Why do we dedicate our children?

This coming Sunday, Laura and I will stand before our congregation and have Micah “dedicated to the Lord.”  In every church that I have attended (of which I consider Grace to be the fourth), we have this phenomenon of having two ragged parents up on the platform, handing over their screaming baby to the pastor, whom he subsequently prays over and quickly hands back before something comes spewing out of its mouth.

Although it may be the cynic in me, I tend to believe that this is one of those many rituals that is done out of habit in the Church, with any underlying or historical meaning lost in the trendy clothes, the photo ops, and the laughably cute behavior of the baby.  So why do we dedicate our children?

I’m sure part of it stems from a lack of other rituals that other off-shoots of the Judeo-Christian brand have.  We aren’t circumcising our sons on the eighth day as the Jewish people do (and why should we?).  As good and proper credo-baptists (i.e., those that hold to believer’s baptism), we do not perform any sprinkling or pouring on our infants, welcoming them into God’s covenantal family as most other churches stemming from the Reformation do.  Nor do we catechize and administer first Communion as the Romans do.

So what is a Bible-believing, born from above, credo-baptist to do?  Or, probably better, why have Laura and I decided to “dedicate our children?”  The answer is not to parade them up front and watch the congregation ooh and aah.  For us, the answer is in the way Jace, the senior pastor at Berean Bible Church (church 3 of 4), always described it.  It’s less about dedicating the child, and more about dedicating the parents.

To be sure, the Bible talks about Hannah dedicating Samuel to God after his birth.  Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to God.  But in as much as we are presenting Micah to the Lord, it is ultimately our son’s choice later in life whether to follow in that path.  I tend to think that both Samuel and Jesus were exceptional cases.  What I’m interested in is what I have a stake in:

Are Laura and I committed to raising our sons in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?  (whoa, KJV tradition poking through…)  Are we recognizing that, while we are the primary spiritual caretakers of these boys, we still need help in the process?  Are we asking for accountability and encouragement along the way from those that we do life with?

The answer to all of these is yes.  We need the Sunday School teachers, and the nursery workers, and the youth leaders, and every one else that volunteers their time in order to contribute to the spiritual well-being of our boys!  We rely upon our family members.  We need our friends.  We humbly request that you build us up when we are at our wit’s end, and that you point out to us when we seem to be lacking in any given area.

This is why, at least on our part, why we are doing what we’re doing on Sunday.  Yes, we’ll dress spiffy, take a few pictures, go out to eat afterwards, and hopefully not have any meltdowns in the process.  But in the end — make no mistake — this is about our promise to God and our boys, and asking our fellow believers to help us in the process.  We are dedicating ourselves to the task.

Adventures in Secular Jobs, part two

During my time in college and seminary, I was a church hopper.  I’d go from church to church, usually where there was a need, or at least a place for me, in their music ministry.  I can think of six churches off the top of my head that I attended on any given Sunday, at least for a little while.  One of the biggest problems I had was that I didn’t feel like any of them were a place I could settle down long term and really feel as though I belonged.

In the case of one church, I remember vividly when I knew that it certainly was not home.  The first time I heard the assistant pastor preach, it was quite… accusatory.  In fact, I noticed it even before he was offered the position!  The best way to explain the preaching is in the technical sense — it was all second person, virtually little first.  And very condescending, at that.  In other words, “You need to do this.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“If you are not living such a such, then you are living in sin.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of encouraging, exhorting, and sometimes generically exposing (this would be an example of non-generic).  I just prefer to do it in first person:  “We need to make sure we are doing this.  What is wrong with us?”  Or even in third person:  “If a believer is not daily submitting their lives…”  Regardless of what person he utilized, it always seemed so angry and condescending.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant it to spur and convict.

But in reality, it was a big turn off.

In my years in the secular job world, I’ve come to realize that employees tend to get a lot of condescension thrown their way.  A verbal dressing down.  As an employee at 7-Eleven, I’d have customers regularly berate me, whether it was over the availability of coffee, or the inability to buy cigarettes with a food stamps card.  (My favorite in the latter cases is when they would then set down their iPhones, pull out a wad of benjamins, and buy $50 in lottery tickets, only after visiting the casino down the road.)

In other jobs, I’ve worked for very exacting men, who would tell you to do something a particular way, only to cuss you out for following their instructions exactly.  Men and women who will focus on the 0.1% wrong with a completed task, instead of being pleased with the 99.9% and offering constructive feedback going forward.

(For the record, I’ve also worked for great men — godly men — who were an utter joy to work for.  Here’s looking at you, Drew Hoober.)

And it got me thinking.  Surely I am not the only one who has had jobs where our work, our fruit, even our very selves are constantly belittled.  Why would we want to go to church only to be further accused, chastised, and marginalized in a similarly harsh fashion?  I’ve come to realize that, when I arrive at church, I’m looking for living water to soothe my battered soul.  I’m looking for friendships that build up, offering encouragement where it is needed, and loving accountability out of concern for my fellowship with God.

As much as I need that from other people, I pray that I am that healing balm to those I come in contact with.  That my teaching, my worship leading, my conversations are so grace-filled, so Christ-centered, so saturated in the Word of God, that those I come into contact with feel an insatiable desire to grow closer to God, and to worship Him accordingly.

Adventures in Secular Jobs, part one

A year ago, I was preparing myself for licensure in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches.  I took a lengthy written exam, which I then had to defend in an oral examination a few months later.  As I sat before a handful of pastors within our district, I fielded questions left and right about determination and free will, how one must respond to the Gospel, and numerous others I can no longer recall.  At the end of it all, I was pleasantly surprised when they approved me.  One of the pastors (the most encouraging that day) said that he himself worked a secular job for years even though his heart was in the ministry.  Eventually, he found himself in the pastoral role he is in today.

I wish to be clear.  There is nothing wrong with working a secular job.  There is nothing inherently less worthy about it.  We can’t all be in full-time ministry.  Yet, I feel strongly about how God has led me to this point, and it is *quite* discouraging to now be a thirty-something and performing tasks way outside my training.  I attempt, to varying success, to glean lessons for when the day will come when I will be in vocational ministry.  My goal is to start to writing about these lessons, not only to crank out some writing, but also to serve as a reminder of my growth now, as well as what men and women in the congregation deal with on a daily basis.

The first is that for those people who have secular jobs, and especially when families are thrown in the mix, free time does not exist.  Let’s look at my daily schedule:

  • 5:00am – wake up, shower, brew Laura’s coffee, prepare the boys’ lunches, make Laura some eggs
  • 6:30am – get Laura and the boys on the road
  • 6:35am – get myself on the road
  • 8:00pm-5:00pm – work
  • 6:00pm – arrive home from work, only to have two hours with the boys and Laura before we go to bed at 8:00pm (repeat ad nauseum)

If you see something missing in here, it’s because it sadly usually is.  There’s zero time for growth, fellowship, and development.  I’d be willing to bet that this is true for many in any congregation.  When they come to church on Sunday, they are starving, and some may not even realize it!  Pastors need to respect that time, and respond appropriately.  Churches have an unfortunately small window that they are willing to sit still and listen to God’s Word being proclaimed.  How we use that time to equip, encourage, and exhort for the coming week is crucial!

Being short on time also impacts what people are able to do in the ministry.  I’m involved with a series we’re doing right now, and the only time I can break away from the family and accomplish what I need to is Wednesday night, when Laura has youth group.  That means on a Wednesday night, instead of being part of a Bible study, fellowship, or choir, I’m sitting at home alone typing feverishly to try and finish before Laura gets home with the boys.  Working a secular job is teaching me to appreciate those that volunteer their time to assist a ministry for which one day (Lord willing) I would like to do vocationally.

It’s teaching me that I’m going to need flexibility in how I respond to a person’s spiritual needs, and that it doesn’t always fall within my daily office hours, or at a time that I’m not trying to get a task done.  Ministry is about the people, and if I make it about a to-do list, I so easily will go off course.

For now, I strive to be faithful to where God has called me at this time.  Let me be honest — it’s difficult!  I have several of these I’ve been thinking through, so hopefully I’ll be updating a little bit more as the days go on!

unless the LORD watches over a city…

I’m sure most parents have been there.  Life is crazy and chaotic when you bring a newborn home.  You are constantly on edge from all the crying and fussing.  Yet, just as you are falling into a deep sleep, you realize that you haven’t heard the baby cry, whimper, or fart in ten minutes.  You roll out of bed to make sure the baby is still breathing.  Even with our two-year-old, who now sleeps on the other side of the house basement, there are nights when I go totally OCD on checking the locks on all the doors and windows, and I lay in bed thinking of scenarios of how I could rescue him if the house caught on fire.

Yesterday, I dropped said two-year-old off at my parents’ house for a few days, and he loves the pool.  I’ll admit, it made me nervous.  It makes me nervous that he can open doors and climb steps and *bam* there’s the pool.  It’s not that I don’t trust my parents, it’s that freak accidents happen, and I know because I’ve seen more than enough in my close circle.

It can drive a parent crazy.  And every time it starts to drive me crazy, I hear the voice in my head quote Psalm 127:1…

Unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.

Daniel and MicahMy boys are not my children.  Well, I suppose they are in the sense that they are my physical offspring, but in the spiritual sense, I am merely their caretaker.  Their pedagogue.  A man given a stewardship by God, for which I will be held accountable.  I find it intriguing that the same psalm goes on to say in v. 3:

Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.

Everything we have has been given to us by God, and the day will come when we as believers will be judged, not to determine whether or not we have eternal life, but to evaluate what we did with what we were given (Luke 19:11-27Matt 25:14-30; 1 Cor 3:12-162 Cor 5:10).  Children are one of those things that we have been given.  At the end of the day, I cannot protect them to the extent that I would like, and I surely cannot extend the grace of eternal life to them.  I cannot make them choose good and turn from evil.  My responsibility is to train them up in the way they should go (Prov 22:6), which is plenty difficult enough.

When it comes to their health, safety, and well-being, though, I can only do so much.  I can only cover so many outlets and lock so many doors, and put so many bumpers up on their big boy beds.  No amount of worrying is going to change that.  When all is said and done, it is as Solomon says, “unless the Lord watches a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.”  Unless God is protecting my boys, everything I do is pointless.

I need an Enterprise.

Kirk and Pike

“Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes.  He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s.  And yours.  I dare you to do better.”  –Captain Christopher Pike

This line from the 2009 Star Trek reboot always sends chills down my spine.  Calling someone to greatness is no easy task; yet, as believers, we should constantly be encouraging each other to be more than we are, and to do more than we are.  We are called to live in a manner worthy of our calling– worthy of the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior.  (Of course, it should go without saying that this is all by the grace of God for the glory of God.)

In a way that a secular world cannot understand, both the Star Trek reboot and its sequel always leave me with a great sense of purpose and drive in my ministry.  I feel like there’s a specific reason for my particular spiritual gift set, and that reason is the same as any other believer’s: for the building up of the Church, the body of Christ.  I can’t say that I’ve yet to go all out to that end.  I feel like I can’t “break out.”  I feel like I’m not able to do what I am called to do. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to find a way to think outside the box and locate my place within the ministry; yet, I can’t find the place where my niche intersects with making a livelihood.  Perhaps the problem is that I feel like I need to make it my livelihood.  Perhaps I simply haven’t yet found the way to work fifty hours a week in a physically exhausting job to simply supplement my wife’s income, remain the husband and father that God has called me to be, continue to study God’s Word for my own spiritual enrichment, and be able to perform the ministries that God has laid on my heart.

Kirk needed the Enterprise to bring his leadership potential to actuality, and I can’t help but feel like I need to find my Enterprise to really thrive in a ministry setting.  In many ways, I wish I could create my own ideal position and then find a church where it is needed; yet, churches (along with most of society) don’t operate in that way.  But, since this is my blog, and my space to think, if I were to create a position for myself, it would include:

  • a forum to teach the Word of God and biblical theology in a church setting, driving home the intersection of the intellectual and the practical — primarily through Sunday School and midweek services, but also preaching on a semi-regular basis
  • a forum where I can engage in getting God’s Word out in the realm of social media — blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking for a ministry; in fact, there are times in which I wish I could write/blog for a living
  • a forum where I can purposefully and intentionally invest in training the next generation to take my place through small group, counseling, and one-on-one settings — not everyone will go to Bible college, and Bible colleges ain’t what they used to be, at that; churches need to be all the more active in training the future leaders in-house
  • a forum where I can continue to utilize the musical abilities that God has given me — singing, playing piano, sound engineering, leading worship on occasion
  • a forum where I have the time to devote to further my academic disciplines — reading, keeping up with Greek, reacquainting myself with Hebrew/Aramaic, do some musical arranging

These are the things I’m passionate about.  These are the things I want to do.  I want to be in a church.  I want to believe that God did not lead me through school simply to have me use my spiritual gift of administration to find the perfect arrangement of beef jerky at 7-Eleven.  And the gift of teaching just to explain to others how to go through shift changes in the most efficient manner.  I want my Enterprise.  I want to do this so badly, and I wish that somehow it would come to fruition.

1000 days

Today marks 1,000 days since Laura and I were married.  In many ways, it still seems like yesterday — I can vaguely remember my awful life before we met, and the different steps along the way in our brief engagement.  The breakfasts at The Fabulous Brew, Pearson birthday parties, Martina McBride concert, and so on.

Yet, I look at all we’ve been through the past 1,000 days, and how we’ve been through more in the past 1,000 days than most couples go through in 1,000 weeks (or, 19 years and 3 months).

The day before we were married, I left my full-time position at Washington Bible College, because they couldn’t meet payroll.

Because of that, we moved in to Laura’s parents’ basement.  (We’re still here.)

I started working at my in-laws’ restaurant, which went out of business in May 2011, one month before Daniel was born.  I still miss it, and I occasionally think of all the things that we I could have done differently so that the restaurant would have had a different outcome.

I was told I had a staff position at the church I grew up in — the position that was the impetus for me going to college where I went and studying what I did.  Yet, a week before Daniel was born, in June 2011, the senior pastor called me and said they were going a different direction  A year later, in August 2012, the exact same thing happened to me again at another church.  I was told I had a position, and all I had to do was come back five days later and work out the start date and salary.  And again, different direction.

Our luck with vehicles hasn’t been much better.  My Jeep died in January 2011, and so I had to find another vehicle.  In fact, my Jeep died on the way to trading it in, giving it zero trade-in value.  Laura’s Jeep died in August 2011, with a little bit more trade-in value.  Fortunately I had put all my back pay from WBC into paying it off before it died on us.

Have I mentioned that we still live in my in-laws’ basement?  And that I have also been deemed unqualified to work in a Christian bookstore?  And as a bank teller?  And in [insert number here] different college teaching positions because I’m still 39 credits from a Ph.D.?

In as much as our circumstances have sucked, and make no mistake, they have sucked, yet God has shown His goodness to us in many ways, not the least of which are our two sons, Daniel and Micah.  Even though the past two years have given us false hopes of greater things, being crammed in this basement has made me realize that we can make do with a lot less than what others take for granted and flaunt.

We’ve yet to go hungry*.  We’ve yet to fail to have clothes on our backs.  And by the lack of anywhere else to go graciousness of my in-laws, we still have a roof over our heads.  I keep telling myself that things have to change eventually.  We can’t be stuck here forever.  I can’t be stuck in this rut forever.  I’m not quite sure what God is trying to teach me during this time, but clearly it hasn’t sunk in yet as we’re still here.

One thing I do know, though, is how grateful I am for Laura.  The past 1,000 days, I’ve let her down, I’ve brought her down, and I’ve tried and failed more times than I care to count.  Yet, we have yet to raise our voices at each other, I have yet to sleep on the couch (at least as a result of being kicked out of bed), and we have the two most awesome boys that have ever existed.

Here’s to the next 1,000.  Hopefully I have some exciting news by January 21, 2016.  =)

*Which, in part, is due to a friend who does more than say “be warmed and be filled, go in peace,” but actually has helped us by supplementing our income.  Many have tried to be encouraging, but only one has put that encouragement into action.  I cannot wait to pay it forward.

on the arrival of Micah

The following is a prayer entitled “The Family” from the The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers.  I offer it up today, on the birth of our second son, Micah, for Who-is-like-Yahweh?

O Sovereign Lord,
Thou art the Creator-Father of all men, for thou hast made and dost support them;
Thou art the special Father of those who know, love and honour thee,
who find thy yoke easy, and thy burden light,
thy work honourable,
thy commandments glorious.
But how little thy undeserved goodness has affected me!
how imperfectly have I improved my religious privileges!
how negligent have I been in doing good to others!
I am before thee in my trespasses and sins,
have mercy on me,
and may thy goodness bring me to repentance.
Help me to hate and forsake every false way,
to be attentive to my condition and character,
to bridle my tongue,
to keep my heart with all diligence,
to watch and pray against temptation,
to mortify sin,
to be concerned for the salvation of others.
O God, I cannot endure to see the destruction of my kindred.
Let those that are united to me in tender ties
be precious in thy sight and devoted to thy glory.
Sanctify and prosper my domestic devotion,
instruction, discipline, example,
that my house may be a nursery for heaven,
my church the garden of the Lord,
enriched with trees of righteousness of thy planting,
for thy glory;
Let not those of my family who are amiable, moral, attractive,
fall short of heaven at last;
Grant that the promising appearances of a tender conscience,
soft heart, the alarms and delights of thy Word,
be not finally blotted out,
but bring forth judgment unto victory in all whom I love.