I just got back from church camp where I had the privilege of sharing five evening messages with a responsive and appreciative crowd. Their favorite, by far, was a sermon called “It Is Finished” from John 19:28-30, where Jesus says, “Tetelestai!” from the cross. It’s the gospel in a single word, and I got a bit exuberant preaching it!
While I was away, Samuel and Levi kept being cute, and I missed them greatly. I gathered up a few snaps and clips upon my return, and now I have some new ones to share. I may have shown a few of their previous pictures via PowerPoint during one of my sermons. 🙂 Do you remember that picture of Bubby washing the car? And the one where he’s holding a sponge, covered in suds? The camp folks are now smitten, too!
Here’s something I’ve been eager to say for the past nine months, and now I can say it: “When are the boys coming over?” Haha! Actually, Samuel was here yesterday (and it was SO good to see him). He’s coming tomorrow, too, so I’m super spoiled. I’m thinking it’s time to establish a Friday night pizza tradition at our house, with them staying overnight and having pancakes for breakfast on Saturday morning.
Enjoy a few glimpses of my cherubs. And a song that may send your spirit soaring.
💙 💚 💙 💚 💙 💚 💙 💚 💙 💚
I made a reference to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in one of my camp messages: “Barely even friends, then somebody bends unexpectedly.”
Joy abounds as we get to spend more time with Levi. Micah revealed his first nickname: “Nugget.” So, now we have Bubby and Nuggy. 😊 Samuel is learning what it means to be a big brother, and his interactions with Levi have been charming. Mommy and daddy have been working hard to make Samuel feel special despite all the attention his baby brother needs right now. So, there are some snaps of him below, too. He’s in “Sudsy Bubby” mode. Enjoy!
Levi is home now, settling into family life. It’s been quite an emotional week watching it all unfold. Since I’m an adoptee with no connection to my biological family, Levi is just the fourth blood relative I’ve been able to meet (after Andrew, Bethany, and Samuel). So, Levi has my genes! According to his paternal grandpa, he also has my mouth. Speculation is growing already that he’s going to be a preacher. 😊
As is our custom, I read Psalm 139 over him when he got home. Cue the waterworks.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Before any of us had a place in this world, we had a place in God’s heart. And Levi now has a place in our hearts, too. He is precious and perfect, and all of us savoring this wonderful gift the Lord has entrusted to us.
Samuel’s brother Levi Timothy was born today at 5:35 a.m., checking in at 8 lbs., 8 oz., and 20 inches long. He is so precious—ruddier, chunkier, and hairier than his brother, who he was born nineteen months ago. Maybe they should have named him Esau. 😊
I’m told Bethany did well. She was accompanied by her husband, mother, and mother-in-law, who is a nurse. After about 9 hours of labor, she needed only four pushes when the time came.
I wasn’t able to blog through the night like last time because I was babysitting Samuel—which is always an utter delight—but I was keeping up with all the action by phone. And, of course, when I heard Levi’s strong and healthy first cry, I melted into a puddle of tears. Again.
Samuel saw pictures of his baby brother this morning, and he was able to say, “Levi”! I will share some pictures later. For now, here’s a hymn that is meaningful to me this week in light of both the tragedy of premature death (a good family friend) and the beauty of newborn life (Levi Timothy).
The song is in desperate need of an update, but the message is timeless and true: God is always there. In good times and bad.
Samuel got to hang out with some of his cousins at the pool on Independence Day. Below are some snaps from the great time he had on the bright, sunny day—including a slow-motion clip where he goes under water for the first time. What a cutie! 💙
Meanwhile, the crew on our side of the family yesterday went to see The Sound of Freedom, the incredible story of Tim Ballard, a federal agent who rescued a boy from child traffickers. After learning the boy’s sister was still a captive in the Colombian jungle, Ballard quit his job (because of bureaucratic red tape) and embarked on a dangerous mission to save the young girl from a fate worse than death.
It’s not uncommon for me to get choked up at poignant moments of a good flick, but this was different. I tried three times to stand up and walk out of the theater after it was over, and two times I had to sit back down and continue the blubbering. It was an ugly sight. As I seem to remember, the same thing happened after the last Jim Caveizel movie I saw in the theater.
Yes, everyone needs to see this movie. And, yes, we all need to be angry, sad, disgusted, and—above all—mobilized to action. I’m pondering how our family (and church family) might be able to contribute to the solution. Speaking of angry, Disney stood in the way of this movie’s release for five years. Walt would roll over in his grave if he know what a slimeball enterprise his company has become.
