Getting Schooled at VBS

I guess after three years you could call it tradition. My family is now in the routine of spending the last week of June serving at a Vacation Bible School. Just today we closed the books on a week packed with fun, sweat, wonder, singing, crafts and a multitude of juice boxes. Of course all those things played second fiddle to God’s Word. It was wonderfully exhausting!

My childhood VBS memories are quite sentimental. The unique sights, sounds and smells of small church culture. Singing to tape recorded sound tracks. Song words projected from smudged overhead slides. The spirited team competitions and Spirit-led calls to repentance. There was hot dry grass, red Kool-Aid, assorted homemade cookies and the wooden sanctuary that desperately needed to be air-conditioned. Cherished memories.

Now that I’m all grown-up, VBS has a different flavor. I still sneak an occasional cookie, but my childhood VBS delights have been exchanged for adulthood responsibilities. Responsibility for spills, scrapes, cleanup and discipline. The grown-up side of VBS is not as romantic as my youthful experience. Has the delight faded?

Not at all.

In many ways, my VBS love has deepened. My fond memories from decades ago are blending with recent joys of leadership. God is growing in me a new love for making Him famous. A fresh desire to work in the field of souls. But like most parts of my journey with Jesus, the path isn’t straight and flat.

If you ever need to be humbled, teach at a VBS. It’s a wonderful crucible all teachers should experience to hone their craft. This past week, in the midst of my unmet teaching desires, God was developing in me a new confidence. A fuller picture of faith. A fresh understanding that my efforts aren’t really mine. That I’m a piece of His teaching plan. That He’s got it covered – in spite of my “big idea” for the day.

Part of what stimulated my development was this quote from Puritan preacher Thomas Lye: “Patience is hope lengthened and confidence is faith strengthened.” I prefer instant. Quick. Timely. But when sowing gospel seed, a long patience is required. Patience covered with grace and prayer for continued watering followed by steady rest in the hope gained through the empty grave of Jesus Christ. Some fruit grows slowly. And growth isn’t a result of what I do. It comes from Someone else, and what He’s done. In that, I must be confident. Hopeful. Patient.

It was a wonderful week. Souls were rescued from the enemy. Now for some rest – but just for a bit. There’s much work to be done when it comes to sowing, reaping, discipling, and my own sanctification. I am grateful that God is continually at work, bringing to complete fullness what He has begun in me, and in all those who call Him Lord.

Leaky Theology

Something was bound to happen. Always does.

We were thirty-six hours from launch on a five-day adventure three states over. So right on cue, Mr. Murphy’s Law let himself in. His choice of residence was our refrigerator.

The crisis began at 10:15am with a text message from my wife. I was hoping it was one of those, “I miss you!”, “Luv U” or some other sweet-nothin’ IM. No dice.

“What does it mean if our fridge is leaking water?”

Seriously? My blood pressure jumped 30 points in 30 seconds. My eyes closed as I cocked a tilted grin. I gave a slow shake with my head in familiar disbelief. I reluctantly opened my eyes. My mind raced. I visually scripted the worst-case scenario, complete with flooded basement and moldy drywall. This is why I have gray hair.

I quickly gathered myself and went into rescue mode.

I texted back: “From where? Was the freezer left open? It just means we r getting ready to leave and need something else to stress about. How much water?”

The quick and terse reply: “From under the fridge. Not left open. A lot is coming out…”

Rats. Easy fix thwarted.

My thumbs banged-out a response: “Push lever up on ice maker so that stops. Don’t get any water from fridge. Any water in freezer or fridge? At dr w mom right now.”

Yes, adding to the stress of a puddling fridge was my inability to bolt home. I was helping my mom with an appointment. My triumphant arrival at the home-front would have to wait. There’s only one hero in Gotham City, and right now he is helping his mother.

Meanwhile the drama rolled-on.

“No water in either. Ice cube lever was up. Great timing…Bleh.”

This was getting complicated – quickly. My hotline support solutions weren’t working. I couldn’t avoid the real possibility that I would need to shoe horn a run to the home improvement store into an already overstuffed pre-trip schedule. I could feel another hair going gray.

I continued to collect data.

“Is it running all over? There is a valve to shut off in the downstairs closet. U really need to pull the fridge out.”… “don’t want it leaking down the wall.”

My boys moved the fridge for their mother (noble lads). After inspection, this reply scrolled onto my phone’s screen: “It was running all over. Not like a faucet but steady. If I pull it out what am I looking for or doing?”

Game over. I went from ‘rude guy texting in the doctor’s office’ to ‘rude guy talking on his cell phone in the doctor’s office.’ Mom understood, and that’s all that mattered. Gotham City was flooding.

We’ve all had, and will have more leaky fridge moments. They can be maddening. There is never a good time to be inconvenienced.

But it’s those inconvenient moments that I’m gifted with the most clear and raw picture of who I am and what I believe. The stress of leaks, the pressure of pre-trip packing, the logistics of corralling a family of seven brings reality to my theology. In fact, it’s through life’s experiences (good and bad) that God presents opportunities to plunge farther into the knowledge of His character. To know more of who He is and what’s required of me as a Christ-follower.

But engaging with God means I’ve got to get beyond the self-focus of my present circumstance. I must smother my frustrations. Step down from my pride, and rest. Listen. Trust. Sit with God in the moment.

I received help with engaging God this week from some old friends. Those familiar with this blog already know that I’m particularly fond of the Puritans. From my reading, I pulled this excerpt from a prayer titled Pride: “Humble my heart before thee, and replenish it with thy choicest gifts.” (Valley of Vision) Oh how I crave God’s choicest gifts. Sometimes I don’t realize what I really desire. I’m too immersed in copper pipes with pinhole leaks. I’m distracted by everything I think I must do. But what I truly need to do is settle into the truth of what’s been done. Completely. Finally. By Jesus. It’s Him that I really long for. Not a leak-free refrigerator.

