Family Stuff

The Next Chapter

Outside of the Lord Jesus, my favorite character in the text of Scripture is the Apostle Paul.  I love reading his writings and teaching them to my students.  He conveys so many incredible, life-changing applications that allow the  concepts of Jesus to unfold like a flower.  The one application that gets to me almost every time I read or study it is his teaching on joy in the midst of suffering coupled with contentment.

Paul writes the letter to the Philippian Church and constantly reminds them to rejoice in the midst of their suffering like Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2).  He reaches his dramatic conclusion in Chapter 4 when he reveals, what he calls, the “secret” to having joy in the midst of any and every circumstance.  Contentment.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
(Philippians 4:11-13)

The secret for Paul is contentment and he says that because he has understood this secret, he can face any circumstance as long as God gives him the strength.  The strength to what?  To be content.

This always sparks thousands of questions in my mind, but the primary one being, “Is this something I can say about myself?”  Could I be content in any and every situation?  Whether I have a lot or don’t?  When I’m full and when I’m hungry?  Could I be content in those circumstances?

It seems to me that the end of spring and the beginning of summer is a restless time.  Maybe it’s because I work in a high school and everyone is just buzzing about getting out of these four walls for a few months.  All of that paired with the celebration of the Senior Class as we send them away to college… there’s a sort of finality to it.  And I’m sure every high school has the unwritten “countdown tradition.”  15 more days.  14 more days.  13 more days.  Wishing them all away and wanting more than anything to be somewhere we aren’t.  If you are long past those schooling days, maybe it’s not the beginning of the summer that causes you to wish your days away, but it’s the longing we each have to know what’s in the next chapter of our lives.  What job will we have next?  Where will we live next?

It seems this is a lesson we quickly forget.  “[F]or I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” The Apostle Paul’s contentedness lesson arises again.  He even told the Athenian philosophers that God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [our] dwelling place,” (Acts 17:26).  As Paul points out so masterfully in Philippians, Christ is our example.  Often times we fail to be content in the here and now and we only embrace the next chapter with a content spirit when it’s good or positive or a promotion or a better salary or more of what we want, but even then, our contentment is fleeting.  But could we who claim to follow Christ like Him (Heb. 12:2) embrace the next chapter with a content spirit even when it’s laced with sorrow and heartache and pain and monotony and sickness and death?  Would our contentment lead to joy in that circumstance?  Could I be content with the book of my life that God is writing if the next chapter is written in such a way that I die of cancer before I’m 30?  If the next chapter means that members of my family are taken from me?  If the next chapter means that I don’t get to escape the metaphorical or, in Paul’s case, quite literal prison I’m in?

May your prayer and mine echo the words of the Apostle Paul.

I can face all things because Christ gives me the strength to be content.

I Did Not Expect This: Confessions of a Paedobaptist

I couldn’t tell you how many people told my wife and I that things would be different once we had a baby.  I reassured them that we were prepared.  My wife is one of seven and had been taking care of kids her entire life.  I was raised around kids and while all the other guys I went to high school with had part time jobs at Domino’s, I spent a few evenings a week playing Thomas the Tank Engine with a 3 year old while his mom went to the grocery store and the laundromat because her husband was in Iraq and she needed and evening to do errands.  I even had the songs memorized.  I was good.  We were prepared.  We had our gameplan.  We knew what we were doing.  However, I didn’t realize how right those people were… but not for the reasons you’re thinking.

You see, from the very beginning of our relationship, my wife and I began to call into question many of the secondary doctrinal issues we had been taught growing up.  (I’ve written about this previously and you can read that here.)  Apart from the fundamental, primary, essential, closed-handed, issues (like Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s Word, Jesus died in our place, Christianity 101 stuff), we called everything else into question and went back and looked at what our position was.  Settling ourselves on Reformed theology was like eating an elephant.  It happened one bite at a time.  Afterwards, we took a breath, sat back, and relaxed.  There were so many things we had worked through in that process and we thought for sure that there wouldn’t be any other secondary issues that needed to be dealt with any time soon.  

Complimentarianism vs Egalitarianism? Done

Single vs. Plural Eldership? Done

Cessationism vs. Continuationism? Later

Pre-Mil vs. Post-Mil vs. A-Mil? Later

Interpretation of Revelation? Later

Paedo vs. Credo Baptism? Later

It was so convenient to write later next to those last 4 because, shoot, we didn’t have to settle that stuff over night.  We had just made these huge strides and differed from the traditions of our parents in fairly significant ways.  We were young, married, childless 20-somethings with all the time in the world to figure that other stuff out.  

What I find the most interesting, though, is how little that last issue mattered to us at the time.  I had been baptized.  My wife had been baptized.  We were good.  If some people wanna baptize babies, cool.  If some people wanna baptize adults, no problem.  If some people wanna sprinkle, sweet.  If some people wanna pour, awesome.  If some people wanna dunk, great.  We were baptismal agnostics and very much okay with that position.

Until we found out we were pregnant.

All of a sudden, the decision we had been putting off (because having kids was step #157 in our 5-Year-Plan) had become priority #1.  We absorbed as much information as we could in a 9 month period.  We read blogs, we listened to debates, we listened to both sides explain their position.  Majority of our conversations were:

Did you read that article I sent you?

