Prayer and Providence

The twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis is the beautiful story of Abraham sending his servant to his homeland to find a bride for his son Isaac. It is full of fascinating cultural allusions, unique to the ancient near east, such features as a solemn vow, a caravan of camels, a town well, gifts of gold and a beautiful maiden.

The story is rich in spiritual symbolism. For a long time preachers have noticed the similarity of the events described here with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whom God the Father sends forth to find a bride (the church) for his Son.

There are also practical lessons for Christian young people about the sanctity of marriage. It is a holy institution, important to God. There is much here to inform our understanding about preparation for marriage. But I am not writing today about marriage, or the church, or ancient history. I want to focus on the theme of Divine Providence and the believer’s dependence on the guidance of God.

I encourage you to pause now and read Genesis 24 in its entirety. Read it slowly and prayerfully because “everything that was written in the past (the Old Testament) was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15;4).

Abraham had prospered in his new land but he did not want his son to take a bride from the among the Canaanites. They did not worship the living “God of heaven and earth” (v.3). So he appointed his trusted servant to go to the Aramean town of Nahor where Abraham’s relatives lived. When the servant arrived, with his caravan of ten camels, he stopped at the town well.

He boldly prayed for a sign from God. There were several young women from the town coming to draw water from the well. How was he to know which of them might be the one God had singled out for Isaac? If you read the passage you know the answer. He prayed that when he asked a maiden for a drink of water, she would volunteer to water his camels also! That would be the sign that she was the one God had chosen.

Throughout the journey, the servant had been praying (v.12). He had surely embraced the faith of Abraham who had promised that God’s angel would guide him on his journey (v.7). May we pray for success and guidance from God? Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Before he finished praying (v.45), Rebekah appeared. Her actions and responses matched exactly his requests for a sign. He told her his story and the purpose of his journey. He gave her gifts of gold and asked for hospitality at her father’s home, the very family home he was seeking. This is Providence, not coincidence. There he received elaborate eastern hospitality.

The servant would not join the feast until he had explained everything to Rebekah’s family. He quoted Abraham’s promise to him: “The Lord, before whom I have walked . . . will make your journey a success” (v.40). He told how God had led him “on the right road” (v.48), to the right family, at exactly the right time. Rebekah’s father and brother could not deny that “this is from the Lord” and “the Lord has directed” (vv. 50-51). Abraham’s servant bowed prostrate before the Lord in worship, grateful for answered prayer.

After receiving more gifts from the servant, the family asked Rebekah if she was willing to go and marry Isaac. “I will go,” she said (v. 58). She evidently recognized the leading of God in this matter, as her family had done. Here is one more attractive characteristic of the young woman. In addition to her courtesy and energetic work for the stranger, she gave evidence of faith in God. If God was in this, she was prepared to agree with his will. It has been said that this response to God’s leading puts her directly in the line of Abraham, the father of the faithful.

This story speaks to me about trusting God for daily guidance. I need to “commit to the Lord whatever I do” and trust him for the right outcomes. It speaks to me about prayer. I may pray silently (v. 45) and privately, or in the presence of others (v.52). But for sure, my days should be punctuated by prayer, just as each step of the servant’s journey was saturated in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer brings our plans in line with God’s Providence.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

“What is Truth?”

It has been said that we live in a post-truth world. If so, it represents the influence of postmodernism, a cultural shift away from reason, certainty, and absolute truth. Postmodernism sees truth-claims as tools used by those in power to control other people. This mood is expressed in statements like, “I cannot say with certainty that something is true. All I can claim is that this is my point of view. What is true for me may or may not be true for you.”

This denies the validity of any universal story or narrative that claims to explain the meaning of life. History is meaningless except for the meaning individuals impose upon it. In religion, all truth claims are said to be equally valid. The only belief that is not tolerated is intolerance.

In politics,  misinformation and propaganda get spread around through social media until they become the “truth” that consumers choose to believe. These “alternative facts” reinforce fear, prejudice and outright hatred toward political opponents. As we have seen recently in our nation’s capitol, this sometimes leads to political violence and domestic terrorism.

Another expression of the postmodern view is, “You  create your own truth.” It is like going to an art gallery. People see in the art what they want to see. “That’s just your interpretation” is another favorite cliche. It is often trotted out whenever the Bible’s standards of morality are presented to challenge people’s conduct. This can become an easy diversion from having to face the implications of belief.

