Month: November 2018

November Update:

First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

 

Hamilton MA. We were sort of joking when we said to our friends and family at our home church here in Hamilton on the first Sunday of November that we would see them in December, however, the first Sunday in December is next Sunday and other than a Thanksgiving Eve service we have barely even driven by our home church. It is safe to say that November was one of the busiest months of our marriage so far.

What were we doing?

The second Sunday was the Sunday of Rachel’s shower, so she went out and spent that weekend with her family. Back at home I came down with a twenty-four-hour stomach bug and did not make it to church. The third weekend we were in Buffalo Center Iowa so that I could preach a candidacy sermon at First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center IA. This was my second time out, but it was Rachel’s first and gave her a chance to see the town and meet the people. The third weekend we were at Rachel’s parents for Thanksgiving and found ourselves making an early drive home so Rachel could rest after having a slight fever. That particular morning was so foggy we had to drive at a snail’s pace down RT2 for the sake of safety. Once we had done some grocery shopping (which we had not done in 2 weeks) we were unable to make to our home church and settled in to wait for the call from Buffalo Center concerning the vote that took place Sunday.

The call came at 11:46 on Sunday November 25th.

With a vote of 41-2 First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center IA has voted to call Rachel and I as their next pastor (and his wife). This timing, a process that started the day after the CCCC annual gathering, and which has been guided by prayer and faith that this was God’s will has ended with the beginning of a new adventure. We are now sixth months from graduation so we have a little bit of time before we have to make the move from Hamilton to Buffalo Center, but this gives us time to organize and prepare and maybe even ship a few things out west for the sake of lessoning the work on the front end of the move. God has opened a door and made it quite obvious we are to walk through it.

We do have some prayer requests moving forward, as we enter the third and final trimester we pray for continue safety and good, solid growth for our little girl and continued good health for Rachel. Pray also for the transition for Rachel as she has lived in New England her entire life. Pray for me as I finish out this semester, with one chapter left to go on my Thesis and all other written work done (and most of it turned in) I can focus on that. I have to defend in March or April of 2019. Pray also for a smooth delivery next February and, if possible, a mild(er) winter than the one we seem to be in for. Pray for the Lord’s protection and strength for all of us as we enter our final 6 months in New England and prepare to embark on the next adventure God has put before us.

Also, I want to personally thank you for continuing to read and support God’s Heart as we strive to be faithful to the Gospel while addressing the issues before us.

In Love

The Faulkner’s

Tenth Avenue North & Returning Relevancy to CCM

Jonathan David Faulkner

There was a time in Christian Music when the writers of the songs addressed real matters, wrote deep songs about everything from raising teenagers to the struggle of those living in poverty. A multitude and plethora of topics with the occasional praise chorus mixed in. That was a great day when the flock could be genuinely challenged and confronted with the truth of God in the midst of the most hopeless situations. To some extent this has continued today in the Christian Rock/Metal arenas where bands continue to address everything from pornography addictions to sexual assault and abuse to racism and so much else. Bands like Petra and Stryper not only addressed the culture war, but often delved into hard and difficult subjects.

But with the industrialization of the industry a shift occurred, likely in the 1990’s from music that actually addressed issues and needs in peoples lives to music. What happened is this, Christian Music and the Christian music industry got comfortable, and when it got comfortable it moved away from challenging the believer to being positive and encouraging to eventually writing itself into total irrelevance. Matt Bronleewe, formerly of CCM band Jars of Clay has said that: “There was a time when you might hear a song about God, but you could also expect something else to be brought to the table.” Tyler Huckabee in The Week wrote that at its height CCM was selling 50 Million copies of a record, at the time he wrote the article sales had dipped below 17 Million. If you talk about CCM with people who listen critically you hear the complaint that over and over again they hear the same songs and while the music is upbeat and positive, it often leaves them feeling like something is missing.

That is not to say that there is anything wrong with praise and wowho rship, we need people to write worship songs. I am indebted to Keith and Krystal Getty, Laura Story and others, modern hymn writers with a full depth and breadth, but if God made us to be creative and has given us His gospel then we need to hear more than surface level. If Christians are creators who have access to the full bible and biblical teaching then we should be addressing touch issues in our music. One of the reasons I fell in love with one of my first bands, Jars of Clay, was because they touched on many issues that were relevant to me. To this day Who We Are Instead is one of the gems of CCM, the same with the band Downhere whose album On The Alter of Love is another of those gems. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions, not the rule.

