Heart Knowledge over Head Knowledge

As a boy growing up in the 1950s, I felt the fear that many of my contemporaries felt when we were reminded of the threat of atomic war. I had nightmares. Sometimes tears flowed. The reminders were pervasive. Preachers described doomsday in terms of nuclear annihilation. Our teachers told us to hide under our desks. Newspapers calculated the travel time for missiles coming from Russia. Little wonder I was a scared little boy.

That is until I read a verse in the good old King James Bible, “The fear of man bringeth a snare, but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25). I memorized that verse. I recited it to myself over and over. I cannot explain how it happened, but those childhood fears evaporated. I can only attribute it to the power of God’s word planted deep within.

Christian counselor K.J. Ramsey attributes this to “heart knowledge.” She described her own battle with fear when she had a serious illness. Writing in Christianity Today she said, “In that suffering the word hidden in my heart started countering my fear. I was confused and craving comfort, but God’s story was alive inside of me, welcoming me into the wonder that I am loved at my weakest.”

She quoted researchers in neuroscience and education who describe memory in two ways. “Heart knowledge” is embodied, autobiographical memory. “Head knowledge” is less related to lived experience. It is like the difference between rote learning and applied knowledge. She said, “The word has to be experienced and embraced as living, active and relational to become a lasting part of our autobiographical memory.”

This may be what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the believers at Colosse, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). “The word” is God’s revealed truth, his message, holy scripture. “Dwell” means to live in or to be at home inside of us. “Richly” could be translated abundantly, or overflowing.

If I do this, it means that my Bible reading and memorization will be a response to the living God, hearing from him and treasuring his word. I will then learn his word with heart knowledge by applying it in my decisions, behavior, and thoughts. I will put to use the scriptures I am reading and memorizing, by praying them, sharing them and living them.

If Ramsey is right, there may even be a redemptive quality in my frustrations, anxieties, and pain. She cites brain research which tells us that learning is optimized in suffering. “When we come up against the limits of our knowledge of God and life, when we realize we are not in control . . . God has wired us so that our bodies release the very hormone we need to form new neural connections.” It is then that the implanted word is “rooted in our autobiographical memory,” our lived experience.

Proverbs 19:25 is still precious to me. It is a part of God’s word which has helped to shape my spiritual autobiography. Now when I am fearful or anxious about world events, it is comforting to remember the promise I hid in my heart over 65 years ago. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (NIV).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Why I Read the Bible

This year I have decided, once again, to read the Bible through in a year. I intend to follow the reading plan in the One Year Bible, The New Living Translation. The advantage to this plan is that every day includes readings from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and from the Psalms and Proverbs.

When I have done this in the past, I have been impressed by the Bible’s consistency of emphasis, even though it was written over a period of 1500 years in three languages, by about 40 different human authors. It has 66 books of several different literary genres. Yet its singular theme and central personality is Jesus Christ, and how to know God through him.

I believe it is important for every Christian to read the Bible as a regular part of daily life, whatever reading plan is adopted. (I do believe it is important to read systematically, and to have some kind of a plan, or method. I recently spoke to a man who said he selected Bible verses at random, reading wherever he happened to open the Bible. Generally, I do not recommend this approach. It is better to read the Bible as it was written, book by book, paying attention to the author’s purpose and theme.)

God speaks through the scriptures.

There are many good reasons to read the Bible. I want to emphasize just two of them. First, the Bible is God’s chosen method for communicating with his people. As we read his word, God is speaking to us. It is vital for us to pay attention to what he is saying about himself, what he wants us to believe, and how he wants us to live.

In Nehemiah 9:13-14 NLT the Jews were worshipping and praising God because he “came down on Mount Sinai and spoke . . . from heaven.” This illustrates a truth that is found elsewhere in scripture: God wants us to think of him as speaking to us through his holy word, the Bible. For example, as King David, the writer of psalms lay dying, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me; his words are on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2 NLT). The Lord told Jeremiah the prophet, “See, I have put my words in your mouth!” (Jeremiah 1:9 NLT).

The apostle Paul said something similar to this in  1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT. “When we preached his message to you, you didn’t think of the words we spoke as being just our own. You accepted what we said as the very word of God — which, of course, it was. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” This is a good reason for us to read the Bible. It is God communicating with us.

God feeds us though his word.

Just as our physical bodies need nourishment to survive and to thrive, our spiritual lives need the spiritual food of God’s word. Reading the Bible on a consistent basis, in an attitude of reverence, contributes to a believer’s spiritual growth and health.

The writer of Hebrews used this imagery to illustrate the importance of growing to maturity in the spiritual life. “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. . . Solid food is for those who are mature” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT).

I am 75 years of age. But I do not want to stop growing in my Christian life. I want to receive the daily nourishment of God’s word for wisdom, discernment, and spiritual endurance. This will equip me to live the way God wants me to live throughout the coming year.

I want to listen to God every day as he speaks though his word. I want to communicate back to him in prayer. Relationships grow though good communication. I want to know God better throughout the coming year.

That is why I want to read the Bible through again in the coming year.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Confession of a Recovering Racist

With Martin Luther King Day approaching, I am thinking about the lily-white world in which I was reared. The adults in my life would have abhorred racial hatred. They would have never admitted to being racists. Yet bigotry was all around us. White supremacy was the air we breathed.

