Intimations of Mortality

I am not sure why, but the words to a famous nineteenth-century hymn have been spinning around in my head for several days.

“When ends life’s transient dream/ when death’s cold sullen stream shall o’er me roll;/ blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;/ O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!” (“My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” by Ray Palmer)

I have been asking myself, “Why this sudden preoccupation with death? Where is this coming from?”

Maybe it is the repeated images on TV news: hospital ICUs crowded again with patients struggling against the resurgence of COVID-19 and the daily reports of the number of COVID-related deaths.

It may be the recent death of the young son of a friend of mine who died under tragic circumstances. His passing has been on my mind a lot as I have prayed for his family in their anguish.

Or it may be because I just had my 75th birthday and I realize the distance to the finish line is getting closer by the day.

I rather think it is because I have been studying the book of Ecclesiastes. One of the persistent themes in this ancient book is the fact that life is short and death is inevitable. This is not a morbid thought. Nor is it pessimistic. It is realistic. It is the inspired wisdom of God.

The writer says: “So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny — the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. . . . The same destiny overtakes all . . . and afterward they join the dead. . . . For the living know that they will die” (Ecclesiastes 9:1-6).

This is, of course, the language of appearance. It is how things seem to be to limited human experience. The author of Ecclesiastes is not commenting on life after death. For the exposition of that glorious theme we must fast forward to the New Testament. Here he is taking a somber look at life “under the sun.” In a hundred years the majority of us will have been forgotten (v.5).

What happens at the time of death is worth pondering. The writer asks, “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward, and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth”(Ecclesiastes 3:21)? On our own we cannot know. Yes, God has put “eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This is the universal hope for immortality. But who can know apart from a revelation from God?

The writer of Ecclesiastes answers his own question: “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to the God who gave it” (12:7). This is an intimation, a hint of continued existence with God after death. These words of wisdom were “given by one Shepherd” (12:11). The writer is conscious that he was inspired by God to write about the destiny of the sprit of believers at death. “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).

Ecclesiastes says the prospect of death produces one of two responses. On the one hand there are those who say, “Let us eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” On the other hand there are those who “fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it be good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

The book of Ecclesiastes  teaches us to live life to the fullest as long as we have life, to enjoy it while we can. “Go, eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart for God has already approved what you do” (9:7). This life-affirming word is a reminder that the blessings of life are to be enjoyed as gifts from God: food and drink, love and marriage, vocation and purpose (vv. 8-10). We should not let the fear of death hover over us like a dreaded specter.

Those who are in Christ can look death in the eye without fear. Jesus takes away the fear of death because he has broken the power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

I have attended several funerals lately. Every funeral I attend is a reminder of my own mortality. But my faith is in Jesus the Savior. So, I can be sure that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Life “Under the Sun”

I have been studying the book of Ecclesiastes. The English title of the book is derived from its anonymous author (Solomon?) who calls himself a qoheleth, or teacher of an assembly. Thus, the translators of the Greek version  of the book gave it the title Ecclesiastes which is derived from the word “assembly.”

The book is enigmatic because it is a collection of observations about life on earth “under the sun,” which apart from God, appears “meaningless,” or futile and empty. Yet the author recommends the enjoyment of life’s opportunities and pleasures, because life is the gift of God.

The tone of the book is sometimes dark and pessimistic. It is as if the author is saying to the unbeliever, “So you want a life without God? Okay then, grab all the gusto you can, while you can, because death is inevitable and life is meaningless anyway.”

At the same time, he is saying to the open minded inquirer, as well as to the true believer, “Remember your Creator and live life in obedience to him” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13-14).

In fact, whether a person is a believer or not, the book is an invitation to take an objective look at the obvious futility, injustice, and disappointments that come to everybody living “under the sun.” This phrase is repeated throughout the book as a figure of speech denoting the limits of life in an imperfect world.

The author of Ecclesiastes makes use of poetry, proverbs, and parables to illustrate his point. An example of this is the little parable in Ecclesiastes 9: 13-18. “I saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are no longer heeded.”

That is how it is in this imperfect world. The little man’s wisdom saved the town. But no one expressed appreciation. There was no citation, no medal, no appointment to a position of honor in government. He was forgotten. The town ignored him and moved on.

