Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas/New Year's with Paw Paw

My mom arrived Saturday evening - early enough to greet the kids, who were VERY excited to see her! Sarah seemed to find every excuse imaginable to come out of her room to say something to Paw Paw. After the kids were fast asleep, I made my mom a spinach omelette since she was still hungry after eating my lentil soup. You'd think that vacation time was the only time my mom ever got to eat...

Here she is with all 3 kids on Sunday afternoon.

Hannah's cousin, Elijah, is just a few weeks older than she is but is quite a bit bigger (I'm talkin' off-the-charts BIG). So my mom didn't think that Hannah grew that much since Labor Day. (I told her that her perspective was a bit skewed from being around Elijah).

My mom got Sarah this t-shirt, which I think is pretty funny...especially with Sarah's mischievous, playful face in this photo.

Paw Paw's presents to the kids were bicycles! What's funny is that Sarah (3 yrs old) is already pretty good at riding it while Christopher (4 1/2 yrs) still needs lots of instruction, prodding, and guidance. Believe me, we TRIED with the tricycle, and he was NOT interested. We are determined to get him interested in riding a bike, though. I'll let you know how things progress.

Look at her go! Yes, that's a Lightning McQueen helmet on her head. They didn't have any girly helmets in her size at Walmart, but she likes McQueen so it works.

While we may boast of Christopher's many talents, large motor skills are not one of them. He certainly got us laughing today while leaving Walmart, however. As we were loading the bikes into the trunk of the car, he declared, "I'm going to be a Mormon when I ride my bike." He was confused by our hysterical laughter because he wasn't intending to be funny. I guess he overheard me say, "Well, there go the Mormons..." as they passed us by on their bikes with their backpacks.

You'd also think that vacation time is the only time my mom gets to sleep. Peace and quiet are not required...all she needs is a couch.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,

and we have seen his glory,

glory as of the only Son from the Father,

full of grace and truth.”

(John 1:14)

Monday, December 24, 2007

What Is Biblical Theology and Why Do I Like It So Much?

Pete Enns has started a blog and here he has a great post on "What is Biblical theology and why do I like it so much?"

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dallas Morning News endorsements

Our local paper, the Dallas Morning News, made two endorsements this morning, one for each party. The DMN endorsed Mike Huckabee for the Republican nomination and Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. I think they are both good choices.

If you're a reader of this blog, you will know that I've been following the Huckabee campaign closely since last June. I personally like the fact that he is socially conservative but a bit more moderate when it comes to issues such as race, the environment, and education. This matches my own political philosophy well. I have to confess that I was disappointed with the incident of the cross in the background of the Christmas campaign ad. I don't want Christianity being used as a political tool by anyone under any circumstances. It's hard to believe that it was strictly an accident. I agree with Peggy Noonan on this one. But overall, I like Huckabee's gracious demeanor and sensible, practical approach to government. I do have a lot of respect for John McCain as well and I am actually grateful that he has been forthright about his reservations with the Christian right. At least the man talks straight. I respect his candor, experience and especially his strong stand against torture.

I'm also happy that the local paper went with Obama over Clinton for the Democratic nomination. I think Clinton is very smart and a hard worker and has done a good job as Senator from NY, though I disagree with many of her positions. But I don't trust her.

I think Obama is highly charismatic and a fantastic orator. I like his language about a purple America rather than a red or blue America. I don't buy the whole "he's a Muslim" thing. I researched it and it's just not true. I think he is a Christian in the liberal UCC tradition. I have no reason to think that he doesn't genuinely believe what he professes. I think he's very liberal on both social and economic issues, though he seems more moderate on national defense issues. He has had some people in his political past who have been connected with corruption and that concerns me. We don't know this guy all that well.

I find it ironic that people are giving Obama a pass when it comes to experience, but at the same time assert that Huckabee is inexperienced. I would just point out that when Barack Obama was in the state legislature in Springfield, Illinois, Mike Huckabee was already governor of Arkansas. (Though I do remember Ross Perot's line about Bill Clinton: going from Gov. of Arkansas to President of the USA is like going from manager of the local convenience store to CEO of Wal Mart.)

