Portable Magic: Thus, It Begins

I got a text from my daughter yesterday. It said, very simply, “Samuel is trying to catch up to grandpa.” That was a reference to the beginnings of his book collection after they shelved everything received at the baby shower on Saturday. Check it out:

SamJam is way ahead of where I was two months before delivery. Still, he has some ground to make up. When I add my hard copy books to the items I have in my Logos library and on my Kindle, the grand total is around 14,000 volumes. Depending on his vocation and interests, he may inherit quite a few of them!

Why I’m excited for him:

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King 

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies….The man who never reads lives only one.” 
― George R. R. Martin 

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” 
― C. S. Lewis

“We read to know we’re not alone.” 
― William Nicholson

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” 
― Lemony Snicket

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” 
― Oscar Wilde

“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” 
― Sir Francis Bacon

And remember, dear one:

“Life is God’s novel. Let him write it.” 
― Isaac Bashevis Singer

“Love at first sight.” A thank you note and gift from SamJam for organizing the baby shower.

And the Winner Is: Diaper Pong!

Now that was a baby shower! What a great turnout. And we all had a wonderful time. (Alas, I had to slip out to teach a class for a couple hours, but I got my share of celebrating in.) Everyone was so kind and thoughtful. Bethany’s network of support really came through to bless her with practical items needed by a first-time mom. It was the power of love and community in action, and I was touched. It was also great to see so many old friends and out-of-town family members.

My favorite game was Diaper Pong. Bounce a ping pong ball into an open diaper hanging on a board and win a prize. I tried to persuade my daughter that first prize should be a bowl of chocolate pudding with a glass of lemonade, but she vetoed the idea. (Yes, 7th grade humor is my specialty.) The Make-a-Onesie station was also a hit. My favorite design was the one that said, “I’m always getting picked up by the ladies.” Ha! I’ll remind him of that when he’s 16 or 17. It was a self-catered event, and everyone pulled together to pull it off. We couldn’t have asked for a better team or a lovelier day. 

So, now it’s getting real. Samuel is on his way, and we’re doing our best to get ready for him. What Peter said of Jesus could be said of SamJam, too: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you…are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). Amen.

Along with the joy is a prayer request. Bethany’s placenta needs to move about 1.8 cm in the next seven weeks to be able to deliver naturally. Otherwise, it will be a C-section. She’s not opposed to that since her platelets are low, which would prevent her from getting an epidural. That does not sound appealing to her at all! So, the general prayer is for the safety of both mother and child, and the wisdom to make good decisions when the time comes. Thanks for remembering her to the Lord.

Oddly enough, my son and I got into a fun conversation today about the Styx song “Come Sail Away.” Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but that was kind of random. We talked about surface meanings and hidden meanings, and the universal quest to journey toward love. Since “sailing away” fits with the nautical theme of the shower, I’ll include it below.

Have a great rest of the weekend! 

Thanks for coming!
Coffee, tea, water, and blue punch coming up.
Homemade desserts by Mimi (Samuel’s paternal grandmother).
Setting sail with homemade cupcakes.
A place for guest pictures.
Instructions for the Onesie station.
Mom and dad’s gift opening station.
The “Guess Which Family Member” contest. (My “Gotcha Day” picture is in there. Can you tell which one?)
Just waiting for the meatballs and the chicken salad.
I think we’re ready to go.
Guests begin to gather.
A fellow adoptee…and a little cutie!
Everyone was supposed to bring a used book. We gave Bethany her very first Bible (which we’ve kept over the years) to give to her son. The Word of God will be here long after we’re gone.
Our gift to Samuel.
Mom and dad reacting to a cool pair of mini cowboy boots.

Ship Ahoy!

Some family life updates, etc….

1. We have beautiful chaos chez Valentino this weekend. SamJam’s baby shower is this Saturday, so there’s been a flurry of activity lately getting everything ready and set up. Fortunately, we’ve had a couple of productive days, and all we need to do yet is put the food out and finish up a few displays and activity centers. We’re holding the event in the seminary fellowship hall, which is the perfect size for a group of 70-80 people. The nautical theme my daughter chose is adorable. I wonder if it portends another swimmer in the family. Below are a few snaps of the room in its current state. Hopefully, more will be coming when it’s all complete.

