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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

Earth's Crammed With Heaven

In his sermon on Psalm 8, Jim commented that he never noticed the sky was blue until he became a Christian. My story is similar, but different. When I was seventeen, two years before I became a Christian, I went on the most exciting duck hunt of my life. But it wasn't the duck hunt that was exciting. It was the boat ride to the duck blind.

We had to break ice to get our boat in the water. It was around four in the morning. My best friend was working the motor that day, so I was lying on my back, looking up into the dark delta sky. I'd looked into that same sky many times, but I'd never seen anything like this—a ticker tape parade of stars falling; dozens of them, shooting back and forth like laser beams in a video game. I thought the sky was falling. This might be the end of the world.

I later figured out that these weren't stars. Thanks to Google, I now know it was the Geminid Meteor Shower of December 1998. At its peak, it produced 600 meteors per hour. And, by chance, so to speak, I 'happened' to be out at four in the morning, in the middle of nowhere, without a cloud in the sky.

In my mind, this was the first time in my life I experienced a deep sense of awe. I knew nothing of God at that point. But I had a nagging sense that I needed to thank someone, though I didn't know who, for allowing me to see something so beautiful. I've been fascinated with the sky ever since.

Years later, as a believer, I read The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis and Planet Narnia by Michael Ward. I learned that C.S. Lewis was more fascinated with the sky than I've ever been. When he looked at the heavens, he saw the gospel. I don't have the space to get into the subject in detail, but let me share a couple of Lewis' observations.

Lewis loved the planet Jupiter. In Greek mythology, Jupiter was the kingly planet, represented by Zeus. Lewis was struck by the fact that there is a large red spot on Jupiter's side. This red spot is nearly exactly the size of Earth. Our planet could fit into that spot like a golf ball into its hole. How fitting, Lewis thought, that the kingly planet bears a red mark on its side, reminiscent of the wound given to Christ by a Roman spear as He hung on the cross.

Lewis also pointed out that, twice in Scripture, Jesus is called the "Morning Star" (2 Peter 1:19, Rev. 22:16). The morning star is Venus, the planet that classically represented love. Venus is the first 'star' we see at night (the evening star) and the last 'star' we see in the morning (the morning star). How fitting, therefore, that Jesus should be described as the Morning Star. He is love incarnate. And He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

It feels like we're on a bumpy boat ride these days. I've found great comfort in the beautiful, Sahara-dust-inspired sunsets we've enjoyed before the recent rains. I've also found joy in watching fireflies with my daughters. In some weird way a group of fireflies along a tree line reminds me of that meteor shower years ago.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, 

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

The glory of the heavens and the glory of this world are meant to point us to the One who made them all. At seventeen I didn't know who to thank. Now I know the One I say thanks to as the wounded King, the descendant of David, the bright Morning Star, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We can say thanks to our Creator in many different ways. But the primary way He calls us to do so is by gathering on the Lord's Day. He set this day apart for us to celebrate and proclaim His resurrection. The wounded King didn't stay in the tomb. He rose like the morning star. And on Sundays we give our "amen" to that fact as we worship the triune God. We see His glory as we gather in His presence; and so, figuratively speaking, each Sunday, we take our shoes off instead of picking blackberries.

Posted by Heath Cross

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