And Here Come the Azaleas

Here’s a teeny life update with a few extras—for no other reason than that I need a brief diversion from proffing, pastoring, lawyering, dissertating, and websiting. Life is good; it’s just a little thick right now. 

1. The brilliant petals on the tulips in our front yard have finally dropped. They lasted slightly longer than last year, but they’re naturally transient, so I had to bid them farewell. Fortunately, our azalea bushes are now popping. These flowering shrubs are admirably carrying the color torch passed on to them by the tulips. I dig ’em, even though they’re not my absolute favorite. I hope to get a Japanese maple some day, along with a replacement dogwood tree. I also love trees with white bark (see below). The grass in our neighborhood right now is a thick, lush, deep green. Heavenly.

2. I’m thoroughly enjoying my new Ford Edge. I finally learned how to use the display and all its apps. The moonroof is super cool, too. I’ve never had one of those. I can also open the hatch with my foot (as long as I have the key fob on me), which has come in handy several times already. It also closes at the touch of a button. Very convenient. My youth like to pile into it whenever we go for a McDonald’s run during Sunday school. But my cars haven’t always been on the newer side. When I was in high school, I drove a hideous 1973 Mercury Comet. Its color was indecipherable, but it was somewhere on the spectrum between Gulden’s mustard and burnt pumpkin pie. It had 4 doors and a brown vinyl top—a real chick magnet for a teenage boy. But, hey, it had a 302 engine. The only other car I had with that kind of pickup was a Mercury Grand Marquis with an 8-cylinder engine.

3. Our Keurig recently bit the dust, so I had to go get a new one. The upsides of the new unit are that (a) it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and (b) I like this one even better; it has more cup sizes and a bigger water reservoir. It also looks more stylish. No, I’m not addicted to coffee. I just drink it for the protection of those around me in the morning.

4. Our bathroom renovation project is slowly coming to an end. The list of missteps and mishaps is too long to mention, but soon it will be fully operational. Fortunately, we have two others to use in the interim—which has lasted eight months now instead of one. And these are the professionals doing it! That’s not a bust on them; it would have taken me a decade to do it myself given what they were up against. The latest mishap was their knocking over the medicine cabinet and shattering one of its three glass doors. The good news is that everything they’ve actually done or installed so far looks amazing. 

5. I preached the other week on Psalm 23, so I riffed on the cluelessness of sheep for a bit, underscoring why they (we) so desperately need a good shepherd. This brief video clip makes the point much better than I ever could.

6. This week’s song of the week at TNL, which I post every Monday, is Lauren Daigle and the Hillsong team singing “How Great Thou Art.” Lovely.

7. Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is required singing on Easter Sunday morning. Here’s a contemporary version with an added bridge. Not bad. 

8. Here’s the best thing you’re likely to see all day. A group of special folks recite Psalm 139 for us. As someone who was unplanned, unwanted, and unloved from the day of my conception until the day of my adoption 22 months later, I have always been moved and encouraged by the words of King David in this beautiful psalm. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Before we ever had a place in this world, we had a place in God’s heart.” Amen.

9. It’s been a long time since I published a “Just between You and Meme” post. I’ve been collecting good stuff, but I haven’t had time to pull it together. So here are just a few clippings that recently made me chuckle. (I’ll save the really good stuff for later.)

10. I’ve been working out at the local YMCA lately (cardio, weights, and swimming). I figured that since we all have to wear masks while on site, the rescue dummy should have to wear one, too. So, yesterday I gave him mine to use while I was in the pool. He didn’t resist. (BTW, that’s my new Batman towel at the bottom of the one picture. My mother-in-law got it for me for my birthday. When I use it, I feel invincible. Haha!)

11. I spent two decades loathing the mainstream media, but I think The Babylon Bee has a better approach. Just mock them mercilessly. Loathing takes too much energy, and it’s all negative energy. Sheesh, why bother? Yes, the Bee crosses the line sometimes, but the national mainstream media try to play us every single day. They’re just contemptible.

12. Supremely encouraged by so many blessings in the last five years. Of course, it helps when your spouse’s kingdom gifts are not only recognized but compensated. The best part is being able to give more. Home renovations are an added benefit. I can’t help thinking of Jenn Johnson’s song, “Goodness of God.” 

