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. 💙 💙 💙
Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” If that’s the case, my front garden has taken us back to the future again. It’s the same bunch of tulips every year, but I’m always thrilled to see them again. The combination of red, yellow, and apricot colors truly makes my heart smile. They are both radiant and delightful this time of year. I had to take some snaps today since they don’t last very long. Enjoy.
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.
We bid farewell this week to our rusty, crusty 2001 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. After many years of serving as the “family truck,” it was time for her to get off the streets. She just plain ran out of gas. Well, not literally; the tank was fine. But she could no longer get started in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or the evening. Even the good mechanics didn’t think it was worth keeping her on life support.
Salvage (savage?) vultures wanted her catalytic converter more than we wanted the constant expense of getting her up and running again. But we appreciate all her efforts over the years in hauling recyclables, helping people move, transporting green waste, and all the other things trucks typically do for their owners. It was a good run. Time to start looking for another truck. Maybe a real one this time.
Well, apparently there is crying in baseball, contrary to Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. Like every other Phillies fan around the globe this past Sunday night, I watched Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres. As you may have heard by now, the Phillies won that game 4–3, and in the process, they also won the pennant. I may have gotten a little choked up during the post-game celebration. Raise your hand if you did, too. Be honest.
Now, I realize baseball is not everybody’s cup of tea, so this post is a personal reflection that goes beyond the world of sports. It’s more about those occasional flashes of joy that make our journeys sparkle once in a while, and for which we can be both happy and grateful. It’s about “high hopes” and learning how to wait patiently until those hopes are realized. (Thank you, Harry Kalas). Until a few weeks ago, it had been over a decade since the Phillies were involved in any postseason play. Now we’re in it to win it.
Sunday night: The Phillies had just surrendered a one-run lead in the seventh inning to put themselves on the brink of having to go back to California for the rest of the series. Nobody wanted to play Game 6 on Monday night at Petco Park. Not only would that squander our home field advantage, but it would also drag us right into the crosshairs of the Padres’ best pitchers. So, “the Phitins” wanted to clinch a World Series berth right here. Right now. This inning. Easier said than done.
Standout catcher J. T. Realmuto started the bottom of the eighth with a single to left field against right-hander Robert Suarez. That turned out to be huge, given what was about to unfold. The tying run was now on base, and the go-ahead run was coming to the plate. But who would be the next man stepping into the batter’s box? None other than our star cleanup hitter and likely Hall-of-Famer, Bryce Harper.
Everyone was thinking the same thing. A two-run bomb would put us back in the lead and on the verge of clinching. Harper certainly has the guns to do it (even to the opposite field), not to mention the drive, the talent, and the history to do so—but how much magic can we expect from one player? He had already done so much for the team in the postseason, along with Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Zach Wheeler, and several others. But #3 lives for moments like these, and this was his moment.
Harper showed good discipline at the plate, laying off Suarez’s bread-and-butter pitch out of the zone. He then threw a 2-2 sinker toward the outer half of the plate. The location was good from a pitcher’s perspective, but somehow—with his trademark “violent swing”—Harper muscled the ball over the outfield wall and into the left-center-field seats for a two-run shot to take the lead. If you didn’t get to see it, take a look:
Fans at Citizens Bank Park went ballistic. Viewers at home went ballistic. I went ballistic. It was storybook stuff to be sure, and no one could have written a better script. It’s what every little boy dreams about from the time he can swing a whiffle ball bat. This dramatic video clip will be shown for decades to come.
It was another milestone in the history of the club—a team I’ve been cheering for since I was a little boy. That’s why I got choked up Sunday night. Not just because we held on in the top of the ninth to win the game, but because it brought back some truly precious memories. The last time we won the World Series was in 2008 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Before that it was in 1980 against the Kansas City Royals. Before that, it was—well, there was no before that.
The Phillies have won the World Series only two times since becoming an MLB team in 1883. Back then they were known as the Quakers. They became the Phillies later in 1890. For most of those 139 years, it’s been phrustrating to be a phan. I’ve often said that the Phillies are always good enough to give you hope but bad enough to break your heart. That’s been the story for most of my life, with a few notable exceptions.
Why then do I keep cheering for them? Three words—family, friends, and memories. My dad took me to Veterans Stadium for the first time when I was about six or seven years old. It’s a memory that finds deep lodging in my heart, even to this day.
I remember holding my father’s hand walking out from under the shadowy concourse into the bright, shining seating area. The sun sprayed the radiant green AstroTurf with a brilliance that illuminated a perfectly manicured ball field, dazzling this little rookie into silence. I was in awe at the sight of it. And the sounds of it. And the smells of it. It somehow felt like I belonged there. At that moment I fell in love with baseball in general and the Phillies in particular. I’ve been a “Phanatic” ever since.
