Satan's Will for Your Life

How does God want His children to live? The answer is found in the pages of the Bible, particularly his "holy and righteous and good" commandments (Romans 7:12). But how does Satan want you to live? In a way contrary to the commandments of God, of course. If you took each of the ten commandments and turned it inside out, like a photo negative (remember those??), what would you get? I think you'd get something that looked like this...

Life and Theology

What does it mean to know God? Would we say that it’s primarily knowing a certain set of facts or propositions about God? Does it mean “feeling good” Sunday morning during church? Is it the same as memorizing Bible verses? What if I said that knowing God involves all of the above, and yet a crucial part of knowing God is obedience? To know God is to obey God. That might sound like a strange statement, but I want us to see that it is well-grounded in the Scriptures.

During the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, the Lord commissioned him to deliver this word of judgment against Shallum, the king of Judah: “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:15-16). Notice in this passage that the Lord connects the obedience of the king with knowledge of the Lord.

We see another example in Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus delivers His most withering attack against the supposed “God-knowers” of his day: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3). Later in this passage, Jesus calls the Pharisees “sons of hell” (23:15). The very people who were supposed to know God the most actually proved themselves to be sons of the devil (John 8:44). In this second example especially, we can see that there is a vast difference between knowing God and knowing about God. While the Pharisees knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, their lack of obedience demonstrated that they knew the devil far more than they knew God.

We as Reformed Christians need to be reminded of this truth, because we can often equate the knowledge of God with knowledge about God, in ways that appear largely innocent. Perhaps one of the more common ways we do this is by thinking that if we are reading “theological books,” or even the Bible itself, we are automatically becoming more Christ-like. I do not want to discourage the reading of sound theological books, and I definitely don’t want to discourage us from reading our Bibles more. However, as Thabiti Anyabwile has noted, “Good theology does not mechanically lead to good living…We can stack our chips on theology, as though theology inexorably produces the social results we want with little to no attending effort.” This means that we do not become more holy by simply reading Christians books, or even by the bare reading of Scripture, as if by a “mystical osmosis” the words will produce right living. Rather, it is in striving to obey the Word, both in our “vertical” relationship with the Lord, as well as in our “horizontal” relationships with neighbors, that we gain a greater knowledge of God.

We must keep in mind, even as we educate ourselves and one another, that education is not our ultimate goal. Rather, it is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). We should ask ourselves every now and again whether we’re truly growing in our knowledge of God. Perhaps we might be tempted to think that the only way to judge that is whether we’re reading our Bibles for longer periods of time, or whether we’re making it to church every Sunday. These indeed are essential barometers of spiritual growth, but along with these questions, let’s ask whether we are delighting in Jesus more, whether we are seeking justice for the oppressed and poor in our neighborhoods, whether the Bible is in fact coming “alive” in our words and deeds, through our love for Christ and others. While it takes time and effort for us to “connect the dots” between the word of God and the world in which his word is applied, it is well worth it! Let’s press on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3).

Passing the Torch: Our Commitment to Teach the Next Generation to Sing the Songs of our Savior

The Music Ministry at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church exists to lead the saints in their service of worship before God and equip them for kingdom work, utilizing God’s gift of music in obedience to His Word. You may not realize when you joined POPC that you joined our largest choir – the congregation. God’s word commands and exhorts us to sing and make music to Him. He created music and he has given this gift to the church to praise and worship Him. He has given each of us a voice to use to sing to Him and each voice is different. You may or may not think your voice sounds very good, but He loves to hear our voices praising Him just as a father delights to hear his child call him “Daddy.”

How do we as a church steward this gift of God? By fully utilizing it corporately in the worship of God every Lord’s Day and individually in our own lives and families. We invest our time, resources and energy to pass these things along to our children, recognizing that they are the worshipers of the next generation. Children’s choir is one of the means by which we seek to train the next generation to use the gift of music in the worship 6 of God. We recognize that we cannot change our hearts or the hearts of our covenant children, but by the grace of God, we can teach children to use their voices, plant the Word of God in their hearts, and show them what worship looks like. We do this, looking in faith to the Holy Spirit to do His work in their hearts.

The two-fold goal of our children’s choirs is to teach our covenant children what God says about singing and worship and to equip them with the skills to use their voices to participate in worship. This teaching and training of our covenant children is a gift that will serve them well their entire lives. This training could mean the difference in a lifetime of mumbling half-heartedly in the pew or singing whole-heartedly and with skill to the Lord as an act of worship. We pray that the Lord will shape our children into life-long worshippers of Him. What greater desire do any of us have for our children?