In the news reports that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks there appeared a story that shook me. I was saddened to learn that one of the terrorists who flew a passenger jet into the Pentagon in Washington twenty years ago had taken flying lessons at an aviation school in Arizona. The manager of the flight school had reported concerns three times about the man to the FAA. Nothing was done. Her wise warnings could have saved lives, but her cautionary words went unheeded, with disastrous results.

This is not always the way things turn out, but it shows how things can be in an imperfect world. Life “under the sun” has both sorrows and blessings for both believers and unbelievers.

The book of Ecclesiastes does not tell the entire story or complete the narrative of life. There is another, bigger perspective. Derek Kidner quipped, “Ecclesiastes asks the questions. Christ is the answer.” He was right. Believers do not look only at life “under the sun.” Believers follow Paul’s suggestion in Colossians 3:1. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Be a Friend

I read about a man whose lawnmower had broken down. He struggled for a long time to get it running. Nothing worked. His neighbor appeared unexpectedly with a handful of tools.

“May I help?” he asked. In twenty minutes he had the mower functioning beautifully.

“Thanks a million,” the man said. “Say, what do you do with all those tools?”

“I make friends,” he answered. “Call me anytime.”

Making friends is a great way to share our faith. In today’s world it may be the best way. After all, how much attention do we pay to addressed-to-occupant junk mail or to bumper stickers about Jesus? How do we react when strangers show up at the door uninvited?

Real friendship is different. By building friendships we build trust. When people trust us, we can freely talk about what’s important in our lives.

Summertime is an opportunity to make new friends. We see our neighbors out-of-doors. We can fire up the grill and invite them over for burgers. Or invite them for a walk in the neighborhood. Or a round of golf. Or a Labor Day block party. Or PTA back-to-school events.

I once heard Howard Hendricks say, “I’ve never found a verse of scripture that tells unbelievers to go to church. But I have found lots of verses that tell Christians to penetrate the world.”

He quoted pollster George Gallup as saying, “Never before in the history of the United States has the gospel of Jesus Christ been professed by so many while at the same time making so little impact upon society.”

If we who follow Jesus will simply do what he told us to do and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we can make a difference in society, and for eternity. The key is friendship, building relationships of trust.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Communion Does More Than We Realize

One of the things Connie and I appreciate about the church we attend is that we get to receive the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. It never gets old. It does not devolve into an empty routine. We are glad for the fellowship of the local church in the expression of our common faith.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The Lord’s Supper confers bodily fellowship and communion with the Body of the Lord whom we receive, and through it the bodily fellowship with the other members of his Body.” Christians of all denominations the world over meet around the Lord’s table in remembrance of his sacrifice for our sins.

I read about a church leader whose ministry took him around the world. He said he received Holy Communion three Sundays, one after the other, on three continents — Australia, Asia, and Europe.

“The first service was a Methodist one held in a cinema in Sydney, Australia. The second service was in the historic Carey Memorial Baptist Church in Calcutta, India. The third was in the glorious Anglican sanctuary of Westminster Abbey in London, England. … I was equally at home in each of these services, in spite of differences in tradition and distance.”

The famous British evangelist George Whitfield testified to the same sentiment. In America he sought the opportunity to worship and observe communion with evangelical Presbyterian, Baptist, and independent churches. He did this because in some of the churches of his own denomination, “Jesus Christ was not preached in the church.” He enjoyed sharing communion with brothers and sisters in Christ of other traditions because of their common faith in the gospel.

The Lord Jesus established the Supper to remind us of his sacrifice for us. His apostles knew he wanted his people to come together for this purpose on a regular basis. This is because the Lord’s supper is effective. It does something. We come together for thanksgiving, for confession,  for renewal of our faith, for restored relationships and for remembrance. More than anything, we come to the Table to meet God, to receive his love and forgiveness. In prayer we come to God. In the Lord’s Supper he comes to us.

Thomas a Kempis said, “In this Holy Sacrament God can do more than we can understand.”

What does it do? Communion pulls us, however reluctant we may be, out of our selfish individualism and isolation. It draws us into the awareness that as believers in Jesus, we are part of his spiritual Body, symbolized by the “one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:15-17).

It brings us back to the cross, reminding us of of the sacrifice that redeemed us. I think this is what it means to “discern” the Lord’s physical body (1 Corinthians 11:29). To discern is to recognize and to remember.  “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

To whom do we proclaim it? To ourselves, to each other, and to the world. And, I might add, to the invisible realm of angels and evil spirits, we proclaim the Lord’s victory over evil and death itself.

