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.

Back in the Saddle after a Brief Mini-Vacation

1. Well, my mother-in-law did it! She made the trip to Hickory, NC and back again, with only about four stops each way. After a lot of coaching, re-directing, and sign making, Lorena pressed on and did what few people thought she could do. She successfully attended part of the 2021 Taylor Family Reunion. Yes, she was confused by much of what was going on around her, but she did recognize her brothers and sisters when she got to speak to them. That alone was worth taking the trip. (Eleven of the 13 remaining siblings were able to attend this year; one has since passed away.) We’ve often said that Lorena is most like herself when she prays. Maybe that’s why she was asked to close the family worship service in prayer on Sunday morning. That was a precious moment. We usually stay for the whole week and participate in all the reunion activities, but this year we came back after a few days so as not to overwhelm her. There are a few snaps below, and we’re trusting our cousins to fill in the gaps for us. As always, my son Andrew is capturing the event on video.

Taylor family worship service at the Rex Allen theater.
Lorena Moore worshiping the Lord.
Lorena and her sister-in-law, Judith Taylor.
Lorena closing the worship service in prayer.
First-generation Taylors who were able to attend the reunion this year.

2. Mercy. Grace. Covenant. Love. Hope. Those were the broad themes I spoke on last week at one of the camp meetings in our region. There was a wonderful response to the message each night, and on several occasions, the altar service lasted well over an hour with dozens of folks responding in prayer, gratitude, and/or repentance—just quietly singing, praying, hugging, and waiting on the Lord. Happily, the leaders were not being manipulative at all; they just said, “Come if you feel led, or pray with others in your seats, or leave quietly if you’d like. Just spend these moments with the Lord in whatever way the Spirit leads.” It was beautiful to watch the grace of God melting hearts and renewing hope. (The Apostle Paul reminds us that it’s the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance, not the harshness of preachers and other believers.) I was especially moved by the willing response of the young people. Oh, and I may have “ugly cried” once or twice while singing Jenn Johnson’s “Goodness of God.” 🙂

A glorious shot of the camp cabins.

3. Seldom does this sort of thing resonate with my spirit (because of its inherent potential for abuse), but a brother spoke a word over me on the final night I spoke at camp. He said, “While we were praying, God gave me a vision of you as a shiny trumpet, and God playing his sacred song through you, blowing his breath of life through your voice when you teach and preach. He’s using you to play his beautiful song of grace for many people, even as he continues to polish out any remaining discoloration in your own trumpet. There’s an accuser trying to call people’s attention to the discoloration rather than to God’s song and the polishing he continues to do for you. Don’t ever be discouraged by that accusing voice. Just keep letting God give the clarion call of his kingdom through you.” Alrighty, then. So be it.

4. My head and heart are exploding from all that I’m learning in my dissertation research. My working title (which will almost certainly change over the next several months) is: “Thresholds of Eternity: Tracing the Veil of Yahweh’s Sanctuary from Its Creation and Consecration to Its Destruction and Obsolescence in the New Age of Living Temples.” I estimate that I have about four more months of intense research, followed four months of principal writing, followed by two months of refining and defending. The only frustration is watching my workout schedule getting squeezed out. I have got to remedy that. Oh, and I’m going broke buying books for this venture. But I suppose that that’s not too terribly frustrating. After all, this fall we’ll be renovating the basement and creating a home library/podcast studio. If there’s any money left. 🙂

Artist’s rendition of Israel’s tabernacle in the desert.

More from the 2021 Taylor Family Reunion (Hickory, NC)

Got to attend a Crawdads game Sunday night with my kids and a whole bunch of other relatives.
After the game we oooo-ed and aaah-ed at the Independence Day fireworks.
Uncle Tommy Taylor in the original homestead barn. He’s the kindest man you could ever meet, and he turns 90 later this month.
This year, instead of the Monday morning hayride, we replicated chores the first generation did on the farm, including hoeing a row, milking a cow, moving rocks, stacking hay bales, etc. It became a contest to see which team could do them the fastest.
One chore was to carry water from the spring house to a tub and then “take a bath” in it. The rules required that one team member get their feet, knees, and shoulders completely wet. Sonya was the good sport on our team.
One of our tasks was to line up the school pictures of the original 14 kids in their birth order. We in the second generation could handle that, but it was fun to watch the third generation try to do it.
The well-loved “field day” activity is in full swing today, and social media lets us catch some of the highlights from a distance. Those who are able will be traveling to Lake Fontana tomorrow for the rest of the reunion.