You have probably heard the statement that most people who come to Christ do so in childhood. I have my own theory that most people who know how to sing and how best to utilize God’s gift of music in their own lives, learned those skills as a child. In my experience, adults who come to me wanting to learn how to sing, often did not have the privilege of musical training as a child. The good news is that it is never too late to learn to sing! But the most opportune time to learn is in childhood.

You might ask, if God commands and equips, why do we need training? In past generations, people regularly sang and made music together inside and outside the church. Today, we are an entertainment-oriented society with the idea that only professional singers sing. We often judge ourselves and others by a false standard given to us by our culture. But God calls us to active participation. Why? Music is His gift but it is also an effective tool for us in the fight of faith as we war against the world, the devil, and our own flesh. Think of how readily we can recall scripture set to music. Can you think of a time of trial or suffering where the music of the church was used by the Holy Spirit as a powerful tool for encouragement or comfort or even chastisement?

We teach our children that what we believe is important by our actions. One of the great blessings of being in a covenant family is the partnership we experience as we join together to teach and train our covenant children. Let us be ever zealous to utilize the gift of music in worship ourselves and pass it along to the next generation that our Lord may receive glory! “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

Longing for Diversity? Reach Your Disability Community

If you looked out from the pulpit in our church sanctuary on any given Sunday morning, what would you see?  Hopefully, faces of people who love Jesus and are joyful worshipers of the God!  Yet, if you focused primarily on skin color, you would see about 96% Caucasian, and the rest a smattering of Africans-Americans, Hispanics, and Indians.  To put it bluntly, our church is, and has been for a long time, a very white congregation.

Now, if you are like many of us in our congregation, this is not a desirable situation.  Why not? For one thing, it doesn’t reflect heaven.  We know heaven will be filled with worshipers from every nation, tribe, tongue, and ethnicity.  But just as important, it doesn’t reflect our neighborhood either.  Go out our sanctuary doors into our metro area and you will find an entirely different mixture of color and ethnicity.  So, with those two reasons in mind, our elders formed a Neighborhood Diversity Committee (NDC) a couple of years ago.  It reflects the leadership’s deep longing to see our local church be transformed into a multiethnic congregation, by God’s grace.

But here’s something very interesting.  For nearly twelve years we our church has had a growing and thriving disability ministry to our member families as well as the surrounding community.  If you would drop by and peek through the windows of our multipurpose building on a Friday night Sonbeams Night Out (our respite care event), what would you see?  Hopefully, faces of people who love Jesus and are being joyfully ministered to by people who love them and love Jesus.  But if you looked at the 75-80 faces of those with disabilities, you would see about 50% white, 40% African-American, and 10% other ethnicities.  I don’t know about heaven, but this is much closer to the breakdown of our surrounding neighborhoods!

So, why is there a much more robust ethnic diversity in our disability ministry than in our actual church membership?  It’s certainly easy to understand the first part of that question.  Disability does not impact just one ethnicity or one color of the human race.  It also doesn’t just strike a certain socio-economic segment of our society and leave the others untouched.  Because it moves across each and every boundary and barricade that separates us, it often becomes quite a strong unifying force.  In pretty much any city, town, neighborhood in which you live, people touched by disability already have a community of their own.  And the reality is that this “neighborhood” is most often a very unchurched group of people.  This community not only needs the gospel of Jesus Christ, but local churches that will welcome them into the family of God.

How, then, do we answer the second part of the question?  If the disability community is already a multiethnic group (and that’s what we long for our church to be), why aren’t they also becoming worshipers in our church?  Certainly, a few families check out the church after a respite care event, because they feel loved and welcomed.  But why don’t more desire to join with us, and the few that come actually stick around?  That’s the question that needs to be addressed in an honest and thoughtful way.  Are we still putting up barriers that keep us from the diversity we desire?  Are we not as welcoming and warm as we think we are?  Do we send the message that we want to stay a fairly homogeneous group of Christians?

Every local church that longs to be more diverse needs to ask and answer these sorts of questions.  But don’t lose the main point here:  A fundamental way to work towards the Biblical, yet challenging goal of a multiethnic church is to reach our disability community.  This group is already ethnically diverse.  This group is already connected by their brokenness.  This group needs the gospel of Jesus Christ as well as concentrated and regular mercy ministry.  This group will gladly come around when we become churches that reach out and serve the most marginalized of all.

