Christian Hope in a Pandemic

I turned on the TV preparing to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Utah Jazz in basketball. It was Wednesday, March 11 of this year. I was not prepared for what I saw that night. Instead of positioning themselves on the court for the tip off, players milled around while game officials gathered the coaches for whispered conversations.

Then to the shock of local fans, and thousands of TV viewers, officials called off the game and instructed  everyone to leave the arena, without a word of explanation. Commentators were speechless with amazement for what seemed a long time. Then word came that a Jazz player had been tested and found infected by the highly contagious coronavirus. Proceeding with the game was considered dangerous to players and fans. All NBA games were cancelled until further notice.

We now know what “further notice” means, not just for athletic events, but for businesses, schools, churches, and for the American economy. Nationwide, thousands of families mourn loved ones who have died. Words like pandemic, epidemiology, and social distancing have crept into our everyday vocabularies. The plague has disrupted every aspect of life in America, and evidently it will for some time to come.

The apostle Peter wrote his first letter to people who were facing a great crisis. They had believed on Jesus and were now following him. Because of this they were facing opposition, outright persecution, and in some cases, the threat of death. Peter wrote his letter to re-emphasize the gospel, and to prepare them to suffer for the sake of Jesus.

Like our public health physicians, Peter was obligated to tell the truth and to help his readers face their situation realistically. He did not resort to happy talk and empty platitudes. He told them about the possibility of suffering for their faith in Jesus. Life was about to get more difficult and he wanted his Christian readers to be ready.

I urge you to read Peter’s letter with the present crisis in mind. I do not wish to imply that our situation compares to the sufferings of the first century martyrs. But we do need now, as always, the comfort of God’s word which tells believers that “he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Peter’s letter is full of hope.  “Set your hope fully on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13).  “Your faith and hope are in God” ( 1 Peter 1:21). “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” ( 1 Peter 3:15).

In the New Testament, “hope” is not wishful thinking. It is confident expectation. Peter knew his readers might be tempted to lose hope when they were being persecuted for their beliefs. The troubles started in Rome and were spreading to the provinces. The Christians were thought to be a threat to society. Their worship practices were misinterpreted and slandered. Some were being martyred because they refused to worship the emperor as a god. In his letter, Peter directed their attention away from their circumstances to the living God, the source of their hope.

This is what  distinguishes Christian hope from mere optimism. Optimism seeks to put the most favorable interpretation on circumstances.  Biblical hope, on the other hand, is centered in God. This is what gives certainty when the outlook is uncertain. Believers are said to be “chosen” by God (1 Peter 1:2) for his special purposes. Peter says God “foreknew” them. This is the same word he used in verse 20 to refer to Christ who was foreknown, destined, chosen to be the Lamb of God before the foundation of the world.

So, while believers may sometimes feel like strangers in a dangerous world, we are, in fact, precious to God. Thus, in the opening lines of Peter’s letter, we find God revealed as Father who has chosen us, Holy Spirit, who has set us apart, and Jesus Christ who has redeemed us by his blood. This trinitarian God is the source of our hope. At all times, but especially in a time of trouble, we look to him as the God of hope.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1 :1-2).

We all hope for an end to the pandemic. We are tired of being quarantined, hidden away from life as we knew it three months ago. We don’t like wearing masks and missing out on events like Thunder basketball. I think the apostle Peter would say to us that God is in control and he knows what he is doing. He is reminding us that God is our only real hope.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


The Only Perfect Father

There is a medieval legend about a man who observed three stone masons at their work. He asked them what they were doing. The first said, “I am laying stones.” The second said, “I am building a wall.” The third said, “I am raising a cathedral!” It was the third who had a an expansive vision for the outcome of his task. He understood something of the value of his contribution.

If you pose that question to fathers, you might get similar replies. “I am earning a living.” “I am putting bread on the family table.” “I am rearing young lives for God.” Theologian Merrill C. Tenney captured the thought in lines he wrote to his son.

To you, O son of mine, I cannot give a vast estate of wide and fertile lands/ But I can keep for you the whilst I live, unstained hands.

I have no treasure chest of gold refined, no hoarded wealth of clinking, glittering pelf/ I give to you my hand and heart and mind — all of myself.

I can exert no mighty influence to make a place for you in men’s affairs/ But lift to God in secret audience unceasing prayers.

I cannot, though I would, be always near to guard your steps with the parental rod/ I trust your soul to Him who holds you dear, your father’s God.

That last phrase, “your father’s God,” reminds me of James 1:17, where we learn that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

I think this is an important truth for Fathers’ Day. God wants us to know him as a father, a good and generous father. Some people have trouble with this idea because their human fathers were neglectful, critical or abusive. Some people (an increasing number these days) grow up without a father in their lives at all. For some people memories of “father” are buried so deeply inside that  it may be terrifying or painful to bring them out.

Even those of us whose fathers were kind and good would be reluctant to say that they were perfect. No human dad is a perfect father.

Christian writer Grant Swank, Jr. told about having a bit of a tussle with his  7-year-old son before bed. “We were not seeing eye-to-eye on the matter, and I felt as if the evening had been rather botched up. I did not like the feeling at all.” As his boy lay with his face turned away, the father sat on the edge of the bed for the usual bedtime prayer, wondering if he should turn it into a mini-lecture. It was hard to find the right words.

He said his boy knew he had done wrong and he was wondering what approach his dad would take. Would it be justice, or mercy?

So he closed his eyes to pray. “Dear Lord, thank you for my boy. You know how much I love him. He means the world to me. Thank you for giving him to us. May he always serve you. Now we thank you for this night’s sleep. Be near us all. And may tomorrow be  a good day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Swank wrote, “Then he swung his body around toward me and hugged me tightly around the neck. His eyes were closed tight.”

“Daddy, do you love me even when I’m bad?” he asked in my ear. “Yes,” I answered. “I always love you.”

“With that he said one of the most encouraging statements known to mankind: ‘You’re the best daddy in the world.'”

“Right then I promised myself something. Yes, there is still much room for improvement as far as my being a father is concerned. I have goofed from time to time Yet that night I told my memory to hold on to the innocent testimony of a little boy to a father who was sincerely trying. ‘You’re the best daddy in the world.'”

Our heavenly Father invites us to come to him as a Father who loves perfectly and who gives the best and most perfect gifts, the gifts of himself, the gift of his Son, the gift of his Spirit, the gifts of salvation and eternal life. He is never neglectful, abusive or critical. God is the only perfect father.

James tells us our heavenly Father does not change like a shifting shadow. He is consistent and reliable. He is faithful to his promises. His love never stops. The next verse (James 1:18) says, “He chose to give us birth by the word of truth.” God makes us his children through spiritual rebirth. This happens when we believe the word of the gospel concerning his Son’s death and resurrection for our sins.

We who are far from perfect as earthly fathers can try to be more like our heavenly Father: consistent, generous, and merciful. We can be fully present in our children’s lives, giving them the best gifts we can give them, the gift of ourselves, and the gift of God’s salvation.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


A Clueless White Guy

I am a clueless white guy. I see African American men and women featured prominently in media, as newscasters, actors, writers, and producers. I see them in leadership as politicians, judges, scholars, and military leaders. I am glad I live in a country where a black man can be elected to the presidency.

This has tempted me to think about how far we have come in race relations in this country since I was a boy growing up in the segregated South. I even remember when people tossed around the phrase “post-racial society.”

I don’t hear that phrase anymore. The killings of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Trevon Martin, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, and George Floyd, among others, have some people comparing their deaths to lynchings. “I can’t breathe!” has become a national rallying cry against the use of excessive force by police officers. Cell phones with cameras have produced video documentation of abuse of power by some bad actors.

As a result, millions have taken to the streets. Recent news reports have covered both peaceful protest marches and lawless rioting and mayhem. There is a level of frustration and anger not seen in America since the sixties. Much of it has been fueled by perceptions of how police in many cities have treated people in poor and minority neighborhoods. Lawless people have exploited the situation to promote anarchy. Americans have been watching with a mixture of righteous indignation and fear.

Spiritual leaders in my city, both black and white, have shown how spiritual commitment can lead to constructive social engagement. Friends of mine have been promoting dialogue, prayer, repentance, and positive action based upon their shared commitment to Christ and the gospel.

It is not my place to be talking about how far we have progressed in race relations. I think I should wait until I hear my African American friends tell me about the progress they feel we have made. Right now, I cannot say that I understand how they feel. I remain a clueless white guy who wants to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.

“Love your neighbor,” Jesus said. “Okay, so who is my neighbor?” asked a proud man who wanted to make himself look good (Luke 10:25-29). In reply, Jesus told the familiar story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The lessons could not be more clear. My neighbor is someone in my part of the world, someone who might need my understanding and caring presence, and someone who may be ethnically different from me.

If I love my neighbors that way, I will build friendships with people who look different. I have read that most Caucasian Christians have few friends who are not white. If I love my neighbors the way Jesus said to, I will get down on my knees to pray with brothers in Christ who have black skin. We will choose to converse with a biblically-informed vocabulary, not with the racially divisive language of some activists or some politicians.

If I love my African American neighbors I will seek to understand their feelings, life experiences, and motivations. When Connie and I visited Charleston, S.C., we walked to the church building where the members of Emanuel A.M.E. Church gather for worship. We wanted to visit the place where a white racist named Dylan Roof shot and killed nine worshipers on a Wednesday evening five years ago next week. “Mother Emanuel” is one of the oldest black churches in America.

We wanted to see it because that site, marked by tragedy, is also a testimony to the love of Christ. The members of the church responded with forgiveness toward the killer. Despite the fact that he was filled with racial hatred, they called upon the entire community to forgive him and to pray for him. White and black Christians came together to pray and weep in a public demonstration of solidarity. There was no violence.

I want to understand how to give and receive that kind of neighbor love. I want that for America.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner