Stewardship of God's Creation: An Interview with Stephen Shelt

What do you do, and how did the Lord call you into this vocation?

I currently work for a local landscaping company, and have worked previously in agricultural missions and edible landscaping/organic gardening. I was first challenged to think Biblically about God’s purpose for His creation and our role in it through mentors in high school and college. They showed me how Scripture commands us to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” and that God’s Lordship should transform how we interact with everyone and everything. These thoughts solidified into a passion for helping Christians relate to the environment Biblically during two years of missionary work in Uganda, where I trained farmers in methods that enhanced rather than degraded their environment and enabled them to provide for themselves, their families, and their communities.

How does having a Biblical worldview transform the way you approach landscaping and gardening? 

It grants a strong sense of purpose to the job. One of God’s first commands to his newly-created image bearers was to work and tend his creation. Preserving the health and beauty of nature is a way that we can love God through obedience to his commands to  stewardship, while also loving people, all of whom depend on God’s creation to survive and flourish.

I’m also motivated to observe God’s character reflected in His design of the natural world. Even a basic understanding of plants, animals, and their broader ecological context will leave one in awe of God and hisdesign if we bring our Scriptural “glasses” to observation of the natural world. The practical consequence of this in my work is to look for ways to shape landscapes or gardens in ways that work with and enhance the natural processes God created to keep the land (and therefore us) healthy rather than resisting or harming them.

What does the Bible say to us as Christians about being good stewards of the creation?

God’s glory and character are revealed in his creation as well as through his word (Psalm 8, Romans 1:19-20), and when a species becomes extinct or we pollute a watershed, that reflection of God’s nature that he called “very good” is marred and disfigured. As believers we should be about the business of putting God’s glory on display, through the proclamation of the Gospel but also through obedience, which includes the exercise of an edifying dominion over creation, not the exploitation or abuse of it.

In our global economy, where the means by which our food, clothing and shelter reach us are often obscure, it’s easy forget that we depend on the health of soil, water, and air God created for our survival. But nonetheless, creation stewardship is one way we can obey the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor, who like us, depends on creation to live. Perhaps the simplest way we can participate in that stewardship is to seek to be aware of the environmental consequences of our purchasing and lifestyle choices.  We may not see the effects immediately, but applying Biblical wisdom in these decisions can affect people around the world and future generations.

 

 

 
 

Heal Us, Emmanuel, By Margaret Sprow

In the last few years, our church has formally stated our desire to see our church body become more diverse, and we are actively seeking to find more ways to reach out to our neighbors. We believe this is a biblical mandate from Scripture and that diversity models the heavenly Kingdom of God when all of God’s people will together praise Him. 

I know a greater diversity will mean change and will affect us in many ways we cannot foresee. However, here are five changes that I do anticipate as the Lord grows our church to better reflect His glorious creativity and diversity.

1. There will be a greater mix of musical styles. 
At a time when many churches have a traditional and a contemporary service, we have made the decision to combine different musical styles in all of our worship services. Rather than uniting because of our musical preferences, we believe that singing a mixture of songs, hymns and spiritual songs that are true, scriptural and musically excellent unites our church body in Christ while encouraging diverse expressions of praise. This diversity of styles will naturally increase as the Lord increases the diversity of our church family.

2. There will be a greater use of different instruments.
I have been around long enough to remember when our church rarely used any other instruments besides piano and organ. Now we regularly hear a variety of different instruments in our worship. As the Lord brings diverse church members with diverse musical gifts, I anticipate that the diversity of instruments and players in our worship services will grow.

3. There will be a greater emphasis on music of devotion.
Our music is very word centered. We recognize that we have 52 Sundays each year to sing our theology together and we want to make the most of each Sunday. We regularly sing hymns and songs that are word-dense and have four or five stanzas dealing with complex scriptural themes with no repeated lyrics. However, after participating in the choir at a diversity conference, I was reminded of the great emphasis on music focused on devotion seen in many other denominations. These songs are characterized by their simplicity: simple words and music sung several times. These songs can also contain many scriptural themes and references.  Here is an example of one by Shane Barnard called Oh Lord to You, with biblical references I have added in parentheses.

We will seek You first, Lord (Matt. 6:33)
You will hear our voices
Early in the morning and late in the night (Psalm 5)
We will sing Your praises
Giving You the glory
Offering our lives to You, a holy sacrifice (Romans 12:1)

May our praise arise as incense (Psalm 141:2)
Oh Lord, to You
May our worship be a fragrance (Philippians 4:18)
Oh Lord, to You

4. We will have more opportunities to practice the law of love.
We all have preferences in music, and one type of music will not equally be preferred by all. Our biblical model for handling these differences is found in the law of love. Out of love for the family of faith, let us ask the Lord to help us rejoice when our brothers and sisters are encouraged and built up by a particular kind of music that may not be our personal favorite.

