Not Quite Home on the Range Yet

Last night I sinned. Multiple times. My son and son-in-law were with me at the time. They sinned, too, and we all had a great time doing it. Let me explain. We were celebrating my son-in-law’s birthday, so we went to a shooting range before dinner, cake, and gift giving. It’s something Micah enjoys, though he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to do it, so we surprised him with a round at Enck’s Gun Barn. My son Drew also has more experience than I do in this area, making me the rookie of the bunch. 

I’ve shot pistols before, but only a few times in the distant past and only at Coke cans set up in the woods near my brother-in-law’s house in North Carolina. Last night we used a rifle—a Ruger AR-556, which is considerably louder than a pistol, though the kickback isn’t bad at all. Given my lack of experience, I was hoping to just get my shots on the paper target!

I didn’t get a bullseye this time, but all my shots were inside the 8 and 9 rings, and one even nicked the center circle. Not bad for a beginner. But all three of us kept missing the mark, which is one of the biblical metaphors for sin. There are many other images, too, but this one is prominent.

Judges 20:15-16 says, “At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].”

The word ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ is a general word for sin, usually having the sense of missing the mark, going astray, offending, or ignoring something required by God’s law (e.g., Gen 40:1; Jdgs 20:16; Neh 13:26; etc.). It can also mean “sin offering” (e.g., Exod 29:4).

King David prays in Psalm 51:2, “Cleanse me [ṭāhēr] from my sin [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].” The word ṭāhēr means to “be clean,” “cleanse,” “purify,” or “pronounce clean,” as from a defiling condition. It can have a ritual context (e.g., Lev 11:32), or it can refer to the actual cleansing of impurities (e.g., Naaman’s leprosy in 2 Kgs 5:10). 

It can also refer to the removal of impurities from metal (e.g., refined gold and silver in Mal 3:3). Therefore, the word does not necessarily have a sacramental connotation (contra Goldingay, etc.) or even a ceremonial connotation (contra Wilson, the ESV Study Bible, etc.). Indeed, David’s hope of forgiveness rests on nothing ceremonial (cf. vv. 16-17). The sense of his prayer in v. 2 is, “Purify me from my defiling sin.”

Because of his mercy, grace, and compassion (Ps 51:1), God can certainly do that. And because David came to him humbly, he did. “The Lord has taken away your sin,” said Nathan the prophet. You are not going to die” (2 Sam 12:13-14). David later wrote, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven” (Ps 32:1).

Interestingly enough, all three of us last night were landing our initial shots low and to the right of the bullseye. That would seem to suggest a sighting issue on the gun. Our Range Safety Officer (RSO) helped us make the necessary adjustments to shoot more accurately. He also helped me with my stance and positioning vis-à-vis the target. He was patient, kind, and supportive, not condescending at all toward this novice.

Probably my biggest challenge as a shooter is the fact that I’m left-eye dominant trying to shoot from a right hander’s position. My impulse, then, is to use my left eye to align the sights, but that doesn’t work when you’re pressing your right cheek to the gun stock. Here again, the RSO was perceptive and gave me some suggestions to help me “not sin.”

Our night at the range caused me to think about the fact that we’re in this spiritual journey together. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), which is why judging and condescension are out of place in the Christian life. Smug self-righteousness is just a way to justify our anger at other people because they sin differently than we do.

Our natural misalignments and daily temptations to “miss the mark” don’t go away when others scold us, humiliate us, or impose their asceticisms on us (Col 2:21-23). They tend to dissipate when those with a little more experience help us learn how to aim higher. 

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load

The RSO actually showed me last night how to be a better pastor. Lord knows, I need ongoing training.

Image Credits: pexels.com; nationalinterest.org; aurrpc.com.

Grantchester: My Newest Detective Binge

Readers of TNL will likely know of my affection for detective, crime solving, courtroom, and spy shows, along with a few period dramas from time to time. My latest binge is Grantchester on PBS’s Masterpiece. The British detective series is set in 1950s Cambridge, England, and features the Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) developing a side sleuthing gig with Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green). 

