Protection, Direction, Correction

When God created sheep he must have had in mind the metaphorical use the Bible would make of them. In one way or another sheep are referred to over 600 times in scripture. In Psalm 23 King David thinks of himself as one of God’s sheep with the Lord himself as his shepherd.

One way the Lord cares for his sheep is by the comfort and security he provides. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” David writes. “Comfort” means to care, to strengthen, to ease, or to encourage. David needed this and so do you and I.

The ancient shepherd would care for his sheep with the use of two tools of his trade. Armed with the rod and the staff, he provided protection, direction, and correction for the sheep. The rod was something like a club, or cudgel with which the shepherd could fight off predators that might threaten the sheep. The staff was  like a walking stick which could be used to round up wayward sheep and guide them to pasture.

According to Phillip Keller, the shepherd would fashion the rod from a young tree. The enlarged base of the tree would be carved and shaped into a rounded head of hard wood. The handle would be fitted to the hand of the shepherd. The rod would become his main weapon of defense.

The staff was a long, slender pole with a shepherd’s crook on one end. With it the shepherd could guide the sheep, reach out to rescue them, and draw them close to himself. The shepherd used the staff to apply gentle pressure as they walked along. This comforting presence of the shepherd was reassuring to the sheep.

The application is obvious. The Lord wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He cares too much for us to let us go our own way. “We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  In his death, Jesus bore the judgment for our sin so that we could be rescued, redeemed, and forgiven.

The Lord wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He corrects us when we go astray. He pursues the wanderer, disciplines the willful, helps the weak, anoints the wounded, rests the weary. He uses the discipline of the rod and the staff to prove his love for those who are his own sheep. C. S. Lewis famously put it this way: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. (Pain) is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He is protecting his sheep even when they are not aware of it. I can think of situations in my life when the Lord has intervened to keep me from harm. Perhaps you can, too. His comforting presence has also directed me in times of decision-making and in unsettling seasons of change.

Regular readers will know that I have been diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease. Whatever is ahead for me, I am secure in the knowledge that I have a Good Shepherd. The prayer of the prophet Micah has proven true in my life: “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance” (Micah 7:14).

Just as the Lord has been my faithful shepherd in the past, I can be confident that he will be my faithful shepherd now and in the future.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Assurance of Guidance

The shepherd psalm, the twenty-third, has a familiar and important phrase: “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake”(v. 3). The psalm pictures a shepherd who leads his sheep to places of security and well-being. King David, who wrote the psalm, was expressing his need for the divine guidance of his heavenly Shepherd.

Decision-making and guidance can be a complex business. If they involve big changes, decisions can be unsettling and stressful. There may be conflicting options. Do we go this way or that? Our decisions effect the lives of others, adding to their weight and gravity. We do not know the future, and how our decisions might work out. Thankfully, our Shepherd is there to guide us.

This week I read a helpful article on guidance by Marcia Hornok. She based her thoughts on Paul’s description of the decision-making process in 1 Corinthians 16:5-16. She explained how Paul, Apollos, and Silas used God-given common sense to evaluate circumstances and to decide what to do. In this process they were confident that they were being led in God’s will.

“Divine guidance is not some sentimental theory,” wrote R.T. Ketcham. “It is a blessed reality.” God’s guidance can be a reality for us if we are paying attention to what it says in the 23rd psalm.

There are two persons mentioned in Psalm 23:3, “he,” and “me.” The “he” is the Lord, the Good Shepherd. The “me” is the believer who trusts the promise of the Shepherd who said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). Between the two personal pronouns is the word “guides.” Here is the promise of the Lord’s guidance.

The scriptures are filled with such promises. One is Psalm 32:8 where the Lord says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Sensible people take such promises seriously and pay attention to the voice of the Shepherd, staying close to him. He can lead them of they stay close to him.

I have read that in the ancient Near East shepherds would entice the sheep to follow by giving a piece of fruit to the one that was following the closest. The other sheep would also crowd in close behind the shepherd to try to get a juicy morsel. The sheep would learn to follow the shepherd who provides and guides.