I also remember my dad getting me a dish of vanilla ice cream poured into in a little red plastic Phillies helmet—my very first baseball souvenir (and one that may still be boxed away somewhere in my attic). We also got hot dogs, French fries, and Cracker Jacks that day, purchased from the vendors walking up and down the aisles hawking their treats. Dad was happy, and I was over the moon. I didn’t understand the game very well back then, but the Phillies won, and that resulted in a lot of loud cheering—something I had never experienced before at that level of intensity.
My family, friends, and I went to many more games over the years, and we got many more souvenirs. Of course, we watched more games on TV than we attended in person, but we always wanted to know how our Phillies were doing. We could catch the nightly news, or read the box scores and standings in the paper the next day if we missed a game on TV. (I had to share the tube with my dad since he was a Yankees fan. Obviously, I’m adopted.) My heroes back then were Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dave Cash, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Bob Boone (who autographed a baseball of mine), Greg Luzinski, Gary Maddox, and Bake McBride.
I got to watch the second World Series victory in 2008 on the big screen with my church family. Several parishioners still remember the final out of that game—a strikeout by closer Brad Lidge—and they wrote us messages this week recalling that wonderful time of fellowship and celebration. Some of the kids were even at church in their pajamas that night.
Oddly enough, the Christian message is another good reason to stay with the Phillies through all their peaks and valleys. As Jesus sticks with those of us who keep striking out spiritually until we become more healthy, stable, and productive, so I can stick with the Phillies through tick and thin, regardless of their winning percentage. The theological word for that is “grace.” We all desperately need it, so we should all be willing to give it.
Having become a baseball junkie early on, I tried out for our middle school team and made the roster. By the start of my second year, I had worked myself into a starting position in the infield, and I loved every minute of it. Game days were always the best days, even when we lost. There’s nothing like going home tired, sweaty, and dirty after a game, knowing you did everything you could to help your team win. If you fielded well and got a hit or two, so much the better.
As life would have it, I was better at swimming than baseball, so that’s where I put my athletic energies in the years to come. I made it to the NCAA Division 1 Nationals, twice, and it wound up paying a big chunk of my college tuition, so that was the right call. But deep down, baseball was always my favorite sport. There’s just something about the game that captivated me as a little boy, and it’s never let go. Over time I learned that every pitch has a strategy, and every strategy has a counterstrategy. So, the issue is always one of anticipation and execution. Good teams do both well.
Back to this past Sunday. Right after preaching the morning service at our church, I came home and lost my voice. Laryngitis set in a few hours before the game, so, I couldn’t even yell for my team during that amazing come-from-behind, pennant-clinching victory. But I sure did grunt and snortle like a muffled rhinoceros a few times.
Then there were the silent but exuberant gesticulations of this little boy in a man suit whenever the Phillies put runs on the board. Sonya now knows how Michal felt when David danced before the Lord (cf. 2 Samuel 6:14–20), though I didn’t actually do anything that could remotely be called dancing. I just lumbered around the living room like a drunk baboon looking for a lamppost to lean on. (I’ll blame it on the meds I was taking.) In the end, though, myriad expressions of delight found ways to ooze out of my body from other portals besides my pie hole.
What will happen in the 2022 World Series? I have no idea, and I make no predictions. Houston has a great team, and I have a personal no-trash-talk policy. Athletes at this level are so good, any team can beat any other team on any given day. It’s just a matter of who’s clicking and who’s finding their groove in the moment. I never expected the Phillies to get this far, and I suspect very few other people did, too. So, even if they come up short at the end of this round, I’ll still be proud of them.
In the end, the best of our sports heroes are just human. They have good days and bad days. They have moments of great accomplishment and moments of great disappointment. They have seasons of good health and seasons of nagging injuries. They have big dreams and big hopes, just like the rest of us. Let’s let them be human and have some fun together, regardless of the outcome.
One dream I’ve had for a long time is to see the Phillies play in a World Series game—in Philadelphia, the city of my birth. I am blessed beyond measure to share with you that this longstanding dream will finally come true.
As of now, it looks like I’ll be going to Game 3 (Monday, October 31) or Game 4 (Tuesday, November 1). Look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing red and white. And if I get my voice back, I’ll be cheering as loud as everybody else, too.
I plan to buy myself a little red plastic Phillies cap filled with vanilla ice cream (yes, they still sell them!), and I’ll think of my dad while I’m eating it. I’ll no doubt revel in the magical atmosphere again, just like I did my first trip to the ballpark. Just like I did on Opening Day this year, which was another first for me. Yes, I was there when Kyle Schwarber started the season off with a first-at-bat home run, something now known as a “Schwarbomb.”
