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 minister 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

Jesus and You in 2022

Recently I read the claim, put forward by a clergyman, no less, that Jesus never stated that he was the divine son of God. This writer would have us believe that what we have are Jesus’ “daily and constant declarations about how to be human and how we are to imitate him in his humanity.”

Jesus was most certainly human. But to imply that this cancels his claim to deity is is to misread the New Testament and to misunderstand Jesus’ plain words about his divine nature. If we take the Bible seriously we cannot escape the conclusion that it teaches us that Jesus is both God and man.

Even our Lord’s favorite name for himself, “Son of man,” is a messianic title taken from the Old Testament. It implies his ideal and perfect humanity. It also teaches his lordship, kingship, and ultimate rule over the whole world in a divine kingdom that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-15).

So as we enter a new year let it be with the intention of keeping Jesus in the central place in our lives. “In all your ways acknowledge him” (Proverbs 3:6). “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). Jesus even said that we are to honor him in the same way that we honor the Father in heaven. “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).

In responding to his critics in John chapter 8, Jesus repeated the claim that he came from the Father, God, who sent him. “I stand with the Father who sent me” (v.16). “My other witness is the Father who sent me” (v. 18). “He who sent me is reliable” (v. 26). “The one who sent me is with me” (v. 29). “I have come from God” (v. 42). “He sent me” (v. 42).

Jesus also stated that his teachings came from God. “What I have heard from him I tell to the world” (v. 26). “I speak just what the Father has taught me” (v.28). “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence” (v. 38). “I know him (the Father) and keep his word” (v. 55).

In John 14 Jesus said that we are to believe in him with the same faith that we reserve for God. “You believe in God; believe in me” (v. 1) “No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). “I am in the Father and the father is in me” (v. 10). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

These are astounding claims. If they are true then in this new year of our Lord 2022 we must respond with some resolutions. With the disciple Thomas we must worship him as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). We must obey him as he told his followers, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:23). When we pray to God, we must approach him in the name (on the authority) of Jesus. “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 15:24). Added to these is the great commandment: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Many African American churches have “watchnight” prayer services on New Years’ Eve. There is testifying, singing, preaching and, and as midnight approaches, fervent prayer for the new year that is ahead. What a great way to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus in the new year! It would not be a bad idea if every new day in 2022 began with our heartfelt declaration: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

A Christmas Letter from Paul

Well, not exactly.  Paul did write letters. The letters of Paul make up half of the New Testament. He never really described the birth of Jesus, nor did he write an account of the life of Jesus. But Paul sent a Christmas message in his letter to the Galatians.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Let’s think about Paul’s little Christmas message.

Jesus came in the right way. He was “sent” by God our Father and Creator. Jesus was sent on a mission from heaven to earth. In the words of John the apostle, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).

He was “born of a woman.” the infant Jesus was conceived in a supernatural way, but born in the normal human way. The divine child took a human nature as he passed through human birth into the world. He partook of his mother’s humanity. This conforms to the prophecy of Isaiah, “Unto us a child is born” (Isaiah 9:6).

C.H. Spurgeon wrote of the birth of our Lord: “Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arm.”

The fact that Jesus was born under the law means that he was a Jew who observed the requirements and customs of the law of Moses. He was born under and into that system so that he could release people from that system. He fulfilled the requirements of the law by his sinless life. He paid the penalties of the law by his sacrificial death.

Jesus came at the right time. His appearance on the scene coincided perfectly with Bible prophecy. Those familiar with Daniel the prophet know that he prophesied the exact time of Messiah’s coming to Israel (Daniel 9:25-27). There are many prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures about the first coming of Messiah and Jesus fulfilled them. The book of Hebrews tells us that his coming was “in the culmination of the ages” (Hebrews 9:26).

Not only that, but his coming coincided with world events. In the providence of God, there was a confluence of historical circumstances that contributed to the rapid and efficient spread of Christianity just a few years after the earthly life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus came for the right reason. This is the heart of the Christmas message. In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul enumerates some of the blessings of salvation that are true because Jesus came at Christmas.

