Hello blog friends. It’s been a while! Slightly over a year, in fact. Here is my annual update about the repayment of our house loans, with a few other items of note. I’ll keep it short, because…
1) Life has been very busy lately. We spent a week in Iowa over the holidays, visiting my wife’s family. (During that time I updated my Beginners’ Bible Reading Plan. I’m really excited about the results–please look!) Then, a couple days after our return to Atlanta, my grandmother in Canada passed away, so I made a quick trip up there for her funeral. Between that and work, I haven’t had much discretionary time over the past month.
However, I’m grateful to say that our family is healthy and well, remaining busy with homeschooling, musical training, church commitments, and my part-time Choice Books work. (That will have to suffice for a family newsletter!)
2) Though I didn’t post any blogs in the past year, I did continue studying and writing. Most of my writing time this year was dedicated to revising and expanding my old essay 125 Years of Seven Ordinances (that’s the unfinished draft I posted years ago), since the Mennonite Historical Library in Goshen expressed interest in that research. This study is currently expanding into either a very long essay or a short book. I’ll let you know here when it’s done.
My divorce and remarriage studies mostly hit pause in 2023, but I still have more I hope to say on that topic, as well. For those who are impatient… thanks for your patience!
3) House loan repayments remain on schedule, thank God. At the beginning of 2023, we owed $14,507.50 in house loans. By the start of 2024, we owed only $7,855.00. Most of the difference was due to repayments, but a couple generous lenders forgave a total of $415.
Only 12 lenders are awaiting payment. (Several of those have received partial payment.) God willing, at our promised repayment rate of $500 per month, all loans will be repaid by April, 2025. Shall we have a giant open house weekend then to celebrate, inviting all lenders to come?
4) The main house improvement for 2023 was finally getting our attic properly insulated last month. Some spaces had only sporadic insulation and some spots had none at all! The biggest improvements are over our master bedroom and bath, and over the laundry room and my piano studio. The house feels more uniformly warm this winter and I think we’ll feel an even bigger difference when the sun starts warming our roof this summer. Hopefully we’ll see a difference in our electric bill, too.
5) Finally, I’m excited to say that plans are moving forward to rebuild this website. I built this WordPress site myself back in 2014 (self-taught) and have only tweaked it with plugins since. It’s been slow for several years now and its limp has become ever more pronounced, with significant down time. Truth be told, one of the big reasons I’ve posted so rarely of late is because it’s no fun waiting on a frozen website while trying to post.
I’ve been praying for a solution for a couple years, and now our church has generously pledged sufficient funds to rebuild Dwight Gingrich Online on another (more stable) platform and to pay for the first year of hosting and tech support. If all goes well, the migration will be complete within a month or two, and at that time I’ll share who I’ve hired to do the work.
Two details: 1) Please pray the migration goes smoothly, right down to the details like functioning footnotes and indexes. 2) The new platform will cost a little more to run long-term so I am planning to invite readers to help cover annual fees for future years.
At this point I’m committed to keeping all content on Dwight Gingrich Online free for all visitors, but for my family’s sake I also have to be realistic about the many thousands of dollars’ worth of time and fees I’ve invested in this website over the past decade, with very little funds coming the other direction. (Very warm thanks to my solitary monthly donor, if you’ve managed to read this far!)
Warm thanks again to everyone who has helped us with “the house that God bought.” Recently at the airport I randomly bumped into the real estate agent who helped us buy this house, and he certainly hasn’t forgotten the unusual way God provided for our needs. What a testimony of God’s goodness!
For Christ and his church,
PS: Here are more random photos from our family in the past year:
Another year has passed, so it’s time for another update on our house loans. Thank God, our experiment is still going well.
(Background: As many of you know, we purchased our Atlanta house on March 25, 2016, paying the seller in full immediately, thanks to loans and gifts from nearly 90 individuals or families. Since this crowdfunding effort was the work of Christ’s church, we coined a new term: “churchfunding.” Here is the post that officially launched this adventure.)
At the beginning of 2022, we owed $21,232.50 in house loans. By the end of the year, we owed only $14,507.50.
Here is how that $6,725 difference breaks down:
We repaid $6,200 in loans, at more than the promised rate of $500 per month.
We were forgiven an additional $525 in principal and interest by two generous lenders.
In total, our house debt declined by $725 more than expected in 2022.
There are 14 lenders who have not yet received any repayment. If you are one of those 14, don’t worry. Your turn should come soon. God willing, at our promised repayment rate of $500 per month, we should have all our loans repaid by May, 2025.