2. We also have several relatives from out of town staying with us right now. It almost feels like Christmas. My sister-in-law is trying to learn French for an upcoming trip to Paris, so it’s fun to have a conversation partner. She’s doing well so far, and her vocabulary is increasing. French is harder to hear and comprehend than it is to read and understand because of all the silent letters it contains. Nevertheless, le français est la langue de l’amour, n’est-ce pas? Je pense que c’est très romantique. I’m very much looking forward to going back to Paris someday. England, too. The sights, sounds, tastes, and smells are magical. The theatres and museums are also amazing. Did I just write “theatre” instead of “theater”? 🙂

3. My students are killing it this semester. It’s a dream come true to teach at a theological seminary, and it’s way beyond a dream to be able to teach at the doctoral level, too. This crop of students is motivated, humble, curious, and wise. I love spending time with them. All told, I’ll be teaching, co-teaching, or assisting in 15 different courses this academic year. That’s kind of ridiculous, but I’m having a blast. Blessedly, there’s not a lot of academic snoot in our neck of the woods. The folks in my cohorts are eager to learn, not showcase what they already know for the sake of self-aggrandizement. As Paul said, “Knowledge puff us. Love builds up.”

4. I structured one of our sub-master courses around the simple question, “Who is God? Who’s asking? And why does it matter?” That’s enough to keep us busy for an entire semester! In another course, we’re drilling down on what it means to be made imago dei, in the image of God. What an eye opener! I can’t wait to post some of my research on that, but, alas, the dissertation comes first. We’re also doing a lot of self-awareness work, personality inventories, and family-of-origin analyses, including genograms. There’s been a lot of vulnerability among the students, and a whole lot of laughs, too. They inspire me to keep learning and growing myself. It’s been a while since I’ve taken the MBTI, so I’m eager to see if any of my PCIs have shifted in recent years. 

5. On Sunday, we’ll be holding a service of remembrance for one of the two church buildings we’re in the process of selling. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate what God has done in those special places before stepping into the future in a new place. (The congregational unity in this venture has been amazing.) My mind often goes back to similar places and spaces where God made himself known to me or blessed me abundantly through other people—whether through words, hugs, prayers, encouragement, conversation, or music. I have so many of those moments to look back on with delight–especially the hugs! As Michael W. Smith used to sing, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them.” Exactly right. So, what we’re really celebrating this Sunday is God and his people—as they intersected our lives at specific times and in specific locations along the journey. We’ll do a similar service of remembrance for the other church next month.

6. Finally, I’m coming to the end of my Madam Secretary binge. For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed it. Next up is a collection of short-series period dramas, like Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, Emma, Jane Eyre—all those good BBC productions. (Can you tell I’m ready to go back to England?) Actually, I want to re-watch these highly regarded flicks because my brain can’t hold anything new for a while. It’s already on overdrive from the academic load and the dissertation. Besides, my PCIs may change, but my tastes do not. ❤️📚 💙 📺 💛💻💚

Have a great weekend, everyone, and enjoy the blessings of God this beautiful time of year.

Welcome aboard!
Favor table.
Table setting with activity pack.
Dessert table with forthcoming theme-based cupcakes.
Another activity table. (One not shown here is a table for the game of ‘Diaper Pong.’ Hmmm.)
Stamp a building block for Samuel to play with.
Make a onesie for SamJam.
Banner above the special chairs for the new mommy and daddy.
Guess which member of the Valentino or White family each baby picture represents. And guess who authored the children’s book. 🙂
Cards of encouragement for the new parents.
Bethany showing off her baby shower nails at our daddy-daughter lunch date today.

‘Old Blue Eyes’ singing a tune from Ship Ahoy!