One of them is redemption. Jesus is said to redeem those who believe in him. This is a word that is taken from the Roman slave market to illustrate the freedom of those who are released from the bondage of sin. “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). His death on the cross was the ransom payment for our redemption.

Not only that, but his coming makes it possible for us to be taken into the family of God by adoption. In Paul’s day that meant full acceptance, status and recognition as children in the family. He applied that as an illustration of the believer’s relationship to God.

He goes even further to speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling presence of the Spirit who makes possible an intensely personal relationship to God. It is because of Christmas that it is possible for us to call out to the Father is prayer and call him “Abba!” It is because of Christmas that it is possible for us to know God and to be known by God and to receive the inheritance of eternal life (Galatians 4:6-9).

Paul would have us think about these things as we celebrate around the Christmas tree, sing carols and feast with our families. He wants us to know that redemption, adoption, the Holy Spirit, inheritance, and knowing God are wonderful gifts of Christmas. All because Jesus came in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

A Christmas Letter from Micah

Christmas letters bring us news from friends and relatives we haven’t heard from in a while. Sometimes they contain more information than we want to know about the sender’s activities during the previous year. Other letters are spare, not saying enough, prompting curious phone calls to ask for more detail.

That is what happened to me a few years ago when a friend’s holiday letter hinted, barely hinted, that she might have cancer. This got my attention. It turned out to be true. Her letter came at the beginning of a protracted battle with the disease.

Micah the prophet was a straight-talking country preacher, a contemporary of Isaiah. He was called by the Lord to prophesy bad news for the people of Judah. This was because false beliefs and immoral lifestyles had corrupted the nation, and Yahweh was ready to respond in judgment for their sins.

Embedded in this bad news were some hints of good news which make this letter so relevant for the Advent season. Micah’s prophesy is a call to “Listen!”  to “Pay attention!” and to “Hear the word of the Lord!” We hear this call to snap to attention in each of the three divisions of the book.

Advent is an invitation to wake up and get ready for the coming of the Lord. It moves us from our sleepy drifting through life to an outward-focused expectation.

Mica h wrote about a place. It was a small town in the territory of Judah. As a prophet who spoke bluntly against corruption, Micah was not popular with the convention and visitors’ bureau of Jerusalem. Right from the beginning of his prophecy, he exposed the hypocrisy and idolatry of the people. He followed up with a long poetic dirge predicting God’s judgment on Jerusalem and the outlying towns and villages of Judah.

Amid the prophesies of doom (it’s no fun being a prophet of doom), Micah deflects our attention to another town in Judah which would become famous as the birthplace of Messiah, Jesus Christ.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephratha, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

This prophecy was fulfilled when, in obedience to a governmental edict, Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem. It was while they were there that she gave birth to Jesus (Luke 2:1-7).

Micah wrote about a person. Mary’s baby will be the ruler in Israel, according to the prophet. Micah had been meditating on the future of his nation. God revealed to him that there would be severe judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. But he was strangely comforted by this word of the unexpected arrival of this very special person who would be coming from heaven to earth. His coming will be from eternity into time.

He will come to rule Israel (5:2), and rule the world (5:4). He will deliver his people and bring peace to the earth. This, of course looks forward to the second advent of Christ. Micah says, “He will stand and shepherd his his flock in the strength of the Lord” (5:4).

At our Lord’s first coming he went to Calvary as the Great Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. At his second coming he will reign as the true Shepherd-king, as did David his ancestor(Ezekiel 34:23-24).

Micah wrote about a promise. The book closes with a magnificent hymn of praise. In soaring poetry Micah captures the truth of God’s merciful intentions  toward his people. Micah’s name means “Who is like the Lord?” He answers the question with the following description in Micah 7:18-19. It is promise of comfort for any who want a proper understanding of the nature of God.