Unrelatedly, this coming weekend we’re headed to Cooperstown, NY for an anniversary trip. Friday will be a Puccini opera, Saturday will be the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Sunday is the art museum. So, we’re checking all the important boxes here—music, sports, and the arts. 😊
Just had to share this brief clip of our little Bubby saying the name above all names (along with a few other odds and ends below). It took my breath away when he said it, not unlike when he said “Bible” a few weeks ago. His receptor language skills have always been good, and now his oral capacities are taking off. Best of all, we get to see him again tonight. Let the spoiling begin continue!
Credits: Our Daily Bread, The Trend Spotter, The Babylon Bee
Levi Timothy is supposed to arrive three weeks from today. It’s quite possible, though, that he’ll come early. I’m told his head is down, and he is in just the right position to come at any time. We’ll just have to wait to see what happens. We’re all so excited to meet him!
Meanwhile, Samuel continues to charm. He’s speaking full sentences now—a third of which is usually discernible to us. The rest makes sense only to him. He’s a happy little boy, and he loves coming to our house. That’s good because we love having him! 💙
We’ll have to work doubly hard to make sure he still feels special when his brother comes along. I think we might be up to the task. 🙂
He loves the water. I’m thinking that might be genetic.
Samuel has places to go in his new car. In fact, his mommy has a birthday four days from now, and she may have a new car, too. Shhhh!!!
I forgot to share with y’all that I’m the sheriff this week at our church’s Avalanche Ranch Vacation Bible School. I even have my own personalized badge. 🙂 Haha! I learned my very first Bible verse at a VBS many years ago as a child: “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). Not a bad place to start, eh? We’re having a blast with all these munchkins.
I’ve been really bad at posting lately. My apologies! It’s mostly because the latest chapter for my dissertation was 60 pages long. Oh, and there are nine appendices totaling 139 pages. Maybe I overdid it. 😊 Anyway, here are some recent clips of the Bubster. I think he’s a musician in the making! He brings so much joy to our lives. I’m off to read something light and airy for a few days before I start the next chapter. Any recommendations?
Micah and Bethany recently got Samuel a Cocomelon sticker to put on his wall. He was absolutely thrilled with it. He started yelling, “Bus! Bus!” because he associates Cocomelon (or as he likes to say, “Coco”) with the video the two of us most often watch together: “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.” After that, we usually watch, “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” followed by “The Bath Song.” Then we try to do something less passive and more cognitive, like reading books or playing in the yard.
Speaking of the yard, the flower beds are now mulched, and the Mother’s Day flowers are now planted. This year we’re trying geraniums (red and white) in the back row, and marigolds (burnt yellow) in the front row. For the ten hanging baskets, we’re going to give impatiens (multi-colored) a try. We’re also trying impatiens (purple and lavender) for my mother-in-law’s flower patch. We also planted tomatoes and peppers in the garden. Lots more to come, but it’s a good start to the new season. Such a joyful time to be alive. 💙 💙 💙
I was out of state last week teaching a doctoral residency (along with conducting another remote learning course, a prayer meeting, a variety of staff meetings, and even some dissertating). I couldn’t wait to get back and see our little Bubby. (Yes, and everyone else, too.) In fact, I got choked up on the flight home at the thought of reconnecting with this little munchkin and getting to make a “Samuel Sandwich” again.
What a joy to return to this adorable, pleasant, and wonderful little boy. His receptor language has always been good, and now he’s starting to talk up a storm. He said “Bible” the other day, which was another reason to get choked up. He was also the ring bearer at a wedding last week. He’s only 17 months old, but he made it down the aisle (with a little help)!
He’s the best Bubby ever, and every day I get a little more smitten. Below are some random snaps and video clips, in no particular order.
Out of gas, but resting up for tomorrow.
In addition to which…
Here are a few bonus pictures that didn’t upload the first time.
We took Samuel to the Twilight Acres Creamery & Bakery in Womelsdorf yesterday. It’s a charming little shop that makes for a great Friday Fun Day. The ice cream and baked goods are outstanding. We had a lovely time together, and the little guy still apparently remembers our date. (See video below.) Earlier on Friday Bethany and I went to Hobby Lobby and then had lunch at the Longhorn Steakhouse. Bubby charmed the whole restaurant. I may have gotten him a Cocomelon doll at the store because he kept saying “Co-co,” which charmed me.
It’s been an extra joyful week this week, so I just had to post one of these. (Our little Bubby stayed overnight last night, so I’m over the moon. Also, after completing all the translations and primary source analyses, I started writing chapter 1 of my dissertation!) Actually, I can’t remember the last time I did a Friday Fun post, so let’s see if I still remember how to do this. Samuel is smitten with his new Cocomelon school bus, and I’m smitten with this laugh-out-loud meme. Enjoy both! And have a great weekend.