Munchkin Update

O.k., my kids aren’t exactly munchkins anymore, but they’re still my kids. And one of them is carrying a munchkin, so there’s that. 🙂

Andrew continues working on a variety of projects in his new media business, AVM. He’s doing audiobooks, voiceovers, real estate photography, special occasion videography, editing, etc. He lives about an hour away right now, so we get to see him weekly, which is wonderful. He has even been worshiping with us each week and will be providing some church tech support in the near future. I got to see him last night when we met at the Hamburg Area High School for the Hawks’ game against Conrad Weiser, where I got to see my niece and nephew in action (cheering and coaching).

One of our favorite things to do is watch movies and discuss them. We just finished binging season 2 of The Chosen. My favorite line of the series so far is where the keeper of a certain house says one of the rooms is haunted by his dead grandmother, and Jesus replies, “Oooo, I’ll take that one.” Drew is excited to be acting in the local community theater production of Grease with a good (and super talented) friend from high school.

Bethany became my part-time personal assistant this week, as well as a caretaker for her grandmother. She knocked it out of the park on both counts, and her administrative assistance will help me stay focused on writing my dissertation. (I had a wonderful meeting yesterday with my dissertation committee and was greenlighted for the next stage.) Her background in medical administration has given her some skills for charting the dynamics of my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s. That can only help in an already challenging situation.

Her new dress for the baby shower came yesterday, so she tried it on and then asked me to take a few pictures. The shower is next Saturday, and about 70 people are planning to attend. Many are coming in from out of state, so it will be a busy weekend. I’m thrilled that she and her husband live less than 15 minutes from our house.

Samuel had the hiccups for the first time this week, but I already told you that. 🙂 I struggled a bit with the news that I was becoming a grandpa because, as I like to say, “I’m too young to be this old,” and “I thought it would take longer to get this old.” But a slight graying of the temples has begun, so maybe it’s time. When I was a competitive swimmer, my hair was three or four shades lighter because of the chlorine. It also gets a bit lighter in the summer these days, too. Maybe the graying effect will help me lighten up—on the age thing, too. 🙂 Well, at least I still have hair! 🙂

O.k., four smiley faces are enough for one post, and I need to switch gears anyway. So, have a great weekend, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. Blessings to all.

In addition to which…

Bethany and I just finished decorating the fireplace shelves in our living room. Thank you, Hobby Lobby!

Holy Hiccups

I was on my way home from teaching a theology class last night when I got a text from my daughter telling me that her in utero child (7 months) had hiccups. It was a new sensation for her because, as far as we know, that was the first time Samuel James (or “SamJam,” as we like to call him) has gotten them. We had a good laugh about the other sounds little boys like to make on this side of the birth canal, too. 

Part of the delight was that I had just taught on the beauties and complexities of Psalm 139:14 in the original Hebrew. Languages being what they are, there is seldom a one-to-one correspondence between original language sentences and their translation into a receptor language. The task is harder than it looks, and absolutism doesn’t help here. Moreover, a “literal” translation doesn’t always mean an “accurate” translation, or even one that is coherent and comprehensible in our language.

Verse 14 most commonly comes into English as “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (ESV, NIV, ASV, KJV, NKJV, KJ21, NASB95, NRSV, LEB, OJB, EHV, WEB, JUB, BRG, AMP, etc.). That may capture David’s intention, but in the orginial, he simply writes, “I praise you because,” followed by two Hebrew words. 

The word “made” is not present (though it may be implied since it is used explicitly in v. 15). There’s not even an “and” between the two words. In fact, the possible translations are numerous on several counts: (1) the semantic range of both words is broad; (2) there is ambiguity on what exactly David is referring to (himself as a creation or God as the Creator); and (3) words need to be supplied to make it coherent in English. The fact is, all translations involve a certain amount of interpretation and syntactical decision making.

The first Hebrew word falls in the semantic domain of being awesome, fearful, frightened, distressed, revered (as in recognizing a lofty status), remarkable, and other such concepts. The second word falls in the semantic domain of being distinguished, distinct, set apart, unusual—and therefore wonderful, miraculous, or fantastic. The same word describes God’s knowledge in v. 6. It suggests being beyond understanding, i.e., a marvel, or a positive mystery. 

