Fear is universal. And it’s not all bad. Good fear protects us from danger and prevents us from hurting ourselves. We need it to stay safe. But that’s not the only kind of fear we experience in life. Bad fear paralyzes us from doing what we ought to do and provokes us to doing what we ought not to do. Sadly, this kind of fear is far more common. And its cost is too high for any of us to pay.
Bad fear distorts our identity, steals our joy, and limits the progress God has for us. And that’s not the half of it. Worst of all, living in fear is a slam on God’s character. As John Ortberg has said, “Fear has created more practicing heretics than bad theology ever has, for it makes us live as though we serve a limited, finite, partially-present, semi-competent God.”
Ultimately, the antidote to living in fear is to trust God one promise at a time. If Immanuel (“God with us”) has come, then we can step into the future God has for each of us with these encouraging words ringing in our hearts: “Fear not!”
Samuel turned two years old today. My heart is filled with joy at all the love and precious moments we’ve shared during these past 24 months. Words fail this writer in describing what this wonderful little boy means to me. If I were to try, I would just short out my keyboard anyway, so I’ll share below the post that Bethany put on Facebook today. We got to see Bubby this evening (after babysitting Levi all day while his parents took Samuel to Tiny Town in Lancaster), and the whole crew is gathering Saturday night for the big bash. We can hardly wait to show (and tell) him how special he is to all of us. Thank you, Lord, for entrusting this amazing little blessing to our family.
“How amazing it has been this year to watch Samuel grow and his personality shine. He truly has a kind heart. He’s sensitive, he’s silly. He’s very slow to warm up, but when he does, he’s just so much fun. He’s cautious. He’s caring. He absolutely adores being a big brother. He prefers for everyone to be together. He loves being outside, going on walks, swinging at the park, swimming, helping daddy in the yard. He would eat M&M ice cream and pizza all day every day if you’d let him. And baked beans. And French toast.
“He is so helpful and eager to do what is asked of him if he knows he’s helping like making breakfast, washing dishes, throwing things away. He has the most amazing memory—I mean, truly incredible. He talks and talks and talks, and I LOVE hearing what he has to say. He’s a little clumsy (but we are his parents, so it was bound to happen). He listens to music as much as humanly possible. He loves dancing, playing his guitar, piano, and drums. He loves water towers, silos, trucks, buses, ambulances, fire trucks, trains—he’s all boy.
“He has a few stuffed toys; he pretends to put them to sleep and then comes back to check on them. He is obsessed with Christmas. He honestly loves talking about the Bible, Jesus, and church to anyone who will listen. He makes us so proud, happy, tired, and thankful. I love who he is, and we love being his parents. Happy second birthday to our Samuel.”
Micah and Bethany are doing such a great job as parents. Best of all, they’re seeking to teach him about (and live before him) the real Jesus as revealed in the God-breathed good book (2 Timothy 3:16)! There is no other Jesus worth showing him.
💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙 💙
Right after posting these pictures, we ran through the praise and worship songs for this coming Lord’s Day morning, which is the First Sunday of Advent. The first song was Michael Card’s “Immanuel.” I didn’t make it past the first line, as verified by the four wet tissues now on the end table next to me. The song is heart-warming in its own right, but my latest blub-fest probably had to do with the little lullaby Sonya created and sings to Bubby while he’s falling asleep: “Samuel, Emmanuel.” Our lifelong prayer for him—that he would always know and treasure that God is with him.
Samuel is obsessed with the big blue water tower here in Myerstown. I took him on a pizza date a couple weeks ago, just the two of us, and we made a couple stops along the way. First was a dairy farm with dozens of cows and a “big silo.” He was amused that the cows chewed sideways. He was also fascinated by how high the silo went “up in the sky.” Then we went to see the water tower, and he hasn’t stopped talking about it since. We hear about it non-stop!
“Big water tower!”
“It’s so big!”
“Up in the sky!”