So, it is really important that Christians meet regularly to observe communion. How regularly? The Bible gives no explicit instructions about that. But I am glad Connie and I get to do it every week.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


The American Flag and Christian Faith

Many American houses of worship proudly post our nation’s flag. We place the American flag in our churches out of respect for our national ideals. We do this to encourage prayers for the nation and its leaders. We do this for the same reasons citizens of other nations have the flags of their countries in their churches.

It is not because we believe America is or should be a theocracy. It is not because we believe America is a covenant nation the way ancient Israel was. In fact, Christians hold dual citizenship, and our primary loyalty is to God’s kingdom. Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Most churches have two flags, the American flag, and the Christian flag. This does not mean that we think that our earthly citizenship is as important to us as our heavenly citizenship, or that the two are equal. They are not equal.

On this weekend in which we celebrate our nation’s independence, we are praying for our nation with gratitude for our liberties. Liberty depends on the ability of citizens to govern themselves. Self-government depends on an informed and intelligent electorate. For that to be true we need good schools that teach civic responsibility. We need a free press that shines the light of truth into hidden places and holds leaders accountable for their decisions and actions.

Most of all we need healthy churches that will produce citizens of a strong moral character whose lives are shaped by the gospel of Christ. What is the church’s role in helping to encourage an informed and intelligent electorate? It is to produce a biblically informed and intelligent electorate.

It is not to tell its members who to vote for. It is not to be aligned with any political party. It is not to assume that to be an American is to be a Christian. Theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote, “We must not confuse the kingdom of God with our country. To put it another way, we should not wrap Christianity in our national flag.”

If there are American flags in our church sanctuaries, let it be for the reasons we find in Romans 13:1-7, where Paul wrote about the Christian’s relationship to the state. There he stated his belief in the sovereignty of God. “There is no authority except that which God has established” (v. 1). God rules. All powers, governments, and human authorities are subject to God whether they know it or not.

At his trial, Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and forced to acknowledge that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whom He wishes” (Daniel 4:3, 17).

Romans 13 goes further and states that God has authorized human government as an institution. God established the family as the foundation of society. God established the church to proclaim his truth in the world. And God established human government to create an orderly society where the family and the church can flourish in freedom.

Thus we are commanded to submit to the lawful authority of government and to do what is morally right. We should be respectful of the God-given authority of those who serve in government and pray for them, whether we personally like them or not. We know from scripture how a sovereign God can and does work his will through leaders who do not acknowledge him.

The ideal that Paul sets forth in Romans 13 is that the proper role of government is to commend and approve good behavior (for public safety and peace) and to punish wrongdoers. Governments and their leaders do not always get this right. Sometimes unjust rulers arise and impose unjust laws and tactics of oppression. The question arises, “Are we to obey laws that violate our consciences and contradict God’s word?”

The answer is an emphatic, “No!” Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s law, then civil disobedience becomes our duty. This is borne out in several examples from scripture. Think of the early apostles who refused the order to stop preaching in the name of Jesus: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

But the basic principle stands: There are duties of citizenship which Christians are to observe as matters of conscience. Some of these duties are enumerated in Romans 13: 5-7. These include obeying the law, paying taxes, and respecting the authorities. To these are added the duty to pray for our governmental leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Several years ago my wife and I were worshipping with a congregation in her hometown in Southwestern Virginia. It was a Sunday morning which happened to be the fourth of July. On Independence Day, the people of that church honored America by spending an extended time in prayer for our nation and its leaders, asking God to heal our land.

There was an American flag displayed in its usual place in that small church sanctuary. But the people were not worshipping the flag. Their primary allegiance was not to Americanism. They were worshipping the sovereign God, the ruler of all nations, and Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

I was deeply impressed by the sincerity and honest faith of those prayers. I was reminded that it is just such humble dependency on God that is our nation’s greatest strength. I thought to myself, “This is truly the hope of America.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Here Comes the Groom

This weekend Connie and I are in Grand Lake, in northeastern Oklahoma. I have the honor of officiating for the wedding of friends of ours. Connie and I have been meeting with them for several weeks in premarital counseling. They are excited and so are we! We are especially pleased that they affirm their desire to have a Christ-centered marriage.