Translators grapple with how to render these words into a comprehensible sentence. (See some of the options below.) Assuming David is referring to himself as created by God (which is an interpretive decision based on other parts of the psalm, though not demanded by the words themselves), I would render Psalm 139:14 in one of the following ways. David is saying to God:

“I praise you because…

  • I am a marvel
  • I am a wonder
  • I am wonderful
  • I am a being of wonder
  • I am an awesome one
  • I am your workmanship
  • I am your masterpiece

…and deep inside, I know this profoundly.”

The human self, says David, is truly a wonder, and it must be held in awe. It’s a marvel. It’s a replica of the divine (cf. Gen 1:26), and the psalmist is not reluctant to say such things about himself. The same man who wrote, “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5) also wrote the words in Psalm 139:14 about being a marvel and a wonder.

These two realities need to be kept in proper tension, with the priority of self-definition being placed on essence or essential being—i.e., the self as an image bearer of God—not as a sinner. That came later, and it was a distortion of God’s original beauty. Thankfully, God is in the art restoration business. And the artwork he is restoring is us. You and me. Humanity. That’s good news for the world.

So, SamJam, you are a marvel. You are a masterpiece. You are a reflection of the incredible God who’s knitting you together right now. You are indeed awesome. Hiccups and all.


Psalm 139:14 (where the creation is assumed)

  • I am fearfully and wondrously made (GNV)
  • I have been remarkably and wondrously made (CSB)
  • I have been remarkably and wonderfully made (HCSB)
  • I have been so amazingly and miraculously made (GW, NOG)
  • you made me in an amazing and wonderful way (NCV, ICB)
  • I was marvelously set apart (CEB)
  • I am awesomely made (CJB)
  • I am wonderfully made (NAB, NCB)
  • I am awesomely and wonderfully made (NASB, TLV)
  • the wonderful way you created me (CEV)
  • you made me in such a wonderful way (ERV)
  • you made me in an amazing [awesome] and wonderful way (EXP)
  • You made me with fear and wonder (MEV)
  • making me so wonderfully complex! (NLT, TLB)
  • Body and soul, I am marvelously made! (MSG)
  • How you made me is amazing and wonderful (NIRV)
  • the greatness of the way I was made brings fear (NLV)
  • I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe (VOICE)

Psalm 139:14 (where the Creator is assumed)

  • You [God] are fearful and wondrous (ISV)
  • You [God] are fearful and wonderful (AMP Classic)
  • You [God] are to be feared; all you do is strange and wonderful (GNT)
  • [God], your deeds are awesome and amazing (NET)
  • Thou [God] art magnified dreadfully; thy works be wonderful (WYC)

Mums, the Word, Etc.

1. The zinnias did great this year, but the petunias were a bust. I’m still not sure what happened to them. The front yard rose bush is doing well, but the one in the back was devoured by rabbits. All in all, it was a good year for flowers, with some room for improvement next year. And now it’s time for the mums to shine, as “Lovely Fall” is in full swing.

2. I got to see a fine stage production of Pride and Prejudice Sunday afternoon at DeSales University. Jane Austen was a master of her craft and way ahead of her time. Moreover, Darcy and I are INTJs, so I understand him well. Alas, poor Lizzie has to wait for her happy ending until he figures things out. But once he does—wow, the romance sizzles. Lizzie, of course, contributes to the delay because of her stubbornness, but all’s well that ends well. (Wait, that’s another author!)

3. After the show I had dinner at the Braveheart Highland Pub in Hellertown. The food (classic Scottish fare and other selections) was outstanding, and the atmosphere is delightful. It was my third time there, and I’ve never been disappointed.

4. Yesterday my daughter began work as my own personal assistant and one of the caregivers for my mother-in-law. We had fun together and got some things accomplished. She’s extremely capable in so many areas, and she’s excellent with her grandmother. This arrangement will allow her to be a stay-at-home mom when the time comes and still earn an income. I am blessed.