And, like everybody else, I’ll be waving my red “rally towel” for the Phillies, grateful beyond measure that my father introduced me to this wonderful sport all those years ago. While I’m there, I’ll be keeping the seat warm for little Samuel. Maybe someday day he’ll want some ice cream in a red helmet, too.
1. We’re praising God that Samuel’s nephrology appointment yesterday resulted in an “all clear” report. He presently has no discernible stones or calcium deposits in his kidneys! The only thing that remains is for him to be tested to see if he has a genetic predisposition toward kidney issues. As a closed-adoption adoptee myself, I have no knowledge of any family medical history that I can add to the discussion, so I’m hoping the genetic test is conclusive. I’m going to miss him over the next 10 days as he took his parents to the Outer Banks for vacation. He promises to FaceTime me once in a while. 🙂
2. My summer camp speaking tour was exhilarating, even if tiring. All told, I had the privilege of sharing 20 messages at 3 different camps over 19 days. These messages included:
Three Hearts on Calvary (Luke 23:32-34, 39-43)
As Secure as You Can Make It (Matthew 27:62-28:16)
Our Father, Who Art Incredible (Isaiah 55:6-9)
Bride Life & the Church (Gen 2:18-24; Eph 5:25-33; Rev 21:1-5)
Negaholics & Complainiacs (Philippians 2:14-18)
The Leading Edge of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4a)
David’s Prayer for Mercy (Psalm 51)
Abandon Ship (Luke 5:1-11)
Yom Kippur, Part 1 (Leviticus 16:21-23)
Yom Kippur, Part 2 (Leviticus 16:21-23)
A Life That Counts (John 12:26b; 1 Cor 15:58b; Heb 6:10)
As I noted a few days ago, all three camps went well, and I appreciated those who prayed for me, as well as for those to whom I was blessed to speak. God was at work all over the place! As a mostly left-brain kind of guy, I don’t typically emote during messages, but I lost it several times during a 2-part sermon on Yom Kippur at the one camp. All seven feasts powerfully point to Christ and what he has done for us. I may eventually turn that study into a book. I also deeply appreciate the wonderful staff and volunteers I have who kept things running while I was away. What a blessing to serve on this team!
3. I haven’t gotten to spend too much time landscaping this summer, or posting pictures of our efforts, but the yard still looks decent. My new Japanese maple is doing well. So are the geraniums and the marigolds. A little bit of (post-dissertation) shaping and pruning next year will likely make things look even nicer. The older I get, the more I enjoy this kind of cultivation. Alas, the baskets are subpar, and my cherry tree is not healthy for some reason. Win some, lose some.
4. Speaking of dissertation, I had the privilege of chairing a ThD dissertation committee for a student who successfully gave his oral defense on Thursday afternoon. His accomplishment was remarkable in that English is his third language! The title of his dissertation was: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY OF A LONG-LASTING EVANGELISM PRACTICE IN A MULTICULTUAL COMMUNITY. His ministry context is Toronto, Canada, and his research produced some helpful insights for the church at large. He is going to take a well-deserved break and then consider turning his academic work into a popular-level book.
5. My mother-in-law’s geriatrician informed us last week that Lorena is steadily heading toward Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the final stage. She still knows who we are most of the time, but other than that, she’s in a perpetual haze and doesn’t remember that she lives with us. Her cognition and motor skills are declining fast. The only thing she does well anymore is eat. Extra grace will be needed over the next couple years.
6. The winding down of summer always used to be a sad time for me when I was in school—largely because it meant the end of the outdoor pool season, which I loved. Times change, though, and I now look forward to the unfolding of each new season, especially as we start moving into fall, which is just around the corner. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are divine.
7. There are many other joys and tidbits to share, but duty calls, and the pile is high. I’m several weeks behind on sermon summaries, so I’ll be trying to catch up next week. Some of the new friends I met at camp this year have said they would like to stop by from time to time and see where we are in the Word. The more the merrier! 😊
May God richly bless you with an enjoyable weekend!
1. My poor mother-in-law is prepping today for a colonoscopy on Tuesday, so we decided to have our Independence Day picnic yesterday and join her today in a period of, uhm, deprivation. Yeah, that’s the word for it. Deprivation. Nuff said! She continues to decline cognitively, and sometimes it’s a real challenge to know how best to care for her. Something seems to be wrong digestively, too, so we’re getting her checked out. Of course, it could all be mental. Either way, we’ll know soon enough.
2. Yesterday’s picnic treats included chili dogs (with mustard and onions) and a build-your-own sundae bar. We had three kinds of ice cream and about nine or ten different kinds of toppings. The most interesting topping was waffle cone crumbs, which turned out to be delicious. I’ve never had those before, but I saw them at Dutch-Way last week and wanted to try them. I’m pretty sure I could survive on picnic food! Especially chili dogs. All chili dogs go to heaven, right?