Worship is integrally related to evangelism and outreach. Authentic corporate worship that is Spirit-driven, excellent, earnest, selfless, and truth-centered is a powerful, living witness to the watching world. Popularity must not be the primary concern in formulating our worship. Our primary concern must be to communicate biblical truth and assist the congregation in passionate worship. Music used in worship must engage the culture but also challenge it. By our worship, we desire to communicate that humankind’s greatest need is to give up a lifestyle of focus on self to serve and worship the one true God through Jesus Christ.

This spring our Sanctuary Choir partnered with the Worship Team to sing “Heal Us, Emmanuel.” This hymn was originally written by William Cowper, close friend of John Newton and writer of the hymns, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” among many others. It has been put to music by Lucas Morton and Kevin Twit, RUF pastor and founder of Indelible Grace and the re-tuned hymns movement. Set in a gospel style, these hymn words have found new life and a soulfulness that beautifully portrays our souls’ longing for the Lord to heal our wounds, our sin, our feeble faith and our unbelief.  

This hymn is on the Indelible Grace CD, Look to Jesus, and the recording has a special story of its own. It features students from Jackson State University’s RUF. See the whole story here. You can listen to a portion of our version of “Heal Us, Emmanuel” here.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1

 

 
 

5 Lessons I Learned in the NFL, by Wilson Van Hooser

Two weeks after the 2014 NFL Draft, I signed with the New England Patriots as a Rookie Free Agent. In a matter of 24 hours, I had moved across the country and began a four month long test of trying to sprint a marathon. For four months in 2014, I was able to be in a locker room with popular names such as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Matthew Slater, and Julian Edelman, to name just a few. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, I am sure some of the lessons that I learned are similar to some of the things God has taken you through or will take you through. So, in no particular order:

1.       God is supremely desirable. By the providence of God, I came across two books that could not have been any more influential for me during that time: Desiring God by John Piper and The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson. Through these men, the Holy Spirit awakened me to more of the inestimable riches of the glory of God. John Piper put into detailed words much of the desire of my heart. Steven Lawson showed through the life of Jonathan Edwards that God is infinitely desirable to live for. Even in the midst of playing in the NFL, God was heavy and constant on my heart and mind. After being at the top, I can tell you that “the man who has God has all things.” As Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

2.       Stay in the company of godly people. Work can be a dark and dry place spiritually yet the sovereign work of our great God provided me with a band of godly brothers. Men such as Matthew Slater and Asa Watson became people who I came to greatly admire because of their relationship with God. Another godly man was the team chaplain Jack Easterby, who was a pivotal brother in Christ for me during those months. God tells us that in order to love people, we actually begin by loving and obeying Him first (1 John 5:2). These men follow hard after the Lord and they overflowed with His gracious love onto the other members of that organization.

3.       The local church is crucial. During my time in Foxborough, I attended CityLife Presbyterian even though it was in downtown Boston. God greatly used the local church to fuel me for the week ahead. There are times when we use the church for our own selfish therapeutic needs but other times when God reminds us that the goal of worship is for Him and not for us. God is revealed through the preached word and the gathering of the saints. When God is your treasure and joy, you long to gather with fellow believers and worship God. The local church is critical for our growth in Christ. A true Christian longs to “be still and know” that God is indeed God. This is the Bride that Christ purchased by His blood that we might together live as a royal priesthood.

4.       New cleats wear out, God’s covenant does not. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman used to mess with me because of the single pair of cleats I wore for a long time while I was there. Cleats become well worn and at some point they cannot be used anymore. While in New England, I became fixed upon God’s unbreakable covenant that we have with Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit pressed upon me the unfailing promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). When practices went bad or off the field struggles grew, I realized that one thing was always constant and that was the eternal love and sovereignty of God. In a place where you walk into work every day wondering whether you’re going to get cut or not, it is an unrivaled joy to know the surety of our God.

5.       Learn names. Maybe this is not what you were expecting on of them to be. Without a doubt, one of the most impressive things that I saw was the personal interest Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, had in his players. I had heard that he prided himself by knowing every player’s first name. Sure enough, I passed him in the hall one day to hear him call out my first name. Mr. Kraft is the highest man in the organization yet knew the lowest. Jesus Christ is the Supreme Ruler of all things, yet names the stars (Psalm 147:4). Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, yet He called His disciples to follow Him by name (Isaiah 43:1, Matthew 4:19).