A skeptic said to his Christian friend, “What you Christians say about Jesus being the only way to God, well, that’s just your interpretation.” His friend opened the Bible to Acts 4:12 and asked him to read it aloud:
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The Christian said, “I understand that to mean that Jesus is the one by whom we must be saved. How do you understand it?” His friend squirmed a bit. Realizing the weakness of his “interpretation” argument, he got up and walked away without a word.

It was in a world like ours that the apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy. Timothy lived in Ephesus, a marketplace of competing religious ideas and philosophies. It is refreshing to read Paul’s straightforward comments about truth. Truth is absolute, knowable, and trustworthy. It is centered in Jesus. It is to be safeguarded and proclaimed by the church.

“I am writing you these instructions so that if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He (Jesus) appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:14-16).

Among other things, Paul was describing the church as a family. Believers in Jesus are children of God, and the church is said to be his household on earth. The church will be at its best when it looks and feels less like an institution and more like a family, This adds to its credibility in proclaiming truth in a postmodern environment.

The philosophical ambiguity of postmodernism leads to instability. Uncertainty prevails. Institutions are unreliable, leaders cannot be trusted, marriages are impermanent, morality is negotiable and God is whoever or whatever we make of him or her. Paul flatly contradicts this. “The church of the living God” he says, is to be like a supportive pillar and foundation for the truth. These metaphors imply strength and certainty.

Then Paul composed or quoted a hymn to Jesus which is a wonderful creedal statement. “Beyond all question” is another way of saying that these truths are beyond dispute, universally acknowledged by all believers. The gospel is “great,” of sublime importance. These transcendent truths about Jesus are the common confession of the universal church.

“He appeared in the flesh” means that Jesus lived and died in a physical body. In his flesh he suffered on a cross to pay for our sins. He “was vindicated by the Spirit” most likely refers to his bodily resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).

He “was seen by angels” is possibly a reference to our Lord’s ascension and exaltation in the heavenly realm where he now ministers to the church as our great high priest and intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1-2).

He is being “preached among the nations” and believed on throughout the world. This means that his gospel is universally relevant in all cultures and nationalities. This contradicts the denials of postmodernism which say there is no such thing as an over-arching meta-narrative which is an absolute and final explanation of reality.

The Bible says that there is such an explanation of reality. It is not truth as I personally interpret it, or as I wish it to be. It is not one truth among many equally valid options. It is what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth,” the “truth that is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).

This takes us out of the realm of propaganda and philosophy and lifts us to the higher realm of God’s eternal truth. Consider the following implications.

First, truth may be known and experienced. Truth was “revealed in the flesh.” Pilate may ask, “What is truth?” Truth was standing right in front of him! Pilate may crucify truth, but truth will be vindicated when Jesus rises from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. These historical facts validate Jesus’ claim, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).

Second, truth is universal. It is not a mere sociological construct. It is equally valid for East and West, South and North. The gospel has the same power to save in Asia as it does in Africa. It is proclaimed throughout all nations of the world.

Third, the truth is to be believed. Jesus said that God’s word is truth (John 17:17). It is God’s grand narrative, the story of his mighty interventions in human history and his plan to claim a people for himself. It reveals the undeniable divine wisdom in the man Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus told Pilate at his trial, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

Paul’s great hymn is an invitation to you to enjoy the stability and clarity of God’s truth as you live in the uncertainty of postmodern times.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Who’s Behind It All?

Distressing images of last week’s riots in Washington are still appearing in the news media. Investigators are seeking those involved in the violence, destruction of property and desecration of the halls of congress. News analysts are studying the effects of these events on preparations for next week’s presidential inauguration.

If your reaction was like mine, you possibly felt some combination of shock, dismay, anger, embarrassment and profound concern for our nation. How could this happen? Who or what is behind the mayhem, hate-filled rhetoric, criminal sedition and murder we witnessed in our nation’s capitol?

Without excusing politicians, terrorists or social media platforms, all of whom bear some responsibility, I want to call to your attention the role of what the New Testament calls “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The Bible teaches explicitly that there are sinister supernatural powers at work. They influence events in the material world. Jesus and his apostles, as well as the prophets of the Old Testament taught that these powers are real, not imaginary.

It is these spiritual powers who influence nations to go to war. They instigate genocide, terrorism, assassinations, as well as the spreading of disinformation, racial hatred and all kinds of moral confusion. Where you see these things, you see the work of the father of lies and his evil minions (John 8:40-44, 2 Chronicles 18:21).