3. Since this past weekend was the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), we watched the extended version of Gettysburg, the poignant 1993 movie starring Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen. Just hearing the theme song is enough to get me choked up. Sadly, Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Officially, 7,863 were killed, 27,224 were wounded, and 11,199 went missing. My great-great-grandfather, Michael Link, fought in that battle and nearly died. I wrote about him here last year.
4. Our current sermon series on the book of Philemon, which I’ve titled “Squeezed,” is meddling with many of our hearts. Paul’s letter to a first-century friend is only 355 words in the original Greek, but it carries a theological weight far beyond its length. It’s all about forgiveness and reconciliation. I keep thinking about Genesis 33:10b: “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” I had the opportunity last week at a wedding to see quite a few folks from a previous era, and it was a delight to reconnect. The divine Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is pure relationship—perfect unity, diversity, and mutuality, so it’s no wonder the Scriptures keep pressing us to be on good terms with each other to the extent that we’re able. God is completely unified within himself, and he wants his people to reflect him in this way by being unified as well. Something to think about before it’s too late.
5. Since I was recently dubbed “Instagramps” by a good friend of the family, I’ll need to live up to my new name and end with a few shots of Samuel. Apparently, he’ll be driving soon. 🙂
Best I can tell, the day of my conception was July 1, so happy pre-birthday to me! Here’s the story. A young woman living in Philadelphia, PA met a military guy passing through town. In time she became pregnant by this man, which was totally unexpected. Not wanting to stick around for the delivery (or the subsequent duties of fatherhood), the guy split, and the pregnant lady was left alone. “What man would want to be with me now?” she thought to herself.
But eventually she became romantically involved with another man, even though she was pregnant, and the new relationship seemed like it might fare better than the previous one. There was, however, one complication. The new guy on the scene wasn’t so sure he could accept—as his own—a child sired by another man. “I want you,” he said to his new sweetheart, “but I’m not so sure I want the baby inside you.”
So, a decision was made. When the baby finally came, he or she would be placed in a foster home. Abortion was not legal at the time, so their options were limited. The young woman had to carry the baby to term. Pre-born children back then were protected in law and welcomed in life.
The Following Spring
On March 31 the baby was born and placed immediately—as planned—into a foster home. It was a boy. Because he was unwanted, unplanned, and unloved, he needed a place to stay. Enter the Children’s Aid Society of Philadelphia. “We’ll find parents for the boy,” they said. “We understand full well that one couple’s ‘mistake’ is another couple’s dream—the answer to all their prayers—a blessing from heaven.”
“Miss Andrews” from the Children’s Aid Society went to work. Her labors eventually paid off. On April 20 of the following year, another young couple—this one from Reading, Pennsylvania—walked out of the Berks County Courthouse the proud new legal parents of that baby boy.
This couple could not produce children of their own, but they could receive children of their own. And they did so through the miracle of adoption. In fact, this was their second of three trips down the adoption aisle, and they were thrilled with their new bundle of joy each time.
I am that second child—the adopted child of Carl and Cherie Valentino. This unwanted boy was wanted after all. And that’s why I am “one less”—one less orphan in the world today. I was an orphan for just thirteen months of my life.
A Word of Thanks
To all those who are reading this post who have fostered a child, adopted a child, or provided resources for others to do the same, let me offer a sincere “thank you.”
I am here today because of people like you.
I owe my very existence to people like you.
I can write this post today because of people like you.
You are the people who are filled with compassion, who genuinely care, and who not only love children but reach out to expectant mothers in crisis, too.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Before we ever had a being in this world, we had a being in God’s heart.” That’s one of the great truths we find in Psalm 139, which tells us that God knits us together in our mother’s womb.
God Almighty has a plan and a purpose for every child—each tiny miracle conceived in the secret place and fashioned so wondrously by the Master Artist. Those plans are to give the little ones a future and a hope, just like he did for me. That’s why his art studio should not be firebombed.
The Beauty of Adoption
It’s an amazing thing for me to think about:
I didn’t have a home, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
I didn’t have a name, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
I didn’t have a family, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
I didn’t have an inheritance, but through adoption the Valentinos gave me one.
I didn’t have food, clothing, shelter, money, hope or love, but through adoption the Valentino’s gave me all of those things, and so much more. Through a binding legal covenant, sealed in a court of law, I became the real child of Carl and Cherie Valentino. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: Adoption is the option everybody can live with. Literally.
A Spiritual Illustration
When I read in scripture that God has “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:15), I get excited because I have a little bit of “lived insight” into that great truth. When we believe into Christ, everything changes.
Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a home, but God gave us one in Christ.
Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a name, but God gave us a new one, written down in the Book of Life.
Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have a family, but God put us in one—his church, the Body of Christ.
Spiritually speaking, we didn’t have an inheritance, but God gave us “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” and a salvation that can “never rot, perish, spoil or fade away.”
In that sense, I’ve been adopted twice, and I thank the Lord that he has allowed me to share this good news as a minister of the gospel.
They Told Us Early
Mom and Dad told us right from the beginning that all three of us were adopted. They were proud of that fact, and they wanted us to be proud of it, too, so they told us when we were very young. In fact, I think we were a little too young. I was maybe four or five years old, and I just didn’t know what the word “adoption” meant, so I formulated my own definition based upon the context of what they were telling us.
I thought the word “adoption” meant some legal arrangement whereby no matter how bad we three kids were, mom and dad couldn’t give us back; they had to keep us! The other kids in the neighborhood—if they were bad enough, their parents could give them back at any time because they didn’t have this special arrangement called adoption.
Spiritually speaking, that’s not a half-bad definition of adoption! Having become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ, we’re in the family of God to stay (John 8:35).
The Card That Came with Me
It was fascinating to me—and hopefully encouraging to you—that there was a greeting card that accompanied me on my journey from Philadelphia to Reading. I got to see it for the first time a few years ago.
It was a card from my foster family, and it was addressed to “Timmie’s Parents.” (Now, if anybody tries to call me “Timmie,” you’re dead meat!)
It’s clear from the language in that card that the foster parents who took care of me for 13 months were people of faith. They were followers of Christ.
I don’t know their names. In fact, I don’t know anything about them except this: They had a very powerful ministry to children in need. The card indicates that they had prayed for me, for my new home, for my new siblings, and for my new parents.
The Valentinos were far from a perfect family, but I believe that God honored their prayers. In fact, those prayers are why I’m here today. And to those prayers, I would like to add my own grateful “amen.”
I got to spend part of the day with Samuel—his first Easter. It was a bit of a challenge to get through the second verse of our closing hymn this morning. How could I not think of this beloved child, and the good God who gave him to us?
How sweet to hold a newborn baby, And feel the pride and joy he gives; But greater still the calm assurance: This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!
Refrain Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, Just because He lives!
Below are a couple video clips and a picture of SamJam in his Maundy Thursday outfit. He’s getting so chatty! Yes, it’s a whole lot of adorableness for one post. But, hey, today is a holiday. Thanks for indulging me. 🙂
Holy Week can be one of the most significant times in a believer’s worship year. During these days, we clear our calendar to focus exclusively on the events of Jesus’s suffering, death, and resurrection, which are at the heart of our faith. Our attention during this special week is directed toward the person and work of 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).
Holy Week itself grew out of the simple observation that 28 of the 89 chapters in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)—32 percent—are devoted to the period of time between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his ascension into heaven. Yet this period is less than 1 percent of Jesus’ entire three and a half years of public ministry.
In terms of literary style, then, such space allocation suggests that while the birth, life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus were important to the authors, it was the passion of Christ and his resurrection from the dead that were centrally important to their purpose in writing. It’s almost as if each of the four Gospels is a Passion Narrative with an extended introduction!
By way of analogy, modern writers and filmmakers often arrange for the action of their stories to slow down when they reach their most critical moments, using techniques such as freeze frame, slow motion, and extended coverage. The technique of slow motion is used, for example, in the important race scenes in the movie Chariots of Fire, where the director captures and accentuates each runner’s agonized expression before the finish line. The impact is significant.
The amount of application of such techniques in storytelling is proportional to the importance of any given scene to the larger work. It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that the Passion Narratives present to us the incomparable love of God in slow motion. Believers seek to revel in that love during Holy Week, changing up our routines and realigning our schedules to Gospel-centered considerations.
As such, I won’t be posting chuckles and other items along those lines during the coming week. Anything appearing here will be topics and themes associated with Holy Week. Therefore, below are a few odds and ends before I sign off for a bit.
First, Samuel’s nephrology appointment is this coming Tuesday. Hopefully, we’ll get to see if his kidneys are improving and learn if any advanced treatments will be necessary. Thanks for praying!
Second, we found out earlier today the gender of Samuel’s new cousin. There’s a little girl on the way! My nephew’s wife is scheduled to have her baby in August, and we’re all over the moon.
Third, I had a blast at the Phillies’ game yesterday. I went with a theology prof who loves the game of baseball as much as I do (even as we lament the politicizing of professional sports in this country). Neither of us had ever been to Opening Day before, so that was a real treat for both of us, especially since the weather was perfect and the Phillies won. Below are some snaps of the opening ceremonies.
