Responding to Unpleasant Realities

I have been experiencing some health-related complications. I’m having to adjust to some new and unpleasant realities and the adjustments are not easy. As one who has been blessed with good health for most of my 77 years, I admit I am spoiled. I am strongly “tempted to complain, to murmur, and despair,” as the old song says.

But then, I read about the sufferings of the apostle Paul, as I did the other day. My momentary, light afflictions are minuscule compared to his. He described  being repeatedly threatened, beaten, starved, shipwrecked, and imprisoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). In these verses you can read about the multiplied dangers to which he was subjected in his missionary labors. By comparison, my troubles are but minor inconveniences.

Yet they are my troubles and I must learn how to cope with them. I want to do that in a way that pleases God and does not diminish my testimony as a Christian. I have been learning to do a few things to help me respond Christianly to life’s difficulties.

I have found myself reviewing and reciting promises God has given his people for times such as I am facing. One such promise is 1 Peter 5:7 — “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” It is a comfort to remember that God cares for me, he really does. In praying this promise back to the Lord I remember his faithful provision  and guidance in the past. He has cared for me in the past. He will be faithful to do so in the future.

Another response is to recall the attributes of God. Naming the characteristics of God in prayers of praise and thanksgiving deflects my attention away from my problems. This trains my mind to concentrate on God’s goodness, whether or not I understand his ultimate purposes. Often the scripture I am reading on a given day will show me some aspect of God’s nature. As I am reading, I pray that scripture back to him in praise. Sometimes I write those verses in my journal and refer to them again and again in my praying.

One example is Isaiah 57:15 — “For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” I love that verse because it magnifies God’s transcendent majesty, coupled with his willingness to be near to humble people who seek him. He is holy, he is eternal, yet he is also open to a relationship with folks like us.

Another thing, I want to resist the temptation to complain. If it is true (and it is) “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28), then complaining is an insult to God. If he has a purpose in my suffering, then I must accept that and “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). The context of that verse says that “God works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). It may be hard to see God’s good purpose in my circumstances, but I am given this promise so that I will know that he is at work in my life, even when life is hard.

These practices, remembering God’s promises, meditating on his character, and avoiding complaining, do not make our problems disappear. But they represent attitudes that contribute to our peace of mind and that meet God’s approval.

The Lord willing, I will undergo an operation in a few weeks. I fervently hope that it will provide some relief and improve my health. Whatever the outcome, I want to respond to life in a way that glorifies God and honors Jesus Christ.

If you have read this far, I assume that means you care enough to pray. Please pray for Connie and me, that we may “enjoy good health and that all may go well with” us (3 John 2). We appreciate your prayers.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Safe in the Storm

The reason I did not post a blog entry last week is because we were without power for several days due to Hurricane Idalia. The nation was watching as the storm made landfall Wednesday, August 30, in Florida’s Big Bend area as a category 3 hurricane packing winds of 125 mph.

The Weather Channel had meteorologists and camera crews here in Valdosta, Georgia, because we were in the path of the storm. We were warned of high winds, serious damage, and loss of power, perhaps for several days. Sure enough, the storm crossed into South Georgia about 10:00 am with winds exceeding 100 mph.

The wind was howling outside as Connie and I were watching the Weather Channel when suddenly the screen went black and the house went dark. We hunkered down for several hours with no air conditioning, no lights, and no refrigeration, praying that our own and our neighbors’ houses would be spared serious damage.

The violent storm blew all Wednesday afternoon. Connie and I are grateful that our house withstood the fury, except for a few shingles on the roof and a section of back fence which was blown over. My rain gauge measured seven inches of rainfall in our back yard.

Late in the day I went for a walk around the neighborhood. I heard the humming of gasoline generators powering several of my neighbors’ houses. Debris was everywhere but in our area it appeared that the houses remained in good shape.

Later I learned that 90% of Lowndes county was without power. Over a thousand power poles snapped. Hundreds of large trees were uprooted. Some of them fell on houses in Valdosta. Roads and streets were blocked by fallen trees and downed power lines. Needless to say, many retail businesses were unable to open until power was restored.