April 13. It’s my “Gotcha Day”! I’ll be forever grateful that Carl and Cherie Valentino hand-picked me out of an orphanage in Philadelphia many years ago and made me their own son. Yes, as I’ve indicated on several occasions, my adoptive father could be extremely harsh at times, and that harshness left a few skid marks on my soul and placed landmines in my path for years to come.
But mom and dad did a beautiful thing for me, and I am blessed that I didn’t have to languish for years as a neglected ward of an impersonal state. Besides, Dad was the child of two alcoholic parents, so he carried his own share of pain in life. In the end, he came to know Jesus—praise the Lord.
Holy Week was rich and meaningful this year, as always. Our church broke attendance records all over the place, but that was minor compared to the massive blessings we shared together. Even though many “free churches” today make little room in their calendar for these kinds of special observances, the worldwide church historically has felt compelled this time of year to align their focus to the Passion Narrative in Scripture.
As such, during these special days we cleared our calendar to focus exclusively on the events of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, which are at the very heart of our Christian faith. Meetings and ordinary business were not allowed. All our attention was directed toward the person and work of Jesus Christ as:
The triumphant yet humble King (Palm Sunday);
The Servant of God and Mediator of the New Covenant (Maundy Thursday)
The Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World (Good Friday); and
Christus Victor—the Risen Savior of the Human Race (Easter Sunday).
The theological rationale for such a special week is how the Gospels themselves are laid out. In terms of sheer space allocation, the attention given to Jesus’ final week of ministry before the crucifixion, along with the 40-day period after the resurrection, occupies a significant portion of Gospel texts:
Matthew—8 of 28 chapters (29%)
Mark—6 of 16 chapters (38%)
Luke—5.5 of 24 chapters (23%)
John—8.7 of 21 chapters (41%)
All told, 28+ of the 89 chapters in the Gospel story (32%) are devoted to the period of time between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his ascension back to the Father. Yet this period is less than 1% of Jesus’ entire 3.5 years of public ministry.
In terms of literary style, this space allocation suggests that while the birth, life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus were important to the authors, it was the Passion of Christ (i.e., his final acts, sayings, trials, sufferings, and death) and the Resurrection of Christ (i.e., his empty tomb, post-resurrection appearances, and ascension) that were centrally important to their purpose for writing.
Martin Kähler, a late 19th-century German New Testament scholar, stated that the Gospels are “passion narratives with extended introductions.” While perhaps somewhat overstated, this assessment does strike at the ultimate goal of Jesus’ earthly career.
As noted before, I’m way behind on posting sermon summaries, so here’s a real quick look at where we were in the Word this past Holy Week:
Palm Sunday “Don’t Miss the Donkey” (Zechariah 9:1-11) If we miss the point of Jesus’ donkey, we will miss the point of Jesus’ death.
I think I shocked some folks when I asserted that the palm branches were the chosen symbol for this day by the people who misunderstood Jesus, not Jesus himself. The symbol Jesus chose was the lowly donkey. Big difference.
Maundy Thursday “Washed by God” (John 13:1-17) and “Fed by God” (Luke 22:14-23) Our God does feet. He also does souls. We need to give him both.
The shock here is that God in Christ came all the way down to give us what we needed most—himself. He cleanses us and nourishes us with his body and blood. May we never get over the jolt of these incredible truths.
Good Friday “A Really Good Friday for Barabbas” (Matthew 27:15-26) Jesus takes our place on death row so that we might live eternally with God.
Of all the Good Friday sermons I’ve done, I had never given one on the the release of Barabbas. This year, I felt a strong urge by the Holy Spirit to do so. Fascinating aspects of the story include: (1) the manuscript evidence for Barabbas’s first name being “Jesus”; and (2) the four failed attempts by Pontius Pilate to get rid of the case against the Nazarene. I stirred in some archaeology and Greco-Roman backgrounds to go with the theology and exhortation. My three main movements were:
Barabbas and Us—Everyone lives on spiritual death row.
Pilate and Us—Everyone will eventually deal directly with Jesus.
Jesus and Us—Everyone can be released from spiritual death row by trusting in Jesus.
Interestingly enough, I had a funeral on Good Friday—something I’ve never done before. That made for a tight schedule, but it was a special request from a special family, and I was happy to help. So, Wednesday night and Friday morning I was back in my old stomping grounds of Fleetwood, PA. The family’s home is on Main Street, and the funeral home is on Kutztown Road.
I was wondering what it would feel like to be back in the area. All was well as I drove around town and went down memory lane. I even found myself praying prayers of blessing over others, whether I thought they deserved them or not. Such is the amazing grace of God. Besides, as George Herbert once said, “Living well is the best revenge.”