I do like the idea of an African-American President and I think that an Obama presidency would have a healing effect on race relations. But the curative effect might not be as much as some hope. I like the idea of having a woman President, but just not Hillary.

So at this point I'm still a Mike Huckabee supporter and John McCain is my second choice. I could see either guy getting the GOP nomination, which is pretty amazing given where we were 6 months ago. I am deeply committed to the pro-life cause and that is a top concern for me. I think it is the ultimate justice issue. Supreme Court nominees notwithstanding, I don't think the pro-life question is ultimately going to be decided by who we elect as our President. Our politics simply reflect our culture, and it's our culture that must ultimately be transformed. So I'll put my efforts in preaching the gospel. Our culture is ambivalent about abortion, and therefore our politicians are too.

Presidential elections are for me what Super Bowls are for other guys. So I'm having fun with this volatile race!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Immune Response-Mediated Protection of Adult but Not Neonatal Mice from Neuron-Restricted Measles Virus Infection and Central Nervous System Disease

Shame on me. All of these years and I've never given Mindy credit for being a published author (or at least, a contributor to a published article). She is published under her maiden name, Melinda M. Vaughn. If you want to see her work, look at the March 1999 issue of the "Journal of Virology". (And who doesn't remember that issue!? Wow!) Here it is. The titillating title of the article is "Immune Response-Mediated Protection of Adult but Not Neonatal Mice from Neuron-Restricted Measles Virus Infection and Central Nervous System Disease." Oh, baby.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tune in to St. Olaf Choir's Christmas concert tonight!

You may remember reading before that Christopher's favorite choir is St. Olaf College's choir, and that this new love was ignited after watching a "St. Olaf Christmas in Norway" special on PBS last Christmas. Well, "Christmas at St. Olaf: Where Peace and Love and Hope Abide" is airing tonight on PBS at 9pm (CST)/10pm(EST). There has been much excitement and anticipation over this in our household...Christopher can hardly wait. We'll be recording it and playing it over and over and over again (I'm sure) in the year to come, but I actually haven't gotten sick of last year's program because the performance is so stellar and the music is just gorgeous. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

If you miss the performance, they'll be airing it again on PBS on Christmas day - click here for the times.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chinese moms

Here is a picture of my mom holding Hannah after she dressed her in winter pajamas (this picture was taken in Texas!)

Yesterday, John, the kids and I went to the library together after getting flu shots and then taking hundreds of Christmas cards to the post office (all I have to say is, thank goodness for self-adhesive stamps and address labels!). The morning started out rather chilly, but then got progressively bitter cold as the wind picked up. When we opened the doors to leave the library and the freezing wind hit our faces, I saw this Asian lady running toward us saying, "Oh! The baby! Cover the baby!" Now, Hannah was bundled up nice and snug and I had a blanket for her, but all this lady saw was two little bare hands sticking out of the stroller into the icy cold. So she picked up the blanket on Hannah's lap and pulled it over Hannah's hands. Even though our car was only a few more yards away, she was NOT about to let us keep moving until she thought Hannah was sufficiently covered for the remaining distance!

Now, most people would find this a bit intrusive or invasive of personal space, but I actually found it to be rather endearing. My mom, who has now lived in the States for a longer period of time than she lived in Hong Kong, is still VERY Chinese in her thinking and behavior. What I'm about to say obviously doesn't apply to every Asian individual, but I think it well describes the vast majority of Asian moms. Let me give you a few of my favorite examples...

The year after John and I got married, we went on a family vacation to Estes Park, CO. On this particular day hiking in the mountains, it was raining sporadically and my mom was making everyone put on these plastic ponchos that she got at the dollar store 'just in case'. Well, on our way up to Dream Lake, we passed by this couple with a baby in one of those hiking back packs and the baby did not have a hat on. What started as a whisper of disapproval: "Look at them. That baby should have a hat on..." embarrassingly turned into a confrontation by my Chinese mom to these perfect strangers: "You should put a hat on your baby...her head's getting wet and cold."

The winter after Christopher was born, John went with a group of people to China. While there, they traveled from city to city, much of it by train. According to John, it was standing room only for hours on the train and sweltering hot. So he was delighted to step off the train without his coat on in sub-zero temperatures. That is, until an elderly Chinese woman who spoke no English patted him on his bare arm several times and shook her finger at him!

After we got home from the library yesterday, John told me I should call my mom and tell her about the latest event that reminded us of her. (My mom knows that we get lots of laughs at her expense, but she secretly loves it!) I then began to imagine the conversation in my mind and realized that after a quick recognition of the humor in this story, she would move to justify this woman's actions and then ask me why I didn't have mittens on Hannah on such a cold day. I decided not to call, but I'll probably get a call after she reads this blog post...

This tightly swaddled baby just might pass my mom's inspection.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Johann Sebastian Bach

Tonight John's parents came over to watch the kids so that we could attend a Christmas party. When they were putting Christopher and Sarah to bed, they turned on the music that was in the CD player and Martha (Nana) commented that it was such pretty music. Christopher said, "Yes, that's Johann the Baptist Bach...or maybe it's Beethoven." Apparently when we say "Johann Sebastian" what he hears is "Johann the Baptist." Pretty funny.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Do Not Fear a Colonoscopy

Today, I (John) had my second colonoscopy. A lot of people avoid them like the plague and refuse to have them done. They are not that bad. If you have any history of colon cancer in your family, as I do, I would love to persuade you to take the plunge.

My first one was about 5 years ago. I really dreaded the procedure, but once it was over I had two thoughts. The first was: "that was it!?" I fell asleep and woke up and it was over. Not bad at all. The second thought was, "Thank the Lord I had one, because they removed two pre-cancerous polyps." My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 43. Thankfully they caught it before it spread outside the colon. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death. But if it is caught early, it is highly treatable. And the only real way to check for it is through a colonoscopy. I had one at the age of 33, ten years prior to my dad's age when he was diagnosed. My paternal grandmother and many of her brothers and sisters had colon cancer as well. Since my dad was an only child and my sister passed away at the age of 16 of brain cancer, I have no other family history to go on. But I have enough to know that I have a high risk factor. Thankfully, they found a perfect colon with no polyps or problems today.

Of course, the worst part of having a colonoscopy is the night before. Yesterday I fasted all day and then last night drank 2 liters of "Go Lightly". That by far is the worst part of the whole thing, but it isn't that bad, especially compared to getting colon cancer. So if you are putting off having one done, don't be a wimp! If I can do it, so can you!

p.s. - they gave me pictures of the procedure, but out of mercy to you, I will not post them. :)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Turkey Chili

Mmmmm...what sounds more inviting than a nice hot bowl of chili on a cold December day? The only problem is that the high yesterday was nearly 80 degrees. Gotta love Texas. Texas may not be known as the winter wonderland, but Texans can whip up some good chili! This particular chili is yummy and remarkably easy to make, so I thought I'd share the recipe:

In an 8qt. stock pot, sauté 1 chopped onion (and 1 chopped red pepper, if you like) in a little olive oil on med-high heat.
Add 1+ lbs. ground turkey breast and brown on high heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Once the turkey is browned, reduce heat and add 3 Tbsp. chili powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin.
Stir until evenly covered and fragrant.
Here comes the easy part...
Add 4-16oz. (or 2-32 oz.) cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes (I use either Muir Glen or Hunt's brand).
Add 1-16oz. can kidney beans and 1-16oz. can black beans.
Add 1 small can of tomato soup (or if you're a purist, add 1/2 a can of tomato paste reconstituted in chicken broth. You'll have to add salt and sugar to taste).
Add 1+ cup frozen corn (I use whole kernel corn) and heat through.

Voila! Serve with cornbread or tortilla chips.

We had the annual staff/officer Christmas party at our house last night (31 adults, I think), so I made 3 batches of chili while everyone else brought appetizers or desserts. The "hardest" part in this recipe is browning the meat and seasoning it. After that, you merely open cans and dump them in (note all the empty cans to the left and in the picture below).