Scripture is Sufficient, by John Kwasny

Early in my marriage, my typical response to something breaking or needing repair in our home was simply to buy a new one.  Now, this method would have worked just fine if we were an independently wealthy young couple.  But, alas, we were not.  So after years of frustrating my wife with my lack of Mr. Fix-it knowledge and skills, I discovered the beauty of YouTube repair videos.  Google almost any repair issue on the planet and find a handyman who can actually walk you through the process on your phone!  Miracle of miracles, I have now been able to fix many of the routine things around my house, much to the joy of my wife and the gratefulness of my budget.

Is that how we look at Scripture when we look to “repair” a difficult problem in in our lives?  Do we use the Bible like a Google search, hunting down verses about anger, addiction, anxiety, and marital problems in order to fix those problems?  Or maybe we find ourselves wishing the Bible could be turned into a YouTube video, guiding us step-by-step towards an ultimate repair.  Unfortunately, this can be what comes to mind when we hear Biblical counselors speak of how the Scriptures are sufficient to speak to our problems.  With this thinking, the Bible is reduced to just another self-help book which is read only when I have a problem to solve. Unfortunately, there is also a great possibility of disappointment when it appears that the Bible doesn’t really address my particular problem.

So let’s briefly consider what Biblical counselors really mean when we talk about the sufficiency of Scripture for our problems.  First, it acknowledges that Scripture is the ultimate authority for life.  There are all sorts of people, philosophies, and systems that claim to be authorities on why we develop problems and how to solve those problems.  But the only trustworthy authority for how to properly address our problems is God’s Word.  All explanations and solutions must be grounded in the truth of Scripture.

Second, it emphasizes Scripture as Special Revelation.  We can certainly learn a lot about people and their problems by a true, scientific observation of the world around us.  Yet, we know that God’s Word is defined as “special revelation” because it alone teaches us how salvation is found in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone.  Solving humanity’s problems begins with the worst problem of all—being lost in our sins and headed for eternal death!

Third, it recognizes that Scripture teaches us who God is and how we are to respond to Him.  In one sense, what more do we need than to know who God is and what it means to be His redeemed child?  The Bible is so much better than any self-help book because it reveals God to us, shows us our sin, and points us to redemption and sanctification in Christ!  By definition, that is sufficient for our ability to handle all the problems in life, through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 Fourth, it demonstrates the comprehensiveness of Scriptural principles to solve spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational problems.  The Law, the prophets, the narratives, the Gospels, the epistles—all of God’s Word is applicable to teach, rebuke, correct, and train God’s people in righteousness.  The principles of God’s Kingdom found in the Bible are sufficient for us to learn how to solve problems God’s way.  Even though we use all sorts of modern labels to describe our problems, there are always Scriptural principles that are to be learned in order to address those challenging problems.

 Finally, it means that Scripture sufficiently feeds our hearts, minds, and souls.  The Holy Scriptures are the bread and meat provided for our spiritual growth.  Rather than looking at the Bible as a just a Google search for solving our problems, we must see it as the spiritual food that will give us the spiritual health to face our problems.  The Word of God, empowered by the Spirit, changes the way we think, act, live, feel and relate.  It does this not by just giving us information to apply, but by offering transformation for our lives!

When we consider something to be sufficient, it is ENOUGH.  Scripture is enough to solve our ultimate problem of sin and death, as well as the other problems that emanate from our core heart issues.  When we understand that Scripture is sufficient, we will seek wisdom that is grounded in God’s Word and rightly apply God’s Word to our lives.  As grateful as I am for YouTube repair videos, how much greater is it to have the Scriptures at our disposal—the authoritative and sufficient Word of God to address all our real problems!

 

 

 

 

 

Kicking Against the Goads, by Evan Haynes

I’m an ox. I admit that freely. I may not be as dumb as one, but I’m just as slow as one. God has me plowing his field. He guides me in the row of righteousness for his name sake. He prods me with an ox-goad. I don’t like the way it feels, but it teaches me humility, how to gain strength from weakness, and submission. I focus on the discomfort often. When I do, I kick against that goad and thereby cause myself more pain as the goad sinks deeper in to my rear. It was only meant to poke me but because I fought against it, I unwittingly forced it to pierce me.

Every Christian has a goad. Whether you feel like an ox or not, Jesus describes you as one in Acts 26:14. He was originally describing the apostle Paul, but the illustration also applies to us. We kick against our ox-goads when we act out in anger towards God. We may do so by committing a sinful act, we may do so by questioning His judgment, but however we do it, it causes us more pain in the process. My goad is something that has prodded me all my life and I have kicked at it ever since I learned about it. My goad is my disability.

I was born with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Ever since I was little, growing up under Presbyterian biblical teaching has grown my deep belief in the sovereignty of God. I have never quite understood why God decided that I would be born with special needs. I have often found myself unable to live with God, hating him for what he has made me. And yet I cannot live without him either. I have seen, through the eyes of faith, that God has a plan to use my disability and abilities for His glory.