My parents often wonder why I gravitated towards Christian Rock and Metal, why the bands I often listened to were bands like Disciple, A Hope for Home, Demon Hunter, Emery and others. The truth was that those bands were speaking to the pain and struggle I was experiencing in my life, they were helping me process the bullying, the self-rejection and so much else. So, as I became an adult I have continued to listening to those groups because God has used them so deeply. Yes, he used bands like FFH, Jars of Clay, 4Him & Downhere or artists like Rich Mullins and Andrew Peterson, but those were really the only CCM bands God was speaking to me through. It wasn’t through Matthew West, Michael W. Smith and others, though I had their albums. I found more encouragement and challenge in the heavier bands than in what my parents were listening too.

These days, if I do listen to popular worship music it is extremely limited to David Crowder (Neon Steeple & American Prodigal) The City Harmonic and Rend Collective. I would include The Getty’s in that list, but they do not get air play unless someone is doing a cover of “In Christ Alone.” I struggle with how skin deep so much of the current CCM music is, especially the worship music. My soul craves deep and theological worship, something that engages my heart and my mind. I also want Christian Music that engages the issues in the world around me, I want music that will also bring actual comfort to people and challenge them to live and rest in Christ. But I also want Christian Music to address major issues in a way that is sensitive and nuanced.

That’s where Tenth Avenue North comes in. I have often said that some bands, such as Demon Hunter, have often gotten better with age, Tenth Avenue North is one of those bands. They started out by addressing things like Isolationism and talking about the organic nature of the church. Then they started talking about sex slavery, about political divisiveness. As the review on Jesusfreakhideout.com points out: “Mike Donehey has always been subversive in his songwriting, addressing issues in songs and elaborating on those issues in sermons during shows.” Their Australian Counterparts have done much the same, especially with their song “O God Forgive Us” but what Tenth Avenue North, a band that comes out of the same White Evangelicalism that Lecrea left, is doing is truly different and needs to be respected and heard. Their new EP The Things We’ve Been Too Afraid to Say EP is everything that the industry has failed to talk about in six songs. Though they do not touch on Ethnic reconciliation here, as they do on their song “For Those who Can’t Speak” They do address typically taboo Christian topics.

Like in “Covenant” where they deal with what happens when someone else catches your eye after you are married and how you should respond, reminding us that marriage is a covenant that needs to be maintained in the good times and bad times. “Secrets: (Light Shines In)” deals with the secret sins such as pornography while “Counterfeits” deals directly with the idea that porn can fill the gap as some form of fulfillment. Meanwhile “Love Anyway” addresses the sin of our political divineness and the call to actually love as Christ loves instead of fighting with each other. “Afraid” touches on the topic of reoccurring mental health issues and the hope of Christ.

“I’m Listening” the last track, is probably the most prolific and most timely given recent events in America. The song addresses the #MeToo movement, following the story of a mother, daughter and brother who were all victims of sexual assault and who had no one to hear their stories. The first chorus sets the tone for the others “Mother, mother, how many tears have you cried? Mother, mother, I will listen to you tonight to the truth, Mother, how many years before you could breathe? Mother, I won’t turn away when you speak, I’m listening, I’m listening” Tenth Avenue North does a good job here addressing the victims of sexual assault and even with the effects of Toxic Masculinity which says that to men: When you are hurt, do not talk about it. Donehey wonders of the boy at the end of the song: “And brother, where could you run? Shame to the silent and made a prison, Could you learn to speak again, If we were only listening?” Upon first hearing this song I broke down in tears, not because of what I have experienced but because so many times we have shouted down or rejected people who have been victims of sexual abuse and then wonder why people wait so long to come forward. So many Evangelicals have looked at #MeToo and #ChurchToo as something to be rejected or of the world when we should be listening to these stories and working for restorative justice and healing.

This is an example of the turn we need CCM to take, especially white Christian artists and all-White bands who can speak on these topics in white spaces. Until Tenth Avenue North and For King & Country it was hard to find CCM bands that talked about these issues and the people who have been hurt. The heavier bands have done this, Emery has talked about the consequences of secret sins, pornography, extra-marital affairs. Lecrea, even before leaving white evangelicalism wrote about ethnic reconciliation and healing and now does more so talk about these things openly. Otherwise, we do not get to hear about these issues from bands that have traditionally been considered “safe” by white evangelicals.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Tenth Avenue, when Lecrea moved in this direction his fan base grew exponentially. I do believe that God is moving us to actually discuss these issues in our music and in our churches. I also think people are longing for deeper conversations, relatable music that they just are not finding in CCM right now. Perhaps Tenth Avenue North can be the catalyst to start moving us in this direction. I know it is a challenge for my own music where I’ve addressed the Opioid Crisis and Suicide and Depression/Mental Health but can speak on so many more topics than I currently do.