Our little Bubby turns two years old this coming Friday. We tried hard not to overdo it in the gifts department, but it wasn’t easy. 😊 (Knowing what’s coming, he’ll be a lot busier opening presents on Christmas Day!) We got him a bike/trike (along with his parents), a tee-ball set, a musical keyboard mat, and a plaid Oshkosh shirt for church.
Speaking of church, his parents recently gave him the opportunity to pick anything he wanted from the Dollar Tree store. He picked a lighted church (see adorable picture below). I may have gotten a little choked up by that.
This dear little boy and his brother bring us so much joy.
’Tis the season to be grateful. Actually, gratitude is a year-round virtue, isn’t it? But it’s nice to have a special day of focus. Cicero, the Roman philosopher and statesman said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Orrin Woodward, NYT bestselling author on Leadershift, said, “Ingratitude produces pride while gratitude produces humility.” And G. K. Chesterton, the English writer, literary critic, and Christian apologist, said, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” We have much to be thankful for, even though life has been challenging lately.
One. My mother-in-law continues her steady decline. She’s now on hospice, and we’ve had to learn how to use the equipment necessary to take care of her in (what appears to be) her final months. It’s been a real challenge, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been so slow to post lately. I really do want to finish sharing those summaries on the book of Daniel. It was such a rich, encouraging, and eye-opening study, and it was hard for me to bring the series to a close. The book is timely as well as tremendous in its own right. I also have a backlog from the “Carved in Stone” series on the Ten Commandments. It just hasn’t been a good year to stay up on these kinds of tasks. I’m pretty sure my life is going to get a significant realignment in the New Year, as my health and sanity will require it.
Two. The boys continue to be a supreme blessing to me in these days. I never realized the joys of love could run this deep, but they do with these two munchkins! They are beyond adorable. When asked what the days of the week are, Samuel says, “Monday, Tuesday, Papa, Thursday….” (Yes, we keep the boys on Wednesday) 😊 That makes me want to melt into a puddle of gooey milk chocolate on a hot gas stove. Below are a few recent pics. We get to host them for Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday; otherwise, it’s a low-key weekend in our house, which is fine by me. Only after Thanksgiving do we start putting up Christmas decorations. That’s carved in stone, too. 😊 Next week we celebrate Samuel’s second birthday.
Three. Speaking of stove, our kitchen renovation project is nearly complete. We’re just waiting on one final cabinet and the new backsplash. The transformation has been amazing. I can’t remember if I mentioned this before, but by securing and managing the subcontractors ourselves, and helping where we can, we’re saving about $20,000 over the estimate we received a couple years ago when we first started kicking the tires on this idea. Given the horrendous inflation over the past several years, that probably translates to about $25,000 today. Happy dance. Even though I can’t dance.
Four. My yearly Advent sob-fest has begun already. This one took me by surprise. I was doing some worship planning recently and wound up listening to the Tabernacle Choir’s rendition of “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming.” For some reason, it hit a tender spot, and the floodgates opened, perhaps because the load is quite heavy right now.
True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us, And lightens every load.
I’ll post the song below.
Five. COVID killed our wonderful choir, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it resurrected in due course, especially since our church is getting a new organ this week. (It’s a gently used though lovely Rodgers organ from Ephrata.) A few of us have been crawling around the organ chambers over the past several days, cleaning things out and getting ready for the new installation. We’re all a bit stiff and banged up from that venture, but I’m ecstatic that it will be operable in time for Advent and Christmas. I’ll also post our church’s Advent letter and lineup in case anyone is interested.
Six. My dissertation is trucking along, but it’s taking longer than it should. Even I—yes, I—am starting to drift into the “Let’s get this thing done, already,” mode. It’s just so tedious to write at this level and do a thorough job of engaging all the heavy hitters who’ve written on my topic over the past two millennia. At last count, I’ve gotten up to 19 languages, and that’s more than enough, don’t you think? Still, I love the research. It’s the academic writing (i.e., being precise, anticipating objections, making and defending an argument, documenting everything, etc., etc.) that’s so time consuming. All in good time, though, right?