No, I was throwing up all morning.

Okay…well… you need to read it.

During this time, we were attending a Reformed Baptist church and were very happy there.  Loving God, loving people, and loving His Church.  Joining that church was an easy transition for us as we settled into Reformed theology.  The denomination we were raised in was credobaptistic and so shifting to a Baptist church was no sweat at all.

However, after 9 months of researching until our heads hurt, we finally came to the determination that we were paedobaptists and wanted to have our daughter baptized.  I remember discussing the decision and it’s implications on a 3 hour drive from Huntington to Morgantown in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve with our 1 1/2 month old sound asleep in the back seat.  Not long after, we met with our pastor and his wife, who were both incredibly gracious and loving during our time of transition and are still great friends today.  Though it pained us, we said goodbye to them and that church family.

487414_638223969533184_1877224497_nOver the next month, God was incredibly faithful and we found a wonderful church family.  We have become members and are both proud to announce that our daughter will be baptized this Sunday, April 14th, 2014.  Palm Sunday no less.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday by singing to, for, and about King Jesus who came to save us, we will simultaneously celebrate the sign of the covenant of God’s people given to my daughter.

People told us life would be different when we had a baby.  I can safely say I did not expect this.

Fatherly Hate

Last week, I began talking about the crash course in fatherhood I have gotten over the past three months and how that has caused me to understand God in more practical ways that I ever had before.  You can read all about it over here.  I also mentioned last week that there was a second “practical revelation” I had from God.

Prior to becoming a father, I believed hate and love to be opposites.  I, wrongly, understood love to be a good thing and hate to be a bad thing.  The problem was I called love good and hate bad without ever applying them to a direct object.  The moment my daughter was born, I loved her and it wasn’t long after that I quickly realized that if I wanted to love her well, I had to hate.  If I was going to love my daughter, I would have to hate anything that would take her away from me, hurt her, or threaten her safety in any way.

I often hear people talk about how loving Jesus was and how he accepted everyone.  Jesus didn’t hate anyone or anything.  He was all about love and acceptance and affirmation.  As a semi-professional father, I can tell you that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of love.  Love fights.  Love cares.  Love discriminates.  Love and hate go together.  They are inseparable.  Anger is hate in motion.  Anger is hate moving towards that thing that is threatening what I love with the intention of removing or destroying it.  If you don’t get angry…if you don’t hate, then you don’t really love.  Consequently, if you don’t love someone, but simply tolerate them, then you will hate nothing.

God hates.  He hates all enemies of love as the doctor hates the cancer that is killing his beloved patient.  He hates the many things that threaten the very thing he loves like a father deeply hates and is driven into a rage at the very thought of harm coming upon his child.  God hates and punishes sin because he loves and wants to protect his children.

Psalm 119

Sin destroys.  I don’t know many who would disagree with that.  The problem isn’t that we don’t recognize that sin destroys.  The problem is we don’t agree with God’s definition of sin because we don’t think that what He calls sin is really destructive.  This whole issue comes back to how much you trust God.  Do you really believe that what he calls sin really is harmful and destructive though you may not see it that way?

Because even though God puts up the fence of the Law and made sure it was set in deep with the post hole digger of grace so that we could be safe, we continually kick it down thinking escape means freedom.  We give him the finger, tell him where he can stick his “rules,” and go our own way not realizing why God put the fence up in the first place.  Good, loving, and wise parents put up a fence in their backyard to keep their kids safe and keep out weirdos.  Law abiding schools put up fences around their playgrounds to keep the kids in and keep the kidnappers out.  Caring and kind neighbors build a fence or railing around their deck to keep people from falling off of it.  If we are his sheep and he loves us, he must hate the wolves and keep them away.

Because God is teaching me that love constitutes hate, there will be a few standing rules in my house.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a start.

1) “Thou Shalt Not Drink Motor Oil.” 

Aw, Dad!  You’re just trying to spoil my fun! 

No.  Drinking motor oil will kill you.  I love you and I hate all the things that might kill you. 

2) “Thou Shalt Not Drive the Wrong Way on the Interstate.”

Dad, I know you love me so I know you don’t really mean it when you give me these rules.  Love means that you’ll support whatever I choose.

No, that’s not what love means.  Love means I protect you from things that will kill you.  Driving the wrong way on the interstate will kill you even if you don’t think it will.  I’m trying to protect you.

3) “Thou Shalt Not Eat Only Junk Food.”

Dad, you don’t understand.  I have these very strong cravings and desires for junk food and not vegetables.  You’re telling me to give up my deepest desire.  I thought you loved me.

No, you don’t understand.  I do love you.  It’s because I love you that I’m telling you that attempting to satisfy that desire will cause you harm.  I love you I hate anything that might hurt you.

God gives us commands so we can live.  Again, the question that is being begged here is, “Can I really trust that God’s commands are good?  Can I really trust that his commands come from love?  Can I really trust that his commands are to protect me?”

At the most fundamental level, when we rebel against God’s commands, we are telling him we trust ourselves more than we trust Him.  He doesn’t really love us.  If he really loved us, he wouldn’t say that he hates what we’re doing.  Anyone who has been a parent for more than 5 minutes knows this isn’t true.  The fact that God loves means that God hates.

And that’s a very good thing.