Father Chambers apparently gets replaced in a future season with a new vicar, William Davenport (Tom Brittney), but I’m just getting started. The best way to describe the series is “one part Endeavour smooshed together with one part Father Brown.” So far so good. My recent previous binges in this genre have included:

  • Alias (Jennifer Garner)
  • Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)
  • The Mentalist (Simon Baker)
  • Covert Affairs (Piper Perabo)
  • Broadchurch (David Tennant)
  • Blue Bloods (Tom Selleck)
  • Poirot (David Suchet)
  • Father Brown (Mark Williams)
  • Endeavour (Shaun Evans)
  • Inspector Morse (John Thaw)
  • Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately)
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Essie Davis)
  • Columbo (Peter Falk)

Past and ongoing binges in the period-piece genre include:

  • Victoria (Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes)
  • The Crown (Claire Foy, Olivia Colman)
  • Reign (Adelaide Kane, Toby Regbo, Megan Follows)
  • Downton Abbey (Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith)
  • Pride & Prejudice (Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth)
  • Sense & Sensibility (Hattie Morahan, Dominic Cooper)

And then there’s Stranger Things (Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown), which is in a class by itself, and the ubiquitous NCIS and Law & Order. Oh, and the Friday night Marvel binge with my son. (My waning love of professional sports has made more space for the arts and a better use of my brain.)

What are your favorite binges?

UPDATE (01.15.2021): As it turns out, Grantchester is rather slow moving, only marginally interesting, and unfortunately overt in its socio-political agenda. I’m not sure I’ll continue with it. Worst of all (for this genre, anyway), the viewer can never really solve the crime beforehand because important clues are concealed until the end. Where’s the fun in that?

Image Credits: mypostcard.com; medium.com.

A Couple of Gift Pics

I mentioned yesterday that I got way too many gifts for Christmas—all of them special and much appreciated—with two from my kids that truly captured my heart. Here are snaps of those two gifts.

The wooden Phillies mug on the right is made in the shape of—and out of the same material as—an MLB bat. It’s so tall I needed a chopstick to stir the creamer! Drew has a way of getting us the most unique gifts—the kinds of things we would never buy for ourselves but bring a smile to our hearts when he gives them.

My daughter and son-in-law choked me up with a canvas made on their cricut that says, “Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices, Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born,” a line from my mom’s favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night,” the same one we were singing to her when she passed away. Next year, Lord willing, I’ll write more about that carol and its history. It was an awful lot of work for Bethany and Micah to put this together.

It was a memorable day. (We even had a bit of snow for a few hours!) The greatest gift of course, was the child in the manger. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Andrew also made each of our likenesses into a 3D-printed comic figure. (I am Batman, haha!) We’re still waiting for the USPS to deliver them, but we have printouts of what they will look like. How in the world did I get such creative kids?

Image Credit: wallpaperfx.com.

The Broken Mug I Refuse to Get Rid Of

Like many other people, I have a morning routine that includes coffee. Two cups at least. And most of the time, I drink Eight O’clock Dark Italian Roast with one cream and one Splenda. (Take my man card if you must, but that’s how I like it.) I drink other kinds from time to time, but the darker roasts and Columbian roasts are my favorites.

Often when I have my first cup, I think about and pray for the person who gave me the mug I’m using that morning. I have quite a collection, and as I drag myself to the place where I do my devotions, I pray God’s blessings over that person.

One of my all-time favorites is a light blue ceramic mug featuring a bleary-eyed Mickey Mouse on the front, and a printed message on the back, which says, “Some mornings are ROUGH!” 

Mickey is right. Some mornings are rough, but coffee makes them tolerable. In any event, I treasure this mug because my son got it for me during his first-ever Christmas away from home. He was in college, and he did an internship at Disney World one year during the holiday break. That was emotionally challenging for us—not to have our son home for Christmas. 

We got to Skype with him that year, and for that we were grateful, but it wasn’t the same as having him here with us. (One cannot hug pixels on an iPad.) When he returned from Florida, the Mickey mug was one of the gifts he gave me for Christmas. So, it’s special to me because it’s connected to a precious memory—an expression of a son’s love for his father. 

Unfortunately, the handle broke off a few years ago. No one knows exactly how or why it happened, and it was quite upsetting when it did. “Not the Mickey mug!” I still have it today, and it looks like this:

My special mug without its handle. It’s now defective—less than what it had been when I first received it. But I still treasure it. It’s still special to me and always will be. The mug is broken but loved.

What an apt metaphor for people made in the image of God. After all, how much more valuable is a person than a mug! We’re spiritually broken but still loved by God. 

I won’t ever get rid of my Mickey mug, even though it’s defective. Likewise, God won’t get rid of us—even if we’re broken in some way. We’re the reason Christmas happened in the first place.

So, drink up. And thank God for his caffeinated grace.

Thank you, Lord, for your steadfast, committed love toward us, even though we’re flawed and fallen human beings. You don’t get rid of us even when we’re broken. Help me to be patient and gracious toward others who are likewise broken. Amen.