God’s gift of Asperger’s to me has made me unable to drive, and that has taken away a lot of potential freedoms, such as independence and the freedom to go where I want when I want to. Other people have graciously compensated for this by driving me places, but mostly it’s to where I need to go, not where I want to go. This makes me want to question God’s wisdom, because it feels like foolishness to me sometimes. I wonder why God would want to hinder me like this. Driving is often dangerous, I know, so He may be protecting me. But a lot of times, I don’t want his protection.

Another providence of God that I have struggled with is He did not give me the skills I need to have my childhood dream job. When I was young, I would pretend that I was a rock star. I was the front man of my own concert. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s still what I want at times, but that wish has not been granted. God gave me gifts that place me backstage. I am a playwright, not an actor; a lyricist and decent guitar player, not a front man. I would be working a stage or toward a stage production, but I can’t play the starring role. I acted in a lot of plays in high school, but I never got a huge part until one of my last performances, and it took me a long time to be able to act without being nervous. And even in that show I entered before I was supposed to once, embarrassing myself. So, when I started taking writing classes at Belhaven one of my poems expressed this same story, but in more of a complaining tone. I felt that God had robbed me at a chance for greatness at not giving me the talent to do what I wanted to do.

Writing is not a lucrative occupation and I have found it hard to find lucrative work; none of my jobs have put my writing skillset to work. This is how God’s providence has prodded me, only giving me the opportunity to share what I have written in ways that glorify him. I have written about topics other than my faith, but something usually goes wrong when I do. It doesn’t get the response I have wanted or expected. So, I find myself asking God, “Did you or did you not inspire this work I have done? And if you did, why are you not using it to its full potential?”

And yet through that storm we have reached a shore. God has taught me to accept my Asperger’s as a gift, not a curse. I can understand and reach out to others like me, and have ministered to my local and southern special needs community through Joni and Friends and my church’s special needs program. God has given me all this, but I still want more. Christ gives himself away through salvation, revelation, and mediation every day. But I still struggle to trust God with my life and my future.

I keep asking Him to tell me His reasons why he has made these judgement calls, and I get no answer. As Jerry Bridges points out in his wonderful book, Trusting God, God never explains. He doesn’t owe us an explanation for His plans for us. I feel like He does and I have convinced myself that He does, but I have been deceiving myself.  The best thing I can do is stop questioning him and trust that He is prodding me in the right direction. I must die to wanting to know His reasons, to kicking against his goad.

Things You Need to Know About Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why (Part 2), by Molly Dawkins

Warning: the following article contains spoilers. For Part 1 of this article, read May’s issue of Notes from the Orchard.

 It was a relief to finally finish the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. In the final three episodes the darkness continues to deepen leading up to Hannah’s suicide in the last episode. There are a few major events that contribute to her final decision to commit suicide.

- She can’t get the flashes of her bad sexual experiences out of her head for a “good” experience with Clay.

- She loses the money she was supposed to deposit in the bank for her parent’s pharmacy.

- She goes to a party and is raped by the same guy that she witnessed rape her friend Jessica in episode 9.

- She meets with the school counselor and doesn’t get the responses she wanted.

Hannah desperately desires to be loved. We all do. We can all identify with Hannah in that desire. Tim Keller says it well in his book The Meaning of Marriage:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Hannah wants this real love. Not only in a romantic sense with Clay, but also in a friendship love by Jessica or Alex. We have all been designed as relational beings, and she is missing a core of who she is. She does not have the freedom from fear that Keller talks about. She does not know the unending love we have from our Father, the Love that never wavers because of what we’ve done. As Christians, we are fully known in our brokenness. We experience freedom because of the perfect sacrifice in Christ and are clothed in his righteousness, not our own. Hannah has isolated herself, and her past experiences have closed her off. Justin betrayed her by sending a sexually explicit picture of her around the school. Courtney left her to take the hit after the picture of them kissing circulated around the school because Courtney didn’t want anyone to know she was a lesbian.

The afternoon before Hannah’s suicide she meets with the school counselor. He is the 13th reason she gives of why she kills herself. She goes into his office with the intention to record their entire meeting. It’s as though she’s testing him, wanting him to fail. Based on their conversation, I think there were things he could have done differently, but I don’t think he can be blamed for her suicide. He could have pointed her to someone to talk to when he learned that she was raped, but there was no way for him to know the extent of her internal struggles. As an audience we know what has been happening in her life, but Hannah did not give him enough information for him to know she was to the point of suicide.