He guides the sheep along the right paths, paths which he himself has scouted and knows. These paths lead to the pasturage and quiet waters that are just right for the sheep. In our decision-making and life choices we may trust the Shepherd to guide us to the right outcomes as we seek him in prayer and humble dependence on his will.

“You have made known to me the path of life,” David wrote in Psalm 16:11. Proverbs 4:18 says, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.” These promises mean that the Lord will always lead along righteous paths that conform to his moral will and lead in the right direction.

“For his name’s sake” means that we live on this earth for the Lord’s glory and honor. The Good Shepherd guides his sheep and they follow him to exalt his character and honor his reputation.

As a young Christian woman, Dorothy Burroughs was preparing herself to become a foreign missionary. She was a talented musician, poet and Bible student. She was suddenly stricken with a serious illness which took her life. Among her possessions was found the following poem which she had written about knowing and doing the will of God.

“I asked the Lord for some motto sweet, some rule of life to guide my feet;/  I asked and paused and He answered soft and low –‘God’s will to know.’

“With knowledge then sufficed, ‘Dear Lord,’ I cried. But ere the question into silence died,/ ‘Nay, this remember too — God’s will to do.’

“Once more I asked, ‘Is there no more to tell?’ And once again the answer sweetly fell:/ ‘This one thing above all other things above — God’s will to love.'”

The Good Shepherd knows the future. He knows us. He knows what is best for us. As we seek to know, to do and to love his will, we may trust him to guide us as we make important decisions along the path of life.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


The Shepherd’s Care

One of my favorite parenting memories is of my children reciting the Twenty-third Psalm. When they were very young their bedtime ritual often included kneeling for prayer and reciting the psalm in the venerable King James Version: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” That’s a good memory for an old dad.

I have been meditating on this psalm since I received my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease a few weeks ago. This little masterpiece of scripture is a favorite of many Bible readers, and for good reason. It is a reminder of the Lord’s tender care of his people through the circumstances of life on earth. It encourages us to hold to the promise of eternal life “in the house of the Lord.”

I am writing these meditations on Psalm 23 during the weeks leading toward the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. As you prepare your heart for Passion Week, I hope this will contribute to your faith and assurance that the Lord is indeed your Shepherd.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2).

Here is a picture of quietness, contentment and peace. How is this possible in a time of anxiety when trouble reaches us? It is possible because the Shepherd is near. He owns his sheep. He knows his sheep. He calls each one by name, In the catacombs in Rome, there is an epitaph used by the early Christians: “In Christo, in pace;”  (In Christ, in peace). The early believers were comforted by the presence of the Good Shepherd who was with them in death.

At this time in my life, as I face the coming limitations and dependency imposed by Parkinson’s, I am comforted by the assurance of the Lord’s presence. “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you,” is the Shepherd’s promise (Hebrews 13:5). “The Lord is near”(Philippians 4:5). “You are with me,” the psalm declares, in life and in death.

Furthermore, the Shepherd provides for his sheep. King David, who wrote the psalm, had been a shepherd in his youth. The Bible records how he protected his father’s sheep from predators, wild animals who threatened the sheep. The shepherd’s “rod and staff” could be used to defend the sheep, as well as to guide them.

The Near Eastern shepherd also provided food and water for the sheep. He would lead his sheep from one green pasture to another. C.H. Spurgeon, in his classic work on the psalms The Treasury of David, applied this to the Christian’s need for spiritual nourishment. He wrote: “What are these ‘green pastures’ but the Scriptures of truth — always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted?” We are fed spiritually when we hear, read, and reflect on God’s Word.

Psalm 23 reminds us how the Shepherd guides. The phrase “he makes me lie down” is not as abrupt and forceful as it sounds in the English language. The original connotation is of gentle leading and setting in a good place. The shepherd guides to a place of rest. He is aware of how his sheep need calm security as they assimilate the food they have received.

Phillip Keller was a sheep herder and pastor. In his book on Psalm 23 he said that the Eastern shepherd would lead his sheep to quiet waters that he himself had prepared by creating stilled pools in flowing streams. According to Keller the sheep would be afraid of rushing water. So the shepherd, ahead of time, would dam the streams with rocks to make sure the sheep had quiet water that they would drink.

