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!

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.

on Sam Hsu…

It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall (1880)

In the past few weeks, Daniel has discovered his fingers.  He will hold his hands out in front of his face and marvel that there is something there and that he can actually control when and how it moves.  It’s an exciting discovery for him, and I think even more so for Laura and me as we watch it unfold.  This afternoon, I’ve been looking at my own fingers, as well.  The way they move, the skill they possess, the investment that went into them.  And I think of the legacy that they contain.  Yesterday morning, one of my music professors, Dr. Sam Hsu, was hit by a car in Center City Philadelphia as he walked to the train station for his commute to Philadelphia Biblical University.  The brain injury that he sustained was too much for his physical body, and he is now in the presence of our Savior.  As I meditate on his life and his lessons, a few things come to mind.

As I look at my fingers, I am cognizant of how Dr. Hsu lives on in them.  While he was not my piano teacher, he taught my piano teacher, Ken Borrmann.  Now, by no means was I ever in the top echelon of prize students, but yet, I know that he — his legacy, his musicality, his philosophy, his love, his passion — dwells in my fingers; his influence is by no means gone.  I stand on his shoulders.  The impact that we are able to have in one another’s lives can scarcely be downplayed.  Even if the extent of his reach was purely musical, which it was not, it speaks volumes to how one person can revolutionize another — whether that is a pianist, a class, a university, or a Church.  The fire with which news of his accident and Homegoing spread testifies to that.  From his official capacities as distinguished professor at PBU, teacher at Csehy, and elder at Tenth Presbyterian (James Montgomery Boice’s former church); to his friends and mentored, it was all our corner of the world cared about.

Yet, it does not stop there.  As if it weren’t enough, Dr. Hsu was a man of utmost humility and patience, exemplifying Christ-likeness in many aspects.  In talking with him, you would surely know that the man was clearly erudite; yet, he was never intimidating or brash with his knowledge.  I sat under his tutelage for four semesters of music history and a semester of Form and Analysis, and I hated most every minute of it.  His style of teaching was not my style of learning.  Music history was more than dates and compositions, it was a veritable class on music philosophy and aesthetics.  With great long-suffering did he put up with my grandstanding on the cultural significance of Kelly Clarkson and country music.  Indeed, the man would keep up with American Idol for the sake of my ilk, if only to be able to have that conversation with me so that I would be more willing to have his conversations with him.  If he knew he would be receiving an international student, he would learn some conversational aspects of their language to help identify with them.  He was an example of becoming all things to all men.

God’s kingdom will not be the same without him here.  The hole at PBU alone would seem to be insurmountable; finding someone of his caliber in music history and piano pedagogy will be, I dare say, impossible.  In the Father’s infinite wisdom, it was time for Dr. Hsu to hear: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  And, as Ken Borrmann said seven years ago as another one of our professors was called Home: “We don’t need to know the why, because we know the Who.”  So what do those of us who remain do?  We strive to emulate what the grace of God did in the man.  We celebrate that he is where many of us would much rather be.  We play and sing joyfully to our Creator and Gifter, knowing that His ways are far above and beyond ours.  And I personally cannot wait to celebrate his life, Homegoing, and legacy when that time comes after Christmas.  Until then, my thoughts and prayers are with his family, my friends, and my alma mater (see their tribute here), as well as the driver who hit him.  And above all else, soli Deo gloria.

on a little gas…

This past Sunday, I celebrated Easter along with my church family and all my in-laws.  It was a great morning of worship and a great afternoon filled with the typical Pearson laughter, eating, singing, game playing, and the ever-exponentially-growing baby pandering and coddling.  Between Emma and Adie (who are two years old), Charlie (eight months), Allie (seven weeks), and Gabe (six weeks), there are PLENTY of babies to go around.  And with a plethora of babies, it’s almost certain that there’s going to be at least one miserable at any given time.  As we were all sitting in the living room singing some southern gospel hymns, Tim was holding Gabe and I was holding Allie.  For the most part, Gabe was grexing and Allie was in a contented post-feeding snooze.  From time to time, though, Allie would start fussing and squirming.  She’d start to cry when all of a sudden my right hand would feel the little rumble of some post-feeding gas.  With that, she’d settle right down and fall back asleep, only to start over again in a few minutes.  Once I caught on to what was happening, I’d try and encourage her as the gas pains started — “It’ll all be okay, Allie.  I know it hurts and it’s uncomfortable, but give it a minute and you’ll feel so much better!”  In the meantime, I’d be walking around bouncing her (which Jenn said I had down perfectly — woohoo!) just waiting for her to quiet down.

After going through this cycle a half-dozen times or so, it hit me — Allie lacks the knowledge and perspective to perceive the physical discomfort as fleeting.  To my niece, it hurts, and it hurts NOW, and it hurts BADLY.  She probably doesn’t remember that there was a previous episode five minutes ago, and that in the grand scheme of things, the pain subsides as quickly as it attacks.  I was then reminded that I am the exact same way.  I may not squirm and cry on cue every five minutes, but the questions of faith and God’s goodness constantly ebb and flow in my mind:

Father, how are we going to pay that bill?  How am I supposed to raise a son?!  What job do You have in store for me?  Why do I feel so isolated and insignificant?  Can I please feel like a semi-adequate husband?  Where are we going to live?  Is Laura going to have to go back to work in the fall?

