Living with the End in Mind

Last Sunday Connie and I heard a brilliant exposition of 1 Peter 4:7-11. My friend Pastor Mike Philliber talked about how we are to live in uncertain times. As he taught, my mind went to some of the uncertainties of our day: the threat of war in Eastern Europe, the ongoing pandemic, the divisions in our nation, and recent increases in violent crime.

“The end of all things is near,” wrote Peter. The apostle’s readers may have had in mind the changing social and political norms in the first century Roman Empire. They may have thought of the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people in AD 70. Their world was in a state of upheaval. Also, it is possible, even probable, that readers of Peter’s letter would have associated his words with the imminent return of Jesus. The New Testament writers (including Peter) continually emphasized the return of Christ to influence the believers’ attitudes, actions and relationships.

Pastor Mike carefully explained Peter’s words written to the first century church. They are relevant to our present time too. If we take seriously the possibility of “the end of all things,” then it will certainly influence how we live. “Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray,” said Peter. “Be steady,” said Pastor Mike. “Let there be no panic, no hysteria, no alarm. Instead be self-controlled and prayerful.” Good words to American Christians who are tempted to surrender to anxiety.

Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply. . . . Offer hospitality to to one another without grumbling.” Pastor Mike explained that this kind of generous Christian community must be a priority: “Above all!” Some of the people to whom Peter was writing were persecuted, suffering refugees (1 Peter 1:1, 6). Their very survival depended on the willingness of other church members to take them in and to care for them. This kind of love is being practiced in places around the world today where believers in Jesus are persecuted for their faith.

Peter went on the say that, in light of “the end of all things,” believers should invest their lives in serving God using the abilities and opportunities God has given them. He wrote, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Every Christian has been endowed with some spiritual gifts (abilities). Some of our Lord’s parables about his second coming remind us to stay faithful in serving him by serving others as we anticipate his coming (Matthew 25:14-30).

Doing this is an act of worship to God. “So that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” This is to be our motivation as we live in expectation of the second coming of Jesus and live today in a world where life as we know it is ending and changing before our eyes.

The present troubles of the world do not prove that the Lord’s return must be near. The scriptures have always taught that the Lord’s return could be near (at any time. This is the meaning of the word “imminent.”) And there have always been troubles in the world. But today’s troubling circumstances remind us that this world is not the Christian’s final home. We are to live in anticipation of Christ’s return. Peter’s letter is telling us how to do that and do it well.

John Macarthur wrote, “That’s why it’s so important to cultivate a watchful expectancy for the imminent coming of Christ. The point is not to make us obsessed with worldly events. In fact, if your interest in the return of Christ becomes a consuming fixation with what is happening in this world, you have utterly missed the point. The knowledge that Christ’s return is imminent should turn our hearts toward heaven, ‘from which we also wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:20).”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Why Worship on Sunday?

Christian practice has been to worship God on Sunday, the first day, not on the Sabbath, the seventh day. Why?

The Sabbath principle has always been a part of God’s law and the law has not changed. Indeed, all of the requirements of the moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed in the New Testament, except one, the requirement to keep the Sabbath.

There is no evidence that the first century Christians were required to worship on the Sabbath, as the Jews had done. The scriptures indicate that very early in the Christian era, followers of Jesus began to worship on the first day of the week, rather than on the seventh. Yes, the apostle Paul attended Jewish services on the Sabbath. He did this as a part of his policy “to become all things to all people” in order to influence his fellow Jews to believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:20).

When he wrote his letter to the Colossians, Paul made it clear that Christians are not obligated to observe the Sabbath, any more than any other of the dietary laws or religious observances of the Jews. “Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he was writing to Jews and Gentiles who shared a common faith in Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 he told these believers how they were to support the Lord’s work financially. “On the first day of the week” they were expected to bring their offerings which had been set aside for this purpose. Presumably these offerings were to be collected when they came together for worship on Sunday.

In Acts 20:7 Paul and his travelling companions met with the Christians at Troas where they stayed for seven days. “On the first day of the week” they gathered to break bread. This is no doubt the observance of the Lord’s Supper, a vital part of Christian worship. This meeting also included a long discourse by Paul, as he taught the word of God.

Christians gather to worship the Lord on the first day of the week in honor of Christ’s day of resurrection (Matthew 28:1, John 20:1). The church of Jesus Christ was born on the first day of the week. The Holy Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost, which always fell on the first day of the week, exactly fifty days after the Passover Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15-16).

Sunday worship is a Christian celebration before a week of work, symbolizing that we are saved by grace and not by works. Hebrews 4:9-10 says that believers cease from all efforts to gain salvation by  their own works and rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. He is our Sabbath rest. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for any one who enters God’s rest also rests from their works. . . .”

The Jewish Sabbath, on the seventh day, always followed a week of work. This may be seen as symbolizing obligations of the law that had to be fulfilled before an individual could experience rest.

The first day of the week has become, in Christian practice, “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10), a voluntary setting aside of one day in seven for the glad praise and worship of God,  for instruction in the word, and for faithful service to Jesus.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Self-giving Love

With St. Valentine’s Day approaching, our thoughts turn to love. Many thinkers have offered opinions on the subject. Ambrose Bierce said it is “a temporary insanity.” Jeremy Taylor described love as “friendship set on fire.” It is “a hole in the heart,” wrote Ben Hecht. John Ciardi said love is “the word used to label the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual dependence of the old.”

It is “not getting, but giving,” said Henry Van Dyke. Peter Ustinov described human love as “endless forgiveness.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said love is “a synonym for God.”

Perhaps Emerson was alluding to the New Testament where we read that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Love may be the most basic of the moral attributes of God by which we understand and define him. Love is God’s eternal self-giving, self-sacrificing action.

I believe that the love of God is one of the best evidences for the Trinity, or the tri-unity of God. Love, to be expressed, must have an object, or recipient. So in eternity, before time and creation, God was love. The Father loved the Son and the Spirit. The Son loved the Father and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit loved the Father and the Son. Each of the persons of the Godhead reciprocated in the giving and receiving of pure, joyful, eternal love. For this giving and receiving God needed nothing and no one outside of himself. God was love before there were any created beings.

The act of creating the heavens and the earth was an act of self-giving love. “The earth is full of his unfailing love. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. . . . He spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm. . . . But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5-6, 9, 18).

To say that “God is love” is not to say that “love is God.” Love is much more than abstract thought or mere emotion. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love.” Lewis went on to describe the eternal love of God as “a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”

The giving and receiving we call love is possible for and in us because God loved us first. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we ought to also love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

“This is how we know that we live in him and he in us; He has given us of his Spirit And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:9-16).

There it is, the self-giving, sacrificial love of the Trinitarian God. The act of sending his Son Jesus into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins was an act of God’s self-giving love. Those who receive his love in receiving Jesus Christ, are said to be capable of giving Christian love to others. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

On St. Valentine’s Day as we give and receive expressions of love, let’s remember where love originated.

Pasto Randy Faulkner

Science and Faith are Friends

There exists in the popular imagination a cultural divide between science and faith. The rants of the new atheism have convinced some that science and the Bible are incompatible, that religion is a dangerous influence, that blind chance has replaced God, and that science has somehow disproved Christianity. So it is not surprising that some are suspicious of science.

Some are seemingly afraid of science because they feel ill equipped to engage in conversations about it. Debates about creationism, the origin of matter,  and the age of the universe are beyond them. They’d rather avoid getting caught up in discussions that are best left to physicists and philosophers.

The coronavirus pandemic has not only killed thousands of my fellow Oklahomans, but it has messed with the minds of many others. The same people who will trust science when it comes to boarding an airplane or submitting to anesthesia are skeptical of public health professionals’ recommendations. Many people (some of them are Christians) are unwilling to trust the science.

How might the church respond? First, by boldly declaring the truth that God is the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. Science supports the teaching that the universe is designed and fine-tuned for life to flourish. Belief in a creator God is a better foundation for science than is atheism. The only basis for valuing human life (as expressed in human rights declarations, for example) is a biblical understanding of human dignity. The scientific method was discovered and promulgated by scientists who believed in God. The history of science provides many examples. These facts should be emphasized in Sunday School lessons and sermons. True science is not in conflict with biblical faith.

Second, the church might respond by appreciating its members who are engaged with science in their work every day. It is easy to forget that there are faithful Christians in our churches who are engaged in scientific research, teaching, medicine, engineering, and agriculture. They should be encouraged as they integrate their faith with their vocations in the sciences.

Third, churches should be willing to explore how to help Christians engage in creation care. Environmental issues are in the news every day and are at the top of the cultural agenda. Just yesterday I was reading about a village on the North Sea coast of The Netherlands where industrial pollution from a steel plant is introducing hazardous materials into the soil, air, and surface water. This is endangering the health of the local people. Surely situations like this are a call to Christian advocacy when local circumstances are in conflict with biblical ethics. This is one way churches can help people understand how to apply spiritual principles in the physical world.

Fourth, Christians may set an example of humility and grace when it comes to difficult questions and controversies. We may take our stand on the authority of scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ without demonizing those who disagree with us. For example, differences of opinion about the proper role of government in the current public health emergency have taken on the features of a culture war. They have found their way into churches, political platforms, and families. Sometimes they have exploded into open conflict. This is not the result of an honest discussion about science. It is prejudice.

Should Christians trust science? Not if it is pseudo-science. Not if it makes claims about God that lie outside the realm of science and cannot be demonstrated scientifically. But if scientific knowledge advances human civilization, health, and prosperity, it may legitimately be said to be a gift from God, and should be appreciated as such. Science and biblical faith are not  incompatible.

Science and biblical faith are not enemies. One of the key figures in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic has been Dr. Francis Collins, soon to retire as the director of the National Institutes of Health. About fifteen years ago I read his book, The Language of God. In it he told of his work as the head of the Human Genome Project which has laid the foundation for many beneficial applications in science and healthcare. He also gave his testimony as a Christian. He became a believer when he began an exploration, as a scientist, which led him to put his faith in Jesus as savior. In the book he said that he now believes that “the God of the Bible is also the God of the genome.”

Christian writer and apologist Rebecca McGlaughlin lives a short distance from the campus of MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has friends who are teachers and researchers there. In her book Confronting Christianity, she said that “the roll call of Christian professors at MIT is impressive.” She named several of these distinguished individuals, along with their scientific and scholarly credentials.

She wrote, “The list goes on. And it extends far beyond MIT to leading Christian scientists across the world. If science has disproved Christianity, no one has thought to notify them!”

Science and biblical faith are friends.

Pastor Randy Faulkner