Popping in to Say Hello

Just a few life updates (and some pictures that caught my eye) before I get back to the tedium of research.

1. Happy birthday to my baby girl…who’s not a baby anymore! I recently raved about my kids on TNL, so I’ll spare you the schmaltz today. Bethany’s first act on the planet was to pee on the doctor (and after we got his bill, we were glad she did), so I texted her this morning: “Go find a doctor and pee on her…just for old time’s sake.” She works with several doctors right now and texted back, “I know a few doctors I wouldn’t mind peeing on!” And thus our weekend celebration begins. The main party is tomorrow, which is actually my late father’s birthday. I love being a dad.

2. The red and white petunias are doing o.k. Only a few of them didn’t make the transplant. I thought they would grow faster than they are, but that’s probably my impatiens coming out. (See what I did there? LOL.) The petunias in the hanging baskets are doing surprisingly well—much better than last year, but my Zenia’s are just “meh” right now. A little bit of dead-heading produced more buds, but their color is less brilliant than when I first planted them. I’m wondering if the mulch layer in the flower bed is too thick for them. Long story short, everything in the yard looks nice, but I don’t think we’re going to win any awards from BH&G this year. I’m not discouraged as much as I am distracted (per #3).

3. I knew the dissertation would feel like a full-time job, and it does. Alas, this one doesn’t pay! I’m now in the thick of my research, and it’s awfully tedious to pull together. Academic writing can be like that. I have enough material for a 450-pager, but I should be targeting about 275 to 300 pages. That will be a real challenge given my proclivity for pedantry and prolixity (of which this sentence is a case in point). I thoroughly love the project and the subject matter, but the time needed to do it well inflicts a bit of guilt whenever I’m not able to tend to other things. I’m told that I have that “far away” look in my eyes these days, even when I’m not reading and writing. That’s because I’m continually thinking about next steps in the process. I’m sure it’s an INTJ thing. The other downside is that getting immersed in the project has interfered with my workout schedule. Grrrrrr!!! After doing so well in the first quarter of 2021, I have to find a way to reboot again. 

4. Sanity by way of diversion is maintained each night with a streaming binge. I hardly ever watch the news anymore (too depressing), or news analysis shows (too manipulative), or baseball games (too political), which leaves me with a small window to watch something with a storyline. I can now add to my previous binge list: “Halt and Catch Fire” (interesting), “The Hobbit” (classic), “Anne with an E” (adorable, though darker than the Megan Follows version), “Designated Survivor” (thrilling), and “Quantico” (intriguing). Right now, I’m in Season 1 of “House of Cards.” I’m still waiting for more from “Victoria,” “The Crown,” “Warrior Nun,” and “Stranger Things.” I’m assuming the COVID crisis interfered with a lot of production schedules. (As always, I skip the raunchy parts or entire episodes as necessary.) In any event, perhaps we love stories because we’re in the middle of the ultimate Story…and the ultimate Author is developing his characters in his own cosmic page turner. It’s interesting how the word “author” is so closely related to the word “authority.” Whoever we allow to author our own story is our true authority.

5. I am now a track mentor in our seminary’s Th.D. program. Specifically, I’ll be serving in the Next Generation Apologetics track. That means I’ll be taking a handful of students through their own doctoral journey in the coming years, on top of teaching the full cohorts in two of their five core course. Prayers will be appreciated for this new venture!

6. We’ve made the decision to try to get my mother-in-law to the triennial family reunion next month. That’s not going to be easy since it’s a 9-hour drive, and she doesn’t travel well. But given the progression of her disease, we think it may be the last time she will be able to meaningfully interact with her twelve remaining siblings and their families. Our plan is to stay two full days (instead of the whole week) and then come right back so as not to thoroughly disorient her. Yup, prayers appreciated for that challenge, too.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a marvelous weekend!

A Few Updates at the End of a Glorious Week

1. Holy Week 2021 was a rich and meaningful time for our church family. In the midst of building a new church website, processing all the paperwork for a new corporation, assisting in a friend’s baptism and commissioning service, learning a new educational learning platform, and getting a helpful education on important legal matters, we held the full range of traditional Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services and activities. I was blessed, challenged, and encouraged by getting to lead and participate in these incredible worship experiences. They always give me so much to “treasure” and “ponder” in my heart, as Mary did while watching her Son in action.

2. Somewhere in the middle of all that activity, I turned another year older, and my family and friends spoiled me. It was a week of visits, gifts, and feastings on top of an otherwise excellent year of health. I’ve been walking, swimming, eating right, and losing lots of pounds. If I can get back on track first thing tomorrow, and resume my disciplines without any more splurges, I may be able to see my abs by July. I know—that’s such a guy goal, right? But I haven’t been able to do that in decades, so I’m going for it. I usually collapse right about now in the journey, so we’ll see how it goes. Thanks in advance for cheering me on!

3. My daughter and I went to Hobby Lobby on Tuesday to get a bunch of knickknacks for the lighted bookshelves in our newly renovated living room. That project went a lot better and took a lot longer than we had originally thought, but nothing compares to the marathon bathroom renovation project that’s now in full swing. Our goal was to have it done by Christmas when the extended family gathered last December for the holidays, but only now is it finally getting close to being finished. The upside is that I wound up getting some cool recessed lighting in my home office as a side benefit. If all goes well, the bathroom will be done in three weeks, and then we can turn our attention to the basement library/podcast studio.

4. My 2013 Ford Edge SEL was on the verge of turning 100k miles, so I replaced it last Friday before it lost its trade-in value. It had a mineral gray exterior and a black interior with heated leather seats. It was a good car, and I enjoyed driving it for three and a half years. Last week I got a 2018 Ford Edge Titanium at a great price and less than 20k miles. (Hey, I like Edges!) It has a shiny white exterior, a cool moonroof, and a two-tone interior with heated leather seats. It’s loaded with features and handles well. I’m looking forward to connecting my devices, learning the display, and discovering all the features I’ve read about but haven’t gotten to try yet.

5. For years I’ve described myself as “an incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan,” but I may have just found the cure. I’m thoroughly disgusted by what the MLB pulled in re-locating the All-Star Game because of Georgia’s new voting law. What lunacy. I’m delighted that the Phils swept the Braves this weekend, but my interest in professional sports has taken a deep nosedive over the past decade. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m tired of politics in sports and will no longer support the industry. There are plenty of other things I can do with my time. For example, my son just got me a training session at the local gun range for my birthday, so we have that to look forward to—in between binging on episodes of the Sherlock series (Cumberbatch/Freeman). Then it’s on to the local Rod & Gun Club to improve my skills.

6. So as not to end on a down note, I’m finally re-energized to go “all-in” on the research and writing of my second dissertation. Those things are just painful to write, but I love my subject matter, and my upcoming schedule should allow for some serious progress. If I’m not on here a lot in the coming months, that’s the reason. But I’ll still read as many of your comments and posts as I possibly can. 

Be blessed, one and all, in the risen Christ. You are at the heart of God’s heart.

Random Thoughts at the Close of a Challenging Year

“I played my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum.” 


1. Christmas Day has passed, and members of the extended family have all returned home. The house is quieter now (always a delight to us introverts, though still a bit depressing after all the excitement), but the Christmas season continues through January 5 on the liturgical calendar. Epiphany Day is Wednesday, January 6, and the season after the Epiphany extends through February 16, which is the day before Lent begins. Normally we would leave our decorations up and have an Epiphany Party for church members and the neighbors, but the virus makes gathering a real problem right now, so I’m not sure when the decorations will go back into hibernation.

2. The general theme of the Epiphany and the season that follows is Jesus’ manifestation of himself as deity. (The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word for “manifestation” or “appearance”). In lectionary churches, Bible readings and sermons during this time of year typically deal with Jesus’ identity. In the eastern Church, Epiphany commemorates the baptism of Christ. In the western Church, Epiphany commemorates the natal star and the arrival of the Magi, with the following week focusing on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. So, there is much for believers to look forward to, and any post-holiday spirits that are flagging can be reinvigorated by these great truths. In my experience, emotions can be like sine waves for many people (myself included); they go up and down in patterns, sometimes exhausting us in the process. Thankfully, Christ is the steady, unchanging “x-axis” that cuts through all the motion and commotion. That’s not a cliché; it’s an anchor for the soul when we’re feeling blue.

3. The civil calendar is fast heading toward January 1, which is New Year’s Day for most of the world. We find ourselves, then, living in between high moments. I suspect many people this year will be welcoming the calendar change from 2020 to 2021. That’s understandable, as a lot of awful things have happened this year. At the same time, believers are instructed to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). That’s easier said than done, but it does mean that God always has a purpose in the our pain.