And I forget all the ways that God has provided in the past.  He has given me so much that I by no means deserve — my wife, a son (though I’m still not sure why God’s entrusted a son to me), an incredible family (both biological and in-laws), and friends that are utterly unparalleled by any other friends in the world.  I have a roof over my head (see: incredible in-laws) and a car that I love (see both: biological family and unparalleled friends).  And I somehow managed to get through many, many years of school without ever taking time off to work full-time.  But yet, I still feel the pain.  I still have the questions.  My mind can’t/won’t consider and work through the logical process that God’s got it all under control.

Right now, I’m sitting at Turnabout Cafe with Tim, and we asked the question: “When does the pain end?”  Will there ever be a time where we’re not constantly moving from one gas-pain to another gas-pain?  In this life, on this earth, we may have moments of ease and clarity, but we won’t be free from it all until this earth is gone, and we are living on the new heavens and new earth in our new, glorified bodies (no flatulence, either!).  In the meantime, we need to encourage one another, just as little Allie needed some encouragement.  It WILL be okay.  Maybe not in a few minutes, months, or perhaps even decades.  But one day, the pain will subside, and it will be eclipsed by something so much greater and glorious than this pain and hardship will ever be.  That’s why this blog is entitled Awaiting That Day — because I know there’s something far greater than the right-here and right-now that is in store for me.  As Paul writes in Romans 8:18-28:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.  For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.  And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits —we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience…  We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Oh — and here’s Allie and me:

on little white stones…

Yesterday did not go as planned.

Most of you know my relationship with my Jeep has been one of ups and downs.  I knew it was on the way out.  Coupling that with the expansion of my family in five months, as well as my monstrous commute each day, I decided it was time to trade in the Jeep for something a little more family- and fuel-friendly.  Yesterday was that day.  I picked up a friend at 9:30 and we began our journey towards Silver Spring; however, my Jeep wasn’t going without one final act of defiance.  As we were approaching Bowie on Route 50, my engine was getting louder and louder until it sounded like a few pieces flew off and it simply shut off.  Coasting to the shoulder, we called a tow truck.  An hour and a half later, we were in the tow truck on our way to Lanham, the closest dealership that we were around.

A few test drives, quotes, and hours later, I settled on a 2009 Corolla.  Because my Jeep was not in running condition, suffice it to say the trade-in value was greatly diminished – so much so that I decided not to trade it in.  As I was cleaning out my Jeep and placing everything in my new car, I picked up this quarter-sized white stone that has been sitting in my Jeep since the summer.  Given the events of the day, it made me smile.  Why?

Last summer, as my senior and youth pastors were preparing a series on Judges, the latter did an introductory message from Joshua 24.  The Israelites finally made it into the land that God has promised to them, and many of them could look back on the past 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and the eldest among them could remember God bringing them out from the land of Egypt.  One of Joshua’s final recorded acts was to take a large stone and place it under an oak tree by the Lord’s sanctuary to remind Israel, among other things, the marvelous things that God had brought them through (vv. 26-27).  The Israelites could pass the stone and remember God’s provisions, as well as their promise that they would serve God first.

As a final closing illustration, my youth pastor gave everyone in the congregation a little white stone (coming up with 400+ large rocks proved difficult, I suppose).  Ever since that day, it has [purposefully] sat in my Jeep to remind me of all that God has brought me through and His gracious faithfulness to me.  Removing it from the Jeep (which was far more trouble than it was worth) and placing it into my Corolla (which will hopefully treat me better), my conviction that everything happens for a specific reason – i.e., my true good (Phil 4:19) – was renewed.  In its new home, that stone now holds even more memories of God’s goodness towards me:

  • the faithfulness of a close friend who gave up a day to help me out and keep my stress levels down
  • the faithfulness of God to provide the means to purchase a new car
  • the blessing of another close friend and a few other gentlemen from WBC who helped me load my Jeep onto a tow dolly to get it off the dealership lot

I look forward to the other things that the little stone will witness, such as road trips to Lynchburg, Ohio, Raystown, and Wildwood Crest, or taking my kids to see their grandparents, uncles, and aunts in Pennsylvania.  Even now, when I look in my rear view mirror, I can “see” my baby in their car seat in the back.  If I’m really daydreaming, I’ll see a baby AND a toddler back there.  (Of course, they have dark hair like their mother, and they sing with a tone only rivaled by Martina McBride and David Phelps).  When the day comes when two kids become three, or four (or…), and we enter into minivan territory, that little stone is coming with me.  And even when my sinful little offspring are screaming and fighting, I’ll look at that little white stone and smile (if only on the inside), recalling all the blessings God has given me, and His ongoing faithfulness in my life.  All I know is I certainly don’t deserve it.  And sometimes, the greatest blessings are the ones that we don’t expect, or could ever plan.