All of this imagery pictures the personal care of the shepherd for his sheep. Psalm 23 was written to assure us that the Good Shepherd, Jesus, cares for his own sheep in the same way (John 10:1-15). I do not know all that is ahead for me, but I am relying on the Shepherd’s presence, provision, and guidance.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Is Sleep Over-rated?

From my boyhood I fondly remember hearing Bing Crosby sing over the radio: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep/ I count my blessings instead of sheep/ And I fall asleep counting my blessings./ When my bankroll is getting small/ I think of when I had none at all/ And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment and advice worth following. We should always remember where our blessings come from and thank God for them. But is that a sure cure for insomnia?

Medical professionals remind us of the importance of sleep to our health. We are told that good sleep improves brain power, concentration, blood pressure, heart health, the immune system, weight control, and athletic performance, among other benefits. That’s great. But what if we have trouble sleeping?

I was reading the psalms recently when I was reminded of a theme that is repeated several times. Some of the writers of psalms apparently had trouble sleeping. But instead of complaining or looking for a remedy, they used insomnia as a call to prayer.

I am not the first to notice this biblical trend. If you do an internet search of insomnia and prayer you will find plenty of folks who have discovered that sometimes God calls us to fellowship with him in the silent, solitary hours of the night. They are learning from David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, and other anonymous writers that there are times when sleep may be over-rated.

Instead of expressing frustration, these inspired hymnwriters yielded themselves to God in prayer. And it does not seem that they were thinking of prayer as a solution to the problem of sleeplessness. In fact, they did not seem to think of it as a problem at all. It was rather, an invitation.

I made a list of references. Here are some things I have been learning about meeting with God when sleep is elusive.

1. God invites us to think about him and to praise him. “On my bed I remember you and think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). “In the night I remember your name O Lord.” . . . “I rise to give you thanks” (Psalm 119:55, 62).

2. God invites us to examine ourselves and to open our hearts to him. “When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (Psalm 4:4). “Even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7). “You probe my heart and examine me at night” (Psalm 17:3).

3. God invites us to call out to him when we are saddened by troubles. “My tears have been my food day and night” (Psalm 42:3). “All night long I flood my bed with weeping.” . . .  “The Lord has heard my weeping” (Psalm 6: 6, 8). “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

4. God invites us to sing to him (maybe silently, in our minds, remembering hymns and songs of praise). “I remembered my songs in the night” (Psalm 77:6). “Let the saints sing for joy upon their beds” (Psalm 149:5).

5. God invites us to review his promises we have memorized. “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night that I may meditate on your promises” (Psalm 119:148).

All this is not to discount the value of a good night’s sleep. The Lord knows we need it. An afternoon nap is appealing as well. (This is one of the things I enjoy about retirement!) Sleep aids are sometimes the only way for us to get the refreshing sleep we need. Personally, I am thankful for Melatonin.

But there is a spiritual dimension to this issue too. It seems there are times and seasons when our heavenly Father is calling us to pray instead of sleep. Did not our Lord Jesus give us an example when he sought solitude to pray all night? Occasionally, or more often,  this may be God’s invitation to draw closer to him.

Then, in God’s mercy, there will also be those delicious times when we can say with King David, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Why I Preach the Bible

Why I Preach the Bible

When my brother Steve graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary, the commencement speaker was Dr. J. Vernon McGee, the renowned pastor, and Bible teacher. His address to the graduates was based upon 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.”

He must have repeated the theme “preach the word” twenty times in that message. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and do just that! I knew that was my calling in life and his words were a reminder of its importance.

As a young person, I had grown up in a thriving church. Our pastor invited guest Bible teachers to come to speak in annual Bible conferences. I remember being enthralled as well-known teachers such as Dr. McGee, Warren Wiersbe, Lehman Strauss, Theodore Epp, Oswald J. Smith, Walter Wilson, and others explained the scriptures. Their straightforward expositions of the word showed me the power and relevance of the Bible.

At Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago, I studied under scholars who were committed to the authority and truthfulness of the Bible and to the importance of biblical exposition. Studying the Bible as a seminary student helped forge the conviction that the power in ministry is not in the rhetorical skill or emotionalism of the preacher. The power of God is in the written word itself.