Connie and I left town to stay in a motel Thursday night to escape the heat and darkness. On Friday the Lord provided another place with air conditioning for us to stay overnight. Power was restored to our neighborhood late on Saturday, September 2, a blessing we appreciate now more than ever.

The experience has been a sobering reminder of what dependent creatures we are. We are dependent on God for life and health and the provision of our daily needs. We are dependent on other people for their help and expertise. Psalm 148:8 refers to the “stormy winds that do his (God’s) bidding.” Maybe one reason the Lord allows storms is to remind us of how much we need him.

As I was throwing out spoiled food from the refrigerator, I was reminded of how blessed we are to have an abundance of food in this nation of plenty. As I saw neighbors helping neighbors with cleanup, I thought of how much we need other people, perhaps more than we realize.

Last Sunday Connie and I went to church to worship the Lord. Along with hundreds of other folks we gave thanks to God for his protection and provision. We prayed for those whose homes were damaged. We thanked God for the electrical crews who came to Valdosta from other states to help our local power companies. We gave thanks for the volunteers from all over Georgia who came as part of the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief ministry.

We gave thanks to God that we were kept safe in the storm.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Portrait of a Pioneer

When I was invited to go to Nigeria several years ago, I prepared myself by reading the story of an early missionary to Africa, Andrew Stirrett. I would like to share some impressions from the book Stirrett of the Sudan, by Douglas C. Perry.

Andrew Stirrett

As an unmarried man, Andrew Stirrett was a successful businessman in Toronto. He was a pharmacist who owned two drugstores, real estate, and stocks and bonds. He was studying medicine at the University of Toronto. He became burdened to go to Africa through reading a pamphlet by Roland Bingham, “The Burden of the Sudan.”

He believed the Lord was calling him to be a missionary. He finalized his commitment by selling his businesses, property, and stocks and giving the proceeds to the Sudan Interior Mission. He traveled to Liverpool in England to study tropical medicine.

At the age of 38, he went to the Sudan in 1902, travelling at his own expense, without having been officially accepted by any mission board. In Africa he lived simply. Wherever he travelled everything he owned could fit into one trunk which could be carried on the head of a native porter.

“The little man was clinging to his call with every fibre of his slight being and his giant faith,” wrote Perry. “God would use the seemingly weak things of the world to confound the mighty.”

He spent years in language study eventually becoming fluent in the Hausa language. The British colonial government restricted missionary access to the Hausa speaking territories in the north for political reasons, So Stirrett opened a mission station on a trade route that gave access to thousands of traders heading north and south, in and out of the restricted area.

His “campfire talks would long be discussed and remembered, passed from mouth to mouth, unknowingly being used of God to spread his word. He had found an open door into the north that no man could shut.” Perry told the story of one woman who had heard about the white doctor at the Wushishi camp. She travelled 650 miles on foot to hear the message of God’s salvation. She became a Christian. When she disappeared it was believed that she was martyred for her faith.

Stirrett  went out on long treks, often outwalking younger men. He went from village to village, preaching the gospel. His regular practice was to rise at 3:45 am for prayer. He usually prayed out loud. He said he never wanted to see the sunrise until he had had two hours with his Master. He scheduled definite days for fasting and prayer.

An online article says, “He never missed an opportunity to give out the gospel. For many years at his headquarters in Jos, Nigeria, he would go daily to the large marketplace, stand upon a rock so that he could better be seen, hold up a large picture of Jesus and preach Christ to those who would give him audience.”

He was one of the translators of the Bible into the Hausa language. He said the crowning joy of his life was  when the British and Foreign Bible Society sent the first shipments of the newly-published Hausa BIble in November 1932. He also wrote Hausa hymns and a Bible concordance.

Dr. Andrew P. Stirrett died in July 1948, having served faithfully in Nigeria for almost 47 years. It was said that “his stature was short, but his shadow of influence over the work of the Lord in Nigeria is profound.” He is buried in Jos, Nigeria.