As a youth, I did not have the wisdom, maturity, or the vocabulary to challenge the institutionalized racism in that Southern culture. I live now with a sense of shame because of my lack of empathy at that time for black Americans. I have confessed this to some of my African American friends who have been exceedingly gracious, more understanding to me than I deserve.

I have just finished reading the excellent memoir by Philip Yancey, Where the Light Fell. This spiritual autobiography tells about his growing up in the racist South, one strand in his complex story. He grew up in a fundamentalist subculture that preached racial segregation and practiced ecclesiastical separatism.

Yancey’s background was similar to my own: a fundamentalist church, authoritarian leaders, the cultural milieu of white supremacy, and attempts to justify it theologically. His spiritual and social awakening paralleled mine: frustration with a rule-based religious life, a spiritual crisis while in college, and a growing understanding of the inherent dignity of people of all races, created in the image of God.

Yancey wrote about how he has attempted through his writings and personal relationships, to promote racial harmony and understanding. Throughout my ministry, I have tried to preach against racism and to promote inclusion. I have learned, instead of wallowing in regret, to accept God’s forgiveness for the racism of my youth.

More than that, I am called to take positive action. I serve as a volunteer chaplain in the Oklahoma County Detention Center. Most of the inmates I meet with are African American. It is a joy to bring God’s word and God’s love into that environment. My wife ministers as a tutor to an African American schoolboy and his family.

I am called to confess and openly acknowledge the stupidity and wickedness of racism. Several years ago I wrote a letter to my adult children in which I attempted to lay out my concerns about white supremacy and racial bigotry in our nation. I wanted them to know that I believe these have no place in the life of a Christian. I encouraged them to actively oppose structural racism.

I am called to recognize and support the legitimate concerns of my black neighbors: policing, voting rights, housing, health care. I will vote for and support political candidates who take seriously these concerns.

I am called to seek understanding. I may never fully appreciate how it feels to grow up as part of a racial minority group in this country. But that doesn’t mean I should not try to understand. That means I will listen. I will cultivate friendships. I once asked an African American friend, what I could do to promote racial harmony. His answer was simple. “Show up,” he said.

So that is what I am called to do. On this coming Sunday afternoon I plan to do what I have done for several years now. I will show up at the annual Martin Luther King Memorial Service at Saint John Missionary Baptist Church, where my friend Dr. Major Jemison serves as pastor. I will be a racial minority in that environment.

But I will gladly join the congregation in singing a song written by James Weldon Johnson that carries deep meaning for the African American community. I will sing enthusiastically as an act of love for my brothers and sisters: “Lift every voice and sing/ till earth and heaven ring/ ring with the harmonies of liberty/ Let our rejoicing rise/high as the listening skies/ let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

“God of our weary years/ God of our silent tears/ Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way/ Thou who hast by Thy might led us into the light/ Keep us forever in the path we pray/ Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee/ Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee/ Shadowed beneath Thy hand/ may we forever stand true to our God, true to our native land./ Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us/ Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us/ facing the rising sun of our new day begun/ let us march on till victory is won.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Jesus Shows God’s Care

Impassibility: The belief that God is incapable of suffering or of experiencing pain, that he is inaccessible to injury.

A friend of mine died recently. He suffered in a hospital for weeks before his passing. What did God know or feel of his pain? And what of the emotional pain of his wife and family who have lost a good husband and father?

The ancient Greeks taught that the deity cannot change, suffer or be affected by what happens in the material world. To them, divine transcendence means that God is absolutely separate and different from the evil world. If we understand impassibility as Greek philosophy explained it, then God could never expose himself to the experiences of our human life, not to mention suffering and death.

Yet Christianity teaches precisely what we have just celebrated in the Christmas message. The incarnation reveals how an infinitely holy God could and did enter humanity, uncorrupted by sin. God in Christ did not merely seem to be human. His physical nature was not an illusion. He was not an apparition. Jesus was a human being as well as a divine being.

His mother the virgin Mary was more than a passive vehicle though whom the holy child passed at birth. From her Jesus received a human nature. He had human ancestors. He possessed the full range of human emotion, including sadness, loneliness, joy, compassion, and love.

This means he was capable of suffering and identifying with our sufferings.
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). In the words of Millard Erickson, “Jesus can truly sympathize with and intercede for us. He has experienced all that we might undergo. When we are hungry, weary, lonely, he fully understands for he has gone through it all himself” (Hebrews 4:15).

If we wish to know what God is really like, our best source of information comes from Jesus. God reveals himself in the divine-human Jesus. The apostle John put it this way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18)

Although we may not be able to see God with natural vision, Jesus has made him known to us. His close relationship to the Father speaks to us of his previous existence at the Father’s side before he came to earth. He reveals God though his perfect human life, his teachings, his miraculous signs, his death and resurrection and his present ministry representing us to the Father.

My friend who died recently was a follower of Jesus. That means that there in the gloomy half-light of his hospital room, in the lonely hours of the long night, he was not alone. God was there to comfort him with the presence of the compassionate Jesus. This means that God feels the sorrow of his family. This means that they may know by experience God’s merciful and faithful care. Jesus has made the Father known to us.

Pastor Randy Faulkner