In the end, the fridge got repaired. We travelled on time. We returned to a dry kitchen and basement. Gotham City dwells in peace. But more than all that, I saw – again – that I’m given many opportunities each day to receive God’s choicest gifts. If I’m willing. And humble.

A Last "Huzzah!" for the Puritans

Our fun with the Puritans in our last post generated some interesting feedback. We stirred the pot beyond this blog when Katrina, my son and I changed our photos on facebook to those with Puritan-like qualities. We had a good time with it. The best bit of feedback arrived in a small box. Inside were seven little Pilgrim hats made from marshmallow, chocolate and a fudge-striped cookie. For those little goodies I was, like our Pilgrim (Puritan) forefathers, thankful.
Before we return the Puritans to the history books, I want to ruminate just a little more on what my son’s moniker has stirred for me.
(Note: If you have no idea what I’m talking about, reading this might help).
Over the past few years, it has been interesting to receive feedback from those little angels Katrina and I parent. For sure, our children have never failed to let us know what they’re thinking. Thrown food, rolled-eyes, vitamins thrown in the trash, fake showers, opening ink pens on the carpet and slammed doors have been some favorite means of expression. But with teens and pre-teens now in our home, their feedback is becoming more sophisticated. Almost coherent.
In his story, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde said, “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older, they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” That quote encapsulates why parenting is a venture requiring utmost courage. Being a parent is humbling. Sometimes humiliating. Wonderful and terrible. Joyous and heartbreaking. The tension of familial love strung between a parent and child can feel one minute like a noose, the next a delightful embrace.
As I process feedback on my parenting – from friends, family and my own dear children – I pray for ears to listen. I beg God for humility to receive things true. I pray for protection from lies and false accusations. I seek discernment to know when it’s good to be puritanical, and when the big black hat and funny shoes need to stay in the closet. To know when to be a friend, and when to be a parent. To say “yes” when the only reason for “no” is because it’s easier. To let go of a few bucks because money spent on my kids yields long-term dividends. To squelch caustic words before they leave my mouth. To be a dad who blows wind into young sails.
Of course I want my kids to love me. But that can’t be my goal. They will judge and evaluate the kind of dad I am. Some days the Puritan, other days…?  I’m cool with that. My hope is they forgive my mistakes…and that I would be quick to do the same.

Puritanical Parenting

The Puritans. Remember them? Think Pilgrims. Clothes of black and white. Big buckles. Big hats. Big Bibles. Lots of rules. Pious. Stoic. Rigid.
Some of those descriptors fit. Some are speculative. Whatever the truth about the Puritans, their lifestyle was perceived as ultra conservative socially, practically and theologically. The epitome of separateness. Strict. Stuffy. Stodgy.
Well, not long ago, I was labeled a Puritan. By whom? Someone very close and dear: my son.
My son’s affectionate moniker for his father is not the result of me wearing knickers and long white socks. It’s not because I have shoulder-length hair or won’t mow the lawn on Sunday. I would have to plead guilty to spontaneous preaching, but that’s not the reason either. Instead, I’ve been relegated to the Puritan tribe because of my conservative approach to all things media.
My thoughtful and careful (i.e. Puritanical) tendencies have created a tension. A tension between my son and me over the timing and depth of his cultural engagements. It’s a tension all parents face with differing degrees of concern. My desire is to let my son stick his toe into the varied pools of life as his age and maturity warrant. He, on the other hand, wants to swan dive into each pool, going deep to explore the depths. Sure, many pools are accessible, even for the youngest of children. But not all pools are profitable, practical or good for swimming. So, as a dad I must be on round-the-clock lifeguard duty.
As my children age, I’ve found that for pools of all types there’s pressure to jump in and swim. Pressure from peers – theirs, and mine. That pressure produces conflict. Conflict that isn’t just about right and wrong, but also when, where and why. When is it OK to jump in? Where are the safe pools? Why can’t I swim in that pool – they are? Pools like email, facebook, music, movies and social events with the opposite sex. Pools that require discernment before, during and after the swim. Many pools look inviting, refreshing, normal and safe. Yet, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
And that’s when this “Puritan” dad goes toe-to-toe against the mythic “everyone else.” It can be lonely, frustrating and draining. There are times I’ve wanted to loosen my belt of conviction (yes, the one with the big buckle). To be honest, I’ve needed some loosening as some preferences have morphed into non-negotiables. But in other instances, the tightness is just right. Appropriate, no matter what.
Traversing the landscape of our culture is not easy. I do understand what my son might feel as “Puritan Boy.” I’ve given him permission to make me the scapegoat for his stunted social life. Standing on conviction means there will be times of feeling like the outsider. In those times, when the spotlight shines on our uncomfortable uniqueness, both he and I must beg God for a deeper trust of each other as we live-out our convictions. 
All in all, I’m not upset about my new term of endearment. Katrina (who has also been banished to the tribe Puritan) and I both got a laugh out of it. Frankly, I deserve some of my boy’s good-natured ribbing. I enjoy being his dad and pacing with him as he grows. He is refining my theology. He is helping bring clarity to my preferences, convictions and non-negotiables. He may not agree with my boundaries, but that’s OK. It fuels some excellent conversation. Conversation that requires courage and stamina. There are no days-off for the purposeful parent. So, this Puritan is re-doubling his effort to be a parent who leads with grace, followed gently by truth.
By the way, I go for my hat and big buckle fitting next week.