13. A former ICL student stopped by yesterday and expressed his appreciation for our ministry to him and also to enroll in seminary. He said thank you with Wilbur Buds. I wanted to say you’re welcome by eating them, but I’m trying to behave right now. Goals and all that. But how “sweet” of him to express his gratitude in that way. As my students have heard me say many times, “Chocolate is proof of God’s existence. Peanut butter is proof of his power. And the two together are proof of his goodness.”

And now…

May the Fourth be with you.

(And also with you. Hehe!)

Have a great week!

UPDATE: Mother’s Day is the time we usually plant impatiens in the front flower bed. Last year we did red and white, but the white ones didn’t do very well. We may try petunias this year. Any other suggestions?

Three Songs to Sing When Christmas Comes in a Minor Key

It’s not uncommon to have a blue Christmas in a fallen world. We’ve all been there. The empty chair at Chritmas dinner because of sickness or death. The sparse gifts under the tree because of unemployment. The stab of holiday depression because of failure, setback, shame, or some kind of chemical imbalance. It’s hard to have a “holly jolly” when you’re sitting in the sad seat. Or the sick seat. It’s even worse when everyone else around you doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.

But this year seems different. Harder. Stranger. Almost apocalyptic. Farmers tell us manure is great when it’s spread around, but we all know it just stinks to high heaven when it’s all piled up in one place. For many people, 2020 has been that kind of a year, and it’s taken its toll. We’re physically drained and emotionally fatigued. With 20 days left in 2020, we wonder what else can go wrong. Hitherto we’ve lived through:

  • The Australian bushfires
  • Prince Harry and Megan quitting the royal family
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and its many lockdowns
  • Kobe Bryant and his daughter killed in a helicopter crash
  • The impeachment trial of the President of the United States
  • The stock market crash and record unemployment
  • The George Floyd tragedy and the resulting protests
  • Rumors that Kim Jun Un, the leader of North Korea, had died
  • Widesperad censorship and hostility on social media
  • Manipulation of the masses by Big Tech and a corrupt media
  • A bitter and still unresolved U.S. Presidential election
  • Outrage at politicians ignoring their own pandemic restrictions
  • The arrival of murder hornets to the United States
  • A massive explosion in the capital of Lebanon
  • Severe wildfires on the West Coast of the United States
  • The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg
  • U.S. President Donald Trump testing positive for COVID-19
  • The death of Sean Connery, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Trebek, and many others

And those are just the big things we know about. Your family can probably add to the list. Maybe you’ve had your own disappointments, tears, and heartbreaks this year. Maybe you’ve been bedridden, hospitalized, quarantined, or out of work because of the virus. Maybe you’ve felt the sting of your own unmet expectations. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov 13:12). Some of us are still waiting for that tree of life, aren’t we?

God cares.

That’s why he came to us on that first Christmas. God in Christ didn’t avoid the miseries of this world. Rather, he entered into them, experienced them firsthand, and then swallowed them up. He’s coming again someday to make all things new. In the meantime, we can count on his lavishing love to carry us through the hard times.

Have a good cry if you need to. “Blessed are those who mourn,” said Jesus. He should know. Christ had tears streaming down his own cheeks on more than one occasion. He was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” So, you’re in good company if you “lose it” once in a while. It’s o.k. to not be o.k. for a season. After all, it’s only a season. “Joy comes in the morning.” So, dare to cling to hope, too. And let Hope himself cling to you. The Christmas manger leads to an empty tomb.

Here are three songs for when you’re singing Christmas in a minor key—two by Casting Crowns and one by Francesca Battistelli. Let them flow like liquid love over your aching heart. And feel free to contact This New Life if you have a special prayer request this time of year. You are loved. And you are not alone.

“Somewhere in Your Silent Night”
by Casting Crowns

Somewhere in your silent night
Heaven hears the song your broken heart has cried
Hope is here, just lift your head
For love has come to find you
Somewhere in your silent night

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
by Casting Crowns

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail 
With peace on earth, good will to men

“Behold Him”
by Francesca Battistelli

In your silent night
When you’re not all right
Lift your eyes and behold him
Feel the thrill of hope
You are not alone
In this moment, behold him

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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:


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.

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