Holiday Thoughts on the Pain and Privilege of Fatherhood

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1, KJV)


After the birth of my son, Andrew, I understood a little better why God wanted to be a Father. The same thought washed over me after the birth of my daughter two years later. (Her first act on the planet was to pee on the doctor. After I got his bill, I was glad she did.) I embarrassed both my kids last week with some incriminating kiddie pics. They took it well.

Tonight is movie night with Andrew. Last night was daddy-daughter date night with Bethany. We had a blast together, and we were texting today about what a wonderful time we had. I love lavishing them both with affection, encouragement, and good times. They even let me theologize once in a while. They’re the ones God gave me to care for, and it’s a joy for me to do so, not a burden.

The opera fudge bomb Bethany and I got last night at Trattoria Fratelli. My head is still buzzing today.

Yes, there were a few rough spots during the teen years, but I can honestly say today, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). My kids’ interests, personalities, and love languages couldn’t be more different, but the delight they bring me is the same.

Additionally, my son-in-law Micah is no less a son to me than Andrew. He’s an incredible young man, too, and an answer to prayer. He’s been grafted into our hearts as well as into our family. When the kids have a joy, I have a joy. When the kids have a hurt, I have a hurt.

That’s why I’ve been grieving from a distance the death of Tim Challies’ son, Nick. Tim is an uber-blogger whom I read regularly, and I’ve shed some tears for the tragedy that has recently befallen his family. His young son passed away unexpectedly while attending my alma matter, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

I’ve never met Tim, but he serves the church well with his daily aggregations and reflections. I’m grateful to the Lord for him and his ministry. He has recently born witness to the power of God’s sustaining grace during this time, but oh what hard road for him to walk as a father. His persevering faith testifies to the reality of God. Many others have walked a similar path, but every step is agonizing. God the Father walked this path, too.

In a previous post, I wrote about “Three Songs to Sing When Christmas Comes in a Minor Key.” Another song to add could be Charles Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” probably the “meatiest” carol we have, theologically speaking, and it includes these hopeful lines:

Born to raise the sons of earth.
Born to give them second birth.

Next December, Lord willing, I’ll write about how my mother passed away in the hospital while we were singing her favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” All her equipment flatlined just as we were singing, “O hear the angel voices.” And then she did—she heard the angel voices in her new heavenly home. 

But we’ve had enough heaviness this year, so I’ll save that story for some other time. For now, let’s just settle into the reality of the Father’s love for us—fully revealed in Jesus Christ, the one who was:

Born that man no more may die.

The Father loves us a whole lot more than I love my own kids. And that’s a lot.

The family room tree is finally complete.

Image Credit: shutterstock.com.

Friday Fun: Jim Gaffigan and His Whales

I fell off my bed one night laughing at Jim Gaffigan’s “Whales” routine. That riff gives way in the clip below to a few pokes at Domino’s Pizza. “It’s carbolicious!” 

Anyway, I still fall off the furniture whenever my son comes around. He can imitate Gaffigan’s whale sounds to a tee. I’m not exactly sure why I find it so funny. Your psychoanalysis is welcome, but please try to be nice. 🙂

Weekly Fun with My Beloved Son

Today’s morning brew is Cosata Rican. It’s a full bodied yet mellow blend given to us by a friend. I’m deviating from the norm today because I was up late last night watching The Avengers with my son, and I can use the extra jolt. Nearly every Friday we get together for dinner and a fun flick. 

Right now we’re making our way through the Marvel comic series in order of release date. So far we’ve watched Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and The Avengers (2012). 

There are many more films in the series, so we’ll be living our “Fantasy Fridays” for months to come. That’s not a problem since the Saturday morning coffee is good. Besides, it’s always a joy to spend time with him. He’s still “my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

Image Credit: moviedwall.com.

A Sooner-Than-Expected Return

Greetings. Long time no see!

We mothballed This New Life two years ago when I started my (second) doctoral program at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA. I’ve been studying biblical theology ever since, and now I’m in the dissertation phase of my journey, having passed all the coursework and the comprehensive exams. (Officially, that’s called “Th.D. [cand.]” status, also known as “all but dissertation.”)

Our plan was to re-launch this website after the dissertation was complete, but several factors propelled us to open it now. Some of the reasons are COVID-19 related, and some have to do with the fact that the two churches I pastor have asked for a way to access certain resources while we’re in the process of merging our congregations and establishing a new internet presence—complete with live-streaming capabilities, digital communication apps, and an expanded radio broadcast. These items will take a while to pull together, so the re-launch of this site is an intermediate step.