There are aspects of any marriage ceremony that are universal: the involvement of the community, the atmosphere of celebration and happiness, the solemnity of vows, promises of love and faithfulness, and the invocation of divine blessing. In the case of Christian marriage, there is the added symbolism of human marriage as a picture of the relationship of Jesus Christ to his church.

The New Testament repeats this bride and bridegroom theme in many places. One of the most prominent is Ephesians chapter five where Paul writes of the love the Bridegroom (Jesus) has for his bride (the church). Paul calls this relationship “a profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). This illustrates the present and future of the church, those who are “in Christ” through faith.

To understand this better let’s think about the elements in a wedding as it was practiced in Bible times. A wedding in the ancient near east involved three main elements: a betrothal, a presentation, and a marriage feast. The Bible says the church is made up of all who have put their faith in Christ. It is said to be betrothed to Christ. Paul wrote, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). 

Betrothal was part of a carefully observed tradition that developed over hundreds of years in the ancient near east. The groom would bring to the father of the woman he wanted to marry a sum of money or a letter of intent indicating how he would support her as his wife. If the father agreed they would formalize the engagement in a binding agreement called betrothal. It might last for as little as a month or as long as a year before the wedding.

When the time came for the wedding ceremony, the next tradition was the presentation. The bridegroom would come at the appointed hour with an elaborate procession of friends and family dressed in their finest apparel. The bride would be waiting for him in her father’s house dressed in wedding attire accented by jewelry, flowers, a veil, and a crown. Her attendants were nearby, expecting the arrival of the bridegroom. There was excitement in the air.

The groom would make his way through the town with singing and dancing. It was a big celebration involving the entire village. The groom and his party would arrive at the home of the bride’s parents and escort her and her family and friends to his own home, weaving their way back through the village.

In Revelation 21:9 we read, “One of the angels said to me, ‘Come and I will show you the bride of the Lamb.'” The bride is the church. The Lamb is Jesus. He will come for his bride. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory for the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.” Behind this picture are the wedding customs as practiced in Bible times. It is our Lord’s intention to “present her (his bride) to himself as a radiant church” (Ephesians 5:27).

Next was the wedding feast. When the wedding procession reached the house of the groom there would be a great feast prepared for all the attendants, friends, and neighbors. The festivities would go on and on, perhaps for a week. When the Lord Jesus famously changed water to wine at a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee, it was at just such a feast.

Then came the official conclusion of the ceremony. A town or synagogue official would stand and ask the bride and groom if they were ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage There would be ceremonial vows spoken before the entire community. Sometimes this was solemnized by a written contract which would be presented to the bride’s family.

The bride and groom would be standing under a tent-like canopy or shelter. It symbolized the tents in which Abraham and the other fathers of Israel lived. It also pictured the protection of God over his people and the blessing of God on this marriage.

With beautiful simplicity and clarity, the word of God is telling us that Jesus loves his church. He gave his life to redeem the church. The church is so precious to him that he calls us his bride. The church is betrothed to him.

We want to represent him well as we live in this world. Revelation 19:7-8 says that “His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given to her to wear. Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.” The apostle Peter put it this way: “Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). He had the second coming in mind. Jesus’ bride should be getting ready to meet him when he comes. We do that by the way we live now.

Like the wedding party waiting for the groom, the church is told to wait expectantly for the coming of the Lord. Jesus promised that he would come again and take his people to be with him in his Father’s house, just like the groom in the biblical wedding. He prayed in John 17:24, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me.”

That is Jesus’ prayer for his bride, the church. No prayer of Jesus will fail to be answered. He is coming. Are you ready to meet him?

Pastor Randy Faulkner

He Was a Good Man

As Fathers’ Day approaches I am thinking about my dad. I write to honor him.

It is striking how infrequently the word “good” is used in the Bible in reference to men and women. We use it all the time to call people “good.” The Bible does not. For example, Jesus was approached by a man who addressed him as “good teacher.” Our Lord stopped him in mid-conversation with a question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

Jesus was not disavowing his own divine nature. But he knew the man was thinking of him the way ordinary people think of other people. So he deflected the man’s attention from fallen human nature, which is not good, to God, who alone is good. Only occasionally do we find the word “good” used of a man in the New Testament. One of those occasions is Acts 11:24 where it is used of Barnabus: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”

J.R. Faulkner would not want the word “good” to be used about himself. He often quoted John 3:30, which was a favorite text: “He (Jesus) must increase but I must decrease,” or as it reads in the New International Version, “He must become greater; I must become less.” But for me, it is hard to resist comparing Dad to Barnabus, who was called, “Son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).

My father was reared in Charlotte, N.C. where, as a young adult he was an entertainer and dance instructor. He also worked in advertising sales in the motion picture industry. His life was radically changed in 1937 when he became a Christian through the influence of professional associates. He was encouraged in his faith by Christian businessmen in Charlotte.

He studied for the ministry at Bob Jones College where he met the young woman who was to become his wife, Magdalene Amstutz. After their marriage in 1943, she joined him in local church ministry, evangelistic work, and Youth for Christ. They joined the faculty of Tennessee Temple College in 1946, where she taught music and he served in administration and teaching pastoral leadership. He remained on the staff and faculty of Tennessee Temple in different capacities until his retirement as president in 1985.

He was called to join the Rev. Lee Roberson as his associate pastor in the Highland Park Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1949. These two men served as partners in ministry for over forty years. My father’s service alongside Dr. Roberson was characterized by loyalty, humility, optimism, hard work, and enthusiasm.

He assisted Dr. Roberson in the development and leadership of the college, the downtown Union Gospel Mission, a large branch church ministry, a bus ministry outreach, a church-owned summer camp for children, a daily radio broadcast, the support of scores of foreign missionaries, and a Christian elementary and high school. My dad was often invited to speak for conferences and churches on the subjects of Christian leadership and Sunday School work.

Since the word “good” is used so sparingly of people in the Bible, it prompts us to ask why it is used at all. One reason the word describes Barnabus is because he was an encourager (Acts 4:36-37). He was always looking for opportunities to lift and help others (Acts 9:27). That was J.R. Faulkner. All of my life I have met former students and church members who have told stories of how my father encouraged them by his counsel, kindness, and prayers.

He demonstrated love for people and his greatest joy in life was in seeing God work in their lives. He was a joyful Christian witness; he shared the gospel freely and frequently. In all my life I never heard him utter a single word of destructive criticism of another person. He never gossiped or indulged in the slander of others.

Barnabus was a Christian leader, a man of vision, who was ready for the great new things God would do in expanding the reach of the gospel (Acts 11:21-26). That was J.R. Faulkner, who was able to see the potential in people and opportunities. As a leader, he was a lifelong learner. He set a good example to me as a servant-leader who never cared about receiving the credit, but that tasks were accomplished and done well.

His calling was to serve in a subordinate role to another strong leader. Like Barnabus, who assisted Paul, my father understood the importance of loyalty and servanthood. He gladly served as Lee Roberson’s assistant for over forty years. Their relationship was unique, involving mutual respect and a willingness to “die to self,” a phrase I heard my dad use many times.

Barnabus was also known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37). I have known a number of wealthy and generous persons in my time, but none more proportionately generous than my dad. He was never wealthy, but he was the most generous person I have ever known. More than once I accompanied him as he delivered groceries to an invalid woman whose husband was an alcoholic.

Many times I saw him slip some cash to a work scholarship student. Perhaps he did this because he remembered how it felt to work his way through college with very little walking around money in his pocket. He and my mother were exceedingly generous in their financial support of missionaries and Christian organizations. They taught their five sons to be faithful in tithing as a regular part of their Christian worship.

Barnabus was said to be a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit. This is why he was called a good man. My dad’s faith was on public display before thousands of people. I am in a position to testify that there was no discrepancy or inconsistency between his faith as a public figure and his private faith as a father and husband.

I know something of his human limitations and weaknesses. He would be quick to acknowledge them. But his faith in Jesus was real and precious to him and he relied upon God’s grace and forgiveness. He endeavored to teach his sons to do the same. This example of integrity is one of the reasons I am a Christian and a pastor.

What he would want is for his faith in Jesus Christ to be his greatest legacy. Because of that, I believe it is safe to say that, like Barnabus, “he was a good man.”

Reposted from June 2019.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner 

Trading Doubt for Assurance

There are people who lack the confident assurance that they possess eternal life. Some  lack assurance of salvation because they flatly deny that it is a possibility. It is arrogant, they say, to presume to know what will happen after death.

Others have doubts because of religious confusion. They question the validity of their religious experience or the teachings of a preacher. Have I done the right things? have I prayed the right prayers? Have I joined the right church?

Some people cannot recall a specific time when they received salvation, so they doubt its reality. Though believing happens at a specific time in a person’s life, some people may not know when that time was for them.