"Hooray for chili!"

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mitt's Speech on Religion & Democracy

As you probably know by now, Gov Mitt Romney delivered his speech yesterday explaining how his Mormon faith interacts with his political philosophy. Just as JFK gave a speech in Houston to Baptist ministers several weeks before the general election promising that he would not take orders from the Vatican, likewise Romney tries to reassure GOP primary voters about his own faith. I thought the most striking political line was about Jesus as the Savior of mankind. I take that to mean that he is especially trying to build a bridge with evangelical voters in Iowa to save his candidacy from the Huckabee surge. Two columninsts worth reading today are David Brooks and Peggy Noonan.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Huckabee rises in national polls to within 3 points of Giuliani

Today, in the first full round of national polling completed since last week’s “debate” among Republican Presidential hopefuls, Huckabee has pulled to within three points of the frontrunning Rudy Giuliani. Heading into the debate, Giuliani led Huckabee by twelve.

Not only that, new polling data released today shows that Huckabee has pulled to within a single percentage point of Hillary Clinton in a general election match-up. Huckabee is also a frontrunner in Iowa and essentially tied for second in New Hampshire. Some pundits believe Huckabee’s numbers will surely go down as fast as they’ve gone up while others are beginning to consider the possibility that the bass-guitar playing Governor may become a serious contender for the Republican nomination. Full article here.

Here is a pic from our brief hello with him at a home in Plano this past summer. We've posted the pic before, but since we're so proud of him, we thought we'd post it again!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Would somebody please tell me what Christmas is all about?

The following is a talk that Mindy gave earlier today to a gathering from our church. I thought it was great and I want to share it with you all:

Many, if not all of you have seen, “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” on TV at some point in your life. I watched it growing up and I’m enjoying it again as a parent (although I’m a little more alarmed at all of the name-calling that goes on throughout the show!) But if you’ve seen it, you’ll remember that amidst all of the Christmas festivities and cheer, Charlie Brown is depressed. Why is he so down?

He just doesn’t understand what Christmas is all about; he is annoyed by all of the commercialism and focus on presents. He senses that there is a deeper meaning to it all, but it is grossly overshadowed and trivialized by all of the modern practices.

We can relate to this, can’t we? It seems as though “Christmas” begins earlier and earlier each year, and the madness persists and bombards us from Black Friday until Christmas Day. And all of the excitement seems to be over who is getting what for Christmas, and the big celebration inevitably reaches its climax under the tree on Christmas morning. Then after all of the presents are opened, everyone feels the big let-down, emptiness and fatigue from all of the shopping, the office parties, school parties, gift wrapping, family gatherings, traveling, etc. Our culture is very effective in bombarding us with every distraction imaginable until we find ourselves grasping for the real reason why we celebrate this Day in the first place.

And so finally when Charlie Brown comes to the end of his rope, Linus, the young theologian, takes center stage and tells Charlie Brown and everyone listening what Christmas is all about:

“There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-ff)

Now it warms our heart to hear Linus proclaim these verses of Scripture on national television year after year, but I fear the power and significance of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds is lost on us because it may be overly familiar.

The angel is essentially saying, “Today in Bethlehem a baby has been born who is your Savior and Messiah…and by the way, this baby is also God Himself!”

God’s people had heard of and had been waiting LONG for the promised Messiah, the One who would save them. So it would have been incredibly exciting to hear that He had finally come! To hear that He came as a baby would have been perplexing, but to then hear that this baby, this Messiah, was God in the flesh, would have blown their minds. It should blow our minds, too.

So instead of glossing over this verse as a nice thing to write on Christmas cards, let’s unpack the punches that are found in this original proclamation of Christ’s arrival.

It should raise questions in our minds like, Why did he come in the first place? Why did he choose to come as a baby? Why did God send Himself, and not another?

The angel says that this baby born is our “Savior.” That, in and of itself, implies that we need saving or rescuing from something. What is it exactly that we need to be saved from? Sin.