5. Our World Communion Sunday service was well attended and deeply meaningful. There’s something powerful about the entire congregation declaring in unison after the fraction of the host, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Yes, indeed, these are “the gifts of God for the people of God.” So, eat up!

6. Another weekend highlight was reconnecting (by Zoom) with college friends who had gathered in Morgantown, WV for a CRU reunion and a college football game. These were the folks who had first shared the gospel with me and discipled me into the Christian faith many years ago. (It’s hard for us to get away while caring for my mother-in-law, so we were grateful that a brief Zoom option was made available.) I was surprised at how emotional I got just seeing the whole group together. As Michael W. Smith used to sing, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them.” 

Enjoy this lovely fall week!

More Fall Poetry

Leaves turning,
Wood burning;
Temps dropping,
Mums popping;
Cider boiling,
Farmers toiling;
Colors bursting,
Soul thirsting,

Breathe.
And welcome to lovely fall.

– TRV


First Fall
By Maggie Smith

I’m your guide here. In the evening-dark
morning streets, I point and name.
Look, the sycamores, their mottled,
paint-by-number bark. Look, the leaves
rusting and crisping at the edges.
I walk through Schiller Park with you
on my chest. Stars smolder well
into daylight. Look, the pond, the ducks,
the dogs paddling after their prized sticks.
Fall is when the only things you know
because I’ve named them
begin to end. Soon I’ll have another
season to offer you: frost soft
on the window and a porthole
sighed there, ice sleeving the bare
gray branches. The first time you see
something die, you won’t know it might
come back. I’m desperate for you
to love the world because I brought you here.

Sonnet 73
By William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

L to R: From Shakespeare’s “yellow leaves” to “the glowing of such fire.”

A Million Dreams Are Keeping Me Awake

Just a little bit of this and that as I take a brief break from the books.

1. Fall is magical. As Khalil Gibran has said, “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” In a similar vein, Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” (See what I did there? Vein…) 🙂  Anyway, the crisp colors and beauty of this season always refresh my soul.

2. Speaking of laughter, six-year-olds laugh an average of 300 times a day. Adults only laugh 15-100 times a day. Be six again. (O.k., feel free to accuse me of being silly—but only after you read Proverbs 17:22. Life is too short to be curmudgeonly all the time.)

3. Martin Niemöller’s robe and preaching collar are now the property of the seminary where I work. I hope to do a short post on that in the near future. Niemöller is not really a household name, but he should be. (“They came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew….”) See, I can be un-silly, too.

4. “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” So said C. S. Lewis. Amen to that! Which books do you find yourself re-reading? Oh, you don’t read? As the adage goes (often misattributed to Mark Twain), “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t.”

5. The Phillies are just two games back. Why do they always get close enough to give us hope but linger far enough behind to break our hearts? Fortunately, it doesn’t sting as much as it used to. While I thoroughly enjoy the game of baseball, I’m no longer a fan of professional sports.

6. On a happier note, SamJam (Samuel James) is just two months away from coming into view. I suppose I’ll be more of a puddle than usual this Christmas, getting to hold a newborn and all. This little guy is just the third blood relative I will have gotten to meet on the planet. What an honor!

7. Speaking of Christmas, I probably won’t be able to write too many original posts this year on the Incarnation—one of the richest, deepest, most profound subjects we could ever ponder. So, I’m thinking of doing some re-posts of the more popular ones I’ve done over the past few years. Since that almost feels like cheating, I’m hoping to write at least one original post this year. 

8. My Advent series this year will focus on the history and theology of the carol “O Holy Night.” I did my own translation of it several years ago and discovered that the English version is way off the original French. Nevertheless, the lyrics are still poignant, and the tune is hauntingly beautiful. My favorite line is, “Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” This concept is the next unit for two of the seven classes I’m teaching this semester. The Scripture pulsates with the sentiment, though we often try to obscure it. As Karen Salmansohn put it, “When you realize how much you’re worth, you’ll stop giving people discounts.”

