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

 

The Certainty of Heaven

Paul lived with a secret he had kept to himself for fourteen years. It concerned an experience with God that was so intense that to most folks it might have seemed unreal. So he had held it inside until the time came to tell about it.

It concerned heaven, invisible to mortals, and to many people a fantastic dream, to others a desperate hope, or to skeptics, an impossibility. But to Paul, it had become a reality, a very real certainty. If Paul is to be believed (and I believe him!), we are told that he actually went there. He saw and heard the sights and sounds of heaven. And he wrote to tell us about it.

He chose the most autobiographical of his letters to reveal his secret. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to explain himself to his critics and to bare his heart to his friends. He shared intimate details about his sufferings. He wrote about opposition and criticism he faced. He wrote about discouragement. He wrote about his uncertain future.

But he also revealed his source of greatest encouragement, the most sacred privilege he had ever known. It was a special experience of heaven about which he had kept silent for fourteen years. The Lord permitted him to write about this for our benefit, so that we, too, might be encouraged by the certainty of heaven.

“I know a man in Christ,” he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:2. This is an oblique reference to Paul himself, early in his Christian ministry, fourteen years before. This “man in Christ . . . was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know — God knows.  And I know that this man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows — was caught up to Paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

Paul is talking about himself and an experience he had had with God. We know this because of what he said next. Such an experience might have made him conceited and boastful, if the Lord had not humbled him with a “thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest upon me” ( 2 Corinthians 2:7-9).

From this we learn the profound lesson that heaven is a real place. Paul called it “Paradise.” The word comes from the ancient theology of the Hebrews. They thought of it as a place where the righteous go when they die. It’s basic meaning is of a garden, reminding us of the Garden of Eden. When Jesus offered eternal life to the repentant thief on the cross dying next to him he said, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Paul also referred to it as “the third heaven.” Where is that? According to Paul, it is “up,” probably a reference to its location beyond the first heaven (atmosphere of earth), and the second heaven (outer space). A literal Greek reading of Hebrews 4:14 says that in his ascension, Jesus “has gone through the heavens.”

Another implication is that Paul’s experience of Paradise was indescribable. It was a revelation “from the Lord” (v. 1) It had happened at a specific time which Paul remembered. What he did not know was whether or not this was an out of the body experience. He had held this secret for fourteen years (v.2), without speculating on the things he couldn’t explain. There are some things the Lord does not want us to understand as yet. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Paul said that in this vision of heaven he heard “inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (v.4). Did he see Jesus? Did the Lord speak to him directly? Warren Wiersbe wrote that Paul “overheard divine secrets that are shared only in heaven.” This much is certain. He was given a revelation of heaven for our sakes, for his first century and his twenty-first century readers.

One more thing we can learn from Paul is that this place called Paradise is a desirable place. Paul had been there and he knew. These were “surpassingly great revelations” (v. 7) A Sunday School boy was asked, “Do you want to go to heaven?” He answered, “I don’t think so. Grandpa will be there and he will just say, ‘run along boys and be quiet!'”

In heaven there will be no grumpy, bitter, unhappy, or boring people. I know heaven will not be boring because Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14-15). If children could be happy there it will not be boring. It will be a desirable place. There will be no sin, no suffering, no disappointment or futility. Christ will make all things new. Those who are there will have been made new in Christ.

Paul was ready to go back there when his earthy assignment was completed. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 he said he “would prefer to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord.” Little wonder. His experience of heaven had etched in his heart the conviction that “to go and be with Christ is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

I am glad Paul let us in on his secret.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Certainty and the Holy Spirit

One of the great certainties offered by the Christian faith is the certainty of the Holy Spirit and his active ministry. Whenever people recite the Apostles’ Creed they affirm their belief in the Holy Spirit of God. The New Testament testifies repeatedly to the role of the Spirit in accomplishing the good work of salvation.

For example, in Ephesians chapter one we are told that believers are chosen by God the Father (v.4), redeemed by God the Son (v. 7), and sealed by the Holy Spirit (v. 13). “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance . . . .” (vv. 13-14).

If someone asks, “How do I know the Holy Spirit is living in me?” a simple response might be, by the same way you know there is music on your digital playlist. You cannot see the music, but you can believe the message on your screen that there is music in your smart phone. A second way you can know is by playing the music and hearing it.

We can know the Holy Spirit works for us and in us because of the words of scripture. We believe in the Holy Spirit as we exercise faith in the promises of God’s Word. In addition, we may experience the benefits of the Holy Spirit’s ministry as we prayerfully trust him to guide, instruct, comfort and strengthen us, as our Lord Jesus promised that the Spirit would do.

That is what had happened to the people to whom Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Acts 19 gives the history. The people of Ephesus had not even heard of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-2). Paul stayed there and taught boldly in the Jewish synagogue for three months (v. 8). Then he moved to a lecture hall and continued his ministry in Ephesus for two more years (v. 9). From that base the entire region was evangelized (v. 10). “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (v. 20). Through the teaching and miracles they observed, the people came to understand and experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit (v. 6).

To these people Paul wrote, “you heard the message of truth” (Ephesians 1:13). “You believed” the gospel. When that happened you were “included in Christ” and “marked with a seal,” a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The object of their belief was the message of the cross where the Lord Jesus shed his blood to secure the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7). The confirmation of their belief was the Holy Spirit.

Paul used the familiar imagery of a seal to illustrate the Holy Spirit because in the ancient world a seal was a mark of ownership, identification, and authenticity. It may be compared to the computer chip embedded in your passport. The chip can be read by a scanner at U.S. Customs portal when you reenter the country from overseas. It identifies you as a citizen of the United States.

The Holy Spirit in the believer is God’s way of validating and confirming the believer’s identity in Christ. The discovery of the DNA molecule led to ways for scientists to prove physical identity. DNA carries genetic information that sets individuals apart from each other and can prove their association in families. This illustrates the role of the Holy Spirit in establishing and sealing an individual in the spiritual family of God.

In Romans 8:9 we are given  a test of whether a person is a real Christian or not. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ , they do not belong to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 recommends that we examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. Here is a simple self-examination, based on what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. It is intended to give certainty, not to foster doubt and anxiety.

Ask yourself, do I believe the gospel of Christ (Titus 3:5-7)? Have I experienced the guidance, assurance and encouragement of the Holy Spirit through the promises in the Bible (Ephesians 1:17-19, 3:16-17)? Do I have love for others, and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Do I regularly fellowship with God in prayer (Romans 8:26-27)? Do I love God’s word and is its truth clear to me (John 16:13-15)? Do I seek to live in a way that pleases the Lord (Ephesians 4:17-30)?

If these things are true in your life it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. If this is not a description of your life, but you want it to be, that may indicate the Holy Spirit is drawing you to surrender yourself in faith to Jesus. He offers certainty of a new life. “The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Peace and Contentment

The New Testament offers certainty for uncertain times. I spoke recently with a friend who has received a diagnosis from his physician that he has a dangerous, life-threatening disease. For most of us, news like this might be a source of anxiety, but he spoke about it with composure and trust in God. How could he respond this way? I believe it was the peace of God.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reported that he had been disappointed by the recent events of his life. He had been unjustly imprisoned for his faith. He had been disappointed by people who had caused him trouble. He also knew what it felt like to be in need of material necessities. Yet he wrote to his friends in Philippi with a sense of peace and contentment.

If there is anything we need in these uncertain times it is peace and contentment, a peace and contentment that come from God. “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). “The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).

The peace of God is not a spiritual marshmallow pillow. It is the New Testament equivalent of the strong Hebrew word shalom, which means emotional wholeness, security and maturity. The “peace of God” (v.7) is linked to a relationship with the “God of peace” (v. 9). It is a result of the Lord’s presence with his people: “The Lord is near” (v.5).

Peace is an outcome of prayer, honest and thankful prayer. In a time of trouble and stress we may be tempted to curl up in a corner complaining about our circumstances, full of anxiety and self-pity. Paul offers an alternative. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). The promise of scripture is that if we make prayer an habitual response, God’s peace will stand guard over our emotions and our minds (v. 7).