But there is even a better reason for reaching out to the disability community in our neighborhoods, if we long for diversity in our local churches.  Disability itself brings diversity to our churches, even if the faces are all the same color!  The diversity inherent in disability may not be cultural or ethnic or language-based; yet, it creates the same distance in our society.  In other words, the coming together of the sick, the lame, the blind, and the deaf, with those who are physically healthy, is a beautiful example of differences that must be overcome in order to worship Jesus together.  And, it is also a picture of heaven, where our spiritual brokenness will be ultimately healed as we enjoy our glorified bodies in heaves. 

We should be all for any effort to reach our neighbors for Jesus who live in the houses near us and near our church. Yet, as we seek to become churches on earth that are truly diverse, we should also prioritize and emphasize our pursuit of people and neighborhoods touched by disability!   

Stewardship and Retirement to the Glory of God: An Interview with Jason Branning

How did you become a financial advisor?

I became a financial advisor and business owner through God’s providence. I did not hear a voice saying this is what you should do, rather I applied for a few different opportunities toward the end of college, prayed, and watched to see God’s providence in the circumstances and options He opened to me.  

As a senior in high school I was especially interested in economics and visited a local stockbroker to hear about real world markets. I entered college and loved big ideas and critical thinking, so I majored in English and took a minor in history. As late as the summer after my senior year in college, I anticipated pursuing a PhD and becoming a college administrator or teaching in a university. I had been accepted at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and was planning to pursue a Masters in English studying C. S. Lewis with Bruce Edwards, a renowned Lewis scholar. Around the same time, I began dating Mary Kelly, who was a rising senior at Mississippi College. That post graduation summer became the fork in the road for my career. I had taken a job with Steve Morris’s brother and a few men at First Presbyterian. I had been tasked to serve on a research project for their financial planning company. Towards the end of the summer, Randy Morris suggested I would do well in the field and would enjoy serving others through financial services. He offered me a job and a training track, and I went through the open door in the marketplace rather than the academy. Looking back, I realize that I had become interested in the financial markets and the idea of serving Christ in the marketplace. As well, I wanted to remain in closer proximity to Mary Kelly while she completed her senior year at MC.

How does having a Biblical worldview transform the way you practice financial planning?

My relationship with Christ has transformed the way I see all things. Lewis says it better than I, but this is how I feel: “I believe in Christianity [or Christ] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I strive to apply the command to do unto others as I would want done to me as I serve clients. I believe we use the best academic research in the field of finance and prayerfully attempt to apply biblical wisdom to each client. Some of the published research I have done with a business partner is an outworking of stewardship principles. We have prioritized goals we believe will offer a wise way to use all resources the Lord gives through retirement.

How should a Christian think about retirement?

Some Christians believe retirement is not biblical. Yet in a fallen world, retirement from one’s primary job in the marketplace is a reality for most everyone due to declining physical or mental health or changing market dynamics. I believe Christians, as stewards, should appropriate over a working career the resources God gives them to prepare financially for this stage of life.

I think the Christian should think about their retirement the same way as they think about their life lived before God. Two principles come to mind: Lordship and Stewardship. Retirement should be a willing act of submission to the Lordship of Christ. Believers recognize that we do not control our lives, the Lord does. Our days are numbered on this earth and until He returns, part of our submission is being realistic about typical life stage patterns in this world - accepting that aging involves a process of decay. The Christian retirement can bear witness to God’s faithfulness over a lifetime in His provision and the wise handling of His resources as believers rightly save toward this phase of life.

As well, believers can model the creational Sabbath rest cycle in light of our broken world and human frailty during retirement. We can fully rely on the Lord until the end of our lives here and be at rest in the reality of His presence and provision. 

Finally, retirement from the marketplace does not mean retirement from the kingdom. All believers at every age and stage have a role of serving, learning, teaching, relating, and glorifying our Savior. Retirees should be on guard against making an idol of retirement’s worldly promises of free time, leisure, autonomy, rather than (if healthy enough) seeing themselves as free to generously serve or give in new ways.

What are some of the areas of weakness that you often see in how Christians approach their money, wealth, and retirement planning?