9. Finally, here are two songs for your weekend pleasure. The first is Disturb’s cover of “The Sound of Silence,” a song about incommunicability. It’s really a lament about individuals who are physically close to each other but still separated by their inability to communicate. They speak without expressing any substantive content, and they hear without really listening. The realm of silence, into which the noisy nothings of this world often crash, is painful to the author.

The second song is much brighter. It’s the One Voice Children’s Choir performing “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman. I love this group of young people, and I find the musical itself quite entertaining. In fact, my son and I have talked about doing a Friday night sing-along of the whole show. (All recording devices will be confiscated before we push play on the DVD!)

Thanks for reading. And have a lovely weekend!

P.S., Hurricane “Sam” is headed to the East Coast. Yeah, we knew that. (See #6 above.) 🙂

Slow Motion Football in West (by God) Virginia

When I was in college, I participated in Campus Crusade for Christ with a couple hundred other students. We used to do odd and silly things to gather a crowd and then talk to people about Jesus. We would do everything from crazy skits on the Sunnyside bar strip to air bands on the student union plaza. 

Above is a picture of our group playing slow motion football one day in front of Woodburn Hall on the main campus. I’m the guy in the white shirt on the right, across from Steve, one of the leaders of CCC. We decided to growl at each other every down. The well-padded guy in the back is Fred, one of my roommates. We had a glorious time that day, and a few people gave their hearts to Christ. As Henry Blackaby reminds us, “The harvest is not the crowd. The harvest is in the crowd.”

Back in those days, we survived on the music of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Russ Taff, Twila Paris, Michael Card, Rich Mullins, Stryper, Petra, and many others. They were good times, and we had many adventures with our faithful God.

Even if we don’t act as silly and odd as we used to, we still love talking to people about Jesus. Feel free to contact me if you need prayer or would like to chat about the claims of Christ and why he is “out of this world” for everyone still in it.

Falling for Fall: Just a Brief Update amidst the Flurry of This Week

1.  It’s a rich and full week here in our neck of the woods. Students from all over the country are coming to campus for the Doctor of Theology residency week. It will be exciting to meet many of these folks in person for the first time, as we’ve been doing our residencies online for the past year and a half because of the virus. People are better than pixels, even for us introverts! In addition to the residency this week, there’s my regular course load to teach, a new ICL class starting tomorrow, and a wedding to conduct this Saturday. All good stuff.

2.  It was gratifying to help my first student across the dissertation finish line last month to complete his Th.D. degree requirements. His research project focused on the semiotics of Genesis 1, and it was filled with marvelous insights. If he can expand his work through Genesis 3, it would make for an excellent book that may well get a sizeable audience. We will do his hooding ceremony next May, Lord willing. I have another ThD student in the pipeline right now who is focusing on contextual evangelism.

3.  Years ago we had a parishioner from Missouri whose dilapidated pickup truck was nicknamed “Old Blue.” We stole that name and applied it to our 2000 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, which we now use like a truck (e.g., hauling green waste, helping people move, transferring cardboard to the recycling center, etc.). Well, Old Blue is getting older—like the rest of us. I’m not sure if most of the brake fluid drained out, or if the brake pads need to be replaced, but it’s no longer safe to drive. Still, I’d like to get a few more years out of it, so I need to troubleshoot this puppy.

4.  Speaking of repairs, the wind blew my shed door closed last week right as I was pulling the lawn tractor into it. The resulting collision bent the axle and tie rod, so that’s another equipment repair bill. The tractor is about 24 years old, and an upgrade is probably in order soon, but I’d like to get a few more years out of it if I can. On a happier note, our two main vehicles are running great. Ha!

5.  My Zinnia’s revived and flourished throughout the summer, and they’re a definite go for next year. They made a great follow-up to my stunning red and yellow tulips, which really exploded in the spring. The petunias were just kind of meh, so we may go back to impatiens next time around. Alas, the dogwood tree had to be removed because of disease, but the holly tree is still soaring into the sky. I may need to get it trimmed again next year. My cherry tree is doing o.k., but it needs some TLC. We had too many aphids munching on it this summer, and I didn’t know how to handle them. After a little bit of research, I now have a plan. (Hopefully it will work!)