Something does have to change, we have a lot of work to do, there is a lot of tough, hard conversations we need to have, but maybe we can have them, maybe we can work some things out….maybe…just maybe…we can heal and music like this can help us do that.

A Plea to Seminarians

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Seminarians, hear me, this is a plea to each of you.

While November brings many good and wonderful things to our plates it is true that for the seminarian that it can be the month of greatest trial as we adjust to the shorter days, pressing deadlines and the coming New England. I know that so many of us have jobs and families and a myriad of Church Responsibilities, we are also wondering about Thanksgiving and Christmas plans. If we are not worrying about that we are worrying about getting all the reading done or the next big paper or whatnot. We are in a daily frenzy and we feel tangibly all that is coming against us and all that is coming up on our full plates

And we are isolating ourselves….

Brothers and Sisters…DON’T!

Please do not isolate yourselves in this busy season. In recent weeks I have been dismayed to see less and less of you in our community spaces or at our community meals. As we get closer to the end of the fall term I see you less and less. When you are seen, it is hurriedly running through the cafeteria to grab a To-Go box to take back to your room. Where once you lined the walls of the Library and sat at the big tables in the center, you have hid yourselves, choosing the silence of your room over a place where you might be interrupted.

Brothers & Sisters, in the four years I have been here it has been only got worse. Last fall there came a time about three weeks in when the people coming to the cafeteria dropped dramatically, when Chapel attendance was nearly non-existent. Brothers and Sisters, this is bad for us, we need each other, we need to be worshiping with one another, we need to be spending time and enjoying fellowship with one another. We are not living in a vacuum, nor were we meant to. We are meant to. You are created to be in fellowship with your creator and with those fellow beings who were, like you, made in His image. You were not made to survive, but thrive.

Sadly though, as I look around at the many faces, those that I still see, I see so many are merely surviving. We have looked at the mountain of work before us, an overwhelming amount that desperately needs to be reduced, and we think the only way to get things done is to bury ourselves in the pile. Some are even feeling completely crushed by it, some can already feel it breaking them. Dear siblings in Christ, you’re not alone, I myself have felt that way so many times in my tenure here. This is the first year I have not had a mid-semester panic attack and subsequent depressive episode wondering if I was going to get it done.

I wonder why we do this, especially given who we are as a whole, the children of the Living God. We are made in His image, we are adopted into His family, we are co-heirs with Christ. We are the people of whom the promises of God have been lavished and realized. Have we forgotten this? Oh, where is our comfort in the midst of stressful lives? Where is our peace when the pressure feels as if it is going to crush us?

Tell me, honestly tell me, do you trust your amazing savior? Do you believe the testimony He has left about himself? Do you believe that God is who He says He is? Do you believe that God will do what He says He will do? Because He is, and He will.

The great and infinite God, the Creator of the entire cosmos, the one who was, is and will forever be, that God loves you infinitely and deeply. He is with you in every moment, He has put His spirit within you, unified Himself with you through Christ. He is constantly with you in the full extent of His might and power, but with His great love.

Sit now son or daughter of God, hear him say to you: “I am with you, I have not abandoned you, you are cherished, your value is in me.” And let yourself let go of any estimation of value that is tied up in grades or in all the toil of this present life. Come out of the darkness that too often accompanies isolation, the loneliness, the stress, the fear, the pain and see that you are one of many, that while Christ lives in you, He also lives in your roommate, your neighbor, your dorm or apartment mates, your campus mates. God has not abandoned you, He is with you and He has given you people who He is also with to be a part of your life, to help you bear the load. To remind you that you are not alone. To pray for you, to walk with you, to worship with you, to talk to you, to listen to you. To encourage you to take up your hobbies and enjoy them through Christ.

Dear child of God, take comfort in this: that God is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. You are not alone, seminary will not crush you, the work will get done, breathe and be gracious with yourself. Your life is more precious than you know and can possibly imagine, to us, but especially to your heavenly father.

Little flock you are loved, come and know that love.