A survey of Psalm 119 reminds us of this. Here are a few excerpts. “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word” (v. 9). “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (v. 11). “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path” (v. 104). ” The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (v. 130). “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (v. 160). “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (v. 165).

There are churches that are organized to provide support groups and lay counseling programs. Others are organized around evangelism and world missions. Some churches emphasize the priority of worship. Some promote social action. All of these are important ingredients in healthy churches. I believe they are derived from, not substitutes for, the systematic exposition of the Bible.

What is biblical exposition? In the words of John Stott, it is, “bringing out of the biblical text what is there and exposing it to view.” The text in question may be a sentence, a verse, a paragraph, a chapter, or even a whole book of the Bible. (I once heard Dr. John Phillips deliver an exposition of the entire book of the Revelation in one forty-minute message!) An exposition explains the meaning of the text, shows its relevance, and helps the listener apply the scripture to life.

There is no substitute for the expository teaching of the Bible. Dr. W. A. Criswell was so committed to it that during one 17 year period he preached through the entire Bible from his pulpit in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. I did not try to do that in my preaching ministry. But I was committed to teaching the Bible book-by-book and verse-by-verse.

James I. Packer once said that “the Bible is God preaching.” Thus the authority in biblical preaching rests not in the personality or style of the preacher, but in the word of God itself. The word is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It reveals Jesus Christ to us and enables us to understand how to receive God’s salvation. No wonder we preachers are told to “preach the word.”

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner



Musings on the Moon Landing — July 20,1969

Musings on the Moon Landing -- July 20,1969

In July of 1969 Americans everywhere had the sense that what was happening Musings on the Moon Landing -- July 20,1969was of historic importance. Our astronauts had landed their spacecraft on the moon! Connie and I, in our first year of marriage,  were working that summer in upstate New York. I purchased a copy of the New York Times to commemorate the event. I have kept that newspaper all these years. (I have learned that millions of other collectors saved that issue of the Times as well.)

This week, remembering that historic event has the nation pondering the space program and what it represents. We have been admiring the fortitude of those first brave men who risked their lives in the great pioneering experiment of space exploration. They relied on their equipment, their training, their preparation, and raw courage.

There have always been those who questioned the value of sending men and women to outer space. They have said that the billions of dollars spent on space exploration could have been put to better use combating social ills like poverty, hunger, war, and racism.

Advocates of space research respond by pointing to beneficial results to society. The space program has increased the sum of human scientific knowledge. This has pushed the boundaries of understanding of our planet, our solar system, and the universe.

They speak of technological advancements such as the rapid development of computer technology, miniaturization, satellite communication, robotics, materials science, weather science, and countless industrial innovations and consumer products. Every scientific advance multiplied applications in many directions.

At the time of the moon landing, our nation was engaged in a “space race” with the Soviet Union. This was intense competition for the hearts and minds of the peoples of the world. Which system of government was superior? Totalitarian communism or a free and open society based on democratic values? The moon landing enhanced America’s prestige and international standing.

It is also important to remember the national security implications. The space program spurred the rapid development of advanced missile technology, delivery systems for nuclear warheads, tactical and strategic. Many believe that winning the race to the moon contributed to America’s winning the Cold War.

There is a wonder and an intense curiosity about outer space. The impulse to explore ever deeper into the universe can lead one to admire the majesty and wisdom of the Creator. It is a way of looking at his creation from a different perspective than that of earth. Contemplation of the heavens inspires worship.

Perhaps that is why the astronauts who first flew around the moon on the Apollo 8 mission, on Christmas Eve, 1968, read from the Bible, Genesis chapter one: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” They said later that they were aware as they did that, they were speaking to more people all over the world at one time, than ever before in history. And they read the Bible.

Some complained that this was an unwarranted intrusion of religion into a government enterprise. Others said that this was not a religious expression at all, but merely an attempt to find words of poetic grandeur to match the occasion.

Astronaut Frank Borman, commander of the mission, when asked about it, said, “I had an enormous feeling that there had to be a power greater than any of us — that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning.”

