The Church at its Best

Some people are disappointed in the institutional church, and not without reason. Church life can be messy, with denominational differences, power struggles, theological compromise, misplaced priorities, and leadership scandals. There are as many faults in churches as there are sinners in churches, and we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Churches are as imperfect as the people in them.

A friend once told me he had given up on organized religion. I asked him if he preferred disorganized religion!

It would be easy to get discouraged if it were not for the fact that Jesus Christ is the head of the universal church, which is his spiritual body. If local churches are unfaithful, or divided, or unwelcoming, or hurtful, the remedy is to remember that the true church is the body of Christ. Local churches are at their best when they are centered on him. They can descend into disfunction if they ignore or forget the headship of Christ.

When Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, he emphasized this fact. “He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). A body without a head is powerless, grotesque and dead. William Barclay wrote, “Jesus Christ is the guiding spirit of the church; it is at his bidding the church must live and move.”

Some practical implications are spelled out in Colossians chapter 3. Jesus is to be central to everything in the life of the church. That is why the letter to the Colossians is filled with references to Jesus. Believers have been raised from spiritual death with Christ (3:1). Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (3:3). Christ is our life (3:4).

“Christ is all and in all” (3:11). Because the Spirit of Christ indwells all believers, there is no place in the church for division, discord, rivalry, and cultural, racial, or social barriers. When the head controls the body, it will be what it was designed to be. That is why Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:15). He added, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17).

The author Rita Snowden wrote about her visit to a small town near Dover, England. She was having tea in the late afternoon, when she became aware of an overwhelmingly pleasant aroma filling the air. She asked the waiter about the source of the scent, and she was told that it came from the people passing by. He explained that those people worked in a perfume factory down the street and were on their way home. When they left the factory, they carried the fragrance that had permeated their clothing during the day’s work.

That is an illustration of what the church could be like when it is centered on Christ. We church members should be people who allow ourselves to be permeated with the attributes of Christ. Then when we go out into the world, the fragrance of the Lord goes with us. When the church gathers for worship, everyone will sense the aroma of his presence.

That is the church at its best.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Fear and Trembling

To teach the Bible is a sacred privilege and solemn responsibility. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” I know I am accountable to God for my ministry and that produces in me a deep reverence not unlike fear and trembling.

Having written that, however, I confess that it has been a joy to be a pastor who was and is dedicated to the teaching of the Bible. I was fortunate to serve in healthy churches, among people who valued Bible teaching Sunday after Sunday.

I worked hard at it. I studied the Bible many hours every week. There were other pastoral duties, of course, such as administration, counseling, personal evangelism, and visitation. But I gave priority to the hours for study and preparation for preaching. I believe that most of the people in the churches I served understood and appreciated that fact.

My preferred method was Bible exposition, teaching the Bible verse by verse. I sought to teach the meaning of a biblical passage, as best I could, in accordance with the intention of the human author and the Divine Author. If I wanted to teach on a particular topic, such as the Holy Spirit, or family life, or what the Bible says about the future, I selected a Bible passage that emphasized that subject and simply taught what the Word of God said about it.

For most of my pulpit ministry I taught through books of the Bible. In this way I taught most of the books of the New Testament. Verse by verse Bible teaching required me to give attention to all the major themes of the Bible comprehensively, not just my favorite subjects. I also taught through many of the books of the Old Testament, especially the psalms, wisdom literature, and the prophets, as well as the study of prominent biblical characters. I explored foundational themes such as creation, highlights of Israel’s history and prophesies of Christ.

In addition to teaching the content and interpretation of the scriptures, I sought to show their relevance to the lives of people today. I tried to illustrate my messages with stories and examples from contemporary life. This was to try to help people apply the teaching to their lives as Christians.

Believing that Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the Bible, I wanted to include the gospel in every message in some way. The Bible’s main theme is how human beings may be in a right relationship to God. This is only possible through faith in Jesus the Son of God, his sacrificial death and his glorious resurrection.

In view of the eternal importance of this subject, it is clear why those of us who teach the Bible will be held to a higher standard of accountability. Let every pastor and Bible teacher approach this task with fear and trembling.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Out of the Depths

The past several months have been difficult ones for me. A bad fall, two surgeries,  and unwelcome side effects from Parkinson’s medications have reminded me of how precious is good health. More than once I have called out to our heavenly Father “out of the depths” of uncertainty and anxiety. Psalm 130 has been a source of help for me.

It is one of the penitential psalms. It was quoted in prayer by the Hebrew people when they came to worship and to confess their sins at the temple of God in Jerusalem. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord hear my voice. let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Psalm 130:1-2).

The writer of Psalm 130 was suffering emotionally and spiritually. His mood was dark. He was struggling with guilt feelings. Some believe Jonah prayed this psalm from the belly of the great fish as he repented of disobeying the call of God (read Jonah 2:2-3). Like the writer of this psalm he felt the weight of sin and regret and he wanted to be free of it.

In a dinner table conversation Martin Luther was asked which psalm was his favorite. He replied that Psalm 130 was among his favorites because it expresses themes which we find in the doctrines of grace: forgiveness, redemption, justification, the complete removal of the sinner’s guilt.

