On Apples and Trees

1982 Christmas at Bélangers' Ken 3 yrsMy dad was an electrician. He loved his trade because it wasn’t just grunt work, it was brain work. As a kid, I experienced first hand his curiosity, his intelligence, and his adaptability, and as many kids do, I wanted to be just like my dad. I remember going along with him to do side jobs, and him teaching me to wire receptacles and lamps at an early age. I still have nightmares about diagramming four-way switches. By God’s providence, it didn’t work out for me to apprentice with him, which was probably my first career choice, but I always kept an interest and a knack for electrical work. My mom says if I had apprenticed back then, I never would have gone to seminary, and she’s right. But maybe it’s God’s providence that has me returning to a job I always wanted.

As it turns out, my dad left me just about everything I could ever need to pursue a career as an electrician. Side cutting pliers and knock-out punches, step drills and conduit reamers; I’ve got them all neatly laid out in my tool chest downstairs. What I didn’t realize was the quality of tools he left me, and what they would have cost me to buy on my own. I have Greenlees and Snap-ons, Kleins and Bluepoints, Weras and Ideals. I had his old Fluke 87 lying useless in my garage because of typical ghosting LCD issues, and miraculously restored its functionality with a little rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip in four minutes flat, thanks to YouTube. It’s been a bit of an emotional experience to sort through it all this winter, and to realize that even ten years after his death, my dad is still taking care of me. And I love the image of bringing new life to his old tools. It reminds me of resurrection.

But I had an epiphany on Saturday morning as I was preparing to speak about all this to a men’s group gathering. It occurred to me that I’m right now facing the same temptation as always: to look for my identity, my validation, and my comfort in my career. If I hadn’t gone to seminary and served as a pastor all these years, I may not have noticed, or cared, or even considered that a problem. But it appears I’ve been at it just long enough that I can see in myself my tendency to idolatry. And I’m just familiar enough with God’s Word to remind myself that I can’t serve two masters at the same time. My value doesn’t come from what I do, not as electrician, and not as Minister of Word and Sacrament.

My identity is in Christ alone. Hear Paul again on this: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Col. 3:1-4 (emphasis added).

I’m going to need to remind myself along the way that while I have a job and even a career, I am a disciple of Jesus. Work is not my purpose; it serves my purpose, which is to magnify my Lord in everything I do. I could be selling shoes or pumping gas and still be supporting the ministry. Yet how gracious and kind is the God who instead provides me a job that’s not just grunt work, but brain work; one that’s not just my own, but a heritage from my dad; one that’s not something to endure, but in fact one that I’ve always wanted. May God help me to do my work faithfully, diligently, and cheerfully, while remembering that it serves his glory in this world.

 

-Ken


6 thoughts on “On Apples and Trees

  1. I, too, remember being told early on, ‘don’t place your identity in anything that you can lose.’ Such a crucial lesson and such freedom that comes along with learning it. 🙂

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  2. Deep sacred thoughts. Well done. I have a few years on you and my Dad died in 2015, but just last week I was asked to pick up a few tools that were his – an air compressor and a set of speakers he made for his musical endeavours. Very different types of instruments for very different types of ministry to others. Although not schooled beyond grade 8, he always used his hands and his brain in much the same way as you describe. We were blessed to have such good Dad’s who equipped us for life.

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  3. Reblogged this on Priestwife and commented:
    “Work is not my purpose; it serves my purpose, which is to magnify my Lord in everything I do,” writes Ken Labbe in a recent post on the blog that he and his wife, Christina, share. I can relate to this insight also need this reminder. Like Ken, I struggle to keep discipleship and service ahead of my career and all the other seeming priorities of my daily life. Sometimes it feels like my week is divided into two distinct universes: the Sunday universe, where I remember God, and the rest of the week, where I forget. It’s a daily challenge to make these two universes collide. I’m working on that.

    Ken and Christina – my dear friends, my former camp counsellors, marriage counsellors and officiants, and the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church I was raised in – are taking up a new call and doing ministry differently. Like really differently.

    Almost more than anyone, these two have been instrumental in my faith journey, and have been on that ride with me for thirteen years now. Plus Christina is also a priestwife, so stay tuned for guest blog posts from her!

    Check out their blog and follow their journey: An Ordinary Experiment (www.anordinaryexperiment.wordpress.com).

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