“Who is a God like you who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

This is a promise for us today too, because of that baby who was born in Bethlehem.

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

Coincidence or Providence?

Abraham sent his chief servant to his home country in Mesopotamia to find a bride for his son Isaac. Isaac was the chosen one who would be the recipient of God’s covenant promises, and would pass them on to his offspring. The choice of a bride would be vitally important.

Genesis 24 tells the story. It shows us how God works through the ordinary circumstances and events of our lives. It shows us how a man of faith like Abraham acknowledged God’s purposes and believed in God’s promises. It teaches us about prayer, in both its simplicity and its urgency.

When Abraham’s servant arrived at his destination in Haran, he prayed for success in his mission. At the site of the town well, he asked God for a sign. Would the girl whom God would choose be willing to provide water for his entire herd of camels when he asked for a drink of water for himself?

Among the young women coming to the well that evening was beautiful Rebekah with her water jar upon her shoulder. He noticed her immediately. Was it a mere coincidence that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor?

When he, a weary traveler, asked the girl for a drink of water, she responded with unusual grace. “‘Drink, my lord,’ she said and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink” (Genesis 24:18).

“After she had given him a drink, she said, ‘I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.’ So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels” (Genesis 24:19-20).

I have read that a thirsty camel can drink over 32 gallons of water at one time! We can only imagine the labor involved in watering ten camels. The man was watching her carefully the whole time as she went about this task. Was this a coincidence, or was God showing him the person who should be the bride for Isaac?

He then offered her gifts of gold and he asked about her family. She told him who her father and grandparents were. He then ventured to ask if they would provide him shelter for the night. She responded in the affirmative. Coincidence? The servant of Abraham did not think so. He bowed in worship and praised the Lord “who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives” (Genesis 24:27).

The gifts of gold he gave Rebekah prepared  a welcome from Laban, Rebekah’s brother. “A gift opens the way for the giver” (Proverbs 18:16). Laban escorted Abraham’s servant to the very household which he had sought. They offered him elaborate Middle Eastern hospitality. This was surely more than mere coincidence. It shows us the operation of divine providence in the lives of God’s people.

Millard Erickson has written, “Providence in certain ways is central to the conduct of the Christian life. It means that we are able to live in the assurance that God is present and active in our lives. We are in his care and can therefore face the future confidently, knowing that things are not happening merely by chance. We can pray, knowing that God hears and acts upon our prayers. We can face danger, knowing that he is not unaware and uninvolved.”

Abraham’s servant declined to eat the feast the family provided until he had told his story in it’s entirety. He told how the Lord had blessed Abraham and his family. He recounted how Abraham had sent him to find a bride for Isaac from among his own people. He told about his prayer for guidance and how Rebekah had matched exactly the person for whom he had prayed. This was more than coincidence. This was the providence of God!

Laban, Rebekah’s brother, and her father Bethuel agreed saying, “This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed” (Genesis 24:51). Rebekah also agreed. The next day when they asked her if she was willing to go immediately to be the wife of Isaac, her answer was clear and direct, “I will go.”

The Bible does not describe the details of the journey back to Canaan. It does give us the tender scene when Rebekah met Isaac and became his wife. “He loved her,” the scripture says.

Joyce Baldwin wrote, “Thus each found love and security in the other, and they shared the deep undergirding of the knowledge that the Lord God of Abraham had brought them together. If they were ever tempted to doubt that, they could recall the marvelous providence that took Abraham’s servant straight to Rebekah, and the prayer and praise that surrounded the whole venture, all of which betokened the unmistakable guidance of God.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Praying for Guidance

At a family mealtime the father offered a prayer of blessing for the food as usual. In pious language he thanked the Lord for all his bountiful provisions. But when he started eating he grumbled and complained about the food and the way it was prepared.

His teenage daughter interrupted. “Dad,” she began, “Do you think God heard your prayer?”

“Certainly,” he replied confidently.