Finally, the Dutch Apple’s production of Singing in the Rain was very well done and well worth seeing. We went today with a family friend who likewise loves the arts.
Blessings to all—whether you observe Holy Week or not!
Micah and Bethany are such good parents. They’re diligent about Samuel’s feeding time, tummy time, play time, reading time, and so much more. It’s fun to watch them grow into their new role as parents. They’re killing it, even though it’s a big adjustment and a lot of hard work! I’m so proud of them!
In this clip, I think SamJam is trying to talk to me. 🙂
* EDIT *
Some bonus shots for SamJam’s 1-month anniversary:
* Ramble Alert! * I tend to get pensive, ponderous, and poetic at the end of the year. So, there’s no need to read further, as you probably have better things to do with your time. I’m just processing my own musings as the calendar gets ready to flip again.
1. I shaved off my December goatee. As I was doing so, I had flashbacks to some hurtful insults I received during my school days. I once was described as having a “beaver chin” and “a weak, unmanly profile.” Because of a “face-plant” fall I had as a young child, I developed an overbite that was only partially corrected by my (terribly uncomfortable) retainer. My classmates in fifth through seventh grade were particularly cruel about how I looked. Only one kind girl out of hundreds my age thought it made me look cute. Even when I was at peak physical condition in college, a photographer doing a local hairstylist’s spread featuring a few of us chiseled swimmers kept telling me to grind my teeth or somehow produce a stronger jawline since mine was too wimpy. (Why, then, did you ask me to be in the picture in the first place?) The good news is that these insults no longer sting like they used to. But I do wonder sometimes why I remember them so vividly. Maybe it’s because they led to so many insecurities that would later cause me to overcompensate in other areas of life (e.g., athletics, academics, etc.). Whatever the psychology behind it, it’s a good reminder for us to speak kindly to one another, especially those who are in their early formative years. Let’s not allow our careless words to do unnecessary damage. Lord knows, I’ve had to repent of many unkind things I’ve said over the years.
2. It’s always been our family tradition for me to read the story of the Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 on Christmas morning before we open our gifts. It’s our way of trying to keep the focus on what the day is all about. Problem is, my family always takes bets as to how far I’ll get in the passage before getting too choked up to read any further. (The Incarnation never gets old, and it wrecks me every time I ponder it.) I knew in advance that there was no way I’d be able to get past the first verse with a newborn in the room this year. Samuel wasn’t even a month old on Christmas Day, so it just wasn’t going to work for me to read the text without brutzing. So, this year I carved up the passage and gave each of us a few verses to read. It went well, and everyone enjoyed doing it that way. I think we’ll do something similar in future years. No more betting against me! 🙂
P.S., I got to take SamJam on a walk in his stroller yesterday. He was curious about the world around him, and I was overwhelmed with delight in watching him! (Yes, we got him the hat. Totally appropriate, right?!)
3. The 20th-century British novelist and poet Robert Graves once said, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” That’s why I find the process to be both exhilarating and exhausting. I’m seldom happy with what I’ve written. “It can always be better, sharper, clearer,” I tell myself. And maybe this perfectionistic tendency is rooted in what I (imperfectly) wrote above in #1. Either way, it’s a great hinderance to finishing an academic dissertation. We’re trained to anticipate objections and opposing views as we write, and the “lawyerly disposition” in me always wants to create an unassailable argument. That’s not humanly possible, so please pray that I get over myself and write something defensible, even if not incontrovertible. The best dissertation is a done dissertation. Thanks!
4. I recently finished my latest binge, How to Get Away with Murder. The story arc spanning six seasons was engaging and unpredictable. The progressively expanding flashbacks—while confusing at first—were intriguing and captivating as the episodes unfolded, serving as teasers to keep watching and assemble the pieces yourself. The screen writing was sharp overall, and the plot twists were uncliched. Moreover, the casting was brilliant, the acting was superb, and the emotional impact was notable. As was the case with Scandal, the scene cuts were a bit hyperactive at times, though they were much more manageable. Ironically, the hyper-talented Kerry Washington from Scandal made a few appearances in Murder, which was a welcome addition. Aja Naomi King made a strong case for being the new generation’s Kerry Washington. Her portrayal of Michaela Pratt, an ambitious and overly confident lawyer in the making, was one of several acting standouts in the production. It will be fun to watch Aja’s career unfold. Unfortunately, some of the moral values promoted in the series were disappointing, and part of the socio-political agenda was executed in selective and prejudicial ways. But that’s what Hollywood does these days in their “ends-justifies-the-means” approach to progress. Create a straw man and then give yourself high fives for ripping it apart with ease. We tend to write fiction to suit ourselves because it’s much easier than honest debate. The West Wing and other shows of that ilk often follow the same playbook. In an attempt to get back to cinematic sanity, where I don’t have to keep fast forwarding past the raunchy parts, I may return to Endeavor next (since I’m a Morse fan, and the series was filmed in charming Oxford), but there will be no more guilty pleasures until the dissertation is finished.