6.  It’s now time to switch gears and get our mums into the hanging baskets. Fall has a magic to it like no other season. Bring it on!

The Christ Community, Part 13: The Church as a Golden Lampstand (Revelation 1:9-3:22)

If you were looking for a new church home, what would you be looking for? What would be the criteria by which you make your selection? Size? Location? Style of Worship? Average age of the parishioners? How about facilities? Or the ministry programs? Or the preaching?

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are believers. Different people look for different things when it comes to finding a church. And trying to satisfy everyone is an absolute impossibility. But have you ever wondered, “What does Jesus look for in a church?” After all, it’s his church, right? What are the criteria by which he makes an evaluation?

Revelation 2-3 tell us. In these chapters we catch a glimpse of seven report cards for seven first-century churches in Asia Minor. The criteria Jesus uses to evaluate them may be different from our own. Now, Jesus is not looking for a new church home, but he is looking for a home in his church. What is it that makes him feel like he belongs in a group of believers? This message takes a summary look at that question in the context of John’s experience of the risen, glorified Christ. 

John meets an awe-inspiring Jesus, functioning like a great high priest, actively tending to his lamps—filling his people with the oil of his Holy Spirit and trimming their wicks with his corrective word. He does these things so they can shine upon the nations with the hope of the gospel. The image tells us that the church is a company of believers vitally joined to Christ, giving light to the world. That’s a creative, apocalyptic way of saying much the same as we saw in the image of the church as the ambassadors of Christ.

Are we connected to the center stem of this lampstand—Jesus—by faith? Are we burning brightly for him? Are we allowing ourselves to be “trimmed” (i.e., sanctified) by the Lord? He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

He Laid Aside His Immunity to Pain

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.”

– John R. W. Stott

What’s That Dog Doing in My Car?

1.  Yesterday I walked out of the hardware store and started getting into my SUV. Or so I thought. (Hey, it looked just like mine!) I realized something was wrong when I saw a big dog staring back at me, growling. Fortunately, the creature was rather tame, but, oh what a fright he gave me! The real embarrassment was that the driver was still in the vehicle when I tried to fob my way into it! With her window rolled down, she smiled and said, “No worries, I do that all the time.” Glad to know I’m not the only one. Chalk it up to academic fatigue, I guess. (Yeah, that’s better than calling myself an airhead.) 

2.  I’m still plowing through my dissertation, and it’s wonderfully exhausting. I love the subject matter (more on that later), but academic research and writing are tedious and time-consuming. Still, I’ve learned so much, and I can’t wait to share the results. All in good time. Last I checked, my bibliography is 32 pages long, and that’s only half the entries. Yes, I’m insane, but I totally dig doing targeted research.

3.  Speaking of insanity, when I lay out the syllabi for all the courses I’m teaching this semester, there’s no room left for anything else on the table. Not even a coffee cup. Still, I’m having a blast gearing up for the new term. The only frustration has been moving from Canvas to Pathwright. It’s not a terribly difficult learning platform, but there’s a learning curve, and my muscle memory needs to be retrained. Courses begin on Monday.

4.  All these ventures leave little time for getting in the pool lately, but I do still get out for long, brisk walks. I can almost smell the fall season approaching. That’s nearly as good as the smell of coffee. 🙂

5.  My mother-in-law’s garden has exploded this year. We’ve gotten so much produce from just a 64-SF bed that we started putting some of it in front of the house with a FREE sign on it. Tomatoes, lettuce, squash, zucchini, green peppers, cucumbers—what a harvest!

6.  Samuel is due in about three months—another image bearer of God! What a profound mystery. I love the little munchkin already.

Well, time to get back at it. I do miss writing general posts and all the other features I used to do (e.g., Throwback Thursday, Friday Fun, etc.), but this is just a season. I’ll get back at it when I can. Thanks, everyone, for your support and encouragement. 

Have a great weekend. Be blessed!

EDIT: Our church is singing “Goodness of God” tomorrow for the first time. I’m taking some tissues with with me.