Seven. By the time I publish this post, it will be November 22, 2023, the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I wasn’t born yet when that awful tragedy took place, but I became fascinated by all aspects of it when I was in elementary school. And, yes, I’ve done an awful lot of reading on this subject over the years, keeping up with old details and major developments in the case. I had hoped to write more extensively about it on this anniversary, but that’s just not possible this year. Maybe someday. What do I think happened? Let’s just say, “Things aren’t settled until they’re properly settled.” And this crime was never properly settled. Enough said?
Eight. In the spirit of JFK (who died on the same days as C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley), let’s end where we began—gratitude. It was President Kennedy who said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” In my case, that would take a whole lot of time. And it would include you, the readers of TNL. Thanks for stopping by.
Oddly enough, today I’m thinking about the death of another larger-than-life personality, Princess Diana. Last night I finished watching episode 3 of the final season of The Crown, so it’s fresh on my mind. And it’s stirring up in me the loathing I already had for the media. I’m sitting here wondering if the paparazzi have learned their lesson, or if they’re still greedy, corrupt, and dangerous.
Levi turns four months old today. He’s mostly a happy and peaceful guy, though today he’s under the weather. I look forward to seeing him every chance I get, and I miss him terribly when I don’t get to see him for a while. As is the case with his brother Samuel, we always have a blast together. His favorite games are, “Go See,” “Go Get ‘Em,” “Cheek Thing,” and “Belly Zerbits.” It’s time now to introduce him to the “Levi Sandwich” game!
Do you see any similarities to his brother?
Back to some Levi shots…
“Mom put us down for a nap. Are you planning on sleeping?”
We have just one more message in our series on the book of Daniel. All the eschatology and apocalypticism we’ve encountered along the way has us thinking about the return of Christ. The soul craves rapture, doesn’t it? Christian musician Mat Kearny captures this deep desire in his song “Rochester,” which portrays a rough family life here on earth. “Knowing one day you’re gonna take me out of here.” Maybe you can relate.
First, life has been a blur since I returned from teaching the latest doctoral residency out of state. This particular cohort has 15 students in it, and their nascent dissertation topics are fascinating. We had a good three days together and lots of laughs to go with all the intense study. Teaching is a blast, but residencies are grinding, all-day events, and traveling can be exhausting.
Second, speaking of dissertations, my second one is moving along nicely, but I had to slow down the writing process a bit to learn the basics of Sumerian and Akkadian. Cuneiform writing is interesting, to say the least. Let’s just say that our generation did not invent emojis. 😊 I should be able to get back on pace after finishing up about four or five more paragraphs on the etymology of a key word in my study.
Third, it was marvelous having the boys yesterday. I missed them terribly while I was away. Below are a few pictures of their continued adorableness. I got choked up putting Samuel down for a nap in the afternoon. He’s such a kind and happy little boy, and I love him to pieces. Levi is starting to roll over and get chattier. It’s fun to see his personality emerge. As the old saying goes, “I could eat him with a spoon.” I’ll see them again tomorrow for Friday Fun Day. We have a few new activities planned for the day.
Fourth, our kitchen remodeling project is going well. The items that have been installed so far are stunning. If my calculations are correct, we’re going to save about $23,000 by securing and managing the contractors ourselves. I may share some pictures later—after the project is finished.
Fifth, this Sunday I get to preach on Daniel 9 and his vision of the 70 weeks. It’s a challenging passage to decipher, but once again, we’ll be dealing with prophecy, eschatology, messiah, atonement, antichrist, and the end times. I claim no expertise on some of these matters, but I can’t think of a more important subject to teach on. We’re getting closer to the imminent return of Jesus, aren’t we? May we all be ready for that glorious moment.