All of us fight a spectrum of emotions and ideas about money. Some see money as offering security or hope, while others think it is evil or dirty. I think the Bible shows that money is a neutral object. “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It is how we use money that is the issue and we must not hold money as a love. We will project meaning or significance on resources based on our heart inclinations - either use money as godly stewards with generosity and wisdom or it will be our false idol that will enslave and destroy us.

Christians should strive against a worldly mindset that says wealth accumulated provides stability while refusing to trust God rather than money. If we get fearful when money is tight, we should pray for God to show us what our heart really treasures and repent if we rely on anything but God. Wealth accumulation is not evil but can be a sign of the wise application of biblical principles. Yet, worldly wealth is not promised us in this life.

The main idea Christians should keep in mind is our position as stewards of the resources God gives us. We ultimately do not own anything - our lives, fortunes, or time - but are called to honor God with all He gives and all we are.

Sent as Priests

This past weekend I had the privilege of preaching the Missions Conference at Bay Street Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, MS. It was a delight to be with these saints and to open up God's word with them. We meditated upon the glorious reality that our election is for the purpose of mission - our identity is also our calling. We saw from John 17 that Christians are in the world, though not of the world - because we have been given to the Son by the Father out of the world - and the Son sends us into the world, even as He was sent by the Father into the world (17:18), so that we might speak the truth of the gospel in love. We are sent into the world as a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9ff.; Exodus 19:4-6), to represent God to man and man to God. We are the Lord's special treasure, His chief delight, a people for His own possession, for the purpose of declaring His excellencies - His holy character and mighty deeds - among the nations. He has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light, He has taken us who were not a people and has made us His people, He has showered us with mercy - and now He calls us to go into the world, living holy lives and being always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. We go into the world as fishers of men, seeking the lost, taking the initiative with them even as God took the initiative with us. And as we go, we have the confidence that the Lord will draw His elect to Himself through His word. He has His people across the world, and it is our privilege to be used as instruments in bringing them to a knowledge of His grace. 

Some think the doctrines of grace - the five points of Calvinism - are a hindrance to evangelism. Unfortunately, those who embrace the doctrines of grace are often practical hyper-Calvinists, living as if we don't need to speak the gospel to the lost for them to be saved. But if we really believed our theology, we would have the strong conviction that the gospel must be spoken. For the God who has ordained the end has also ordained the means, and it is through the means of His word that the lost are found, the dead are raised to newness of life, the guilty are forgiven. The more strongly we embrace the sovereignty of grace, the more fervently we should desire to speak the gospel to those around us. 

Reflections of an Adult MK

Mr. Daniel Borden is a third year student in the counseling program at RTS. His parents were MTW missionaries in Zimbabwe and South Africa from 1993-2011, and from that time they have worked with MINTS (Miami International Theological Seminary) in the United States. Daniel graduated from high school in 2004, and from the Bible Institute of South Africa in 2007. He is married to Melissa, and they have one daughter, Charis.

Home is everywhere and nowhere

Home is a word that encapsulates a sense of familiarity, safety, and memories. Yet when I ponder this word, I wonder where to fully lay my restless feet. My mind begins to reflect on the many places where my feet have rested in the past history of my life. I think back to the summer of 1992 in Detroit, Michigan, when my parents underwent missionary training. I have memories there of the children programs that I participated in before my family made the big move to Zimbabwe in 1993. From that time onwards, the places I’ve called “home” have spread into a plethora of localities. I reflect on living on the campus of a Bible College in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. My mind drifts next to the rural, mountainous, lush countryside of Zimbabwe where my father taught at African Bible College on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This place was home for only two and a half years, but I remember so much from those days. Thankfully, many of those experiences have been saved on my parents’ old camcorder and the collection of home videos at my parents’ house. I continue on and remember home later being in St. Petersburg, Florida, where my parents attended a chiropractor center while on medical leave for a time. I remember home being near colonial Williamsburg in 1996, and then changing suddenly in the fall of 1997 to the tip of South Africa, in a small, southern suburb of Cape Town called Fish Hoek. I could list other “homes” as well, including Harrisonburg, Virginia, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Lynchburg, Virginia, and various places around Atlanta, Georgia. Together, these places hold a kaleidoscope of memories, conversations, friends, cultures, and various forms of other things left behind. My list of “homes” currently numbers around twenty-two.

The hardships

Not everything about my cross-cultural adventures has lent itself to epic tales of excitement and adventure. Sadly, there has been the “darker side” as well, which has created in my soul a kind of wrestling with how I grew up. I’m a sinner, just like the rest of the body of Christ, and my particular sin has often morphed and shifted along the line of contentment. When I came of college age, I began to realize more fully that my history was so very different from many of my peers. This led to a very compulsive-like desire to “fit in” with all those around me. When my efforts did not achieve the desired results, I found myself trapped in a whirlpool of feelings including depression, anger, anxiety, loneliness, and a deep sadness that would not dissipate. I was angry that my life had not been a normal (who knows what that is) upbringing. I was upset that I was different. I envied those who lived in the same location for long periods of time and appeared to be culturally savvy. I remember once the all too real longing of desiring to be in the same place for Christmas two years in a row just so that I could say to those around me, “Remember what we did last Christmas?”

God’s mission is the scene behind all scenes and the end of time.

We are all human and have pasts to wrestle with as we grow in our relationship with the Lord. My past has been unique, yet my heart is not unique. One of my biggest longings has been for God to transform my imagination. Paul Tripp, in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, makes the point that as Christians, we need a vivid imagination that fixes on what is real, but unseen (p. 7). The apostle Paul, right after mentioning momentary afflictions, elaborates on this in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “…we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” I need a sanctified imagination. I need to set my mind on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). When I was a child, I had a vivid imagination. When I was about 8 years old, I used to sit on my “thinking rock” in the Zimbabwean countryside and try to figure out eternity in my head after hearing that word in Sunday school. Of course, I never quite figured it out, but I miss those long afternoons of pondering! As an adult TCK (third culture kid), I long to have such an imagination. Even more, however, I long to have a picture of the behind-the-scenes reality of God’s work in the midst of deep heartache.

Yet I pause and realize that my emotional experiences of pain were very real. The culture shock that I experienced in college was almost unbearable at times. The loneliness ate at me like a sinister virus, and remnants of that virus remain even now. The longings for days past sometimes still take hold of my heart, and I begin to believe that the “if onlys” would fix me (for example - if only I lived in one place for years at a time…if only I had not been an MK….the list goes on). Yes, I’ve been angry at the “aftermath” of growing up a missionary kid. There was a time when I was tired of not knowing the rules of football, and sitting during the Super Bowl and feeling as though I was hearing a foreign language. I was tired of sitting in awkward silence because I missed the “normal” jokes and humor that surrounded me when I moved to new places. I was tired of feeling a lack of identity, and tired of trying to figure out the question “Who am I?” Of course, as a Christian, I know my identity is in Christ, but it is still 3 sometimes hard to experience that due to life circumstances that seem to clash against that reality. I desire to rest fully in my identity in Christ, yet I long to be heard when I battle against such things as cultural identity and the very real thoughts, feelings, and emotions that wage war inside my soul.

While there is an inward struggle, another story must take center-stage. It is not that my struggles have not been real, but I pray that another story behind the scenes will continue to grip my heart. I think to the early days in Zimbabwe when my mom used to run the “Good News Bible Club” on Fridays. Fast-forward twenty years, and a letter comes of how one of those boys is now a pastor in the land of Zimbabwe. I also think of a South African pastor who came to get trained in a night class that my dad was teaching, so that rural pastors could further their education. This pastor used to be a fervent preacher of the prosperity gospel. He became friends with my father, was equipped, and is now pastor and principal of a small Bible College that happens to be next door to the witch doctor’s residence in one of the townships of Cape Town. I could go on and on with the many students equipped and families served through the ministry of my parents. I think of Revelation 7 and the wonderful picture of people from all tribes and nations, worshipping and praising God, for salvation belongs to Him. It is not our mission, but His mission. He chooses to use the church, despite the weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings of her members. I’m thankful for my experiences, because though I don’t always feel it, I know that God will use my background in a unique way for the glory of His name. However, it is such a beautiful thing to be heard and validated in the uniqueness and difficulty of my story. It has meant so much in the past to see the arms of the church reach out to my family in my growing up years and even now to my new family as a married man. During my youth it meant so much to have the church pray for us, send Christmas gifts, read the newsletters, and join with us in pain. That was a beautiful picture of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice (I Corinthians 12). I have received grace from others, and out of that grace I hope to be the “hands and feet of Christ” in the lives of others as well.

God’s mission is to bring His elect from all generations into His kingdom, saving them through the death of His Son, and working out that salvation in the lives of His children through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice that He uses broken vessels to accomplish His overarching plan for humanity, and that the church can comfort her members in the continued journey to this reality.