Long, long ago, in college classrooms far, far away there were no personal computers. In fact, there was simply one little basement room in the entire campus of my college that had two or three computer monitors and a computer system that ran paper cards. Really. This was the era in which I took my first computer programming class. (Truth be told, I despised that class. Attention to detail is not my strength, so every time I had an extra space or a mis-placed keystroke in the code I wrote, the program would not run. Then I would spend hours trying to find and fix my error. But I digress…) My biggest takeaway from BASIC programming was that computer programs run on a binary system of rapidly processed continuous choices between “1” and “0.” That’s it. (Remember that next time you spend $1000 on a laptop!)
A Binary Culture
Do you ever feel like our culture is operating inside of a computer? Have you noticed that so much that poses as discussion is couched in binary ways?
If you spend any time on social media, or on cable news, or in political theater, you are likely to find yourself regularly bombarded with either-or propositions. This or that. Them or us. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Black or white. Is this really the nature of God’s universe? Do we live in a static computer program or in a dynamic universe held together by God’s power? Does God reveal himself through a set of binary propositions or does he reveal himself through his Word and his world? So much of what the Scripture teaches us is that life is lived in tension. There is not only conflict between good and evil—which I am not discounting—but also a literal tension between two right things. Christ was described by John as “full of grace and truth.” That is noteworthy because it requires so much godly tension. Grace AND truth. Fallen human beings are prone to one or the other. Jesus as the only perfect human being flawlessly exhibited both. While none of us can possibly perfectly emulate Christ, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are called to be conformed more and more to his image.
What I am asking each of us to reflect on is this: “Where am I presenting or embracing a binary stance where there is a biblical call to embrace the tension between two good things?”…
Missionaries often are asked: “How can I pray for you?” and most likely, we will answer: “Pray for our financial support, our witness, and our families.” These are good things to pray for, but there are some things we are ashamed of admitting and that don’t make the prayer request list.
A missionary is not someone special, more gifted, or more holy than anyone else. In fact, many of us missionaries joke that God needed to take us to the mission field to teach us the hard lessons we could not to learn because of our own stubbornness and zealousness. Among missionary leaders, there is a saying that leading missionaries is like “herding cats” because of our independent streak. Missionaries can exude strength and courage, but as the years progress, I have noticed certain patterns of struggle that are unique to missionaries (and I’d venture to say much of this applies to those who are in full-time ministry, pastors, or church-planters). We need you pray for us in the following areas.
Almost ten years ago, when I moved to South Africa, I had no idea how much of an impact this place would have on me. One of the greatest impacts on me is the value the African culture places on the family, as well as community. You see this in the way they sacrifice for one another. You see this in their sense of togetherness. And you see it in the way they come together and celebrate one another for special occasions, especially weddings. It is a community wide event, not just in attending the ceremony, but also in putting the event together. On that special day, hundreds of people come to celebrate the bride and groom.
That’s because their community is like a family. And in a similar way, so is the church.
The Body of Christ
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, Paul compares the church to the human body. He begins with “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ.” Paul illustrates that while a body has a head, eyes, ears, etc. all those parts belong to the same body. So it is with the global church; there are many members scattered throughout the globe, but our oneness in Christ makes us family….
Several times each year, our church has its Sunday evening worship service with other area churches. Before the service, we greet old friends in the parking lot and squeeze together in the quickly-filling sanctuary. Meeting in a place that a recent study called “the most post-Christian city in America” our combined assembly is not particularly large, but it is always immensely encouraging.
Week-by-week, vastly outnumbered by our avowedly-secular neighbors, our individual churches can sometimes seem like minor oddities. But, every few months, for two hours on a Sunday evening, these scattered congregations gather. We sing together, pray together, confess our faith together, receive the Word together, and fellowship together. Together, we affirm that, though each local church may appear weak and solitary, we have never been—and will never be!—alone.
In the book of Acts, when Luke reports on the earliest spread of the gospel, he describes it as the growth of a single church: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31). Congregations assembled for worship in various locations in Judea and Galilee and Samaria. They were unique groups of specific people under the care of particular elders. But, seen together through the lens of Christ’s great redeeming work, they were “the church.”
In our local congregations, we are not just a few or a few hundred; we are part of something much, much bigger. We are part of the church…
“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” Joni Eareckson-Tada
Guilty confession: I sometimes live in a fake future; a future of my own projection where God is not present, sovereign, or good. Maybe you can relate? We don’t say it exactly like that, but anytime we project thoughts, emotions, and turmoil into the future— where God hasn’t given us grace to live yet— we are imagining a fake future where He is not God.
Living in the Future
For me, because I have Multiple Sclerosis, living in this fake future can happen when my nervous system stops sending signals to lift my foot while on a hike, or when there’s a pandemic, or just on a normal Tuesday morning … The pervasive thoughts of this fake future can come in and steal my joy, robbing me of the beauty of the present moment anytime I stop preaching the gospel to my oh-so-prone-to-wander heart.