John Glenn, the first American to circumnavigate the globe in outer space, later said, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me, impossible.” James Irwin, who walked on the moon in 1971, often described the lunar mission as a revelation. “I felt the power of God as I’d never felt it before. I heard astronaut Charles Duke say something similar in a speech he gave here in Oklahoma City a few years ago.

The late Charles Colson wrote that the exploration of space sparks an innate religious sense. He quoted philosopher Immanuel Kant who famously said there are two things that “fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Colson commented: “Reflections about these things…lead our minds to contemplate God himself — the moral law, revealing his goodness, the heavens revealing his power.”

As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing, let’s agree that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring


A Song for Dangerous Times

A Song for Dangerous Times

“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you” (Psalm 91:9).

The extravagant promises of Psalm 91 are puzzling to anyone who faces trouble. And who doesn’t? What are we to make of assurances that if God is our refuge, we need not fear plague and pestilence, destruction and disaster? Are these sweeping promises to be understood as some version of word of faith prosperity theology? Are these verses examples of pious escapism?

In the world I inhabit, the world as it is today, people of faith do in fact, fall victim to night terrors (v.5), deadly diseases (v. 6), untimely death (v.7), natural and man-made disasters (v.10), and various other troubles. My memory ranges over 47 years of pastoral ministry. There have been countless instances where I have been called to be present in the lives of people who loved the Lord but who faced disasters, dangers and death.

The author of this psalm is realistic in his poetic assessment of the world as it is. He names the threats: snare, pestilence, arrow, plague, war, disaster, dangerous predators. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come,” wrote John Newton. His life was a testament to the fact that people of faith are not immune from the troubles of the world.

In these circumstances, the inspired writer directs our attention to our Creator. In the world, as it is, he wants us to know God as He is. He invites us to live in close relationship to God, sheltered under his wing of protection.

The names of God reveal aspects of his character: “Most High” — supreme, exalted ruler over the universe; “Almighty” — all-powerful, all-sufficient One; “The Lord” — Yahweh; the self-existent, personal, covenant-keeping God; “My God” — the majestic God of eternity, the sovereign God of creation. These names are a call to worship and trust him, in all circumstances.

The titles of God (refuge, shelter, fortress) remind us to think of him as our security and protection: soft, when it needs to be, like a mother bird’s sheltering wing, hard, when it needs to be, like a warrior’s armor. The psalmist would have us stop and think about God when we face life’s troubles.

If you read Psalm 91 again, think about it in light of world events, interminable war, natural disaster, refugees from genocide and poverty, political turmoil, suspicion and fear, economic disruption, assassination, and especially, religious persecution in various parts of the world. The plain fact is, God’s faithful ones do not always escape trouble.

You might be brought up short and puzzled until you read verse 15. There the Lord promises, “He will call on me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble.” This is a key to understanding how to apply the beautiful promises of the psalm. The author looks at the world as it is and to God as he is, and he brings them together. There is a resolution in verse 15.

This is a Christian philosophy that sustains you in the boardroom when the manager says, “Clean out your desk and turn in your keys. This is your last day on the job.” This is a worldview for the hospital room when the doctor brings bad news and the outlook is bleak.

“I will be with him in trouble,” not necessarily escaping it. It is the presence of the Lord in the time of trouble that gives courage and hope. Two biblical illustrations come to mind. In the book of Genesis, Joseph endured many troubles. There we read, “The Lord was with Joseph.” In the New Testament book of Acts, The Lord Jesus appeared in a vision to the apostle Paul at a time when he was discouraged and lonely, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you.”

He says the same thing to you and me: “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

The deliverance so boldly promised in Psalm 91 is for those who take refuge (v.2) in God, who make the Most High their dwelling (v. 9), who love him (v. 14), and who call upon him for salvation (v. 15). It is for those who say with faith, “My God in whom I trust” (v. 2).

It is not a blanket escape from the threats and risks of living in a dangerous world. Rather it seems clear that the writer sees and wants us to see another dimension, that of eternity. In the book of Romans, we are given a Christian interpretation of Psalm 91: “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37). “In all these things” we learn to recognize and rely on God’s presence with us. In persecution, trouble, or even death we will not be forgotten or forsaken.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner