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.

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“Be still and know” is no call to contemplation!

Any student of church history or hymnody knows the lengths to which Martin Luther enjoyed Psalm 46.  After all, one of the stalwarts of any hymnbook is his masterful hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which was based off of Psalm 46.  I have been fortunate to have been a part of some fantastic renditions of the hymn, and utterly blessed to have sung a modern setting of the psalm at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.  Of all the words and phrases to be studied, meditated upon, and breathed in, my attention usually is drawn at some point to the phrase the NASB translates “cease striving, and know that I am God.”

It’s commonly quoted in the manner the KJV initiated: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  (See also ESV, NIV, NLT.)  In a similar vein as the NASB, the HCSB translates it as “stop your fighting.”  This is a pretty big difference in translation, which leads to a pretty big distinction in interpretation!  On the one hand (KJV, et al), we have a call to contemplative meditation on the sovereignty of God.

But NASB and HCSB give us a much different picture!  Think of it in context:

  • v. 2 – the earth changing, the mountains slipping into the sea
  • v. 3 – the waters roaring and foaming the mountains quaking
  • v. 6 – the nations uproaring, kingdoms tottering, the earth melting

Yet, the city of God will not be moved (v. 5).  Yahweh of Hosts is with them, and the God of Jacob is their stronghold (v. 7)!  In His time, He brings about utter destruction of all Israel’s enemies when He makes wars to cease, rendering bows and spears and chariots ineffective to their designed end.  (Sidenote: How great would it be to see this applied in our constant state of war?)

With all the commotion going on in Psalm 46, is this the time for a faint whisper in our ear, encouraging us to sit down quietly and ponder?  No!  Anything but!  The call to cease striving and be still is the command of a King standing to reclaim what is His, slamming His scepter on the ground with authority, and issuing one loud decree: That’s enough!  I. am. God.  I am the high and exalted One!  It is time for them to know and understand this!

I wonder if there is any correlation between this concept and what we find in Mark 4 when Jesus calms the storm with just one word.  The Greek word is phimoo, and it means “to muzzle, silence.”  With the sea in tumult, and the disciples fearing, Jesus speaks but one word (two in English):  Be still.  Or, to use the vernacular: Shut up!  (Although we were never allowed to say such a word growing up, and I still don’t care for it.)  And just like that, the storm subsides.

Turns out I’m not alone in this interpretation.  James Montgomery Boice writes:

[I]n this setting, “be still and know that I am God” is not advice to us to lead a contemplative life, however important that may be. It means rather, “Lay down your arms.  Surrender, and acknowledge that I am the one and only victorious God.”  No one can hope to resist Him.  (Psalms, Volume 2, p. 392)

How awesome of a picture does this paint in your mind?!  God will not tarry forever.  When He returns to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), He will not do so as He came the first time — meek and mild, as a babe.  He will come riding on a white horse, ready to lay waste to all who have not believed in Him (Rev 19:11-21).  Now there is something to meditate on!

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!

on the corruption of governments

A few weeks ago at my church, I had the pleasure and privilege of preaching from God’s Word.  (The link to the video for that can be found here.)  The sermon series this summer has been “What Does God Say About _____.”  After much thought, I decided to roll the dice and propose the topic of government.  Nothing controversial there, right?

I proceeded with my points:

  1. Government was instituted by God
  2. We must submit to the governing authorities.
  3. The only thing we can do with government is corrupt it.

It was this third and last point that came to mind when I was listening to the radio and heard an unbeliever (my assumption) echo the very sentiment.  This past week, Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed in the New York Times slamming American “exceptionalism,” the notion that there is nothing special about America.  The radio host vehemently disagreed.  He said the following:

So what is it? Well, if you know the history of the world… Read your Bible, read whatever historical account of humanity you hold dear, and what you’ll read about is human tyranny. You’ll read of bondage. You’ll read of slavery. The vast majority of the people, the vast majority of the human beings who have lived and breathed and walked this planet have lived under the tyranny of despots, the vast majority.

It isn’t even close.

The vast majority of the people of this world since the beginning of time have never known the kind of liberty and freedom that’s taken for granted every day in this country. Most people have lived in abject fear of their leaders. Most people have lived in abject fear of whoever held power over them. Most people in the world have not had plentiful access to food and clean water. It was a major daily undertaking for most people to come up with just those two basic things.

Just surviving was the primary occupation of most people in the world. The history of the world is dictatorship, tyranny, subjugation, whatever you want to call it of populations — and then along came the United States of America. Pilgrims were the first to come here seeking freedom from all of that. They were oppressed because of their religion. They were told they had to believe in the king and his god, whatever it was, or they would be imprisoned.

They led an exodus from Europe to this country, people of the same mind-set. They simply wanted to escape the tyranny of their ordinary lives. This country was founded that way. For the first time in human history, a government and country was founded on the belief that leaders serve the population. This country was the first in history, the EXCEPTION — e-x-c-e-p-t, except. The exception to the rule is what American exceptionalism is.

It is because of this liberty and freedom that our country exists, because the founders recognized it comes from God. It’s part of the natural yearning of the human spirit. It is not granted by a government. It’s not granted by Putin. It’s not granted by Obama or any other human being. We are created with the natural yearning to be free, and it is other men and leaders throughout human history who have suppressed that and imprisoned people for seeking it.

The US is the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a Constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was supreme and dominant, and that is what led to the US becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed people to be the best they could be. Nothing like it had ever happened. That’s American exceptionalism. Putin doesn’t know what it is, Obama doesn’t know what it is, and it just got trashed in the New York Times. It’s just unacceptable.

The host?  Rush Limbaugh.  (His full monologue can be found here.)  Even an unbeliever understands that we as humans have a tendency to corrupt everything we come in contact with.  Even an unbeliever knows that there is a supreme being that endows men with rights.  The problem is that we look for redemption in the external.  We look for salvation through government (whether less or more of it, even though I certainly have an opinion which is better!).

Yet, salvation, deliverance, and eternal life are only found in one place — the God-man Jesus the Messiah.  He paid the penalty for our sins at His first coming, and He will set up the most perfect government when He comes again!  Lord, haste the day!

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.