Some people lose assurance when certain sins come into their lives. They imagine that if they really had salvation, they would not have committed such sins. The normal Christian experience never includes perfection. “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). But sin may lead to doubt and uncertainty.

John is the apostle of certainty. He uses the word “know” scores of times in his writings, and 39 times in the little book of 1 John alone. He wrote with certainty about his own experience because he had been with Jesus in person (1 John 1:1-3). He was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord. He wants his readers to have the same certainty even though they had not known Jesus in person.

This certainty is based upon the reliability of John’s eyewitness testimony about Jesus. John wants us to know that it is possible to have assurance of eternal life. Inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:6), he said, “I write these things to you  who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

So, it is not presumptuous to say that you know you have eternal life if you believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is a matter of trust, trust in the written word of one who was sent by Jesus to offer salvation to us in the name of God.

The salvation he wrote about is a gift of God himself. John said, “We accept human testimony, but the testimony of God is greater because it is the testimony of God which he has given about his Son. . . . And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:9-12).

John appeals to our common sense. We rely on the testimony of other people all the time. We put our faith in neighbors, doctors, pharmacists, airline pilots, restaurant owners, and bankers. John says if we trust people with our lives and possessions, it certainly makes sense to trust the promises of God.

He says that eternal life is what “God has given” to those who put their faith in his Son. It is a gift to us. It was purchased by the death of Christ at Calvary. God loves to be gracious. He loves to give freely. He loves his Son so much that he welcomes all those who come to him through their relationship to his Son.

When my youngest son was in high school sometimes his buddies would end up at our house for the evening, sometimes all night, sleeping on the beds, on the floor, on the living room couch. When Connie and I got up early there would be times when we never knew who would be there. I can recall stepping over sleeping, snoring football players in the darkness before dawn.

Here’s the thing. My sweet wife never failed to make those young men feel like family. She joyfully welcomed them to our table with heaping mounds of blueberry pancakes and bacon. They always knew they were accepted in our home because of their relationship to our son.

John is telling us we can be sure of our acceptance with God if we have a relationship to his Son. Assurance of salvation is possible because eternal life is in Jesus Christ alone. “This life is in his Son.” Entrust yourself to Jesus the Savior. Trade your doubts for assurance of eternal life in him. “Whoever has the Son has life.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Try the Uplook!

D. B. Eastep was the godly pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky, from 1927 until his death in 1962. Through the difficult years of the Great Depression and the Second World War, he led and fed the people by teaching the Bible. He was known for his emphasis on the second coming of Jesus Christ. His ministry of the Word brought comfort and hope to many in distressing times.

He published a little magazine called “The Uplook,” which had a wide circulation. (“When the outlook is bleak, try the uplook!”)

I was honored to be one of his successors as pastor at Calvary Baptist from 1980 to 1989. It was my privilege to know many in the church who had trusted In Christ and had grown in their faith under Dr. Eastep’s ministry.

The return of Christ is called a “blessed hope” because it brings blessing and certainty in uncertain times. The letter from James is a reminder of this fact. “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the  autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-8).

(“Near” does not necessarily mean “soon.” It means “imminent.” The Lord’s coming could be at any time, and it is wise to be ready.) James is telling us that no matter the outlook, we need to maintain our uplook! He is telling us how to do it.

With patience 

James uses two different Greek words to help us as we wait for the coming of the Lord. The first means “endurance” or “staying power.” The people to whom James was writing had been going through some hard times at the hands of unjust, selfish, rich oppressors (vv. 1-6). Their expectation of the Lord’s return would contribute to their mature perseverance under trials.

The second word tells us not to try to get even or to retaliate. As humans we are tempted to over-react. James says to hold passion in check for the sake of your Christian witness. I read about a young private in the army who was a Christian believer. His fellow soldiers, including his sergeant, mocked his faith and did all they could to make his existence miserable.

One night, as he was praying before he slipped into his bunk, someone threw a boot and hit him in the head. He did not retaliate. The next morning his tormenter found his boots beautifully polished and neatly stowed beside his bed. That was the Christian private’s reply to persecution. His fellow soldier said later that that unselfish act broke his heart and led him to take steps of faith which resulted in his becoming a Christian.

That young soldier took a long view of his circumstances. He was looking beyond his present hardship and living for his coming Lord, with patient endurance.