The world’s problems are mainly spiritual, not political. God has ordained good governments as human institutions for the protection of citizens and retribution against evildoers (Romans 13::1). But when the leaders of those governments are not subject to the will of God, they leave themselves vulnerable to the dangerous influence of the powers of darkness.

That is why, over and over, scripture tells believers that our ultimate hope for security is not in our economic prosperity (Psalm 49:5-7), not in military might (Psalms 33:16-17, 44:6, 147:10), or in human rulers (Psalm 118:8-9,  146:3).

The prophet Daniel illustrates this. He had been mourning and praying for his nation for three weeks (Daniel 10:2-3). The Lord sent a radiant heavenly messenger (angel) to give him insight as to what was to come in the future. Without trying to discuss everything in this amazing passage, let me highlight just one fact: the angel had been engaged in combat with another spiritual power in the heavens for three weeks! This apparent spiritual warfare was going on in the invisible world. Even though he did not know it, Daniel’s prayers had something to do with the outcome. The angel told him, “Your words were heard and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).

Then the angel told Daniel, “But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (Daniel 10:13-14).

“Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come. … No one supports me against them except Michael your prince” (Daniel 10:20-21). Biblical scholars agree that the “princes” referred to here are supernatural beings, not humans. They seem to hold sway over human rulers who submit to the lust for raw power and conquest. Michael is said to engage them in warfare, defending God’s people and advancing God’s purposes.

Michael is the archangel who protects the people of God (Daniel 12:1).  Jude 9  and Revelation 12:7 say Michael engages in conflict with the devil. Daniel 10:13 indicates that Michael is “one of the chief princes.” The New Testament says this high-ranking archangel will accompany Jesus when he comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The unseen powers of evil also exist in ranks of greater and lesser authority under “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (1 Corinthians 2:6,8, Ephesians 2;2). There are other terms for them: rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, spiritual forces of evil, thrones and dominions (Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 1:16).

Many Bible scholars believe these powers, under the leadership of “the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the world astray” (Revelation 12:9) seek to influence human rulers and governments in the various geographical regions of the world. (If you care to read more on this subject, consult the writings of Mark Bubeck, Merrill F. Unger, and Michael S. Heiser.)

The clear message of the Bible is that our main strategy in this spiritual warfare is not reliance upon mere human power and political influence, but on the power of prayer. We are called to pray in the name of the One who has, by his death on the cross and his victorious resurrection “disarmed the powers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15). He is now seated at God’s right hand “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Daniel modeled this for us. We would do well to follow his example of  humble prayer for our nation, as Daniel prayed for his. It is comforting to read that God gave Daniel the assurance that his prayer was heard. God gave him courage to face the international disruptions of his time. God gave him spiritual strength. God gave him peace to replace his anguish of mind. God assured him of his love. Imagine, having God’s angel tell you that you are “highly esteemed” in heaven (Daniel 10:12-19)!

In addition, God gave him understanding of his time, and of what would happen to his people in the future (Daniel 10:14).  God has done the same for us. The prophetic scriptures assure us that our sovereign God holds the future in his hand. The day will come when he will deal in judgment with “the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below” (Isaiah 24:21).

Pastor Randy Faulkner



What Christmas Letters Are Saying

Connie and I enjoy hearing from friends and family who send Christmas letters. Yes, we really do read them. We are cheered by the holiday greetings and good wishes. We enjoy the photos that are sometimes included. This is the only time of year when we hear from some of our far-away friends and we appreciate their writing to us. The Christmas season is a good time of year to hear from loved ones.

I suppose this seems old-fashioned, but I guess I am entitled to be, since I am, in fact, old. I still like to go to the mailbox and find some real mail. Christmas cards are a delight — festive, colorful and uplifting. For several years Connie and I have made it a practice to put those Christmas cards and letters into a basket in our bedroom. We keep them all year. When we pray together before retiring, we often use those cards as reminders to pray for the friends who sent them.

Christmas letters usually include updates about important events in our friends’ lives: news about children and grandchildren, travel adventures, career changes, books read (or written), and hobbies and other interests. Most of the time, our friends adhere to the conventional rules of etiquette for Christmas letters: keep it short, try not to brag, be positive, make it personal, and remember to include the whole family.