“And did he hear it when you complained about the food just now?” She asked.

“Why of course!” he bellowed.

“Then which of the two statements did God believe?” The embarrassed flush on his cheeks revealed that her discerning questions hit a nerve. Too often our prayers are empty rhetoric, mere religious platitudes, off the tops of our heads not from the bottom of our hearts.

Do we pray beyond our own personal concerns and interests? I heard of a young lady who said to herself, “Today, I am not going to pray for myself. I am just going to pray for others.”

So she prayed, “Please, Lord, give my mother a handsome son-in-law!”

Then there were the two Sunday school boys who somehow got to talking about their families’ prayers. “Do your parents have a morning prayer with you?” one asked the other.

“No. We have prayers before bed. We’re not afraid in the daytime.”

Whatever the prompting, our heavenly Father invites us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) in all circumstances. This assumes that God is always listening and wants to hear from us. President Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “I have often been driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

I think that is how the chief servant of Abraham felt when he was given the assignment of going to Mesopotamia to find a bride for Isaac. The story is recorded in Genesis 24. He must have felt the weight of the responsibility that was being laid on him. So he prayed. He prayed with sincere faith in God. He prayed with humble dependence and desperate urgency.

May we pray for the success of our ventures and responsibilities? The Bible says we can, and we should. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

That is what Abraham’s servant did. When he arrived at the town of Nahor in the north country, he parked his ten-camel caravan near the town well and prayed, “Lord God of my master Abraham, make me successful today and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14).

You have probably noticed the same things I see in this prayer. He believed God saw him in his present circumstances. God sees you and me, too. He knows all about the problems we are facing.

He prayed specifically and boldly. We may do the same thing. James 4:2 reminds us, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” So ask!

The servant asked God for a sign that would be clear and unmistakable. Any young woman who would volunteer to provide enough water for ten thirsty camels to drink would be unusually helpful and kind-hearted, not to mention hard-working!

Then the text says, “Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar upon her shoulder” (Genesis 24:15). Here is another principle to guide us in our praying. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:8). The prophet Isaiah tells us the Lord says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

The servant’s prayer was artless and unadorned. It was from the heart. It acknowledged God’s special purpose for Abraham and Isaac. It was a prayer for guidance in carrying out a responsibility that the servant knew would be consequential. He knew that all of this was to accomplish the plan of God.

God heard. God answered. Rebekah’s actions matched exactly his request for a sign. It is no wonder that with gratitude he “bowed down and worshipped the Lord,” and praised the God of Abraham (Genesis 24:48)!

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Faith and Culture

Abraham is an example to us of what it means to live by faith. John Wesley expressed it thus: “Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees and looks to God alone; laughs at impossibilities and cries, ‘It shall be done!'”

“Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6). His faith was on display amidst the customs and cultures of the ancient Near East.

He believed the word of God which had assured him that his descendants would come through Isaac his beloved son. When it was time for Isaac to marry, Genesis 24 says that Abraham directed his chief servant to find a bride for his son from among his kinfolk in the region of Haran in Northern Mesopotamia. He did not want Isaac to marry a woman from the idol-worshipping Canaanites. Nor did he want his son to stray from the Promised Land in search of a wife.

This separatism was an early example of a principle that is repeated throughout the Bible. Believers should not be “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17) with unbelievers, but are to marry “only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). This expression of singular faith in the living God was to be the unifying factor in Israelite families. They were to be a distinctive people, separate from the pagan cultures around them “holy unto the Lord.”

So the aged Abraham called his servant to come near and to place his hand under his thigh, to affirm a solemn oath in God’s name that he would carry out this sacred task. (Later Jacob would employ the same ritual to secure the pledge from Joseph that he would be buried in the Promised Land and not in Egypt; Genesis 47:29). This gesture, mysterious to us, was associated with procreation and the family line, and invoked a most serious commitment.