Each month I use a random number generator to select a lender to repay. But first, I pray, asking God to glorify himself through the selection. So, if you need repayment soon, ask God to choose you! But if you need to, feel free to also let us know and we’ll do our best to repay you quickly.
In the first half of 2022 our house value hit a new high, just in time for the city to update our property assessment and increase our taxes. In the second half of the year, our property value steadily dropped, losing most of the gains of the first half of the year. (Thank you, rising interest rates and slumping economy.)
It looks like we missed our best chance to sell, so we’ll probably stick around here for a while yet. 🙂 To be clear, we have no dreams of leaving Atlanta any time soon. This is where God allowed us to settle, and we’ll stay here until he brings clarity that we should be elsewhere.
I don’t have time for a full family update, but here are some things I’m grateful for from 2022:
A wife who faithfully homeschools, keeps house, connects with ladies from church, cares for neighbors, reads over 100 books in one year, and endures up to four musicians practicing at once in one house.
Middle daughter, who wins first prize in our family for diligence and organization in daily duties and who dearly loves animals.
Oldest daughter, who grew by leaps as a cellist and all-round musician this year and is responsibly navigating her first year of high school.
Family game nights on Fridays.
Enough piano students that I rarely find space for new ones.
A new pastor at church, who is also my new boss at Choice Books, blessing me through both roles.
Fellow church musicians who gladly help the saints worship–and the volunteer soldier below who helped me with my sermon.
A great fall string orchestra concert (the conductor said it was the best in 14 years!) where our daughters participated and I even got to accompany at the piano for one piece.
Time for more blogging than in the year before, and for light and peace as I study, write, and interact with my readers and their varied perspectives.
Random blessings, like a mostly-positive experience fostering a shelter dog, a brand new lawn mower (yay!), vehicles that keep running, a couple visits from my mother, and a trip to Iowa to see Zonya’s family and skate on the farm pond.
Thank you, again, to everyone who helped us buy our Atlanta home, and to all who have supported us in so many other ways. We remain very grateful for “the house that God bought” and invite you to come visit.
Let’s be faithful to Jesus in 2023. He is coming soon!
This past Sunday we heard a sermon featuring the life of Joseph, the earthly (legal but not biological) father of Jesus. The speaker reminded us that “God fulfills his promises through the obedience of ordinary people like Joseph and you.” The speaker gave numerous examples from Joseph’s life but I would like to consider just one: how Joseph planned to divorce Mary after he discovered she was pregnant before they were married.
Here is the brief Scriptural description of this event:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:18-19 ESV)
To understand this account well, we need to step back in time and understand what betrothal meant to Jews in their cultural context.
Betrothal was far more serious than our modern engagements are. It is tragic today when someone breaks an engagement, but it is not a crime. Hearts are broken, but laws are not. As an ESV footnote says, “betrothed” meant “legally pledge to be married.” Commentator R. T. France describes betrothal like this:
Though the couple were not yet living together, it was a binding contract entered into before witnesses which could be terminated only by death (which would leave a woman a “widow”) or by divorce as if for a full marriage…; sexual infidelity during the engagement would be a basis for such divorce. About a year after the engagement… the woman (then normally about thirteen or fourteen) would leave her father’s house and go live with the husband in a public ceremony [a wedding].
The language of Matthew 1:19 reflects the legal seriousness of Jewish betrothal, calling Joseph Mary’s “husband” and saying he planned to “divorce” her—terms we would never use today of an engaged couple.
The seriousness of violating a betrothal is also seen in the Law of Moses, which prescribes the same punishment—death—for sexual unfaithfulness whether it happened during betrothal or after the wedding ceremony:
“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deut. 22:22-24)
Notice that the betrothed woman is called a “wife,” just as Matthew calls Joseph Mary’s “husband.”
The law of Moses also included a test for a husband who, on his wedding day, suspected his bride had been unfaithful prior to their wedding (Deut. 22:13-21). Discovering such unfaithfulness was so important to Jews that they scheduled their wedding dates around this concern. Theodore Mackin, S. J. explains:
It was the custom, when the bride was neither a widow nor a divorced woman, for the marriage to take place on the fourth day of the week, so that if the husband found her not a virgin, he could accuse her before the court, which held session only on the fifth day.
Commentator William F. Luck sums up Jewish law well: “In short, betrothal unfaithfulness is, according to the Old Testament, a kind of adultery.”
(Bunny trail: These realities are one reason why modern debates about the “betrothal view” of Jesus’ exception clause are often misguided. Ancient Jews would not have understood our insistence on distinguishing between adultery during betrothal versus adultery after a wedding.)
Back to poor Joseph, who discovered that his dear “wife” Mary was already “with child.” How could she have committed such a terrible betrayal? And what on earth was he to do now?
Well, Joseph was “just,” we are told (Matt. 1:19). Or, as the NIV puts it, he “was faithful to the law.” According to the original intent of that law, Mary should now be stoned. According to first century Jewish practice, after Roman law had abolished Jewish death penalties, “divorce was the normal course.” The normal course, then would have been for Joseph to make a public spectacle of Mary, to “put her to shame” by putting her on trial for adultery.
But we are told Joseph was not only “just” but also “unwilling to put her to shame.” In other words, though he was just, his justice was tempered with mercy. Therefore, he “resolved to divorce her quietly.”
The story, as I’ve told it so far, is fairly well known, though I’ve added important historical details. But what I’m about to share includes something I never thought about until after church this past Sunday, as I discussed the sermon with the speaker.
As best we know, there were several kinds of divorce available in Jewish courts in Jesus’ day. On the one hand, there were divorces that required specific due cause. In limited cases, a wife was probably able to force her husband to grant a divorce on the grounds that he was not providing for her (Ex. 21:11). More commonly, a husband could charge his wife with adultery. Such divorces required public proof of wrong-doing, leading to shameful humiliation for the one convicted.
But another kind of divorce was also available and widely used—the any-cause divorce based on a distorted reading of Deuteronomy 24:1. This is the divorce Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:31): “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” In such a divorce case, a man did not need to prove his wife did anything wrong. The only requirement was that he follow the proper procedures for giving her a divorce certificate, rather than just abandoning her. There was little a wife could do to prevent such a divorce, but at least it resulted in less public humiliation for her.
Jesus directly addressed both kinds of divorces in his debate with the Pharisees in Matthew 19, referencing both in his summary proclamation: “I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). On the one hand, Jesus strongly condemned the any-cause divorce, calling such divorce (normally followed by remarriage) “adultery.” But he gave an exception, recognizing that divorce (normally followed by remarriage) based on due cause, on the grounds of “sexual immorality,” is not adultery.
Back to Joseph. Mary had obviously committed adultery. As David Instone-Brewer says, “It was considered very suspect when a man refused to divorce his unfaithful wife, which is why Joseph is described as righteous for wanting to divorce Mary, who appeared to be unfaithful.” There was no escaping it: according to Jewish expectations and the law of Moses, Joseph had to divorce Mary.
But which kind of divorce should Joseph pursue?
The obvious answer, and the one that fit his sense of justice, was to charge Mary with adultery. The evidence (Mary’s womb) was obvious and growing day by day, so winning his divorce would not be difficult.
But Joseph was also merciful, so he chose the option that would be easier on Mary. He chose, it appears, to take her before an any-cause divorce court, where he could “divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19) without proving her guilty and shaming her publicly. This sort of divorce “required no public trial, no evidence brought by witnesses, and very little fuss.”
In other words–and here’s the observation that was new to me this year–Joseph chose the kind of divorce that his own Son, years later, would call “adultery.” Rather than choose the kind of divorce that would leave him looking like the innocent victim he understood himself to be, he chose the kind of divorce that would leave him appearing guilty according the One who held to a higher standard of justice than the flawed reasoning of the Jewish teachers of the law.
Joseph decided that, rather than prove Mary guilty and himself innocent, he was willing to be accused of callous disregard of his betrothal contract if only he could reduce the public shaming of Mary, his unfaithful “wife.” He would obey the law, but he would obey it in a way that avoided causing unnecessary suffering to others.
Joseph is a wonderful example for us today. No, I’m not saying that a simple cut-and-paste imitation of his actions is always in order, but I believe that his love of both justice and mercy should serve as a guiding light for how we think about betrayal and divorce.
I suspect Joseph’s heart of justice and mercy also helped him accept God’s explanation of what had actually happened to Mary:
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21).
It is through the obedience of ordinary just and merciful people like Joseph (and you) that God fulfills his promises. May we, too, make way for the coming of the Messiah by how we live our lives, including as we respond to unfaithfulness, perceived or real, in our marriages.
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 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 50.
 If a man violated an unbetrothed woman, on the other hand, he was not executed but only had to pay a bride price and honor her with a proper marriage (assuming her father wanted that to happen). Also, if a betrothed woman was violated in a deserted area where her cries for help could not be heard, she was declared innocent.
 Theodore Mackin, S.J., Divorce and Remarriage, Marriage in the Catholic Church, Vol. 2 (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 62.