Towards the end of the series, Hannah’s parents open a trial to look into their daughter’s suicide. Students are brought in for depositions. The students on the tapes become increasingly more nervous about the tapes coming out and their involvement being made known. One student named Alex wants them to turn in the tapes, but the others refuse. Alex is overcome by the guilt of the situation, and in the end shoots himself in the head. We learn that he is in critical condition at the hospital. Is this the reaction that Hannah wanted? Another attempted suicide? What was she hoping would happen when she recorded the tapes? Similar to Clay’s reaction to get revenge on Tyler (more details in Part 1), Hannah is only continuing the cycle causing more pain and suffering on others in her “revenge suicide.”

Suicide is never the answer. You can always get help. Be honest about your struggles to a trusted parent or friend. Parents, ask your teens, “What is school like for you?” “What are some lies you can pick out from 13 Reasons?” “What is the truth of these issues based on Scripture?”

 

 

A Report on the 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Last week, elders, members and friends of the Presbyterian Church in America gathered at the Koury Convention Center at the Sheraton Greensboro at Four Seasons in Greensboro, NC, to participate in the 45th meeting of the PCA’s General Assembly. Ken Haynes and I represented Pear Orchard as elder commissioners, while John and Martie Kwasny and Rod and Jeanne Russ were there for One Story Ministries in the exhibition hall. Tammie Haynes was also with Ken to take part in the activities of the week.

You may be unfamiliar with what happens at a General Assembly. It is part trade show, part family reunion, part training seminars, and (most importantly) part meeting of the highest court of our church. The GA is an opportunity for denominational agencies and committees, as well as organizations and ministries like One Story that are connected to the PCA, to display their offerings and services so that we might learn ways we can increase our fruitfulness and participation in the kingdom of God around the world. It’s also a time to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. It was a rich blessing to get together with friends from seminary and those I’ve met since being ordained in 2003, as well as building new relationships with elders from around the country and world. One highlight was getting dinner with Kenny Foster and Jonathan Seda from Grace Dover, the church that has been such an encouragement to us as we seek to become a more multi-ethnic congregation. On Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and Thursday morning, seminars covering a wide array of topics are offered. We purchased recordings of all these seminars if you are interested in hearing them (visit http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Seminar-Listing.pdf to see the list of seminars offered this year).

The most important part of the week is the gathering of teaching and ruling elders to deliberate matters pertaining to the life and work of our denomination as a whole. From Tuesday evening through Thursday evening, commissioners debate overtures and motions that come from Presbyteries and permanent committees and agencies. Here are a few observations from this year’s assembly:

1. Dr. Alexander Jun was elected Moderator of this year’s assembly. Though the PCA has had Korean members for some time, this was the first time a Korean elder was elected Moderator. He is a ruling elder of New Life Mission Church in Fullerton, CA, and teaches at Azusa Pacific University in California. The growing diversity of the PCA was beautifully on display this year, particularly when Dr. Irwyn Ince, an African American teaching elder, gave a report on the committee he chaired. The sight of these two men standing before the Assembly was an encouragement for the PCA to continue seeking to reach the whole of our country with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. There was a disappointingly low number of ruling elders this year (1094 teaching elders compared to 292 ruling elders). The PCA affirms that ruling elders share an equal place in the government and oversight of the church at all levels, yet when few ruling elders attend the assembly, the denomination is prevented from enjoying their individual and collective wisdom. Perhaps it was too costly to fly to Greensboro, or too costly to take time off of work – whatever the reasons, the history of the PCA’s formation shows the importance of ruling elders to keep our church from drifting away from faithfulness to the Scriptures and our confessional standards. So it’s never a good thing when ruling elders don’t attend GA.

3. The biggest issue discussed at this year’s General Assembly was the report of a study committee on women in ministry. Based on its understanding of the Bible, the PCA allows only men to be ordained to the office of elder and deacon, and women minister to the church and to the lost in many ways. Yet there has been a minority, more vocal in the past decade or so, that has challenged our belief and practice regarding the office of deacon in particular. There has been an increasing polarization between those who believe women’s gifts are not being used by the church in appropriate ways, and those who believe churches are overstepping the biblical boundaries of what are appropriate ways for women to be involved in the ministry of the church. A study committee was appointed at last year’s GA to study this issue further, and to write a report and come with recommendations to this year’s GA. Through much debate and many close votes, we passed the following recommendations:

·         That sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly recognize that, from the founding of the PCA, there has been a variety of views and practices regarding the ways in which women may serve the Lord and the church within scriptural and constitutional parameters, without ordination, and that such mutual respect for said views and practices continues.

·         That sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly strive to develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the local, regional, and national church, and particularly consider overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church.

·         That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.

·         That sessions consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church so as to maintain faithfulness to Scripture, as well as utilizing the gifts God has poured out to His entire church…”

·         That sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women and men of the congregation to assist the ordained diaconate.

·         That presbyteries and the General Assembly consider an overture that would establish formally the right of sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly to establish the position of commissioned church worker within the PCA for qualified and gifted unordained men and women.