Well, as it turns out, that fake future is a bad place to live. Not only is it gut-wrenching, but it is simply not true. It’s a bold lie that Satan, my flesh, and the world tempt me to live in. Anytime those three are in cahoots together, say during a pandemic, my fake future is all the grimmer. And if I live there, I will self-protect, self-preserve, and ultimately self-serve, forgetting about God and others in the present. This pretend future becomes ridden with the stench of self — what Jesus came to rescue me from! This future is an awful place where I am the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good and all-wise one. Except, since I’m not those things, it is a place of great fear— a place where God is not present…
I spend most of my life in a decade old minivan that has seen better days. The calendar is normally crammed-full of activities for my four children, ages 7-12, and we are constantly running from one thing to the next. At the end of the school day, I work to get everyone fed and off to baseball, soccer, dance, therapy, etc. (On the days I work as a substitute teacher at their school, the chaos only multiplies.) I often feel like one of those hamsters running around the wheel and getting nowhere.
This was our reality until we were told to stay home. I know that we are not alone in having our lives turned upside down due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Our family is practicing social distancing, and almost overnight I have turned into a homeschool mom of four. Games and practices are cancelled. Our reality has rapidly changed. It’s like a record spinning around and around and someone takes the needle off, causing the music to come to a screeching halt.
It’s quiet. I don’t mean volume wise—there are four extroverted children living here—but activity-wise, it is quiet. We don’t have anywhere to be and nothing on the to-do list but thick packets full of school-work. It’s an alternate reality. My head is less full of schedules, and to be honest, it’s been nice.
My pastor-husband recorded a Facebook Live for our congregation asking us to consider a question that has resonated with my heart: How we can invest our time of social distancing instead of just biding our time? I have prayerfully considered how the Lord wants me to spend this time with Him. God has us in a season very different than our usual, so what can I learn from this time?..
One warm summer day, many years ago, when our youngest son Tim was a teenager, we were holding our annual “Down Syndrome Extravaganza” at our house. Most people would call it a picnic. However, “extravaganza” always seemed like a better descriptor to our family as the gathering of so many families, with so many children with Down syndrome and all of their siblings simply offered the opportunity for unexpected events to arise.
We had some years that we hired neighborhood teenagers to ensure we didn’t lose any “runners” in the chaos. One year, Tim had a good friend with Down’s who was very interested in movies and proceeded to empty all 50-75 DVDs from their respective boxes, scattering them randomly all over the floor while seeking the perfect fit for his viewing interests. On another occasion, we even had a rabid racoon appear on our front porch while friends were arriving with their families and food in tow. As we’ve said many times, “It is never a dull moment here!”
My favorite DSE event, however, was the year that Tim was giving tours of his room to guests as they arrived. He’d redecorated his room with Elvis Presley paraphernalia, and was eager to share his collection. Visitors were only allowed in one at a time. He even asked me to serve as his “bouncer.” I had fun standing at the door watching as Tim talked with each visitor. As one of our friends lingered in the room making conversation, Tim finally looked at him and declared, “I’m sorry Mr. Nolt, but your tour is over. Don’t make me call security.” My “bouncer role” quickly reverted to “Mom mode” and Tim and I had a quick little chat about what it means to show hospitality to our guests. Tim was definitely giving folks mixed messages.
The truth is, we all give (and receive) mixed messages to (and from) others fairly frequently…
Editor’s Note: From its inception, the women in the PCA have loved on and supported the denomination in practical ways. One way has been through the annual women’s ministry love gift. This year, the women’s ministry of the PCA is praying for and partnering with the different agencies and committees of the denomination regionally. Throughout the year, we will highlight the committees and agencies to learn more about what they do and how we can pray for them. I recently interviewed Gary Campbell with PCA Retirement and Benefits (RBI).
Christina: Can you tell us what RBI does for the PCA? How did it come into existence?
Gary: Thanks, Christina, for the opportunity to talk about the ministry of PCA Retirement & Benefits (RBI). Put simply, RBI provides employee benefits and support services for PCA church servants. Our mission is to prepare, protect, and nurture PCA servants through investment, insurance, relief, and related services, so they can focus on ministry. RBI was founded at the very beginning of the denomination in 1973. It was known as the Annuity Fund for Ministers and was part of the Administrative Committee. In 1973 the organization was a very small operation, but as it grew there was a need to establish it as a separate denominational agency overseen by a dedicated governing board. This was accomplished in 1982 when our name was changed to Insurance Annuities and Relief (IAR). Today, RBI serves over 7,000 participants with combined assets of $650 million in the PCA Retirement Plan. Group Insurance volume is almost $685 million covering 4,281 ministry partners. And RBI Ministerial Relief has paid $637,726 in awards to 64 beneficiaries in the past four quarters.
Christina: What are the main services pastors seek your assistance with?
Gary: That’s a good question. I believe the leading source of incoming and outgoing calls is related to questions church workers have regarding saving and planning for retirement. These interactions are a result of a retirement readiness survey we conducted in late 2010 with the assistance of Price Waterhouse Coopers. The survey confirmed our worst fears. We found that PCA church leaders were significantly behind in their preparation for retirement and, by implication, the future for widows of PCA teaching elders was dire. We realized that reversing this trend would require effort and prayer by RBI to unify the denomination around a solution to this problem. Since 2010, RBI has transformed the organization to embody a relational/missional culture of service to church workers. We employ a team of teaching elders who are also Certified Financial Planners to proactively meet with church workers throughout the PCA. We also publish a yearly compensation guide called the PCA Call Package Guidelines to assist churches as they seek to understand how to pay pastors fairly and deal with complex issues such as pastoral housing allowance, social security, and other unique facets of pastoral compensation. This has been a monumental effort and I believe the needle is moving, but we have much more work yet to do.
Christina: Are there any groups that are particularly under-served?…