Pastor Randy Faulkner



The Attraction of Heaven

When you and I feel discouraged or overwhelmed, it is useful to do what Paul the apostle did when he needed encouragement because of his sufferings. Instead of giving up, he focused on God and the great future God had for him in heaven. There was a time when God had allowed Paul to have a vision of Paradise which gave him confident hope and carried him through a lot of hard times.

The Lord led Paul to write about it for us in his second letter to the Corinthians so we could have that same confident hope to carry us through our difficulties. Reading about Paul’s experience leads to some conclusions about heaven.

There is a real place called “Paradise.”

In cryptic language Paul describes his own personal encounter with heaven in 2 Corinthians 12: 1-7. He does not know whether this was an out of the body experience, but he refers to it in terms of “visions and revelations from the Lord.” He says he was “caught up to Paradise.” In Jewish theology Paradise  was the place where the righteous went when they died, a synonym for heaven.

Paul called it “the third heaven,” presumably  beyond the earth’s atmosphere, and beyond the interplanetary heavens, the abode of God. The New Testament teaches that Jesus “passed through the heavens” when he ascended back to the Father (Hebrews 4:14).

This is not wishful thinking or escapism. Paul is writing about something he experienced. He writes about Paradise because there really is such a place. He went there. Of this he is certain. In fact, after having had such a momentous experience he said it was necessary for him to be humbled by a physical affliction he called his “thorn in the flesh.”

Modesty kept him from boasting about the experience, so he referred to himself indirectly as “a man in Christ,” implying that those who are in Christ will be admitted there. Jesus promised the criminal who was being crucified next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This teaches us that any humble sinner who believes in Jesus will go  to be with Jesus when he/she dies.

Paradise is indescribable.

Paul had had many revelations from the Lord. For example, his teaching of the gospel was not something he had made up, nor did he receive it from another person; “rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

The revelation of Paradise was etched in his memory as having been given to him fourteen years before the writing of 2 Corinthians. Philip E. Hughes said, “This was probably the most intimate and sacred of all Paul’s religious experiences as a Christian.” Possibly he had not written or spoken of this experience for all those years.

He said he heard “inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” Did he see Jesus in his glory? Did the Lord speak to him directly? He does not say. Was the Lord vindicating and honoring Paul’s ministry? Was he revealing more truths to him? Warren Wiersbe said that “He overheard divine secrets that are shared only in heaven.”

Later on, the apostle John was permitted to tell us more about Paradise (Revelation 2:7,  22:1-5).

Paradise is a desirable place.

A Sunday School boy was asked if he wanted to go to heaven. He replied, “I don’t think so. Grandpa will be there and he will just say ‘run along boys and be quiet!'” Heaven will not be a grumpy, boring, or unhappy place. In fact our Lord explicitly said that children will be comfortable there. “Let the children come. . . . The kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14-15).

Paul had been there and he knew. He described the magnificence of his experience as “surpassingly great revelations,” too wonderful for words. Paul was ready to go back there whenever the Lord was ready to take him. He wrote, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

To the Philippian Christians he wrote, “to die is gain” and “to go and be with Christ is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23). Why would he say that? Because he knew from experience that it is true.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

What About Judas?

We are familiar with Judas. He was one of Jesus’ disciples. He has gone down in history as the embodiment of treachery because he betrayed the Lord Jesus.

Some have tried to rehabilitate his reputation by implying that Judas had a noble motive. He wanted to force Jesus’ hand, to apply the ultimate pressure so that Jesus would have to exercise his power for political purposes and impose his kingdom. But Judas was no hero. Nor was he a helpless victim. Neither was he a true believer who lost his salvation.

Jesus knew Judas’ real intentions and motives. He had said to his disciples, “You are clean, though not every one of you.” The apostle John explained this statement by saying that Jesus knew in advance who was going to betray him (John 13:11).

If we compare scripture with scripture we come to the conclusion that Judas had never been a believer. Jesus said, “‘The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him” (John 6:64). John’s observation is based on his close relationship with Jesus and his close observation of the character of Judas.