5. C. S. Lewis described pre-Aslan Narnia as “always winter but never Christmas.” That is, a fallen world without a Savior is devoid of hope. It’s just an icy darkness that shatters the soul and renders people zombie-like until they breathe their last. But because there is a Savior in this world—one whose magnificent mane was shaved in humiliation on our behalf, only to grow back in resurrection glory after the stone table cracked—eternal life can now be described as “always Christmas but never winter.” Believers bend but never break in a world where Aslan is on the move. Here is a poem about how this particular image helped me through a difficult time in my life. It’s not great art by any means, but it’s an honest portrayal of what I was feeling at the time. Here’s the context:
On Saturday, July 1, 2000, my father-in-law, Rev. Keith Moore, resigned as pastor of Baker Heights Baptist Church in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He was only six months away from retirement, but he could no longer shepherd the flock. The awful effects of radiation and chemotherapy had rendered him virtually lifeless, nearly brining him to the point of death in order to spare him from it. It was a painful time for the whole family. That same day, Pastor Keith got a haircut. It turned out to be his last one. The clippers came out and the hair came off. “Better to do it myself,” he said, “than to let the chemo do it.” I was present for that awful event, and when it happened, I sobbed. I was no stranger to the humming of the electric razor. In the 1980s I would often shave my head as a high school or collegiate swimmer to prepare for the big meet at the end of the season. But those silly haircuts had a purpose. They helped me swim faster. But this haircut was nothing but shame and humiliation. It had no purpose at all. Or did it?
Razed to Life
Before the chemo waged its war on blood and scalp alike, The ravenous razor snarled away, leaving a head full of spikes. In the other room I lost my nerve and filed a complaint with the Lord; Comforting words I had given to others suddenly felt like a sword.
“Why, dear Lord, this man of God, who faithfully fed your sheep— “The same day losing his pulpit and hair, craving nothing but sleep?” “He’s frail and weak, Lord, wracked in pain; what does the future hold?” “Where is your power, God; where is your love, if I may be so bold?”
And then in my gloom a beacon of hope fastened upon my soul: “Aslan’s razor,” came the reply. “That’s all you need to know.” Aslan’s razor—what could that mean? Where have I heard that before? A gem by Lewis, for children, and me, where a Lion loses his roar.
Where they crop off his mane and stab at his heart and leave him for dead in the mud; Naked, ashamed, and lonely he dies with scoundrels mocking his blood. But why was he captured and horribly killed, and strapped to a table of stone? The witch said, “For justice,” but Aslan, “For love—for a treason not my own.”
Well, the world, like Narnia, has children around with questioning tears in their eyes, Yet the world, like Narnia, has a table that cracked, and a Lion who knows how to rise. So the death of death in the death of Christ laces every trial with hope, And the empty tomb declares to us all that the grave will not be our home.
While some use pain to bludgeon our souls and scratch away at our faith, God in his infinite wisdom and love uses faith to scratch at our pain. So even today a Lion is heard whenever the gospel is shared, Telling the story of Christ and his love, showing that God really cares.
“Come!” says the Lion to children of faith. “Ride on my back, and we’ll soar.” “Come!” says the Lord to children of grace. “Enter my heavenly door.” “I have a surprise especially for you: I’ve built you a grand destination.” “A land of delight with no more tears—and evil’s humiliation.”
“Look at my mane! Touch it again! Only one scar remains; “I keep it around to let people know that death has lost its claims.” “And look at his hair, flowing again; the razor bows to its glory.” “Yes, I let you feel pain, but only on earth, to maximize your eternal story.”
6. Here’s a good word from Jon Acuff to end the year. Let it be a micro-motivation for us all: “If you picked up any bitterness this year, don’t miss your chance to put it down this week. Don’t carry last year’s rocks into next year’s garden. Don’t paint next year’s canvas with last year’s colors. Don’t write next year’s story with last year’s words. You might need to choose it 100 times, but leaving bitterness behind is always worth it.” Amen.
7. Two albums today for me to finish out the year in mellow reflection: John Michael Talbot’sSimple Hearts and Enya’sShepherd Moons. “God Alone is Enough” in the former is a great place to park the soul (as Teresa of Avila captured the best and wisest approach to life), and “Marble Halls” in the latter is a fun place to unleash the imagination (as there’s so much more to this life than riches and material wealth). Love is everything. So, perchance to dream. Also appropriate today is Enya’s “My My! Time Flies!” though we’re way past 2010. 🙂
Stay safe tonight, and Lord willing, we’ll see you in 2022.
Edit: Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are outstanding as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Becoming the Ricardos. Watched it last night on Amazon Prime after our company departed and the house got quiet for the first time in a long time.
I’m not sure how Santa got this thing down the chimney, but I’m glad he did. I’ve never had a power recliner before, but this is a high-end Bassett that’s super sturdy and comfy.
This wonderful piece of furniture was for yours truly. “Hers truly” got a silver Bach Stradivarius trumpet. This top-tier instrument is stunning and is supposed to be played only with gloves or a hand cloth.
Both are kingdom tools. One is for reading and writing. The other is for praising and worshiping.
As nice as these things are, the best Christmas present this year (besides Jesus) was the new addition to the family. Samuel didn’t make a peep during the entire Christmas Eve service—even with our brass team belting it out during the opening carols. And, yes, he slept through the sermon! 🙂
Today I got to babysit him for a couple hours while Bethany went to a doctor’s appointment. What a blessing that he lives less than 15 minutes away. I’m utterly smitten with this little munchkin and have to share a few snaps from the past few days.
Apparently, I can “stand the heat” because I spent all day in the kitchen yesterday making 35 dozen Christmas cookies! If my math is correct, that’s 420 total. The Cookie Monster would love it here! The house smelled great, and now we’re ready to take some goodies around the neighborhood for Christmas caroling.
First were the peanut butter blossoms. (They had to be first.) Each is topped with either a milk chocolate or a dark chocolate Wilbur Bud. They turned out great, and they’re quite slammable. 🙂
Next were the sugar cookies. Each one features red, green, or red and green sugar on top. For the most part, they turned out o.k., but I had too much variation in temperature and/or bake time to get the consistent look and texture I was aiming for. They’re still tasty, though. Next year I hope to have more time to do cutouts and icing.
Finally, I did the chocolate chips. They’re the old standards, and they’re delicious, too. Fortunately, I didn’t repeat last year’s blunder (something involving baking powder as I recall). Nom! Nom! Nom! Nom! Nom!
I was fighting a head cold the whole time, but I’m feeling slightly better today. I’m ready to get horizontal and listen to some soft, dreamy music. After that, It’s time to go caroling and work off some of the cookie dough I may have snuck yesterday. 🙂
Working now on a Christmas devotional post for next week. Sorry it’s only one this year. Hopefully it will still be informative and encouraging for you.
1. It’s cookie making time chez nous. On the menu this year are decorated sugar cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and chocolate chip cookies. We may even try a batch of pizzelles on our new iron. We’re a bit behind in decorating and baking this year because of the recent new addition to our family, so we’re trying to keep it simple. Fortunately, we’re catching up fast, and we’re almost back on schedule. Alas, red and green sugar sprinkled on round sugar cookies may have to suffice this time around in lieu of the shapes and the icing.
2. Speaking of the new addition, I had to add a stocking to the mantle over the fireplace this year. The occasion was just another opportunity to shed a few more tears of joy in the process. (Yes, we INTJs can extrovert our F; we just tend to do it privately. But it’s no less deep than folks with other MBTI combinations.) Samuel could probably fit into his stocking at this point! Talk about a great gift!
3. With the dissertation, the end-of-semester grading, caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s, and helping a new mother adjust to the new normal, it can feel a bit overwhelming at times. But I’m choosing to keep the jolly in the holly at all times. What’s the alternative? Besides, the gift of new life has provided great joy this year and a certain re-orientation to priorities, so some deadlines will just have to wait—especially those I impose on myself. I’ll get stuff done when I get it done.
4. Sadly, I won’t be able to write and post a bunch of Christmas devotionals this year like I did last year, so I’ll probably just write a single new one and post it next week, perhaps Wednesday. I may also re-post the one that got all the hits last year (“Have Yourself a Snarky Little Christmas”). We’ll see. If the cookies turn out o.k., I may post a few pictures of those as well. Other than that, I’ll just look at all the wonderful posts you supply this year!
5. The Christmas Eve sermon this year is called, “The Mirror in the Manger” from Luke 2:35. What a night it’s going to be. My family always joins me at the front for the closing hymns in the candlelit darkness, and this year we’ll have a new singer. (We should probably teach SamJam that line about Jesus—“no crying he makes”!) The beauty of the Christmas Eve service is rivaled only by the majesty of the Easter morning service. Both convey the earth-shattering love of God to a world that has lost its way.
6. Speaking of love, it really does make the world go round, doesn’t it? It can manifest differently in different seasons of life, and it and can certainly deepen over time, but it never goes away (1 Cor 13:8a; 13). Thank God for that. 💙
Be well, everyone. And have yourself a merry little Christmas.