A Song for Dangerous Times

A Song for Dangerous Times

“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you” (Psalm 91:9).

The extravagant promises of Psalm 91 are puzzling to anyone who faces trouble. And who doesn’t? What are we to make of assurances that if God is our refuge, we need not fear plague and pestilence, destruction and disaster? Are these sweeping promises to be understood as some version of word of faith prosperity theology? Are these verses examples of pious escapism?

In the world I inhabit, the world as it is today, people of faith do in fact, fall victim to night terrors (v.5), deadly diseases (v. 6), untimely death (v.7), natural and man-made disasters (v.10), and various other troubles. My memory ranges over 47 years of pastoral ministry. There have been countless instances where I have been called to be present in the lives of people who loved the Lord but who faced disasters, dangers and death.

The author of this psalm is realistic in his poetic assessment of the world as it is. He names the threats: snare, pestilence, arrow, plague, war, disaster, dangerous predators. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come,” wrote John Newton. His life was a testament to the fact that people of faith are not immune from the troubles of the world.

In these circumstances, the inspired writer directs our attention to our Creator. In the world, as it is, he wants us to know God as He is. He invites us to live in close relationship to God, sheltered under his wing of protection.

The names of God reveal aspects of his character: “Most High” — supreme, exalted ruler over the universe; “Almighty” — all-powerful, all-sufficient One; “The Lord” — Yahweh; the self-existent, personal, covenant-keeping God; “My God” — the majestic God of eternity, the sovereign God of creation. These names are a call to worship and trust him, in all circumstances.

The titles of God (refuge, shelter, fortress) remind us to think of him as our security and protection: soft, when it needs to be, like a mother bird’s sheltering wing, hard, when it needs to be, like a warrior’s armor. The psalmist would have us stop and think about God when we face life’s troubles.

If you read Psalm 91 again, think about it in light of world events, interminable war, natural disaster, refugees from genocide and poverty, political turmoil, suspicion and fear, economic disruption, assassination, and especially, religious persecution in various parts of the world. The plain fact is, God’s faithful ones do not always escape trouble.

You might be brought up short and puzzled until you read verse 15. There the Lord promises, “He will call on me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble.” This is a key to understanding how to apply the beautiful promises of the psalm. The author looks at the world as it is and to God as he is, and he brings them together. There is a resolution in verse 15.

This is a Christian philosophy that sustains you in the boardroom when the manager says, “Clean out your desk and turn in your keys. This is your last day on the job.” This is a worldview for the hospital room when the doctor brings bad news and the outlook is bleak.

“I will be with him in trouble,” not necessarily escaping it. It is the presence of the Lord in the time of trouble that gives courage and hope. Two biblical illustrations come to mind. In the book of Genesis, Joseph endured many troubles. There we read, “The Lord was with Joseph.” In the New Testament book of Acts, The Lord Jesus appeared in a vision to the apostle Paul at a time when he was discouraged and lonely, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you.”

He says the same thing to you and me: “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

The deliverance so boldly promised in Psalm 91 is for those who take refuge (v.2) in God, who make the Most High their dwelling (v. 9), who love him (v. 14), and who call upon him for salvation (v. 15). It is for those who say with faith, “My God in whom I trust” (v. 2).

It is not a blanket escape from the threats and risks of living in a dangerous world. Rather it seems clear that the writer sees and wants us to see another dimension, that of eternity. In the book of Romans, we are given a Christian interpretation of Psalm 91: “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37). “In all these things” we learn to recognize and rely on God’s presence with us. In persecution, trouble, or even death we will not be forgotten or forsaken.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner






Hope Springs Eternal

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope Springs EternalToday is the first day of summer. For me, this evokes memories of baseball. Growing up as I did in the 1950s I remember watching the Game of the Week featuring commentators Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese on lazy summer Saturdays. I would spread out the baseball cards for the participating players as I followed the action on TV.

As a boy, I loved attending games at iconic Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, the home of the Chattanooga Lookouts. The Lookouts were the minor league affiliate of the Washington Senators before that team became the Minnesota Twins in 1961. I got to see some pretty famous players before they became famous: future major league stars like Bob Allison, Jim Kaat and one of the greatest home run hitters of all time, Harmon Killebrew.

At that time the Lookouts played in the AA Southern Association with the New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Crackers, Birmingham Barons, Little Rock Travelers, Mobile Bears, Nashville Vols, and Memphis Chicks. Most of the teams traveled by train or bus in those years and life in the minors was not easy.

Players were willing to put up with cheap hotels, brown bag lunches and long bus rides in the hope of being sent “up” to the major leagues. Once in a while, a player would show up in a Lookouts uniform after being sent “down” from the parent club. I remember getting one of them, Ernie Oravetz, to autograph a baseball card which pictured him in the uniform of the Senators.

I still love going to the ballpark. OKC’s  Bricktown Ballpark is a field of dreams. It’s fun seeing our Oklahoma City Dodgers going all out to prove themselves worthy of a call up to the big leagues. One of our players, Will Smith, spent time with the LA Dodgers earlier this season. He is certain to be called back up if he keeps hitting home runs at his current pace.

I like to follow the fortunes of former Oklahoma City stars who are now doing well in the majors. Cody Bellinger is near the top of the major leagues in batting average and home runs. Corey Seager is a candidate for the National League all-star team at shortstop. Alex Vertugo is a fixture in right field for the Dodgers. I enjoyed watching all of them here in OKC.

Some of the players are getting older, in baseball years. Even though they are in their late twenties and thirties, they haven’t given up hope of being promoted to the majors. To borrow words from the beloved baseball poem by Ernest L. Thayer, Casey at the Bat, “The rest clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast.”

This reminds me of biblical truth. I don’t want to trivialize it by comparing it to baseball, but if there’s anything the Lord Jesus offers us, it is hope. The hope of a better future, both now and in eternity, the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Every earthly hope is a faint reminder of the ultimate “hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2) when we are “sent up” to be with the Lord. And we don’t have to earn it with a good performance. This eternal and good hope is a gift of God’s free grace.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner



Make Room for Doubters

Make Room for Doubters

Graham Johnston wrote about a conversation he had with a man in his thirties living in his hometown of Perth, Australia. He asked him, “Do you ever attend church?”

He replied, “Not really.”

“Do you ever wonder about spiritual matters?”

“Well, yes, who doesn’t?”

Johnston then asked, “If you have questions about spiritual matters, don’t you feel that the church could address some of those issues?”

His response was interesting: “The church is for those who already believe, not for people like me.”

Is it really? is the church only for naive adherents whose gullibility and enthusiasm keep them from thinking deeply? The Bible gives us a different picture.

The Gospel of Matthew closes with Jesus appearing to his disciples in Galilee after his resurrection. Matthew says in 28:17,  “When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.” These were, apparently, disciples of Jesus who had not yet seen him in person. Were they among the five hundred Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:6?

In any case, Matthew includes them among the disciples. They just couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Matthew writes with sympathy toward these hesitant ones. D. A. Carson commented: “Jesus’ resurrection did not instantly transform men of little faith and faltering understanding into spiritual giants.”

Perhaps Matthew had in mind his own skepticism and that of the other disciples about the first reports of Jesus’ resurrection. Or he may have been thinking about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who at first did not recognize the Lord when he appeared to them on the day of his resurrection. Or Thomas, who needed extra confirmation before his incredulity could be dispelled.

“But some doubted.” Surely this tells us that there is room in the church for those with honest doubts. Jesus’ patience with “doubting Thomas” is proof of that. Thomas needed evidence for the resurrection and Jesus gave it to him. What was it that quieted the doubts of these Galilean disciples?

The authority of Jesus’ presence and his words (Matthew 28: 18-20) must have turned some of them from doubt to certainty. Perhaps they prayed, as you and I sometimes pray, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This is the kind of honest praying that pleases the Lord.

Martin Luther put it this way: “Dear Lord, although I am sure of my position, I am unable to sustain it without Thee. Help Thou me or I am lost.”

One other thing that strengthened the faith of these early disciples, was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a few weeks later. This was a  supernatural confirmation because it was a supernatural transformation. Believers today are given the same Holy Spirit who confirms the words of Jesus to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

This leads me to the following conclusions.

  • We should talk openly to Jesus about our own doubts. Philip Yancey wrote, “But in honesty, I must admit that even now, after two decades of rich and rewarding faith, I am vulnerable to…doubt.” Jesus shows immense sympathy for our weakness, as he did with his first disciples.
  • Let’s be patient and gracious to others who express doubts. There is a role for the church to play in their spiritual experience. Often it has been the faith and unconditional love of church members that have helped bring skeptics to faith in Jesus.
  • Encourage the doubter to trust the authoritative word of Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live” (John 11:25). It all comes down to faith in his promise. “Faith comes by hearing the message (in church?), and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).

“The church is for those who already believe, not for people like me.” Well, it is true that the church is an assembly of believers. But there is also a loving welcome for the doubter who comes with an open mind to hear the word of Christ. Those with doubts “must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 24-25).

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner



What Do Pastors Do All Week?

What Do Pastors Do All Week?

Eugene Peterson, in his delightful memoir The Pastor, wrote that when he started out in local church ministry he wasn’t entirely sure what it was a pastor was supposed to do. He said it was not obvious to the people of his congregation or community, either.

He went to a seminar led by a nationally-recognized authority on pastoral theology. The young Peterson was impressed by the brilliant man’s erudition and theological vocabulary. “For an hour or so I was under his spell. And then I began feeling that something was not quite right. What I was doing, working in a congregation characterized by interruptions, false starts, and unfinished work, seemed like a far cry from anything he was presenting.”

He pressed the man with questions about his experience in pastoral work. He was evasive. It turned out that he had been an associate pastor for only one year in a small town! Peterson checked the indices in the books the man had written. There was not a single reference to prayer in any of them. There were few if any, references to congregation, worship, preaching, and scripture.

“I still had a great deal to learn about the vocation of pastor, but I knew one thing for sure: the work of prayer was at the heart of everything. Personal conversation with God had to intersect with everything I thought or said, whether in the sanctuary or on the street corner.” He went on to say that “the vocation of pastor had to be understood entirely under the shaping influence of the biblical text.”

Hmmm. Prayer and the biblical text. Not exactly innovations or contemporary novelties. Prayer and the biblical text. Remind you of anything? Do you remember the priorities of the first church leaders who said, “We… will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4)?

I am reminded of the provocative words of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who said, “If I had only three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying and preparing.”

The famous evangelist Billy Graham was speaking to a large gathering of London clergymen. He said if he could repeat his ministry, he would make two changes. The people looked startled. What could he mean?

First, he continued, he would study three times as much as he had done. “I’ve preached too much and studied too little,” he said. The second change was that he would give more time to prayer. Surely this thinking was shaped by the priorities in the biblical text!

Every conscientious pastor gives a certain amount of time each week to pastoral care and counseling, to visitation, to evangelism and discipleship. Administrative work takes time: planning, decision-making, committee meetings, staff meetings. Important work to be sure.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, should take the place of prayer and Bible study. This is what produces, in the life of a pastor, clarity of vocation, depth of conviction, maturity of judgment, integrity of character, and sanctity of ministry — on Sunday, and throughout the week.

Pastor Randy Faulkner