The New Testament portrait of Judas is that of a liar, a thief, and an imposter among the disciples. He was not a helpless victim. He was responsible for his actions which flowed from his greedy, evil nature. He craved the power and wealth that he thought would come to him when Jesus installed his kingdom. He rejected completely the spiritual teachings of the Lord Jesus and his emphasis on eternal life. Judas wanted a political kingdom immediately.

Jesus had called Judas a “devil”(John 6:70). This was because he knowingly gave himself over to the power of Satan. During the Last Supper in the upper room, the devil prompted Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2). During the meal Jesus had told the disciples that one of them would betray him. when they asked who it was, Jesus gave them a sign.

“Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him” (John 13:26-27). Luke’s gospel agrees with John the apostle that Satan entered Judas and prompted him to betray Jesus to those who wanted to kill him (Luke 22:3).

Judas did not resist the devil. He surrendered to him. Jesus called him “the one doomed to destruction” (John 17:12). He said, “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).

We ask ourselves, why would the Lord have allowed such a man to infiltrate the disciples and get as close to Jesus as he did? This is a hard question that defies an easy explanation. One possible answer is found in John 17:12, “so that scripture might be fulfilled.” Judas was part of carrying out what scripture had prophesied would happen to Jesus.

John  does not tell us which scripture it was. Judas was not predestined by this to be lost forever. He rather passed a point of no return in his stubborn unbelief. He willed himself to perdition.

Another possible explanation is that Judas is a reminder to the church of the subtle power of Satan. One of his strategies is infiltration. Peter and Jude, in their epistles, warn against false teachers who try to insinuate themselves into Christian assemblies and introduce erroneous teachings. Satan is behind this. He is the father of lies and the author of confusion.

Also, Judas is a warning to every individual about how close someone can be to the truth of salvation, and still be hardened in unbelief. Think of it! Judas heard Jesus’ teachings, observed his miracles, witnessed his love and compassion for people, yet he still went out into eternity lost.

This is one reason why we are told to pray, “Deliver us from evil.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

The Christian and the World

I have been thinking about the Lord Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17 and what it represents. This is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the New Testament. Yet it is not very long, only 26 verses that can be read aloud in six minutes. But it is profound and rich in significance for us.

You see, when Jesus prayed, his prayer included all who would believe in him in the future (John 17:20). That means his prayer included people today who believe in him. His concern is for his disciples’ lives in this world. His prayer in John 17 mentions “the world” 18 times. This indicates that he intends for his disciples to live in this world without being shaped by the world’s distorted values.

The “world,” as Jesus used the term, is not the world of nature, or the general population of people, We know that God loves people. The term instead refers to society organized without God and against God. “In this world you will have trouble,” he told them in John 16:33. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In John 15:19-20 our Lord set his disciples apart with these words, “If you belonged in the world, the world would love its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

In the world

When Jesus prayed for his men, he prayed specifically about their relationship to the world. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world” (John 17:15). He did not want them to stand aloof from their neighbors like Pharisees, or to withdraw  from contact like monastics of the Middle Ages. He wanted them to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. This was how they would bear witness in his name.

Jesus offered them, and us, some benefits that will enable us to bear witness effectively. One is his joy. A joyful Christian is a contagious witness. He prays “that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13). Jesus had already told his disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24).

Another benefit is God’s word. “I have given them your word,” he prays in John 17:14. The world rejects the word of God and substitutes human wisdom. People of the world cannot understand the word of God apart from the convincing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Believers, on the other hand, aspire to live lives that are regulated by God’s word. They look at life through the lens of scripture. The disciples of Jesus had accepted the word of God and this set them apart from the world (John 17: 6-8).

Not conformed to the world

Jesus said, “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:16). This means that our attitude toward the world should be the same as that of our Lord. It has been said that the closer we are to Christ, the less attractive the world will be.

So Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). To “sanctify” in this context means to dedicate, or to set aside for a special purpose. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I sanctify myself” (John 17:18). He was dedicated to the special purpose for which the Father in heaven had sent him into the world: to provide eternal life to those whom the Father had given him. Likewise, his disciples are set apart for a special purpose.

Sent into the world

The Lord’s people are being sent into the world on a mission. The word “mission” comes from the Latin word “to send” or “to dispatch.”  “As you sent me into the world,” Jesus prayed, “I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

Jesus prayed for the disciples that they would remain in the world and be as he was — at the same time “a friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19), and “separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). We are not to adopt an attitude of withdrawal from the world, but neither are we to adopt an attitude of conformity. Rather our attitude should be one of mission: loving service and witness.

James Boice summed it up nicely: “What does it mean to be sent into the world as Christians? It does not mean to be like the world; the marks of the church are to make the church different. It does not mean that we are to abandon  Christian fellowship. . . . All it means is that  we are to know non-Christians, befriend them, and enter their lives in such a way that we begin to infect them with the gospel.”

Just as Jesus was sent into the world, so we have been sent into the world to represent him with compassion and love. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Pastor Randy Faulkner



Not Perfect, but Protected

The disciples of Jesus were far from perfect. Yet John 17 says they had been given to Jesus out of the world. Jesus had given them the true knowledge of God. Jesus said that his disciples had “accepted” his words about God. They “knew with certainty” that Jesus had come from God. They “believed.”

But they were not perfect men. They had the same shortcomings as we have. For example, we  can remember how the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest. The brothers James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up some Samaritan villages. Thomas had a skeptical attitude and seemed to question everything.

Jesus knew that they would fail him. They would be scattered and leave him at the time of his death. He predicted that their most outspoken member, Peter, would deny him three times before the rooster crowed the next morning. In the upper room at the last supper he patiently put up with their questions and interruptions. They did not grasp the seriousness of Jesus’ last words to them before his death.

Yet he looked upon them with love and he prayed for them to be kept by the power of the Father’s name. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name” (John 17:11). Jesus is going away and leaving the disciples in this world. So he prays to the Father in heaven for their safe keeping. His prayers for them assure them of their eternal security. “They are yours,” Jesus prays.

Their assurance of eternal life did not come from their faithfulness. Their faith and obedience were often weak and faulty. But Jesus prayed for their preservation (“protect them” — v. 11), and their sanctity (“sanctify them” — v. 17). This fact (Jesus’ prayers for us) is also the basis for our assurance of salvation as well.

The book of Hebrews has a lot to say about Jesus’ present ministry of intercession for his people. It is called his “High Priestly Ministry.” Unlike the imperfect priests in the Old Testament who had to offer repeated sacrifices for their own sins, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect because he is perfect and his sacrifice is perfect.

His priesthood is permanent. “Now there have been many of those (Old Testament) priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:23-25). Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. His permanent priesthood means salvation is forever.

The security of salvation is Jesus’ perpetual intercession for believers. John MacArthur said, “We can no more keep ourselves saved than we can save ourselves in the first place. But just as Jesus has power to save us, he has power to keep us.”

Does the Father answer the prayers of his beloved Son? I cannot imagine our heavenly Father ignoring or dismissing a prayer of Jesus. The Son would never ask for anything outside of the Father’s will. If our Lord asked the Father to protect and guard his people, that request would surely be granted.

Those first disciples and believers today (v. 20) belong to God and also to Jesus. “They are yours,” Jesus prayed. “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine” (John 17:9-10). If we are Christ’s by faith, we are included, not excluded. We are secure in him, not because of our perfect obedience and faithfulness, but because of his perfect sacrifice on the cross, and his present ministry of intercession for us at the right hand of God.

John 17 pictures this. Read it to see how Jesus prays for those who are his own.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Quotes from John Newton

The famous author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, died in 1807 after a long and fruitful ministry as a pastor. The epitaph on his gravestone in Olney, England, reads as follows;

“John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”

His “Letters,” written to instruct inquiring converts, have long been a source of theological and pastoral counsel. Here are a few quotes from Newton’s letters. I hope you find them as edifying as I did. This post continues one begun last week.

Though we can do nothing spiritually of ourselves . . . yet there is a part assigned to us: resist the devil, purge ourselves from the filth of the flesh and spirit, give ourselves to reading, meditation and prayer, watch, put on the armor of God, abstain from every appearance of evil.

Faithfulness to light received will result in increasing measures of light and strength.

On loving Christ: What trifles are capable of shutting Him out of our thoughts!

Jesus is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. The more vile we are in our own eyes, the more precious He will be to us.

Though sin wars, it cannot reign; though it breaks our peace, it cannot separate us from His love.

(Believers) are not considered as in themselves, but as one with Jesus, to whom they have fled for refuge, and by whom they live the life of faith. They are accepted in the Beloved, they have an Advocate with the Father, who once made atonement for their sins, and ever lives to make intercession for their persons. Though they cannot fulfill the law, He has fulfilled it for them; though the obedience of the members (of the Body) is defiled and imperfect, the obedience of the Head is spotless and complete; and though there is much evil in them, there is something good, the fruit of His own gracious Spirit.

But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much because much has been forgiven them.

There is the unshakable ground of hope: a reconciled Father, a prevailing Advocate, a powerful Shepherd, a compassionate Friend, a Savior who is able and willing to save to the uttermost.

With respect to the past (the Christian) knows all things are become new. With respect to the present and the future, he leans upon the almighty arm and relies upon the word and power which made and upholds the heavens and the earth.

Avoid all that is incompatible with the gospel and the mind of Christ.

Resist the devil and he will flee. If he were to tempt you to anything criminal, you would . . . renounce it with abhorrence. Do the same when he tempts you to question the Lord’s compassion and goodness.

If we could go to heaven without suffering, we might be unwilling to desire it.

Moses could not have persuaded the Israelites to leave if they had been comfortable and prosperous in Egypt.

We are never more safe, never have more reason to expect the Lord’s help, than when we are most sensible that we can do nothing without him.

If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near to Him, we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from Him.

By affliction our prayers are quickened, for our prayers are very apt to grow languid and formal in a time of ease.

Many graces are impossible apart from affliction: patience, meekness, longsuffering, pity, self-knowledge.

We judge things by their present appearances, but the Lord sees them in their consequences.

Let us cast down the load we are unable to carry, and if the Lord be our Shepherd, refer all, and trust all, to Him.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Wisdom from John Newton

John Newton (1725-1807) may be best known as the author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” His life story is a vivid illustration of the power of the Christian gospel to rescue and transform  a ruined life. The hymn is his personal testimony.

I invite you to read about Newton to learn more about him. (Wikipedia has a summary of his career.) In his pre-Christian life he was a navy seaman, captain of slave ships, and investor in the slave trade.  After a spiritual struggle leading to his conversion to faith in Christ, he became a minister in the Anglican Church. He served in the country parish of Olney for sixteen years. During those years he wrote many hymns which are beloved by Christians worldwide.

As an evangelical, he was committed to the proclamation of the gospel. He wrote his own life story to magnify the gospel  and to influence others to believe. He wrote tracts and an introduction to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Later as a pastor in London, he became an influential leader in the movement to abolish the slave trade.

His greatest contribution was his pastoral ministry in the lives of the people he served. His preaching pointed them to Jesus as savior. His personal counsel was a help to many who were troubled and tempted. It has been said that “They found in him one who had been a worse sinner than themselves and who could enter into their experiences with tenderness and sympathy.”

One of his ministries was correspondence. He wrote long replies to the many who wrote to him with questions about the Christian life and faith. He said, “It is the Lord’s will that I should do most by my letters.” His letters reveal the belief that the Christian faith is a personal experience of God through Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, not just an abstract system of doctrine.

The letters also show that the Christian life is practical, leading to a healthy spiritual condition.  He demonstrates how it is only through knowledge of and obedience to the written Word of God that we can practice Christianity as it is meant to be lived. His letters are marked by practical wisdom and sanctified common sense.

I recently read The Letters of John Newton published by Banner of Truth. I want to share with you some quotations from the letters. I am sure that his desire would be, not that we would admire his wisdom, but the truth and beauty to be found in his Savior.

The law entered that sin might abound, not to make men more wicked, but to make them sensible of their sin.

The law reveals the glory of God. We see the perfection and excellence of the law in the life of Jesus.

If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more.

Truth is a sacred thing.

National concerns are no more affected by our remonstrances (arguments), than the heavenly bodies are by the disputes of astronomers.

Plead for the country in prayer

“Dipping” into scripture, ignoring the context, is an unreliable guide, contrary to the intentions of the text and contrary to common sense.

The Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, furnishes just principles to regulate our actions and decisions.

On frequency of prayer: Those whom we love, we love to be with.

Some temptations of Satan are permitted by the Lord to humble and test his people.

By discontinuing prayer we give the enemy the greatest encouragement possible.

There is no fool like the sinner who prefers the toys of earth to the happiness of heaven.

 Cultured men try to polish the manners without improving the heart.

I’ll pass along more of these next week.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Good News for a Hard Day

Today I received distressing news about a friend’s medical complications. I am praying for him. This has prompted me to meditate on Psalm 23.

I have spoken on this psalm many times in the past, mainly when presiding at funerals. It never ceases to be a support and comfort to those who are grieving. But today I am thinking of my friend and, frankly, of my own mortality.

Nobody knows for sure when David wrote this psalm. Was it as an old man, looking back over his life? Was it in his youth, surrounded by his father’s sheep? Was it in midlife when he was beset by threats to his life and kingdom by Absalom? Did he sing this psalm to King Saul to ease his emotional torments?  Maybe the psalm came out of his experience in the Valley of Elah, where he faced Goliath.

Psalm 23 is David’s description of a contented life, a courageous death, and a confident eternity. Read in the light of Jesus’ words it helps believers live with assurance of the Lord’s provision, presence, and protection.

A contented life

“The Lord is my shepherd,” David affirmed. The Lord is the one who identified himself to Moses as the I AM, the eternally self-existent God, known as Jehovah, or Yahweh. Jesus freely took this title upon himself when he declared to his detractors in the religious community, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” He was stating clearly that he is the  Jehovah of the Old Testament and that to know God one must believe in him.

David knew God. He made it personal when he said, “The Lord is MY shepherd.” Jesus said he himself is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. It is one thing to see a sentimental picture of  Jesus the shepherd holding one of his lambs and to believe that he is a good shepherd. It is something else to believe that he is your personal shepherd. Can you say that by faith?

“He restores my soul” is another way of saying “He brings back my soul.” That is the point of Jesus’ parable of the shepherd who goes out into the wilderness to find his lost sheep. He returns with joy having rescued the sheep. The Lord compared this with the rescue of a sinner who repents. Jesus came to earth on that kind of rescue mission, “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). He is the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.

Because of this relationship, David could express contentment: “I shall not be in want.” Or as the little girl in Sunday School misquoted it: “The Lord is my shepherd and that’s all I want!”

A courageous death

“I will fear no evil,” said David as he contemplated death. It was because of his assurance that the Lord would not forsake him but would be with him. The New testament puts it this way: “To go and be with Christ is better by far.” To be absent from the body in death is to “be present with the Lord” for the Christian.

The last and greatest enemy is death. In the presence of death the believer has the promise of the Lord’s provision of every grace that is needed for that hour. The Lord will be there with his rod to ward off every enemy of our souls, and with his staff to shepherd us safe home to the Father’s house.

A confident eternity

The Lord’s goodness and mercy mean that God is faithful to his promises. Mercy is steadfast love, or covenant love, which binds God to his commitments. That is why David (and you and I) can be so sure about eternal life. God’s covenant love never fails. There is no end to his faithfulness to his word.

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” makes us think of Jesus’ word that he is preparing a place for his people in the Father’s house. He is coming again to take us there, either by death or by rapture.  Paul summed it up: “I am persuaded (confident) that neither death nor life . . .  will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Pastor Randy Faulkner