Birth of a Book (Part 1)

For some time I have wanted to write a post with some details about how my book, God Gives More Grace, came into being. I am excited about its upcoming Spring release. The publication of this work serves as a constant reminder to me of God’s goodness and guidance in my life, as well as His providence over the years.

I guess, as with any good story, we should probably start at the beginning. I will be the first to admit that I never would have imagined that I would write a book, much less write a book that someone would want to publish! To start with, as a child, I had difficulty reading. I remember learning to read in 1st Grade with my teacher, Mr. Palmer. Mr. Palmer was a fun teacher. He had a moose with gold, silver, and bronze medals draped over its antlers hanging on the wall in his classroom. Students were permitted to wear the medals when they scored well on a test, or did something commendable. It was in Mr. Palmer’s class that I first learned to read.

However, reading was not a skill that came easily for me. Throughout elementary school, I had trouble reading. I could not read very smoothly out loud (something I still have to work very hard at), and frankly I did not enjoy reading all that much. While in 4th grade, my lack of ability concerned my teachers enough to send me to a reading specialist for a few hours during school each week. Though this helped, I assume, I never considered myself to be a strong reader, and English was always my least favorite subject. When people asked me which subjects I liked the best, English was always on the bottom of the list. I liked History, Science and Math–in that order. English came a distance fourth. I really don’t remember much of the instruction in my English classes. I am certain though, a lot rubbed off on me, and over the years I began to gain a better feel for what constituted good writing, but honestly, I could never tell you why the writing was good or bad. I think my public school education helped me appreciate the art of language. But, by the time I finished my sophomore year of high school, I would not have been able to pick out a noun, verb, or adjective in a sentence. And forget about adverbs, participles, or infinitives. I didn’t know anything about English grammar. And this is where my time in a Christian School really helped.

If the public school system emphasized the “art”of language, Christian schools seemed to emphasize the “science” of language. I was totally unprepared for my 11th Grade English class in a Christian school. For a guy who did not know what a verb was, looking at a diagram of a sentence (something I have never seen in my life) was like staring at a foreign language. I had no idea what they were talking about. While everyone else in the class was pumping out diagrams, I was stuck trying to figure out what a verb was. It made for an interesting year. I am thankful for the help (and patience) of my 11th Grade English teacher, Mrs. Skogen.

So, attending both a public and a Christian school gave me an appreciation for the art and science of language. But, even if my understanding of English had grown, my enjoyment of it had not. I was extremely glad once I made it through my first year of college (and got all of the freshman liberal arts courses out of the way) so I would not have to take another English course for the rest of my life. What I did not realize is that over the course of the next decade, God would use professors to help refine my writing. I remember one professor in particular. I was taking a course on the History of American Evangelicalism (I believe), and I had a paper I was working on throughout the semester. Though I may not have appreciated it at the time, my professor not only had a deep theological mind, he was also a stickler for English. He, probably more than any other professor, constantly challenged me to be “clear and concise” in my writing. Even after I had re-written a section, he would tear my writing apart and remind me to be “clear and concise.” And what was amazing–when I saw the red markings all over the page, I began to see what he was talking about. Even though it was not designated as an English class, I probably learned more about the importance of writing in a clear, concise manner in that single class than in a dozen years of English.

Looking back, I am grateful for the teachers who have invested in my life over the years. Though not always appreciated, their labors were not in vain. In the next part of my book’s journey I will explain how the idea for this book formed and a bit of the writing process. Stay tuned!

Things are Flying!

There has been a flurry of activity the past couple of weeks on a lot of different fronts. Things are really starting to fly!

For about a month I have been working on the material for the course on Hermeneutics (Interpretation of Scripture) that I will be teaching at the seminary. I have loved the time of study and preparation. I have written about 50 pages of the syllabus. By the end, I hope the syllabus will be between 115-130 pages. So, even though I am not quite half way through, things are progressing nicely. Once I finish I plan to make sure I am prepped for my course on Greek Grammar 1 & 2, and then will start work on Systematic Theology 1 (although this likely will not be until the beginning of 2019).

In addition to the course material for the seminary we are also working to set up the Haven of Grace Seminary website. We have made tremendous progress within just the past two weeks, and are excited about the launch. Our hope is to have the website up and running by the end of this month! We are thankful for the guys who are helping us get it ready.

Finally, my excitement about the upcoming release of my book, God Gives More Grace, continues to grow. In talking with David Gunn, the director of Regular Baptist Press, we decided to have a page (or two) of endorsements at the beginning of the book. In the last week or so I have been in contact with 11 men I really respect asking if they might review my book (and if they feel comfortable), offer their endorsements. I have already heard a positive response from 9 of them and am just waiting on 2 more to get back with me.

These are indeed exciting times! Also, here is a peek at our updated prayer card. We finally have our little sweetie on it.

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For the Glory of God!

It has been just over a month since we had the chance to visit Westside Baptist Church (Eugene, OR), but the memory of a living and vibrant church remains.  This is a ministry that is passionate about worshiping and serving the Savior, led by a pastor (Pastor Kaminski) and staff whose love for the Lord is infectious. As I have said before, one of the greatest joys of this season of our lives has been in getting to know other believers, and fellow ministers who are living their lives for the glory of God. IMG_4620Our family spends time at the end of each day (at least the end of most days), and we talk about a passage of Scripture, work on Scripture memorization, or read a family devotional, before singing a song and praying together. Recently we began a “Question Box.” Well, technically, as Micah pointed out, it is really a “Question Cylinder” since it is a small round can with a lid. But in our question box, we encourage our kids to ask a question about God, or the Bible, or something they are wondering about. So, one of the questions was, “Why did God make people?” That is a great question! As we think about Scripture, the answer is very clear. God made people for His glory. Revelation 4:11 declares: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

Everything exists and remains for God’s pleasure (or according to His will). Think about that–everything that exists (“all things”) is here simply because God wants them to be here. That includes the stars and planets, the fish and mammals, the world and universe, and everything in them. But understand, God did not flippantly create this world, or you or me. God has a plan for everything He has made. Revelation 4:11 ultimately tells us what that plan is, as it expresses how we are meant to respond to the Creator God. It gives us the words “glory and honor and power.” As a part of God’s creation, you are to give Him glory, bring Him honor and acknowledge His power.

So, how are you doing in living out the reason for your existence? When we talked with our children we noted that many people live for so much less than the glory of God. Simply living to acquire wealth, provide for your family, look ahead to retirement, pursue pleasure, watch TV, or cheer for “your” team will not only leave you empty, but it keeps you from fulfilling the grand purpose for which God made you. We are created and exist for so much more. Lasting fulfillment will only come as we live our lives for the glory of God!IMG_4624

Known Already

We arrived safely in Southeastern Colorado last week. After a couple of months of intense travel, we are grateful for a time to catch our breath and rehearse some of the encouraging points along the way. While in Oregon at the very end of September, we had the privilege to be at Central Baptist (Bend, OR). There was something unique about this church. In most places we visit (presenting the work God has called us to), it is the first time they will hear of Haven of Grace Seminary, and what our goals and desire are. But at Central Baptist, they had been praying for Haven of Grace Seminary long before we even knew about the ministry. In fact, they have been praying for us, even before they knew our names! This church has long supported the ministry of Pacific Rim Missions, and they have been a great encouragement to us as well! It was a joy to get to know Pastor Laramie and his wife, Sarah, along with their children while we were there.IMG_4408We also really enjoyed our time with the Borlens (Matt, Jenn, and Emma). Their family has already been such an encouragement to us, and it was really amazing to hear their testimony of how they came to faith in Christ, and (even better) to see them live it our in their family and community!IMG_4413It means so much to connect with dear folks who become instant friends who share the same vision and passion for the spread of the Gospel.

Friends, Jackalopes, and Grizzly Bunnies

After heading out from Salt Lake City, we drove a few hours West and made it to Grace Baptist Church in Elko, Nevada where one of my best friends from college, Jeremy Ehmann, pastors. I had heard about the ministry at Grace, and the town of Elko 20 years ago when I first met Jeremy in college.img_4352-1img_4371-1One of the neat things about going to college in Wisconsin was that there were students from all over the country. There was a large contingent from Pennsylvania (my home state), but since the school was situated in the Midwest, there were also a good number of students from Western states like Colorado, Wyoming, and yes–NEVADA! As an “East Coast Guy” who grew up just outside of Northeast Philadelphia, I didn’t know anything about the West. Except for one trip to Kansas when I was 14, I had never been farther West than Ohio.

So, when I came out to school in Wisconsin, a whole new world opened up to me. My good friend, Jeremy was a big help in helping me understand the West. He explained that I had been mispronouncing the names of some Western states my entire life. It was not “Col-o-RO-do” like I have been saying, it is “Co-lo-RA-do.” And it was not pronounced “Ne-VO-da,” it was “Ne-VA-da.” I remember seeing Jeremy wince every time I butchered the pronunciation of his home state’s name. It probably took me a solid 3 years to retrain my mind on some of these.

But Jeremy didn’t just help me understand how to pronounce the names of these Western states–no he helped open my understanding to many other details about the West. He told me (with a straight face) about Jackalopes (these mysterious rabbits with antlers). Of course I believed him. I never had been out West, and I had even seen a postcard with such a creature. Once he realized how gullible I was, he went on to say, “Yeah, you really don’t have to worry about being attacked by Jackalopes, but you will need to be on guard for those Grizzly Bunnies.” He spoke of these vicious creatures that stood waist-high with a ferocious bite. Once Jeremy started talking about the Grizzly Bunnies, I finally realized that he was just having some fun with a poor “East Coast Guy” who knew nothing about the West.

Nevertheless, Jeremy became one of my best friends in college, and was even in my wedding. Over the years we would keep in touch periodically. When we began planning our Westward trip, and we decided we would travel out to Oregon, I knew I wanted to stop and visit with Jeremy (and his family) on our way. It was such an encouragement to visit the church he pastors (a church he grew up in), and to see God’s blessing upon his life in giving him a wonderful wife, Melissa, and three sweet children.img_4369-1As always, our children had a wonderful time with the Ehmann kids. We were really grateful for their hospitality and the fun we could have together.img_4359I had the privilege of preaching and presenting our ministry in this wonderful church. No matter where we go in the United States, we find like-minded believers who love the Lord and long to see the Gospel make an impact, not just in their own communities, but all throughout the world.img_4365

Out West

On September 14 we left Southeast Colorado and began making our way further West. Our first stop was Salt Lake City, Utah where we had a meeting at Grace Baptist Church (West Valley City, UT). We were glad to reconnect with Matt and Bonnie Johnson and to see the thriving work at Grace Baptist.IMG_4311

IMG_4261IMG_4258Our time with the Johnsons was very sweet. We have a connection with them since Matt’s sister, Ruth, married my brother John. In fact, it was probably at John and Ruth’s wedding fourteen years ago that we last saw Matt and Bonnie.

While in Salt Lake, we took the opportunity to visit Temple Square. As we toured some of the museums, I was saddened to see where a lack of faith in the sufficiency of Scriptures can lead. There were numerous points of Mormon theology brought out at different point which would be flatly rejected if someone had even a cursory knowledge of Scripture. I plan to write on this subject at a later point.IMG_4288

IMG_4295In addition to seeing Temple Square, we also had the chance to visit the Great Salt Lake as well. Although it was a short trip to the lake, the kids had a chance to play in it, and yes, Micah took the opportunity to float in it!IMG_4315After leaving Salt Lake, we began heading toward Elko, Nevada (I will post about our time in Elko soon). But while traveling across I-80, we had a chance to visit the Salt Flats on the Western edge of Utah.IMG_4338IMG_4351We are truly grateful for what we have seen on this journey so far, and have been thankful for the opportunities to minister along the way.

 

 

 

First Semester Laid Out!

Over the past couple of months, we have been working on the schedule for Haven of Grace Seminary. We are excited to now have our first semester courses in place, and the  first full year laid out. Check out the courses we will be offering for the first semester (beginning late June 2019):

Apologetics – Dr. Yoh Shirato
Daniel & Revelation – Dr. Curt Lamansky
Creation to Consummation (Biblical Theology) – Professor Mark Kittrell
Hermeneutics (Interpretation of Scripture) – Dr. Tim Valiante
Greek Grammar 1 – Dr. Tim Valiante

The courses will be offered in a hybrid format, with some being taught weekly over the course of the semester (i.e. Hermeneutics & Greek Grammar 1) while the rest will be taught in a block course format which will include two weeks of concentrated instruction by a visiting professor followed by a week dedicated to testing, reading, writing, and research.

I cannot begin to express how exiting it is to begin the process of laying the groundwork for our first semester. I am thrilled about the men who will be coming in to teach these 2-week block courses. Each man is gifted in the area of teaching, and has a passion for the Gospel.

Haven of Grace Seminary exists to glorify God by equipping servant-leaders within the Body of Christ, fostering in them a love for God and His Word, faithfulness in handling the Word of God, a passion for preaching the Gospel, and a commitment to discipleship.

Registration for the first semester will begin this fall. Stay tuned for further information and the launch of the Haven of Grace Seminary website!

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Cousins!

Last Thursday we made it safely to Colorado. Before reaching Colorado, however, (right after we left Wisconsin), we spent a few days in Overland Park, Kansas with some of my extended family. Since I come from a large, close-knit Italian family, I know many of my mom’s cousins along with their families. Our time with “the Kansas Family” was so refreshing and fun! Here are a couple of the highlights of our time there:

1. Our children got to meet their 3rd cousins! In a world where many people have trouble keeping track of their 1st cousins, it was great for our kids to connect with 3rd cousins. (In case you are confused, 3rd cousins would be children whose grandparents are 1st cousins). I also got to see 2nd cousins, along with 1st cousins once removed. It was a blast!IMG_41522. It was a special time with family that shares the same valuable faith we do in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am very thankful for the testimony of so many of my cousins who both know Christ as their Savior and long to live for Him. Our time of fellowship was very sweet and it was neat to hear of how God has worked in their lives over the years.IMG_4138IMG_4139IMG_41313. We felt loved, welcomed, and right at home from the very start. When I was a teenager, our family made the trek out to Kansas (the family lived in Horton, Kansas at the time), and it became the most memorable vacation of my childhood. Now, 20+ years later, I am so thankful that my children had the opportunity to make many of the same memories.IMG_4155Cousin Marian and Eddy were so kind to welcome us into their home. They were such wonderful hosts!IMG_4149IMG_4167(Cousin Tony taught me how to juggle when I visited Kansas as a young teen. He now has a new pupil in Micah! He also had a chance to see Micah complete the Rubix Cube, and spurred his interest in working on a 4×4 cube now.) IMG_4163IMG_4135In the midst of travelling many miles, I am thankful for the stops along the way that refresh and encourage our hearts!