Some chapters in life are better than others, but when you let the Author of life author your story (and stop trying to grab the pen yourself), the ending is always maximally great. Some of my favorite writers specialize in the surprise ending—Guy de Maupassant, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, O. Henry, Charlotte Brontë, et al. Those little “Aha!” moments in literature point to the one great “Aha!” moment that’s coming at the end of the age.
Anyway, as per usual, I sobbed my way through Jesus of Nazareth during Holy Week, and then (part of) The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday. I only got to see part of The Passion this year because I had to finish writing my sermon. I just barely made it! 😊
Easter Sunday “It Doesn’t Sting Anymore!” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57) When the risen Christ returns, he will make a brand new you.
I had a lot of fun with this one. Hopefully I’ll be able to say more later, but here’s the outline for now:
The PRESENT LIMITATION of our bodies (15:50)
Your present body cannot endure on earth.
Your present body cannot enter into heaven.
The FUTURE TRANSFORMATION of our bodies (15:51-53)
The believer’s body will be changed in a moment of time.
The believer’s body will be changed for all of eternity.
The ETERNAL CELEBRATION of our bodies (15:54-57)
The prophecies of Jesus anticipated the swallowing of death.
The pardon of Jesus eliminated the sting of death.
After the church service (which featured a special light-to-dark opening), we had a big ham dinner with the whole family. Afterward I got to play with Samuel, which was pure delight. All of us probably had too much candy, so it’s probably time once again to mortify the flesh.
On another note, the nine long appendices of my dissertation are now complete, and I am ready to start writing the chapters. Sheesh, it was a lot of work playing around in (and translating many of) the ancient Near Eastern, Greco-Roman, intertestamental, and rabbinic primary sources. But, oh, how they illuminated my topic! I very much want to share some of my work now, but I’ll resist the temptation to do that and just provide the title:
TORN VEIL IN THE TEMPLE: GOD’S COMMENTARY ON THE DEATH OF HIS SON AND EPICENTER OF HIS NEW CREATION IN CHRIST
I hope you’re intrigued. My thesis is set, and I can hardly wait to share my findings and defend my conclusions. But—all in good time. I think a massive blog post series may be in the future.
Finally—note to self: No more doctorates after this one! 😊 Like the last one, this has been a great learning experience, but it’s been awfully time consuming, and I’m ready to get on to other things. It’s been a special period that needs to wrap up within the year.
Enya has been my musical companion whenever my academic stress levels spike. Her vibe is just so soothing. Speaking of Enya, I worked one of her pieces (“A Day without Rain”) into the Maundy Thursday pre-service playlist. It worked quite well to help set a tone for the evening. I think I’ll go for a walk now and play something of hers that’s a little more exuberant. Any suggestions? Most of her stuff is quite mellow.
Since several rabbinic writings I encountered mention angels being made by God from fire, I’ll leave you with “The Forge of the Angels” from Dark Sky Island.
Snip, snip here! Snip, snip there! Watch the barber cut your hair. It’s the perfect place to stop. Sneak a peek in the barber shop!
– From a children’s book I read to Samuel.
Our little Bubby had his first haircut today. He did well—no fear, no tears. Of course, it helped that he sat on daddy’s lap the whole time. 😊 He also went to a new park today, and he enjoyed it. All the swings were new to him, as was the merry-go-round. He had to think long and hard about whether or not he liked spinning around in a circle like that.
I can hardly believe it, but Samuel turned 16 months old today. Yesterday he helped me celebrate my birthday. Actually, I got him two presents. Nothing wrong with that, right? They’re riding toys, and he had a blast breaking them in. (As noted previously, I’m the softie. Haha! I enjoyed going back and looking at that post again.)
💙 💙 💙
Samuel got me a matching picture frame for his brother’s sonogram, and I adore it. One birthday anticipating another. I can hardly wait to meet Levi.
Last year the schizophrenic weather here in Southeastern Pennsylvania knocked out my flowering cherry tree for the season. One week it was unseasonably warm—which got the buds interested in peeking out for a time—but then the following week the temperatures went back to Mr. Slurpee levels. Hence, the flowering cherry tree never got any flowers. Parts of it also seemed to die off over the summer, which was heartbreaking. So, I trimmed it back last fall in the hopes of witnessing a resurrection this spring.
Alas, this year it looks like the weather is trying to pull the same stunt. The warm temperatures hit recently, the buds came out, and then it got cold again. Shizo weather for the second year in a row. So, I covered up the tree to minimize the damage. (If the internet says to do it, it must be right, right?) Unfortunately, I did a pretty lousy job of it, so we’ll see what happens. I also covered my little Japanese maple tree. If ever I needed Linus’s blanket…
Bubby just learned how to feed himself. Some of the food even makes it into his mouth once in a while. 😊 I wonder if he’s going to be a lefty. Have I mentioned lately how much I love this little guy? 💙❤️💛💚