What makes this meaningful? Why do we send and read these family letters? What is going on? I think Christmas letters are saying at least two things to those who receive them. “I want you to know me” and “I love my kids.”

One of the most important things we give to each other as human creatures is recognition. Every person desires and deserves to be understood and respected. This is why we smile. This is why we talk and listen to each other. A Christmas letter says, “Here is some of what I want you to know about myself and my family. This is a bit of information about what makes my life significant.”

Of course parents will write about their kids, too. Perhaps the most important responsibility we have is launching children in life, giving them a great home foundation. Watching them learn and grow and achieve is a source of immense satisfaction and legitimate pride for parents. It is not surprising that Christmas letters tell about the kids’ academic, athletic, and community activities. Of course parents want to talk about their kids.

The beginning of the new year is a good time for me to remind you that our heavenly Father has communicated to us in written form. The Bible is like a love letter from God. Even though it is thousands of years old, it is relevant to every generation is every part of the world. It is like those Christmas letters in these respects: God is saying, “I want you to know me,” and “I love my children.”

Jesus summed it up in his great prayer for his followers in John 17. Verse 3 says “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” God wants us to know him and we may know him through Jesus his Son. Then in verse 23 Jesus prays, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me.”

The Bible is filled with messages like this from our heavenly Father. He wants you to know him and he wants you to know that he loves you. Read his love letter in 2021. He may ask you if you’ve read it when you see him someday.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


2021: Uncharted Territory

“The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.” This was the great lesson of the Lewis and Clark expedition. These explorers were commissioned in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson to try to find a river route to the Pacific Northwest. What they discovered was that there is no water route to the Pacific. The way is blocked by the formidable Rocky mountains.

The explorers had to adapt. Their adaptive leadership of the Corps of Discovery provides the model for Tod Bolsinger’s excellent book on leadership, Canoeing the Mountains. This was one of the most important books I read this past year.

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came to the source of the Missouri River system, they realized they would have to ditch their canoes and find a way over the mountains. They were in uncharted territory. There is no map for uncharted territory. Leadership in this situation required different skills than those that had brought them thus far. They had to adapt or die.

Bolsinger weaves the story of the Corps of Discovery with his own experiences as a seminary professor, leadership consultant and local church pastor, along with insights of other leadership theorists, to provide a leadership vision for a new environment. I wish I could have read this book when I entered the ministry over fifty years ago. There were times when I said to myself and to the Lord, “Seminary didn’t prepare me for this!”

We face such a world as we enter a new year. I suspect that “normal”  will never again be quite what it was before 2020. We are changed and we are changing. As we try to understand this new situation, effectiveness will be measured by what Bolsinger calls “adaptive capacity.”

This is one of five vital lessons from the book. (1) The first task of a leader is to understand and interpret uncharted territory, the new situation “off the map.” (2) Trust is earned and built by a leader’s proven competency and character in familiar “on the map” situations. (3) Adaptation will involve loss, resistance, learning, and courage. (4) No longer can leadership be a solitary enterprise. A leader cannot go it alone. (5) The process of transformational leadership means that everybody, including the leader, will be changed.

What should not change is the core ideology and mission of the organization, whether it is a congregation, enterprise, team or institution. The DNA of the group is its unchanging set of core values. In the case of a Christian ministry what should never change are the biblical priorities and norms that define the group: “This is who we are.”

What must change are ineffective methods unsuited to the new environment. The transformational leader energizes the community to accomplish a shared mission in a changing world. This process involves discarding what is not essential to achieving the mission. It also means discovering what is essential and must be preserved at all costs.

Bolsinger studied how Lewis and Clark reframed their mission to align with the new realities they faced. There is a pattern in this for individuals and groups facing an uncertain future in unfamiliar territory. What was most helpful to me was his careful and honest delineation of the sometimes painful process of leading a community through loss, disappointment and insecurity to a shared vision for a new adventurous mission.

What I missed was an emphasis on strategic prayer as a part of the process. To be fair, this was probably assumed to be essential to Bolsinger’s Christian values. I think prayer could have been given a more prominent role as he described effective inspirational leadership. He did conclude the book with a statement of faith in Providence: “God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us.”

Bolsinger emphasized his definition of leadership: It is “energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” He says, “Perhaps the most unexpected, challenging and delightful work of transformational leadership is when it becomes the shared work of friends.”

I wish you well as you navigate  your uncharted territory in 2021.

Happy new year!

Pastor Randy Faulkner