The Next Chapter for the Baileys: Moving to…

It’s hard to believe that we’ve lived in California for almost four years. When we moved here we felt like the future was wide open. I had a small fellowship to cover the cost of my doctoral studies, but we had very few connections in soCal. We didn’t have jobs, or know where we would go to church. I didn’t know how I would manage two preschoolers at home. But we were confident that we were being led into a new season, and were excited to see what God had in store for us.

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To enumerate all of the unexpected gifts, challenges, friendships, failures, moments, and memories that we’ve experienced since we arrived would require another post entirely. To list them here would only further bury the lede, which is the fact that this season in California is coming to an end.

I’ve accepted a full-time position as Assistant Professor of Theology at Dordt College, and we are moving this summer.

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Dordt is a small Christian college in northwest Iowa. When we visited the campus last December, it was very cold. The doors of our rental car at the Sioux Falls airport were frozen shut. But the students, faculty, and campus all blew me away. Though it seemed sort of in the middle of nowhere, the school was exactly the kind of place I had been hoping to work: it had a small student body, thick community, high student engagement, and it offered the opportunity to teach but also to do some writing, and to work with local churches.

Living and working in this new context will be a new adventure, with new challenges and opportunities. The town itself is small, which makes it all the stranger that my college roommate took a job there last year! Though not everyone will be that close, we are excited to be much closer to our family and friends in the Midwest.

At the same time, we will also deeply miss the family and friendships we have found here in California. Our church is probably the hardest thing to leave. It has been such a joy to worship with and to serve Grace Pasadena, which has been the source of so many unexpected blessings during our California sojourn. And we have gained so many other lifelong friends, colleagues, and mentors who have enriched our life beyond measure. To count those blessings would also require another post.

The main point of this post is to give a “public announcement” to friends who are further away. We will be in California for three more months! In the meantime, the kids will finish kindergarten and 2nd grade, and I will finish my PhD (what grade is that? 24th?) I’ve turned in a 95,000-word draft of the dissertation that has been passed on to my second reader. I have some revisions to make, but it feels that I’ve rounded the top of the mountain and am on my way down. It is difficult to describe the relief and joy of feeling like the end is in sight. I’m thinking it will be sort of like this in the end:

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For those who are wondering, Melissa will keep her job at Wound Care Advantage and will work remotely from Iowa. She will travel a bit more, which will include regular trips back to LA.

We’ve purchased a house just a few blocks from campus, and the house has something that we’ve been missing the past four years – well, central air and kitchen counters – but also ample space to host people who want to visit us. Now the only problem is that there’s not much else to see! So while I can’t promise that Sioux Center will have all the amenities that Los Angeles offers, your accommodations will at least be more comfortable if you are able to come and see us.

Since our time in soCal is short, we are eating as much poke sushi and pho as we can, going to the beach as much as we can, and spending as much time with our friends as we can. So if you are local, want to eat sushi, or go to the beach, then let’s get together!

Thanks for reading this, and for being a part of our lives. When we think of the last few years we feel immense gratitude. God is good, and we continue to be amazed at his faithfulness to us. Pray for us as we enter this new season!

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Favorite Reads in 2016

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I read 61 books in 2016. About half were for my academic work. About 20 were fiction. About 20 were audiobooks. I keep track of my reading on Goodreads. Here are the favorite books I read this year:

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Favorite Serious Novel: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I wrote a dissertation chapter on Robinson’s work, which required me taking in almost her entire body of work (I did not read her dissertation on Shakespeare or her book on nuclear pollution in Britain.) Her recent trilogy (Gilead-Home-Lila) gets most of the attention, but IMHO her first book (1980) is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It is an exploration of absence and presence, of exile and excess, and about trying to keep house in a world where you don’t feel quite at home. There’s even a movie (1987)!

Honorable Mention: Paul Faber, Surgeon by George MacDonald.

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Favorite Fun ReadReady Player One by Ernest Cline.

This was not a perfect book, but it was the most fun I had reading a book since Harry Potter. The story is set in the future, during a time when everyone spends almost their entire lives jacked into a Neuromancer/Matrix-like virtual world, playing an immersive game built on popular culture from the 1980s. It grabbed me pretty early and by the last 100 pages I couldn’t read quickly enough. Steven Spielberg is directing the movie adaptation (tbr in 2018), so we will probably hear a lot more about the story as the release date approaches.

Honorable Mention: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

9780802872715Favorite Theology and Culture Book: How to Survive the Apocalypse by Rob Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson.

I wasn’t sure I would like this book, especially since I haven’t seen most of the television shows that it takes as its cultural texts (e.g. Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, Walking Dead). So I thought it would be like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7ooNif_qHo

And yet, the authors masterfully navigate through the ostensibly apocalyptic stories of our day, with grace and hope, and not much is lost by being unfamiliar with the particulars. Their precis of Charles Taylor’s Malaise of Modernity is an important complement to Jamie Smith’s book How (Not) to be Secular.

makingsenseofgodFavorite Book for MinistryMaking Sense of God by Tim Keller.

Since I was teaching a course on apologetics this fall, I read about a dozen apologetics-type books this year. The best by was Keller’s new book. I realize that putting Keller on a Christian “best of” list is a cliche, satirized by the Babylon Bee putting “Whatever Tim Keller wrote, probably” as their top book of 2016. But this book is truly impressive. Though it is a bit long-winded at points, Keller’s philosophical scholarship (mostly hidden in the footnotes) and pastoral sensitivity, is a gift to the church. It is an apologetic prolegomena to his bestselling Reason for God, but it exceeds the former book in almost every way.

Looking for recommendations: what should I read in 2017?

 

A New Sermon on Jonah (TWO)!

 

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If you’ve ever heard me preach, chances are you’ve heard me preach on Jonah chapter one. It’s one of my go-to-passages whenever I am asked to preach at a retreat or conference, and I think I’ve preached on the passage around a dozen times. I have often taken the advice of my dear friend Peter: “Just do Jonah, man.”

Our church, however, just wrapped up a sermon series on the book of Jonah, which obliged me to preach a sermon on Jonah TWO (and FOUR)! A handful of people have asked about it, so here it is, a minority report* on Jonah 2: When Prayer Prevents Piety

*credit to the professor in whose Hebrew Exegesis class I fell in love with this book, and the mentor whose story I tell at the end.

Latest Sermon: “The Weight of Glory”: 1 Samuel 4

Here is my latest sermon from Grace Pasadena, drawn from 1 Samuel 4. The central idea of the sermon is not new, but it is pretty important to me right now. It takes awhile to get going as I re-tell the strange story of the Philistines taking the ark. But if I can say so, the sermon really starts around the 14:00 minute mark. But do listen to the whole thing if at all. 🙂

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A New Sermon, and a Snapshot of My Process

Here is last Sunday’s sermon, entitled Walking in the Wilderness, from Matthew 3:16-4:11.

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A few people have asked about my weekly process for sermon preparation, so I thought I would share.

  1. I budget 8-10 hours during the week for prep. In the early days of preaching, it usually took twice that.
  2. On Tuesdays, I budget 3-4 hours for exegesis, consultation of commentaries, etc. I create a word document where I dump all I of my thoughts on the passage.
  3. On Fridays, I budget 4 hours for composition. Here I am trying to organize my scattered thoughts, distill a clear central idea, draw up an outline (usually three movements), and come up with at least two compelling illustrations, in 5 pages of uncluttered prose. I send this sermon draft to a dear friend who then comes over and talks me through what worked and what didn’t. This last component has been so valuable to me.
  4. On Saturday evenings, I budget 1-2 hours to revise and to practice the sermon. I want to listen to how it sounds, and get a feel for the flow of the text. I want to be familiar enough with it so that I’m not too tied to my manuscript on Sunday. As I go over it, I underline key phrases and write key words in the margin to trigger my memory.
  5. On Sunday mornings, I budget an hour to look over the sermon once more, and to take a prayer walk so I can offer the sermon to the Lord.
  6. I currently preach from a standard size three-ring binder. In the past, I tried preaching from a half-size binder for about six months, preaching without notes for about four months, and preaching from an iPad (using Good Reader) for about a year and a half. Since moving to California, I’ve gone back to the binder.
  7. I experience the act of preaching as a very personal, vulnerable, and (in my best moments) worshipful activity. Most of the time, I want to hide or disappear after I sit down. Thus, I am so thankful for the opportunity to take Communion directly after the sermon each week, and that the climax of our service is not the sermon, but the Lord’s invitation to the Table. No matter how well or poorly I feel like I did with the sermon, at the Table we are tangibly told that God is with us and for us, and He is known to us “in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35)