The same is true of contentment. Paul said this is a learned response. “I have learned the secret of being content,” he said in verse 11. He said he had experienced both prosperity and poverty. He had learned to overcome anxiety about material things. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13).

Some people never learn contentment. Never satisfied, they have an abundance of everything and still they complain. They seem always to look for  bigger and better toys. They pay rent on storage sheds that are larger than the houses of the poor in the developing world. Of course the advertising and marketing industries fuel this dissatisfaction.

Paul said he had more than enough and he was content with what the Lord had provided. “I am amply supplied,” he wrote (v. 18). He could say this because he had entrusted every part of his life — including his daily need for food, shelter, clothing and health — to Christ. In every situation the Lord helped him maintain a contented frame of mind.

What do we learn from this? How can we enjoy peace and contentment? First, like Paul, we must make a decision not to be greedy or selfish. In Acts 20:33 Paul reviewed the example of his ministry: “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.” He had made a decision to be “free from the love of money” or material things (Hebrews 13:5). So should we.

Second, Paul’s initial decision was followed by a disciplined mind. Like him, we may train our minds to think correctly about what is excellent and constructive, not what is doubtful and destructive. “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

One of the dangers of our addiction to the entertainment media is that we become passive receptors, not active thinkers. The Lord wants us to use our minds the right way. When we ponder, analyze and carefully reflect on God’s truth, we are promised God’s peace and the assurance of his presence. In my years of pastoral ministry, I have seen this demonstrated over and over again in the lives of the Lord’s people as they have faced the troubles of life.

Third, we must learn to trust God in prayer for our daily needs. Jesus meant it when he gave us permission to ask our Heavenly Father, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That was the prayerful lifestyle the apostle Paul had cultivated. The result for him was peace and contentment. It can be the same for you and me as we talk to God about our problems and needs.

This is a certainty for an uncertain time.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

The Certainty of God’s Love

The past year has been stressful and uncertain for many Americans. New variants of the COVID-19 virus still threaten the population. A significant percentage of people remain suspicious and fearful of the vaccine. We hear sad reports of young people who are depressed and suicidal. Businesses have closed for good. Millions of people have lost their jobs.

In these uncertain times, I want to turn readers’ attention to themes and promises of which we may be certain. It is possible to maintain a sense of calm confidence in the middle of this perfect storm of economic disruption, health crises, and social change.

This is not escapism or a state of denial. The problems are real. But so are the promises of God. It is by keeping our focus on him that we maintain stability as we live in this present world in this present time.

This leads me to recommend the writings of the apostle John. John is an apostle of certainty. {Count the number of times he repeats the word “know” in his first letter.) In 1 John 4:7-21, the knowledge of God leads to the certainty of the love of God for us. In spite of everything, we may be sure of God’s love.

God’s love is on display. God’s nature is love. God is the source of love, the essence of love. “Love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Holy Trinity is a divine inter-relationship of eternal love. This infinite, glorious and loving God is great, but not remote. He has shared his love with us human beings living on this tiny planet. He “showed his love among us” ( 1 John 4:9).

John circles back to Jesus Christ. God showed his love among us when he “sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Sin results in death and condemnation. Jesus’ sacrificial death results in life for those who believe in him. This is God’s gift of love.

John can write with confidence about this because he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. “We  have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). The Christian faith rests on objective facts which have been verified by the sensory experience of those who were there. These facts are passed along to us by the Lord’s apostles.

He goes further. He says that if we accept this objective testimony about Jesus, God in his grace will send his Holy Spirit to confirm it to us as a subjective witness. “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God” (1 John 4:15).

This acknowledgement of Jesus is a formal declaration of faith in him. It happens when one says “yes” to the gospel. “This is what I believe.” It is reaffirmed in water baptism as a confession of one’s faith in Christ. It happens again when a Christian explains the faith to another person. In the words of the apostle, it is the declaration that Jesus is “the Savior of the world.” It is the acknowledgement “that Jesus is the Son of God”  and that God sent him (1 John 4:14).

These facts prove God’s love. His love is reliable. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” ( 1 John 4:16). Reliance upon God’s love gives us stability. It anchors us. It completes us. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment” ( 1 John 4:17).

God’s love is the life-force working within individual believers and through the Christian community. It is the vitality of the church. We are called to be loving because God is loving. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

The invisible God is made visible to a watching world when Christians love one another. Frederick F. Bruce wrote, “The love of God displayed in his people is the strongest apologetic that God has in the world.” It is the love of God, costly love, practical love, visible love, serving love, forgiving love, which makes the gospel believable to our neighbors.

“God is love” (1 John 4:16). This is a great certainty for uncertain times.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

 

 

Preach the Word

As a student in a Christian college I looked forward to the week of the annual Bible conference. Classes were suspended as we heard some of the nation’s leading Bible teachers expound the scriptures. My heart was warmed.  I remember thinking to myself, “That truth was there all the time. Why didn’t I see it?” Those gifted teachers made plain to us students what the holy scriptures were saying. This was soul-satisfying.

This was further reinforced during my student years as I was employed during the summers at World of Life camps and conference center in New York. I was privileged to hear outstanding Bible teaching there too. Those speakers were, like Apollos, “mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24). I was developing the conviction that if I should ever become a preacher, then I must be an expository preacher.

The most significant encouragement in this direction during my seminary training came not from courses on preaching, but from my Greek professor, David Winget, who taught principles of biblical exegesis. Exegesis is the discovery of what the biblical text says and means (preferably from the original languages of the Bible). He demonstrated that sound exegesis is the foundation for a ministry of expository preaching.

Expository preaching seeks to explain the text of scripture in such a way as to help listeners understand its meaning and make relevant application of its truths to their lives. The authority in this communication rests within the divinely-inspired biblical text, not with the preacher.

I have had the high honor of serving as pastor of two great churches, Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky, and Metropolitan Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. In each place I was preceded by well-known pastors who were faithful and effective expository preachers.

The people of these congregations were wise enough, kind enough and mature enough not to expect me to fill the shoes of my esteemed predecessors. Instead, they encouraged me to be myself. They knew that I aspired to faithfully and systematically teach the Word of God. That was what they wanted. They had been nourished by sound Bible teaching in the past and they appreciated the fact that that was what I wanted to continue to do, by God’s grace.

In his book The Living Church John Stott wrote, “We do not occupy the pulpit in order to preach ourselves, broadcast our theories or ventilate our opinions. No! Our understanding of preaching is that it is essentially an exposition of the Word of God. In this sense, all Christian preaching is ‘expository’ preaching . . .  in the broad sense (it opens up a biblical text).”

He went on to say that biblical exposition is like building a bridge from the ancient biblical world to our contemporary setting. That bridge aims to cross a cultural divide of over two thousand years. “Authentic Christian preaching is a bridge-building operation. It relates the text to the context in such a way as to be both faithful to the biblical text and sensitive to the modern context.”

The famous nineteenth century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon told young preachers, “I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository. . . . I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors.”

So you will not be not surprised to read here that I believe that people need expository preaching Sunday after Sunday, from pastors whose hearts burn within them with passion for the truth of God’s Word. Here are some reasons why I say that.

!. The Sunday morning preaching event is the single most important moment in the life of any congregation. I use the word “moment” advisedly. The preaching of the Word of God is momentous! It centers the gathered congregation on God’s revelation of himself and his will for our lives.  It unifies the congregation  around a shared commitment to God’s revealed truth.

2. The Bible is truthful and trustworthy in all that it affirms. It is an infallible guide to a Christian’s belief and conduct. Expository preaching provides reliable instruction in what we are to believe and how we are to live to be pleasing to God.

3. Anything less than the healthy food of God’s word will leave people spiritually undernourished. It is both “milk” for infants in the faith, and “adult food” (“meat”) for the spiritually mature. Therapeutic pop psychology or social commentary cannot feed hungry souls. Without the teaching of the Bible, God’s people cannot grow spiritually.

4. The Bible is relevant for all peoples, all cultures, all times and all places. Wherever it has gone, the Bible has elevated civilizations, and advanced the progress of cultures. This is true in the local church. The preacher’s task is not to make the Bible relevant, but to show the Bible’s relevance to our lives, guided by the Holy Spirit.

5. The teaching of scripture leads people to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reminded young Timothy that the holy scriptures were able to make him “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). Jesus had told his disciples, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”(John 20:29). How would those who had not seen Jesus in person come to believe in him? It would be through the witness of those first-century apostles (John 17:20)! Their writings about Jesus became the New Testament scriptures. The scriptures proclaim the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For these reasons, and others, throughout my pastoral ministry I made a priority of the study and teaching of the Bible. I wanted to be like Ezra, who “devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Like Paul, I aspired to obey “the commission God gave me to present . . . the word of God in its fullness” (Colossians 1:27).

One of the prominent Bible expositors I heard during my student years was Dr. J. Vernon McGee, whose recorded messages, long after his death, are now still heard on the “Thru the Bible Radio Ministry.” I remember a message he gave for the commencement ceremonies when my brother Steve graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary. It was based on the famous text which was the seminary motto: “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).

During his talk he must have repeated that theme more than twenty times! I was reminded of the sacred privilege and solemn responsibility of my calling. I was both humbled and energized. And frankly, I couldn’t wait for the next great opportunity that would be mine to “preach the word!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

He Also Carried the Cross

He was on his way into the city from where he had been staying. His mind was preoccupied with plans for the day. As he rounded a corner, he unexpectedly found himself caught up in a crowd of spectators on their way to watch an execution outside the city wall. Suddenly Simon was conscripted by Roman soldiers to carry the cross for one of the condemned men. He had no choice but to obey. The soldiers placed the heavy cross beam on his shoulders.

This story from the gospel of Mark omits details such as Simon’s history, thoughts, and appearance. It does tell us he was from Cyrene, which was in North Africa. Since this was the time of the Jewish Passover, it is likely that he was a pilgrim in Jerusalem for the festival. He must have appeared to be a strong man, capable of carrying the load. But there is much more that we would like to know.

We do know what Simon saw. He saw the man Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns, his face swollen and disfigured, his back raw and torn from a cruel flogging. He had fallen to the pavement in weakness. The journey to skull hill was about a mile from the place of his trial and sentencing and he was  exhausted from a sleepless night and the savage beatings had had already endured.

Simon saw religious leaders proceeding to the execution, clad in their vestments, prompting mockers who shouted derisive insults at Jesus. He saw huddled groups of mourners, women who bravely followed, and did not forsake Jesus in his last hours. He saw two condemned criminals also carrying the instruments of their death, as was the Roman custom. He saw a gathering morning crowd, at first awakened by curiosity, then revolted by the shocking scene before them.

If Simon had arrived one hour sooner or one hour later, he probably would have missed this interruption in his day. Was this an accident? Or was it providence that brought him to this exact time and place in history? What was the outcome for Simon?

Mark 15:21 says that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. He includes this detail because these two were well known to the Christian community for whom he was writing his gospel. In Romans 16:13 the apostle Paul salutes Rufus who was a member of the Christian assembly in Rome. Does this mean that Simon from Cyrene became a believer in Jesus and that he influenced his family to believe?

Acts 13:1 names leaders of the church in Antioch. One of them was Simon who was also called “Niger.” Was this the same Simon? Was he among the Christian men who migrated north to Syria from Jerusalem because of persecution? Acts 11:20 says some of them were from Cyrene. If he was among them, he became a strong witness who proclaimed the gospel to Gentiles and helped establish the great church in Antioch. We cannot be certain, but it is possible that Simon the teacher in Antioch was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus.

Did he remain at Calvary as the Lord was dying? Did he hear the Savior’s last words from the cross? Did he become a believer on Good Friday or later, with the thousands who believed through the preaching of the apostles? Surely he never forgot his part in the trauma and sorrow of that day when the Lord was crucified. If indeed he believed, as seems likely, then bitter experience resulted in eternal blessing for Simon and his family.

Pastor Randy Faulkner