An Advent Letter from David

Sunday, November 28, is the first Sunday in the Christian season of Advent. Advent (meaning “arrival” or “coming”) emphasizes preparation for the coming of Messiah and the celebration of his birth at Christmas. Many Christians mark these four weeks with Advent calendars, wreaths, candles and scripture readings which emphasize themes of hope, peace, love, and joy.

In Advent we remember the first coming of our Lord, his ministry, his sacrificial death and his bodily resurrection. It also reminds us of his promised second coming. We are taught to prepare ourselves to meet him when he comes again. Advent is a season of anticipation, hope, and of spiritual preparation.

Perhaps you receive, as I do, Christmas letters from relatives and friends. They usually contain news of the sender’s family and experiences of the past year. They always express good wishes for a happy Christmas. For my theme for Advent this year I want to take a look at four Christmas letters from the Bible which anticipate the arrival of the Christ, both his first and second comings.

The first is a communication from David, who prophesied the rebellion of the world civilization in rejecting Messiah when he came: “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed” (Psalm 2:2). The New Testament quotes this (Acts 4:25-26) to refer to the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus.

David’s Advent letter records the response of Almighty God. He laughs at the pathetic arrogance of humanity. The one who sits in the heavens “scoffs at them, He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath saying, ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain'” (Psalm 2:4-5). Here is a prophetic picture of the return of Christ in his glorious earthly kingdom. He will reign in power and perfect justice from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Psalm 2:8).

The psalm prophesies Messiah’s resurrection from the dead. “You are my son,” God says, speaking through David, “today I have become your father” (Psalm 2:7). What day is the psalm referring to? The New Testament gives us the answer. According to Paul (Acts 13:27-33; Romans 1:4), it was the day of Jesus’ resurrection that was the final proof of the fact that Jesus was eternally and always the son of God.

He was the son of God before he came to earth. He was the son of God at his conception in the womb of the virgin Mary and his birth. He was the son of God at his baptism. He was the son of God at his transfiguration on the holy mountain. But the apostles had it revealed to them that God explicitly declared Jesus to be his son when he raised him from the dead. They interpreted Psalm 2 accordingly.

This Advent letter closes with an invitation for you and me to “take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12). This is an appeal to our hearts, our minds, and our wills. “Be wise,” David writes, appealing to the mind. “Serve the Lord with fear.” This reminds us of the repeated maxim that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10).

“Celebrate his rule with trembling,” is an appeal to the heart (Psalm 2:11). “Celebrate” is another way of saying “rejoice!” Joyfully submit to his reign in your life. “With trembling” has the connotation of awe and reverence before a mighty and glorious king.

“Kiss the son” (Psalm 2:12) evokes an ancient way for a subject to do homage before a royal king. This is an act of the will. Jesus is Lord and those who worship him in truth bow in humility before his majesty. The appeal to “take refuge in him” is equivalent to the New Testament word for “believe” or “trust.” No matter how severe his judgments against a rebellious world, the Lord Jesus is always patient and kind toward those who come to him in humility and sincere faith.

Advent teaches us that Jesus came and he is coming. It is wise to be ready.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Happiness and Thanksgiving

Thankfulness is the secret to happiness. Think about it. No one who complains is really happy. No one who worries is happy. Discontented people are unhappy people. The way to be glad is to be grateful.  Gratitude depends upon one’s view of God.

Jesus healed a man of the dread disease of leprosy. The loathsome ailment had left him disfigured and forced to live apart from society. In America, sociologists tell us, we have a cultural bias against ugly people. Unattractive people are at a disadvantage when competing for the best jobs and promotions. This unfortunate man, because of his affliction, had a disagreeable appearance.

Jesus healed him. In Luke 17:16 we find the man “praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” Obviously the man was both happy and thankful. Was he happy because he was thankful or thankful because he was happy?

He was both thankful and happy because he had a God-centered point of view. He was praising God. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Some people are appreciative by nature, but some are not and it is these latter people who especially need God’s power to express thanksgiving. We should remember that every good gift comes from God and that he is ‘the Source, Support and End of all things.’ . . . . Life is a gift of God, and the blessings of life come from his bountiful hand.”

Some of the psalms in the Bible direct us to this point of view. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).  “At midnight I will rise to give you thanks because of your righteous laws” (Psalm 119:62). The last book in the Bible teaches us to “give glory and honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever” (Revelation 4:9).

I suspect the man was happy because he was thankful. And he was thankful because he knew his healing was a gift from God. Jesus had not only given him physical healing, but salvation for his soul. The phrase spoken by the Lord, “Your faith has made you well,” could be translated, “Your faith has saved you” (v. 19). There is evidence here that the man became a believer in Christ on this occasion and he gave praise to God.

It is a remarkable thing that this man was one of ten who were healed on that day. He alone came back to Jesus to say thank you. All ten of them were afflicted with the same disease. All of them had heard about Jesus and his power to heal. All of them cried out to him for help. All ten of them were healed.

But only one of the ten came back to Jesus to say thanks. As he did it he was overwhelmed with joyful praise to God. Here was a man who was God-centered in his thinking. Because of that he was thankful. And because of that he was happy.