Sixth, my mother-in-law continues to decline. She’s not ready for hospice care yet, but she does need round-the-clock skilled care, and we’re trying to manage all the personnel to make that happen. Sonya is determined to get her mom across the finish line in her own home, which is an apartment we added to our house a few years ago. Never has a mother had a more devoted daughter. Still, what an ordeal. Those panic attacks I had about 12 years ago are trying to make a comeback. Thankfully, so far I’ve been able to keep them at bay without meds. A real panic attack is horrible and horrendous when it happens. I do not want to start having them again. One idea in the works to eliminate one or two of my secondary jobs. Stay tuned.
Seventh, getting older might be one reason the MIL situation is such a challenge. These days I crave solitude and quiet for reflection, research, and writing, but that’s just not in the cards right now. Speaking of age, my college swim coach told me years ago that my knees would become arthritic one day because of hitting the walls so hard in flip turns as a sprinter. I’m wondering if that joyful dynamic has begun since my right knee feels mildly sore all the time, especially in the morning. We’ll see what the doctor has to say about it next week when I go to see him for a routine checkup. At least I’m not gray yet! (Actually, that’s kind of odd for someone my age.) Still, my hair has gotten a bit thinner in recent years, and the grays are trying to make an appearance at the temples. Since I’ll probably look a bit different in a year or two, anyway, I might just grow a goatee and see what happens. 😊
Eighth, the demise of the Phillies was hard to watch again this year. They had the league championship well in hand, and then they squandered it. That’s not a surprise. I’ve often said that the Phillies are always good enough to give you hope, and bad enough to break your heart. This year’s flameout was especially disappointing. Still, they’re my team, and I’ll never stop cheering for them. I attended eight games in person this year and watched most of the rest as opportunity allowed. Our next Opening Day is Thursday, March 28, 2024.
Ninth, speaking of the Phillies, I remember them playing “Viva La Vida” and some other Coldplay tunes during batting practice a few years ago. So, below are a few selections just for old time’s sake. And what would an update post be without a meme or two? Until next time, enjoy this glorious fall weather we’re having in Eastern Pennsylvania.
It’s always nice to chuckle when life gets heavy. I have hundreds of memes on file, and it’s time to unload some of them for the sake of a few grins. Enjoy!
Image Credit: pngtree.com
Samuel James (aka SamJam, aka Bubby) a little more than year ago today:
Flying out of state today to teach a doctoral residency, so I just keep adding to this post rather than starting a new one. I will miss the munchkins, but, happily, my balloon has been reinflated. 😊 🎈💙 🎓
First, prayers for my mother-in-law would be appreciated. She’s now in stage 7 of Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s a tough season of life for all of us. She fell yesterday and got a big gash in her head that required a trip to the ER and multiple stitches. We’re at the point of needing skilled care to keep her in the addition we built for her a few years ago. Otherwise, we will need to find a memory care facility for her—something she has resisted all her life.
Second, as it says in Psalm 122:6, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” The Middle East is a tinderbox again, and it remains to be seen how violent the current situation will get. It’s been uncanny going through the book of Daniel right now as world events are unfolding the way they are. We were in Daniel 7 today, which is one of the apocalyptic texts in the Aramaic section of the book. We did talk about “the little horn” (= “the antichrist”), but we spent more of our time discussing “the Son of Man,” which was deeply encouraging. I really need to catch up on my sermon summary posts next week. The book of Daniel is incredible—one of my favorites.
Third, I got to see my niece and nephew Friday night at the Hamburg football game. Their daughter is a senior cheerleader, and their son is a freshman linebacker and substitute quarterback. It always gnaws at me that my brother isn’t here to see his kids and grandkids do their thing. He would be so proud of them. It was a tender moment when I saw his grandson play a few downs and comport himself on the field with the exact same mannerisms as my brother. It kind of took my breath away. A few tears may have been involved, too. Such is the nature of a premature exit from life.
Fourth, the Phillies won their opening game of the NLDS last night against Atlanta. That was a delightful surprise as the Braves have the best record in baseball. I know—this hardly registers as “important” on the scale of life’s priorities, but it’s nice to have a pleasant diversion once in a while. My other diversion has been listening to some new tunes I had never heard before. Cheers to those lovely souls who introduce me to new things while I force myself to learn the Sumerian and Akkadian alphabets.
🎵😊 ♯ 💙🎶❤️♮💚♭
And just like that, “Pin, meet balloon. Balloon, pin.”
The Phillies have again embraced Calum Scott’s version of “Dancing on My Own” as their victory song this year. We sang it several times Wednesday night at the ballpark when the team clinched a berth in the 2023 NLDS. The song is certainly atypical as a team anthem, but when an entire stadium sings the chorus at peak volume (and slightly faster than the original), it’s a raucous good time.
Written by Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn, “Dancing on My Own” is a heartfelt reflection on the pain of losing someone you love to another. Specifically, the lyrics tell the story of a guy who has to watch his crush dance with someone else while he can only observe from a distance. Who can’t relate to such a sad state of affairs? Probably only the tiny tots who haven’t been to middle school yet. 😊
In a vulnerable moment, the singer feels heartbroken, lonely, and dejected by the pain of losing out. He can only fantasize about going home with the one his heart truly desires. He has a sense of resignation and acceptance, acknowledging that love has slipped away. Despite the heartache, he finds solace in expressing his emotions through dancing, even if it means doing so alone.
Does any of this sound like baseball to you? A pennant race? A quest for a World Series ring? Of course not! So, how did this tune shoot to the top of the playlist in the Phillies clubhouse? No one really knows, but here’s last year’s explanation from the inimitable Jim Gardner, retired news legend and Philadelphia icon.
Whatever the story, I’ll just keep dancing, too. And, hopefully, the Phillies will keep winning.
Maybe your church reinstituted the greeting time (or the “passing of the peace”) during the worship service in a post-COVID era. If so, the party’s over for us introverts. 😊 I just had to share this little gem from Instagram because it’s too good to keep to myself:
Also, the playoff game last night was amazing. The Phillies clinched a spot in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves with their 7-1 victory over the Miami Marlins. So, for the Phillies, the party’s just getting started. Except Atlanta is the best team in baseball this year, and they have a score to settle with us from last season. The road ahead will not be easy.
Anyway, this was my seventh time to the park this year. We had the worst seats, but it was the best game to attend. (My theology prof buddy and I were so high up, we could look down on the foul pole!) It was loud. Very LOUD—especially after the J. T. Realmuto home run and the Bryson Stott grand slam. The poor little boy next to me kept covering his ears.
My phone died early, so I was able to take only three pictures—one in the Xfinity Center where we had lunch, one in the ballpark right after the gates opened, and one of the massive scoreboard from our nose-bleed seats.
Well, another playoff season, another trip to Citizen’s Bank Park. Yes, the Phillies made it again this year, and I’ve got tickets for tomorrow night when we play game 2 against the Miami Marlins. They’re a pesky team, but I think we can get past them if we play to our potential. I’m much less optimistic about toppling Atlanta to vie for the pennant, though. The Braves are the best team in baseball right now, and they had an amazing year.
Of course, little could top being at game 3 of the World Series last year. The Phillies won that game with a record number of home runs for a World Series game. We even registered our volume on Penn State’s local seismograph—such was our collective noise level as a massive crowd of Phillie phanatics. Despite my pessimism this time around, I’m excited to be part of the atmosphere again. If you happen to watch the game tomorrow night, look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing red.
Between working on getting ready for the apologetics conference last week and digging into a few ancient Sumerian and Akkadian words this week, I’ve gotten behind in uploading pictures and videos of the boys as well as posting recent sermon summaries from our Daniel series. Thanks for your patience as I try to get caught up over the next several days. We’ve been having a blast in Daniel, especially its eschatological (end times) dimensions.
Enjoy these snaps and vids of my beloved munchkins. I’m especially delighted by Samuel’s euphoria when Levi tries to say hi to him. I’m not sure how much more adorableness I can take from these two. 😊