With hope

James makes use of the illustration of a farmer who waits with anticipation for the seasonal rains and for the harvest. Our anticipation of the Lord’s coming should be like that. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking. It is confident expectation.

That expectation is justified. There are perhaps fifteen concrete Old Testament prophesies which predict in detail different aspects of the first coming of Jesus. The prophets of Israel foretold his coming for hundreds of years.

In the same way there are even more explicit prophesies about the coming of Jesus Christ which have not yet been fulfilled. At his second coming they will be fulfilled in exact detail just as the prophesies of his first coming were fulfilled. No one knows when that will be. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). So until he comes, we wait with expectation, maintaining an uplook!

With conviction

James said to “stand firm.” This means to hold firmly to your beliefs with unshakable conviction. Many churches are getting away from teaching healthy doctrine. Charles Ryrie wrote that this is tragic because practical teaching of the Bible must be based on  correct doctrine and all Bible doctrine should result in proper practice. We must not have one without the other.

That is why the teaching of the second coming of our Lord is important. It teaches us to live holy lives in anticipation of his imminent appearing. It teaches us to take a proper assessment of this present world in which we live. It is an incentive to evangelism and Christian mission. It regulates Christian worship. Every time we observe communion we are reminded that Jesus has promised to return.

Robert Murray McCheyne, the famous Scottish preacher, once asked some friends, “Do you think Christ will come tonight?” One after another they replied, “I think not.” When all had given their answers, he solemnly repeated Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” Or as it reads in the New International Version, “The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

When the outlook is bleak, try the uplook. Jesus could come at any time. We can be as certain of his second coming as we are of his first coming. Are you ready to meet him? “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Pastor Randy Faulkner


He Ascended into Heaven — Here’s Why

As a pastor, I sometimes found myself in spiritual conversations with people who felt the need to confess their sins to God. It was a special privilege for me to point them to scriptures such as 1 John 2:1-2. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

This is very good news. It means that there is One who appears before the throne of God in heaven to represent us, to defend us, to pray for us. That One is Jesus. When a defendant is accused of a crime in a court of law, he needs a defense attorney to represent him. Jesus, our heavenly advocate, defends believers against the accusations of Satan, and the guilt incurred by our sins.

This weekend, churches around the world observe Ascension Sunday, a service to commemorate the ascension of the Lord Jesus to heaven 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:9-11). His ascension means his ministry continues. What is he doing in heaven now? He is seated at God’s right hand interceding for his people. “Jesus Christ who died — more than that, who was raised to life  — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

As he was dying, the early martyr Stephen saw Jesus in heaven “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). This is the position of an advocate! Simon Peter was about to experience a bitter failure and Jesus predicted it. But in compassion, he said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus showed how he prayed for his disciples then (John 17:9-19) and how he prays for them now (John 17: 20-24).

The book of Hebrews describes this present ministry of our ascended Lord as his high priesthood. In the Old Testament, one of the functions of the high priests was to represent the people before God and to intercede for them. He wore special vestments with a breast piece that had twelve precious stones with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them. They were positioned near his heart (Exodus 28:15-29).

This represents the love of our Great High Priest for his people who trust in him. Through his intercessions, he carries our names and our needs into the presence of God. He became “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

After his death on the cross, and after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples in a variety of settings. He taught them about the coming kingdom and about their mission for him. At the end of forty days, he was taken up into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Two men dressed in white appeared to the disciples who were there and told them that Jesus would return just as they had seen him go (Acts 1:1-11).

He ascended to heaven to continue his ministry at the Father’s right hand. While we wait here for his return, we may be thankful for his high priesthood as our advocate, intercessor, and mediator. This means that people like us “who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” the basis of our acceptance before a holy God (Ephesians 2:13).

Charles Wesley captured the thought in this majestic hymn.

Arise my soul, arise. Shake off thy guilty fears./ The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears./ Before the throne my Surety stands. My name is written on his hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede./ His all-redeeming love, his precious blood to plead./ His blood atoned for all our race. And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds he bears, received on Calvary./ They pour effectual prayers. They strongly plead for me./ “Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry. “Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears him pray, His dear Anointed One./ He cannot turn away the presence of his Son./ The Spirit answers to the blood and tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled. His pardoning voice I hear./ He owns me for his child. I can no longer fear./ With confidence I now draw nigh and “Father, Abba, Father cry!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner