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Faulkner Had A Point

Why have I decided to start a Wednesday night series on hot button cultural issues? I'm glad you asked. But to answer that, I'm going to need you to travel with me to Mississippi.

William Faulkner said, "To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi." I took that to heart when I moved to Mississippi in 2004. I spent the next fifteen years trying to do just that. During my time there, I served three churches on a part-time basis before becoming a full-time pastor. I saw a lot of interesting things and heard a lot of interesting stories. Thus our journey begins.

I remember the Sunday in a country church when we had to sing acapella because a cow stomped on the piano player's foot the day before. I remember another service when the substitute piano player fell asleep during my sermon and I had to wake her up to play the closing hymn. I remember the service where the music leader decided to omit a stanza from a beloved hymn. A church member stood up mid-service to chide said music leader in front of the congregation and demand that we sing all the stanzas. We started the hymn over again. Our music ministry is slightly more under control at SVC. But I digress.

I also remember some more serious things. Like when I was near the end of preaching what I thought to be a decent sermon. A young black child, whose family had been visiting our church semi-regularly, walked up the platform steps to the pulpit. I had to stop preaching to see what he needed. He handed me a note. I took the note, stuck it in my pocket, and continued preaching. After the sermon, during the closing prayer, I pulled out the note. It said, "Please pray for my family. My parents are fighting a lot."

I remember the first time a sweet lesbian couple walked into the doors of a country church where I was serving. That was a first for the church, I assure you. Six months had passed and they had continued coming to church almost every week. Then the inevitable division ensued: "They need to hear the gospel," some of the members said. "We don't want to have to explain this to our children," others said.

I remember when I worked at a high school in Jackson. An online student from another state complained to me via email that he didn't want to have to take our Mississippi history course. Why? Because Mississippi was the most terrible state in the country and they were all racists and everybody knew it and he didn't want to have to learn about it and that's that.

I remember walking through the cemetery of one church for the first time and seeing the Confederate graves marked with Confederate flags. I remember walking through the cemetery of another church and being told that the graves just outside the fence were the graves of slaves. That church used to have slaves sit outside the open windows of the sanctuary to participate in the worship services from afar.

I also remember being on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson when the term "woke" started being used there. A student formed a group on campus called the Reformed African American Network (RAAN). They started using a lot of the popular "woke" language of the day with the full support of the seminary. Their leader even started calling for reparations. It wasn't long until the president of the seminary was accused by many of being a social justice warrior and cultural Marxist (other terms I learned during my time at RTS). The RAAN morphed into The Witness: A Black Christian Collective. They don't consider themselves Reformed anymore.

Many of the cultural issues that are swirling around us now as a nation were swirling around me in Mississippi: family decay, homosexuality, education, racism, being woke, the drift of the church from being Christ-centered to being social justice-centered. Maybe Faulkner had a point.

Charles Spurgeon said, "She who marries today's fashion is tomorrow's widow." Our church leadership wants to equip you to deal with hot button issues in a Biblical way. That's the point. We want you married to the only Bridegroom who will never let you down—the Lord Jesus Christ. He'll play a major role in this series because the answers to our deepest questions, and deepest needs, are found in Him. Come to our Wednesday night study at 6:00 p.m and we'll think about some of these things together. And while you're at it, invite a friend or neighbor.

Posted by Heath Cross

God's Choice Sheep

I just got off the phone with a friend who is struggling. He lost his job because of COVID. His unemployment ran out this week. He's thinking about changing careers. He's selling his house. He's thinking about moving. He's wondering where his next paycheck is going to come from. What should I say to him?

Anyone who reads the Bible regularly has a favorite psalm. I have several favorites. One of them is Psalm 23. It paints a picture of the believer as a sheep being cared for and guided by the Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus declares that He is the Good Shepherd. His sheep hear His voice. He knows them by name. It all seems so picturesque. Until you really start thinking about the 23rd psalm.

The sheep of the 23rd psalm faces constant danger. Yes, he lies down in green pastures by the still water. But he also needs the shepherd to protect him with a rod and staff when wolves appear. He needs the shepherd to walk with him through the valley of the shadow of death. The grass isn't green, and the water isn't still, when you head into dark places like that.

In William Still's great book The Work of the Pastor, he warns would-be pastors that the job of a shepherd isn't easy. And it especially wasn't easy in Israel. He writes, "Israel's sheep were reared, fed, tended, retrieved, healed and restored—for sacrifice on the altar of God." The shepherd knew that his sheep were liable to be sacrificed, especially the best sheep. He knew the sheep by name. But he also knew that one day they might end up on the altar.

The best sheep are sacrificed. That's the way it's always been. King David, who wrote Psalm 23, saw himself as one of God's choicest sheep. Yet he faced immense suffering and loss. All the best sheep do: Abel, Moses, Samson, Peter, Paul, and everyone in between. Paul looked at his life and said, "We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Rom. 8:36).

It doesn't seem like that verse fits in Romans 8. We love verse 28: "All things work together for good..." And verse 38: "Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ..." But the idea that we are suffering sheep doesn't seem fitting for a glossy postcard of a green pasture with a clear stream flowing through it. At the top of the postcard, "The LORD is my Shepherd," written in crimson.

What do I tell my friend? I tell him, You are God's choice sheep. And so I say the same to you. You may feel like you're standing on the chopping block. The good news of the gospel is that the Good Shepherd Himself stood on the block for you. He offered His life as a sacrifice to God, so that our sacrifices are now the sacrifices of humility, thanksgiving, and praise (Psalm 51:17, Psalm 50:14).

William Still writes, "This end of all pastoral work must never be forgotten—that its ultimate aim is to lead God's people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of worship and service." This is the job of a pastor, he says: To teach them to devote themselves to Christ and His work even when times are hard. So give thanks, I say to my friend, even if giving thanks feels like a sacrifice—because sometimes it is.

SVC members are not monolithic. Some of you are doing very well right now. Some of you not so much. Some of you are back to living your lives almost as normal. Some of you are still feeling the heavy weight of the current economic situation and the coronavirus lockdown. Whichever your situation, know that we serve a Shepherd who will go with us into the darkest places. But He'll also be our Friend when the sun is shining. From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord shall be praised.

This Sunday we'll continue our journey through the book of Psalms. Pastor Jim will be preaching on Psalm 19. Everything points us to the glory of God. The rising of the sun. And its setting. I look forward to gathering with you, my fellow sheep, to give the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. And for those of you who can't be with us, I need to do what William Still tells all pastors to do. I need to remind you that you are God's choice sheep, that He knows you by name, and that His eye is on your every act of sacrifice and service.

Posted by Heath Cross

Pessimist or Optimist?

Are you a pessimist or an optimist? I consider myself an optimist because I know Jesus will win in the end!

In the meantime, though, there are always apparent reasons for "doom and gloom." Like the Shakespeare soothsayers who declared, "Woe, woe, and thrice woe!", or Eeyore the donkey who said, "Could be worse; not sure how, but it could be," many people believe the light at the end of the tunnel will be an approaching train.

But the Lord says all things work together for our good. He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. The most frequent Biblical commandment is "Fear not!"

Once upon a time Elisha (1 Kings 6) had a servant who awoke one morning to see his city (Dothan) surrounded by Syrian troops and chariots. "Woe, woe, and thrice woe," he told Elisha. But Elisha said simply, "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Subsequently the servant's eyes were opened to see another army, "horses and chariots of fire," filling the mountain behind the Syrians!

In our brief history as a church we have had reasons for pessimism: no home, little growth, limited resources, a pandemic. But as the hymn writer says, "All I have needed Your hand has provided." Today we enjoy a new home, a steady stream of visitors, and many new opportunities.

No doubt more challenges lie ahead. And there is no doubt that God will take care of us!

Posted by Jim Bachmann

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