (on couch pillows and possibly a swag on the curtain rod) to tie everything together. But we like how fun and lively it all makes the room!

The Chinese paintings of the four seasons Ryan bought in 2011 in Suzhou, China. Pretty cool to bring them back and add a touch of the Oriental to our home.

I like having a guitar in the corner - and even more hearing Ryan play, often with Hadassah "helping" him. It was the first purchase we made the day we moved in, and definitely worth it.

Wedding and family pictures out help so much, to see loved ones right there. The play set our neighbors gave us to borrow, and Hadassah loves maneuvering through the openings.

I made this in Iowa, as our theme verse in our first home, and it definitely still applies here. I hope to start another one to match the colors of our room someday soon... to maybe make a new wall hanging in each home we live in, to have a collection one day. :)

 The book shelves are some of our favorite furniture pieces, and after 2 months of being empty, it's so wonderful to see them full of memories and great books. And the lower shelves conveniently conceal Hadassah's toys.

Ryan's coworker generously gave us this Chinese picture (adding another touch of red - yes!) and a door to the right leads to another enclosed balcony to hang laundry.

 Straight in front of you as come in the main door is a hallway with mirrors. Hadassah thinks a friend lives in them, and she visits with "the baby in the mirror" quite often throughout the day. :) 

A bathroom is straight ahead to the right- so nice to have when guests come!

 Down the hall and to the left is the office. Not too fond of the curtains (which were here) but we're happy to have a rug to make it more cozy! We actually bought this rug used only to find it definitely did NOT go with our couches, but made a great addition to this room!

 Again, so nice to have shelves no longer blank! And yes, we did ship over a lot of books... Ryan couldn't bear to leave them behind. ;)

 The not-so-great side of the room - aka, the place for stuff to be stored! We'll probably eventually pare down the number of empty boxes we have. But this super-long table that was originally in the living room (and looking very awkward) works great as storage and place to stack stuff!

 Pretty Chinese desk :)

To the right of the office, you'll find the master bedroom. First time with a master bathroom, and I don't think we'll ever want to go without one!

 This quilt was made by a dear and generous friend in Iowa. I didn't pack many big items, but this is one I couldn't leave behind. And though Chinese beds we've found are many different sizes (much more variation that just twin, queen, and king!), the quilt fits our bed perfectly!

And the big cabinet has two rods on each side to hang clothes, plus many shelves and drawers. The Chinese really know how to make practical furniture especially for small spaces!

Again, the curtains I could definitely do without. ;) But they're low on the list of things to replace (if ever), and I'm grateful we didn't have to spend money for them! The door also goes out to the place to hang laundry, making it easy to bring clothes in to put away.

Our room has a cool alcove that has many windows. Until we get the windows fully light and sight-proof with all of our cardboard (maybe this weekend!), we have a curtain hanging up. One day it would be neat to have a cozy place for devotions... but we'll see if that ever happens. ;)

To the right of the second bathroom, you'll find Hadassah's room. Cheerful, girly, and fun!

 Her playpen, with a quilt made by a cousin of mine, "children are a blessing from the Lord" embroidered, and cute pictures of our little Iowa baby :)

Another big cabinet, great for clothes and toys! "In peace I will lie down and sleep" is embroidered on the wall. Crazy to think I was making it a year ago, not knowing if we'd be having a boy or a girl, and not dreaming we'd be in China a year later!

So, there you go. An in-depth tour of our home, since we won't be able to host many family and friends from the states. But, if anyone ever does want to come, we'll have a guest room by moving Hadassah into the office for a few nights... so let us know if you ever want to visit Shanghai! :)