·         That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA.

These recommendations are the advice of one General Assembly to the churches, affirming what we have always held, that ordination to office is open to men only, and challenging both those who try to circumvent this belief by not ordaining any diaconate at all, and those who would keep women from using their gifts in the church in ways that are faithful to the Scriptures. As advice and recommendations (note the use of the language of “consider”), in and of themselves they change nothing about the ways that we believe or practice. For that to happen, Presbyteries would ultimately have to send overtures to future General Assemblies requesting that the Book of Church Order be changed. If and when these overtures come, and depending on what they request, I foresee even more disagreement and polarization than we currently see in the PCA. We in central Mississippi do not experience much of this polarization, since for the most part we are all on the same page in both belief and practice. But as you look at the PCA across the country, different camps and views exists. This issue of women in ministry has the possibility of being a divisive one, though I believe the report of this study committee and the recommendations that were passed will continue to hold the various positions together.

I love the meeting of the General Assembly. I’m so thankful for our denomination. God has been good to sustain us and keep us walking with Him since 1973. My prayer is that through the coming years the Lord would keep us faithful to His word, united in the truth, and committed to fostering all the gifts and graces of every member of the body in ways that are pleasing to Him and edifying to the body.

Summer Reading

The title of this article either brings back fond memories of curling up in your favorite reading nook and entering fantastic worlds with your new best friends, or it brings back terrible memories of monotony and dread at the prospect of a reading quiz the first day of school in August. But summer reading is a good idea – and not just for children in school. The different pace of the summer months, vacations, and longer days give ample reasons for picking up a book or e-reader and expanding your mind.

Ecclesiastes 12:12 is a good check on those who love to read, of course: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.” But when Paul in prison, for what did he long? “When you come [he says to Timothy], bring the…books, and above all the parchments.” Though like any created thing they can become an idol, books are a blessing. Indeed, they are indispensable to growth as a Christian life. Without reading (or listening to an audiobook) we cannot have the word of God implanted deep into our hearts and minds. And it’s not only the Bible I’m talking about. Books that explain the Bible, books that explain the human condition, books that describe the journeys of Christians throughout history, books that explain how God’s world works, whether fiction or nonfiction, whether written in the 21st century or the 17th century or the 2nd century – all are worthy of our time and energy.

The elders of Pear Orchard long for all of God’s people to be readers. That’s why we’re teaching through Pilgrim’s Progress this summer. More importantly, that’s why we’re reading through it. I want our class to be able to say they’ve read all the way through this Christian classic. But 17th century Puritans didn’t write the way we’re used to writing or reading. And so reading them is not easy. In fact, it might feel like work. But as the saying goes, “No pain, no gain.” I’ll never forget reading through Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom in 11th grade. Now that was hard reading. When I finished it, though I didn’t remember much about it, it was the first time that I felt I had accomplished something in the reading of a book. The Puritans are far easier than Faulkner! But they’re still tough sledding, and so by reading Pilgrim’s Progress together, we’ll help each other make it through – and I hope that we’ll be more prepared and desirous to pick up other Puritan classics on our own. Or the 18th-19th century American Presbyterians. Or even the 20th and 21st century authors. The latter are far more accessible, so why don’t you start there this summer?

Here are a few recommendations. If you’ve never read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges, do it. The same goes for Knowing God, by J. I. Packer. R. C. Sproul’s classics Knowing Scripture, Chosen by God, and The Holiness of God should be required reading for every believer. John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied is more difficult, but absolutely worth the effort (though he lived in the 20th century, he wrote like someone from the 19th century, so have a dictionary handy). John Stott’s The Cross of Christ is pure gold, as is Donald Macleod’s Christ Crucified. And don’t forget our own John Perritt’s Your Days are Numbered, and his newest book, What Would Judas Do?

May the Lord grant us – through words – a deeper knowledge of Him and His word this summer. 

How Should a Christian Think About a New President?

The 2016 presidential election has come and gone. Unfortunately – but predictably – the partisan acrimony leading up to the election did not depart with it. This time around, presidential power was transferred from one party to the other. When this happens, partisans on opposing sides swap postures. Those whose party gained power rejoice, having spent the prior administration wringing their collective hands and decrying the prior administration’s policies. Conversely, those whose party lost out will take up handwringing and decry the grave danger the incoming administration poses. This remains the status quo until presidential power changes hands again and another cycle is completed.

It is easy to fall into the partisan mindset, seeing one party as righteous and the other as profane. To be sure, elections have consequences, and these consequences are often significant. The vacancy on the United States Supreme Court that was created by the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the issue of who would receive the lifetime appointment to replace him, brought into focus just how consequential a single election can be. In this case the “balance” of the Supreme Court remains, for the most part, where it was before, whereas a different appointment to that position could have dramatically shifted the court on a number of important issues. As Christians, we should care about and for our governments – and that requires vigilance and involvement in the process. But in doing so, we must keep local, national, and even global politics in the proper perspective. There are several ways Christians can think about these issues from a Biblical perspective.

First, we can rejoice in God’s sovereignty over all aspects of our lives. The Bible is clear that God is sovereign over nations. We are told that God “rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28) and “reigns over the nations” (Psalm 47:8). More specifically, “God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21). While it is right to care about our nation and our civil authorities, we can rest in the assurance that God is sovereign over all.

Second, the Bible has much to say about how we should think about and relate to the civil authorities. Submitting to civil authorities is an easier task when the civil authorities are doing what is right; less so when they are acting contrary to God’s word. The original audience for I Peter was Christians who were under intense persecution from their civil authorities. Nevertheless, the admonition was, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good… Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (I Peter 2:13-14, 17). This strikes me as a corollary to God’s sovereignty – we can submit to civil authorities, even those who might overtly persecute us, because we know that God is sovereign.

Third, no elected official can “save us.” A great hopefulness can follow when a politician of your choosing replaces someone you disfavor. But these expectations should be tempered by the fact that all civil authorities are merely human and are therefore broken. We are told in the Psalms: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). Elections and political decisions are important, but even when we feel that the “right person” is in office, we err when we rest our hope in that person.  

Fourth, we should remember that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We categorize ourselves into many different groups: nationality, political party, ethnicity, occupation, hometown, school, favorite sports teams, et al. We often identify ourselves by “membership” in these groups, and which one we emphasize depends on context. In the office or in the courtroom, I am generally identified by my vocation as an “attorney.” While these categories are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, they are bad when they become distractions. Our ultimate and overriding identity is as citizens of heaven, as co-heirs with Christ. When we get caught up in partisan-political frenzy, we emphasize our worldly “memberships” and minimize our identity in Christ (John 3:30).

Ultimately, our hope should rest in God’s sovereignty over human affairs. Keeping this perspective allows us to rise above partisan politics and neither trust our authorities to deliver us from evil nor despair that they will deliver us to evil.

 

Things You Need to Know About Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why (Part 1)

On March 31 Netflix released 13 episodes of the new show 13 Reasons Why. The show tells the story of Hannah Baker, a junior in high school that has committed suicide. Viewers learn about her life and death through flashbacks and the cassette tapes she’s left behind. Before committing suicide, Hannah records 13 cassette tapes with the reasons why she killed herself. For each reason there is a person connected to her death. The story on reality’s side is told through a boy named Clay, a friend and eventual romantic interest of Hannah. The story starts when he receives the tapes.

I’ve watched the first 10 episodes of the show. Since I work with POPC’s youth, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about this show in order to be able to engage in conversations with those that have watched it. The show covers a wide range of topics: anxiety, depression, peer pressure, homosexuality, betrayal, sending sexually explicit text messages, rape, drug use, premarital sex, and of course suicide.

When I first started watching I was mostly intrigued. Since I work with teenagers, youth culture fascinates me. This show truly provides a window into the lives of teens: their thoughts, their emotions, their insecurities. The landscape is raw and unfiltered. The honesty to their pain is a strange combination of unsettling and refreshing. The unsettling part is easy to pick out if you’ve watched the show or even read articles about it. But why do I say refreshing? Our teens are living in a world where they are pressured to post a picture perfect world on their Instagrams or SnapChats. In 13 Reasons, that is shaken. We get to go behind the scenes to see what they’re really feeling. 

My intrigue turned to sadness in the fourth episode. In this episode Hannah talks about having a stalker. She could hear the snaps of a camera when she would walk home, but never knew where it was coming from. She and her friend Courtney decide to set a trap at her house one night. Her parents are gone so they start drinking. Her friend is gay, but no one knows. Her friend kisses her. They hear the camera and expose the stalker who turns out to be the yearbook photographer Tyler. But it’s too late he’s taken a picture of the two girls kissing. The picture ends up circulating around the school causing rumors and adding to Hannah’s already damaged reputation. Upon hearing the tape, Clay takes a nude of Tyler from outside his window and sends it to everyone at school for revenge.  

Why is the show so sad? Sin is running rampant in all of their lives, and there’s no hope. The sin struggles Hannah faces are both external and internal (though she may not acknowledge the internal struggles). She’s dealing with the outside forces of those that have sinned against her. Hannah has no doubt had a lot of bad things happen to her. She’s also dealing with her own sin. Hannah is very selfish. We can see this to be true in the way she committed suicide. She left tapes behind to cause others deep emotional and psychological pain. She doesn’t take any responsibility for her own actions. I’ve seen no traces of redemption in the show. Clay’s revenge on Tyler it’s not redemptive. It’s only continuing the pattern of sin.