George Morrison, the Scottish preacher, wrote, “If all that happens to us comes by chance, then of course no one can be grateful. Gratitude is not a duty then, because there is no one to be grateful to.” He went on to say that in the gospel of Jesus Christ, believers (like the man in our story) have  “been awaked through their Lord and Savior to a God whose name and character was love. . . .  The moment  anyone awakes to that and with heart and soul believes in that, then gratitude is born.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Five Ways to Give Thanks

It was Andre Crouch, I believe, who sang, “How can I give thanks for the things you have done for me?” We give thanks, if at all, in November, with the memory of pilgrims, and presidential proclamations, and cranberry relish. In America these days Thanksgiving is associated with feasting and football, and of course, with shopping.

Is there space and time in all this activity for the actual giving of thanks? Have we forgotten how to do it? Here are five ways to practice thanksgiving in this, and every season.

Remember. Think back and recall past influences and circumstances that have shaped your life. Think of the coalescing of events that God used to direct the trajectory of your life. Can you see the imprint of his goodness in your experience? Do you see how, even in the difficult times, he has caused things to work together for your good?

Mac Brunson wrote that a thankful heart builds your faith. It acts, he says, like a magnifying glass; thankfulness helps you see how God is bigger than your problems. Remembering and thanking God for his track record of faithfulness is a way to renew your mind.

Recite. Verbally recount your blessings: the freedoms you enjoy, the pleasures and prosperity you have been given, your family. These are gifts from God. Every day is a gift for which we should be thankful. We will never get to live it again. Speak to yourself about these gifts and then express your thanks to God.

Gather. There is a reason that Thanksgiving is the busiest travel season of the year. We look forward to returning home for sumptuous Thanksgiving dinners, as we hold on to family traditions and memories. One of those traditions in our  family is for the individuals, during the meal, to share some things for which they are thankful.

Many churches emphasize thanksgiving in worship during this season. How can we not gather in the Lord’s name to say thank you? As Annie Dillard put it, “I know only enough about God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.” One of those means is communion. Whenever believers gather around the table of the Lord, it is always a profound expression of thanksgiving (Eucharist) for his sacrifice on the cross.

Write. Write that letter, or text, or email, of appreciation you have been meaning to write. During the early months of the pandemic I took advantage of the enforced isolation  to write to some people from my past who had blessed my life in important ways. One of those people died unexpectedly not long afterward. I am glad I wrote that letter when I did to express my thanks for his influence and friendship.

Give. It is almost trite to say that this is a season of giving. But it is true. There is a relationship between thanksgiving and generosity. If you cannot give money, give your time. if you have limited time to give, give a smile and the gift of kindness. Your gift can be a thank you to God for all that he has given to you.

There is, in the Orthodox tradition, a worldview which calls for a “eucharistic spirit.” This is derived from the Greek word for thanksgiving. It is reminder that the created world is a gift from God, a gift of wonder and beauty. It is not to be exploited, but to be embraced, transformed, and returned to him in a spirit of thanksgiving. Human beings are “eucharistic creatures,” capable of gratitude and endowed with the power to bless God for his gift of creation. Let us thank God for his gifts this season “with eucharistic joy.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Repentance and Faith

According to the teaching of the Roman Church, one of its seven sacraments is penance. This is said to include the confession of sin, the priest’s pronouncement of absolution, and an assignment of certain good works to be done as partial remittance for the sin. The hope is that the offender may, by these good deeds, be restored to a state of grace.

The reformers responded by declaring that salvation is sola fide, by faith alone. Luther, and the other reformers, discovered that Jesus and the apostles did not say, “Do penance for your sins.” Rather, the New Testament says to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). “Repentance” is not the same thing as “penance.”

What does it mean to repent? The verb “repent” and the noun “repentance” are used several dozen times in the New Testament. They mean to change one’s mind. Repentance is not a meritorious good work whereby one earns favor with God. It is not the same thing as regret or remorse. It does not imply making restitution or retribution which somehow makes God willing to forgive sins.

Repentance is a change of mind or attitude toward God, toward oneself, toward sin, and toward Jesus Christ. Faith is the only condition for salvation. Repentance prepares the way for saving faith by recognizing one’s need for faith in Christ. Repentance alone cannot save if it does not lead to faith in Christ.

Repentance means to change one’s mind about whatever is keeping one from trusting Jesus Christ. Some people may have to change their minds about their concept of God. Some may have to change their attitude toward Jesus and confess that he is indeed the Son of God. Others may have to finally admit that their works or their religion cannot make them right with God. All of us must come face to face with our sinfulness and admit that we have broken God’s holy law.

Who should repent? The New Testament says that repentance should be preached in all nations (Luke 24:46-47). All people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30). Both Jews and Gentiles are called to repent (Acts 20:21). The call to repent leads to a call to believe. “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks,” Paul said, “that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21).

It has been pointed out that the theme of repentance is not found in the gospel of John. It’s theme is faith in Jesus. The fourth gospel is an evangelistic tract designed to convince people to trust in Jesus to receive the gift of eternal life. This leads to the conclusion that salvation is sola fide, by faith alone.

Interestingly, another book by the apostle John, The Book of the Revelation, has twelve references to repentance. Several of these are commands to the churches to repent. It was the believers who needed repent of their sins in order to restore their fellowship with the Lord and be revived spiritually.

Repentance is important. For Christian believers, it is necessary for maintaining our fellowship with God. It is also for unbelievers, to change their minds about sin, about God, about Jesus as preparation for saving faith.

There is no human effort or merit in repentance. It is a work of God’s grace in the life of an individual (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25). It is a precursor to saving faith and salvation is by faith alone (Romans 3:21-26).

Pastor Randy Faulkner