There are other cultural features in the story showing that God works through established norms of human custom, as long as they are not violations of his moral law. These include the use of a caravan of camels, expensive gifts for the family of the bride, a public well where the women of the town came to draw water, and an elaborate welcome feast offered to the servant by the family of Abraham’s brother Nahor.

The story does not describe the 400 mile journey from Abraham’s home in Canaan to Aram Naharaim (“Aram of the two rivers,” the Tigris and the Euphrates). The trip must have taken several weeks. The faith of Abraham was carried forward in the faithfulness of his loyal servant. It demonstrates to us how God meets us in our own cultural situations and invites us to trust and obey as Abraham did.

Joyce Baldwin described this beautifully. “(Abraham) was encouraged to believe that the same Lord who had led him, spoken to him, and sworn on oath to give him descendants, would send his angel before his servant. The servant, however, might not share Abraham’s conviction, so Abraham assured him that he would not be held liable if he came back empty-handed. The solemn oath indicated how deadly serious Abraham was in all he asked of his retainer; on the success of this enterprise depended the separateness of the people of God, a necessary condition for developing a counter-culture that would reflect their walk with God.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

God has a Purpose

Abraham knew that God had a special purpose for his son Isaac. He had been miraculously born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. The Lord had said that his covenant promises would be fulfilled through Isaac. When the Lord had tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice Isaac, he was pleased with Abraham’s obedient response and he kept him from following through with the sacrifice. Isaac was spared when the Lord provided a male sheep as a substitutionary offering. Even though Abraham had other children, Isaac was considered to be the “only” son, the beloved son, the son of promise.

It is not surprising, then, that when the time came for Isaac to marry, the aged patriarch Abraham wanted to do all he could to insure that a suitable bride could be found for his son. Isaac’s bride would be the mother of Abraham’s descendants who would occupy the promised land. In one of the most beautiful stories in the Old Testament, Abraham assigned to his personal servant the task of locating a bride for Isaac and bringing her to him (Genesis 24:1-67).

This story has important lessons for us about God’s purpose, and his providential care in accomplishing his purpose. That is why I want to explore it here in a few installments, beginning today.

Genesis 24 opens with the statement that “Abraham was now very old and the Lord had blessed him in every way.” This makes me think of all the ways the Lord has blessed me throughout my life. How about you? Let’s remember to thank him regularly for his protection, provision, for his guidance and care.

God had blessed Abraham with a beautiful wife, Sarah, with great wealth, with a beloved son, Isaac, and with a reputation among his neighbors as a “mighty prince.”

Abraham summoned his chief servant, the one who was in charge of his household. The servant was given the commission to find a bride for Isaac, Abraham’s heir. Derek Kidner points out that he is an attractive person because of “his quiet good sense, his piety and faith, his devotion to his employer, and his firmness in seeing the matter through.”

As he instructed his servant, Abraham asked him to swear in the name of God that he would fulfill the charge. What he said gives us an idea of his view of God (Genesis 24:3). He is the Lord, Yahweh, the God of the covenant, who keeps his promises. The Lord is the God of heaven. He is the ruler of the glorious invisible realm of heaven, reigning in power over the universe.

He is also the God of earth, who takes an interest in the concerns of all his people, guiding and providing. He spoke words of assurance and faith to his servant. “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and out of my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’ — he will send his angel before you” (Genesis 24:7).

Here are a few thoughts in response to this. God has a purpose for our lives and he wants us to cooperate with his purpose. The New Testament gives us plenty of guidance about God’s purpose, what he wants us to know about him and how he wants us to live for him.

Our lives have significance and value. We matter to God. As we shall learn from this important story, God is willing to  hear our prayers and arrange circumstances so that our lives may accomplish his purpose. Abraham trusted the promise of God for his son Isaac. We may trust him too.

God is both the sovereign ruler of heaven, and the Lord of earth. He is both transcendent and immanent, distant and near. Worship and obedience are the correct responses to such a God.

Pastor Randy Faulkner