How would life have been different for Hannah if she were a Christian? She would have known her true identity was in Christ, not in what others think of her. She would have known that God never leaves us or forsakes us in our darkest times. She would have known a real love where there is no betrayal, but perfect security. She would have known her life is not her own to do as she pleases or to even take it herself.

I can’t fully recommend watching the show. It’s very graphic in it’s depiction of sexual scenes and rape (I had to look away for most of episode 9). But this show does provide a great opportunity for us to see into the lives of our teenagers, to see what it is they’re walking into at school. We see the pressures of their relationships, and the pressures of obtaining happiness at all cost.

Ask your teens, “Have you watched this show? Are your friends watching it?” Process it with them.

 

Justice, Peace, and Abortion: An Interview with Mr. Everett White

MAY 26, 2017

Summarize in a few sentences what God has called you to do.

In terms of vocation, God has called me to be a lawyer. I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid, and I never seriously considered anything else. I've been practicing now for 12 years. Until 6 months ago, I was a litigation partner at a big firm. But I recently joined a boutique healthcare firm and I've really enjoyed it. 

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

A Biblical worldview transforms every aspect of practicing law. It transforms the day-to-day decisions, such as how you talk to opposing lawyers, how you bill your clients, and whether you accept certain cases. But it also transforms the ultimate goal of the work. It shifts the focus from winning at all costs to working in a way that pleases the Lord.

Tim Keller's book on work ("Every Good Endeavor") has been helpful to me on this. He reminds believers to try and connect our work to an attribute of God or to His work. In my practice, that is usually God's justice. When I'm drafting a brief, or taking a deposition, or negotiating with the other side, I try to remind myself that we are pursuing justice. And justice is a real thing. God has shown us what justice looks like in Scripture, and He cares deeply about justice being done. 

Of course, I want the best result for our clients, but not if the result is unjust. There's a natural tension there, and finding the right way to simultaneously pursue justice and your client's interest is not always easy. 

How should Christians think about lawyers?

Lawyers do a lot of different things, so it's difficult to come up with a universal statement on how Christians should think about them. One way to think about them is as peacemakers. Whether you’re a doctor in a dispute with the government about billing, or whether you’re a business who’s suffered because someone else breached a contract, or whether your crazy sister thinks she's entitled to all of your parents' estate, lawyers are the ones who can help make peace.

You are passionate about the issue of abortion – how should a Christian understanding of justice and the law guide us as we think about this issue that is so controversial in our day?  

That’s a hugely important question, and I think you’re right to link justice and the law as guides. There’s no way to answer adequately in such a short space, but I’ll try to make two points. One, abortion is a massive injustice—arguably the greatest injustice of our time. And two, our response to this injustice should be proportional and yet consistent with our obligations to the law of the land.

As to the first point, there’s an idea in the air that all sins are equal in the eyes of the Lord. That’s not true. The smallest sin surely separates us from God, but Scripture is clear that some sins are more heinous than others. Murdering your brother is worse than stealing his property.

If a fetus is a person, then abortion is the unjust killing of an image bearer. And that is a really big deal to God. It should, therefore, be a big deal to us. I think most Christians are against abortion, but my sense is that we’re not as outraged as we should be; we’ve been somewhat anesthetized to it. I agree with one author’s observation that if they were shooting toddlers execution-style, there’d probably be more outrage. But it’s really no different (a fetus is just younger, smaller, and lives somewhere else).

So how should Christians respond to the injustice of abortion? That question leads to the second point. The Sixth Commandment requires us to act to preserve the life of others. So we should do something. Yet abortion is legal, and Christians owe certain obligations to the civil law. Christians must, as a general rule, obey the law and respect the government’s authority as God’s appointed agent for administering justice. In other words, individuals can’t ignore laws they dislike, and they don’t have the power of the sword. I think there’s room for non-violent (repeat: non-violent) civil disobedience to preserve life, but that’s a different article.

Our response to abortion, in short, must be both proportional to the injustice and consistent with our obligations to the law. It must fall somewhere on the spectrum between doing nothing and storming the abortion clinic with an assault rifle. What that looks like on a daily basis is different for everybody.

For Christians who live in Mississippi, I think praying for, donating to, and volunteering at the Center for Pregnancy Choices (CPC) is one of the best things we can do. CPC, which the church supports, provides a host of services (e.g., ultrasounds, counselling, etc.) to pregnant women. It just opened a facility in Fondren near the last remaining abortion clinic in the State and is in need of monthly supporters. I don’t mean for this to sound like an ad for CPC, but I think they are really on the front lines giving women hope, loving them, and pointing them towards Christ.

 

 

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.