When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, he tells him that “(Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Now, in order to fully appreciate the wonder of Jesus’ birth, we must understand why He came. We cannot and will not grasp the beauty and glory of our salvation if we don’t understand our desperate need for it. We must first understand what we’ve been saved from.

No one can argue over the existence of sin. No one has to teach a child to be selfish or to throw a temper tantrum. My children may learn how to call each other “blockhead!” by watching Charlie Brown, but that’s only because the roots of sin are already in their hearts. If you search every nation, every people group, every economic class, every age, and every heart, you will find sin and its effects. If we as a people know nothing else, we know how to sin. J.C. Ryle once said that he knows of no greater proof of the Genesis account of man’s origin than the power, extent and universality of sin.

So while we may be fully aware of the existence of sin, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t have a clue as to how vile, heinous and offensive it is to God. Sin isn’t just about making bad choices or being a mean person. It has everything to do with offending our perfect, holy and loving Creator and Ruler.

Kris Lundgaard writes in his book, The Enemy Within,
“Few people have come to terms with the law of sin. If more people had, we would hear more complaints of it in prayers, see more struggling against it, and find less of its fruit in the world.” (p.23)

Just as skunks don’t realize how offensive their odor is to others, we are all too content to live amidst the stink of the very thing that separates us from God, who cannot have sin in His holy presence.

So why did Jesus have to come? Couldn’t you just ‘pull yourself up by our bootstraps’ and ‘become a better you’? Why not simply make sure our children get a better education than we did? Can’t we just work harder?

Left to ourselves, we don’t even want to do what pleases the Lord. Sure, we may want to be better people – but it’s usually with the goal of getting people to like us or respect us, getting into a good school, getting a better job, or simply feeling good about ourselves. Left to ourselves, all we think and care about is our self.

Ephesians 2:1 says that we are dead in our sins. We simply cannot save ourselves let alone approach God for salvation.

God knew this. And in His infinite mercy, He moved toward us. There wasn’t a single person in all of human history who could pay the debt we owe to God. So God sent Himself.

How did He do it? Humbly, as a baby. The infinite, eternal and invisible God took on human flesh.

He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall; with the poor and mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.
(“Once in Royal David’s City”, C.F. Alexander, 1848)

This is hard to get our minds around. God, who is perfect, holy, righteous, wise, good, and pure…this same God whom we have so grievously offended, took on our flesh. He chose to become like one of us and live among us. He experienced all of the temptations and frailties of human flesh. And yet, He never gave into the temptations. He did not live for himself, as we do. He lived for the perfect will of His Father – God.

So why did He come as a baby? To fulfill every law that we break and obey every command that we ignore…and He did this perfectly from the moment of His birth. Jesus Christ earned God’s favor on our behalf.

But we know that’s not the end of the debt we owed. A price had to be paid – death; the penalty for our sins and offenses against God. Only a perfect person could sufficiently pay for debt that we owe.

How much does God hate sin? Look at the cross. Look at how much our sin cost Him.

How much does God love us? Look at the cross. Look at the manger.

We think of birthdays as a fun, party day on which we get to indulge ourselves with food and presents.

Jesus’ birthday was not a glorious day for Him. Think of how much God the Creator of the universe condescended to take on the flesh of His creatures, to suffer all of the ills of humanity, and then to die for the very people who rebelled against Him.

However, Jesus' birthday, the day that He took on human flesh was a glorious day for us.

God did for us, what we could not do for ourselves. The reason Jesus came in the flesh was to live for us and to die for us. Remember what the angel told the shepherds – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”

And the mystery of it all is that He didn’t have to do it. God does not need us. Think of how much easier things would be without us! The incarnation of Christ was an act of self-sacrificing, unconditional love.

So how should we celebrate Christmas? - worship. Remember that without Christmas day, we would still be dead in our sins and without hope in this world. But because of Christmas day…because God moved toward us by taking on human flesh, we have unshakable hope. Therefore, cling to the Savior, who is Christ the Lord! Bask in the love that God has for you in Christ!

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure; that He would give His only Son, and call a wretch His treasure!
(“How Deep the Father’s love”, Stuart Townend, 1995)

“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Linus