Whew! We’re almost done with 2020. Can I get an “Amen!”? I can’t help thinking of the title of that Barry Manilow song, “Looks Like We Made It.” Just 14 more hours by the time this article is posted.

4. Yes, God is always up to something good, even in the challenges we face. And, of course, he’s always faithful to his people in the midst of those challenges. I’ve been thinking of Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” as I look back on 2020 as a whole. It’s a good reminder that God has never abandoned us—not once.

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

5. As I look back on the fourth quarter of 2020, and especially the month of December, I do so with a good deal of gratitude and satisfaction. It’s been a joy to put more time and energy into This New Life, establishing a number of templates for future posting. I especially enjoyed preparing the articles I did that focused on the Incarnation—one of my favorite theological topics to research and ponder. I’ve never been a huge fan of “The Little Drummer Boy” song, but I’ve been thinking about one line in it for several days now: “I played my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum.” What do I have to offer my Lord except what he’s already given me? Absolutely nothing! Moreover, there’s not a single thing he ever needs from me—a mere human being with faults and flaws all over the place. He is, after all, the sovereign king and creator of the universe; he has no needs.

But he does accept our gifts when we offer them in sincerity of heart—like parents who open a small, homemade present from their young children on Christmas morning. The parents’ delight in that moment is not manufactured; it’s a genuine response of gladness to the relationship, more so than the intrinsic value of the thing itself. It was the love with which the gift was made that sparks joy in the parents. I have a few things like that from my own kids, and they’re precious to me.

Looking back on this past month, I can honestly say, “I wrote my best for him,” seeking to honor and somehow articulate the incomprehensible miracle that is Christmas. Jesus doesn’t need my pen, but I gladly give it in service to him, as I can think of nothing more incredible to write about. My earnest hope is that he was pleased with my literary drumming. (And I hope it didn’t keep baby Jesus awake!)

6. Perhaps there is one thing more incredible to write about than Christmas, and that’s the other end of Jesus’ earthly life, where on the cross something truly astonishing happened: “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). When that kairos moment took place, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom—a highly symbolic and theologically rich act of God that will be the focus of my dissertation. My broader work on Israel’s tabernacle has been narrowed down to explore the significance and implications of that one incredible portent at Herod’s temple in the first century. What exactly happened? Why did it happen? Why does it figure so significantly in the book of Hebrews? What does it mean for us today? 

7. So, my research and writing efforts must now shift to that project during the first part of 2021. It will be labor intensive, so I need to disappear from TNL for a while—though not completely. I’ll continue posting a few things from time to time, but not as much as I have been these past several months. I’ll keep scanning my favorite blogs when I can (because I love your stuff, and it gives me hope and inspiration!), but I won’t be able to generate as much content for a while—just sermon summaries, classroom handouts, weekly songs in the sidebar, and occasional updates and fun stuff as time allows. All prayers are appreciated for this new venture, as I cannot do it alone. “No man is an island,” said John Donne, and he was right. So, thanks for your support!

I look forward to getting back in the blogging groove again after this major project is completed, and I can say with Jesus, “It is finished!” 

Love to all in Jesus’ name. Be blessed on your journey in 2021.

God will not abandon us.

UPDATE: WordPress stats indicate that my post popular post in 2020 was “Have Yourself a Snarky Little Christmas.” Thanks for reading! Much appreciated!

Entering the Land of Dissertation Isolation

With approval to proceed, and a narrower topic to focus on, I’ll be entering the land of “dissertation isolation” for the next several months. In terms of time commitment, that’s equivalent to another full-time job. 

As such, I won’t be able to post to This New Life as frequently as I have been, but I’ll still be lurking around these parts whenever I can. In fact, I’ll be stalking some of your wonderful sites as time allows, so keep writing and posting your good stuff. I’m always inspired by my fellow writers. Also, I’ll still be uploading weekly songs, calendar events, and certain resources for students and parishioners as needed. I’ll probably also write a seasonal post once in a while. Of course, I won’t be able to resist doing a “Friday Fun” post from time to time, either, so be sure to check back when you think of it. 🙂

I’ve appreciated all the encouragement and feedback from friends both old and new here at TNL, and my hope is to get back here as soon as I can. All prayers will be appreciated for the research and writing phase of my second dissertation. These things take an awful lot of time, focus, and energy, but they’re worthwhile journeys of faith and learning.

Thank you! <3

Image Credits: academichelp.net; pexels.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.