Because of the dissertation, it will also take a while to re-populate the various sections of This New Life, but we have to start somewhere—so here we go! In the meantime, feel free to kick the tires on any of the few posts and pages we’ve been able to publish so far. The inaugural post is here, and our family update post is here. Each section has at least one post in it except for the popular “Connections” series, which will have to wait until after graduation.

Incidentally, all prayers are welcome for the writing of my second dissertation, as composition at this level can be awfully tedious. My working title is:

MEEKNESS AND MAJESTY: YAHWEH’S TABERNACLE
IN THE DESERT AS A REVELATION OF THE
NATURE AND WAYS OF GOD

My son, Andrew Valentino (a recently Emmy nominated photojournalist), and I are working on an interactive video to accompany the academic paper, which hopefully can be published someday as a popular-level resource for the church at large. The tabernacle has so much more to teach us than we’ve ever imagined.

In any event, it’s nice to be back. These past two years have been times of unprecedented learning, growth, fun, and flourishing, not to mention off-the-charts peace, contentment, joy, and prosperity—even in the midst of a pandemic. We hope you all are likewise blessed!

Soli Deo gloria.

Images Credits: pexels.com; hdoneconstruction.com.

Family Update: Just a Handful of Nice, Nutty People on the Journey of Life

The Five

Tim, Sonya, Andrew, Bethany, and Micah. That’s our immediate family for now, and we’re exceedingly glad that God has decided to put us together for this life. We’ve had plenty of good times over the years, and a few challenges, too. But through it all, we’ve loved each other without limit and have encouraged each other always to make Christ our highest treasure. We’re not batting a thousand on that, but we’re still in the game.

We like to think of ourselves as just a handful of “nice, nutty people on the journey of life,” though lots of people probably think we’re more nutty than nice. We’re not inclined to argue the point. We just soldier on, trying to answer the call that God has placed on each of our lives as best we can. Our extended family is likewise precious to us, though they’re far too numerous to mention here.

valentino-family-2017-01

Tim Valentino

I was born in Philadelphia, PA and adopted 13 months later by Carl and Cherie Valentino, of Reading, PA. Dad was a blue-collar worker for the Reading Eagle newspaper, and mom went to work for the same company after all three of us kids started junior high. Our parents provided us with something of a middle-class upbringing, and our youth was filled with myriad sports, school activities, and trips to the emergency room.

In earlier days, my brother called me, “Harry Homework.” The nickname was well deserved, though I didn’t like it very much. (I wanted to be cool, not geeky.) Our challenges were many, but we pressed on together when life was tough. Today I’m a grace-loving husband, father, pastor, seminary professor, conference speaker, swimmer, and incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan. I have an odd sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

Sonya Valentino

I was born in Marietta, OH and spent much of my young life in that state, where mom and dad served as church planters with the Southern Baptist Convention. My siblings and I moved around a lot, helping our parents start new churches in new towns. On several occasions we served as the nucleus of a new children’s ministry or youth group, learning to do Christian ministry firsthand from mom and dad. Eventually we wound up in West Virginia, where I went to college on a music scholarship.

My school days were filled with lots of joy, laughter, music, church activities, and homework. Mom and dad taught me to love God and put him first in my life, which was easy to do since they didn’t just preach the Christian faith, they lived it in front of us. Today I’m a faith-filled wife, mother, ministry leader, and development assistant in Christian higher education. I also provide daily care for my mother, who has mid-stage dementia. Unlike Tim, I have a normal sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

valentino-family-2017-02

We have two adult children, Andrew and Bethany, and a son-in-law, Micah, whom we claim as our own.

Andrew Valentino

Our son Andrew holds a film and media arts degree from Temple University and currently works as an Emmy-nominated videographer for WFMZ-Channel 69 in Allentown, PA. He also does photography and videography on the side. His interests include film, anime, screenwriting, voiceover, science fiction, apologetics, philosophy, and music. For better or worse, he looks like Tim and acts like Sonya.

Bethany White

Our daughter Bethany holds a speech language pathology degree from Bloomsburg University and currently works as a psychiatric assistant at Pennsylvania Counseling Services in Lebanon, PA. Her interests include worship, dance, discipleship, and sharing her faith. She also helps lead worship at her church. For better or worse, she looks like Sonya and acts like Tim.

Micah White

Bethany’s husband, Micah, holds a psychology degree from Kutztown University, and a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Evangelical Seminary. He currently works as a therapist at Salisbury Behavioral Health in Wyomissing, PA. His interests include music, worship, guitar, computers, woodworking, and car repair (thankfully). For better or worse, he doesn’t look or act like Tim or Sonya at all. Yeah, that’s probably for the better.