Guilt is different from feeling bad because of a violation of a social expectation. It is not a false, neurotic guilt that has no basis in reality. The guilt spoken of in the Bible is true moral guilt before a holy God. It is the sense that we are not what we ought to be because we know we have broken God’s moral law.

When we become aware of our sins and shortcomings, we may choose one of two options. We may repress those guilt feelings and resist the Holy Spirit’s conviction. This is what many people do, but it only makes matters worse. It is better to confess our sins to God and receive his grace and forgiveness.

“If you O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). Here we find a summary of the major themes of the whole Bible: law and grace; justice and forgiveness; God’s wrath against sin and his redemption from sin. The good news is good because it is about the rescue that is available from the bad news of judgment.

We may be thankful for the little conjunction “but.” Verse 4 of the psalm says, “But with you there is forgiveness.” Many times, when the accuser, the enemy of my soul, has reminded me of my multiplied sins and failures, this verse has comforted me with the assurance of forgiveness.

We have a hard time forgiving others. We have a hard time forgiving ourselves. Some people have a hard time forgiving God! This psalm is a reminder that God is different than we are. He loves to forgive. It is his prerogative to forgive freely, fully, graciously.

So we are taught to wait before the Lord (v.5). We do not like to wait. Impatience is baked into American culture. We don’t like to wait at traffic lights, for elevators, in doctors’ offices. We like same day delivery, fast food, and instant messaging. But the psalm tells us to wait in the presence of the Lord.

“In his word I put my hope.” This is solid faith and certainty that God will keep his word. Commenting on this, Derek Kidner wrote, “It is the Lord himself, not simply escape from punishment, that the writer longs for. Notice that this is more than wistfulness and optimism. In plain terms, he speaks of a promise (his word) to cling to. . . . Night may seem endless, but morning is certain, and its time determined.”

The psalm begins in the depths but it closes in the heights. I have read that the deepest trenches at the bottom of the earth’s oceans are almost 36,000 feet below the surface. The highest mountain is 29,000 feet above sea level. In the closing verses we are taken to the highest spiritual mountain peaks: God’s unfailing love and redemption. I cannot read verses 7-8 without thinking of Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

His Presence is Enough

Nature is predictable. It operates on the basis of fixed laws. Release a stone from your hand and it always drops to the ground. Put a kettle of water on a hot stove and the water will boil. A commercial aircraft weighing over 450 tons can supersede gravity and fly because it operates in accordance with laws of aerodynamics. Nature operates in a predictable manner.

This very predictability gives rise to science. Men and women investigate, develop theories, conduct experiments, then form conclusions based on evidence that nature behaves in a certain way under certain conditions.

The Bible teaches that there is a Mind controlling nature. Natural laws are a  way of describing God’s activity in nature. God created nature. God sustains nature.

If an all-powerful God can do that, he can, if he chooses, suspend, or interrupt the natural processes he himself created. He can break into the ordinary course of things in a way that is not natural, but supernatural.

This is what Jesus did. Sometimes he acted in extraordinary ways to meet the needs of people and to demonstrate his authority as the Son of God. These extraordinary acts of God are what we call miracles.

It is not unscientific to believe in miracles. Science has nothing to say about whether miracles may or may not occur. If people object to the possibility of miracles, they do so on religious, not scientific grounds. Science can verify or disprove natural, not supernatural phenomena.

Christianity is a faith which is based upon miracles. God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. Many events in the ministry of Jesus were miraculous signs of his deity. Jesus died on a cross and arose from the dead. He ascended to heaven. He promised to return to earth in power and glory.

For example, there is an event that took place in his early ministry which is a vivid demonstration of Jesus’ miracle-working power. Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Lake of Galilee in a fishing boat. Jesus was asleep in the stern of the vessel. An unusually powerful storm arose. The waves were so high that the disciples feared that the boat would be swamped.

“The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?'” (Mark 4:38). The Bible doesn’t tell us what they expected the Lord to do about the situation. They had seen him perform miracles before. Probably they were hoping for one now.

The next verse says Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the waves saying, “Quiet! Be still!” Then we are told that everything became perfectly calm on the lake. What is this but a supernatural intervention?

The disciples were awestruck. They asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41).

This story shows us who Jesus is. He is the God-man. In his humanity, he slept, exhausted after a long day of ministry. In his deity, he demonstrated his miracle-working power over his creation.

The story also contains a hint as to how we might respond to the dangers that erupt in our lives. Jesus had already told his disciples that they would get to the other side of the lake (Mark4:35). Even though he was sleeping, he was with them in the storm. His presence was their guarantee that they would make it to the other side. This was a test of their faith.

There will be times in our lives when we may be tempted to feel that he is unconcerned. We may be tempted to panic when we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances. We may be tempted to forget that he is nearby and has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

As a boy I was taught little song in Sunday school: “With Christ in the vessel we can smile at the storm.” As a pastor, I observed this in the lives of many people of faith and courage who were counting on the Lord to be with them in the storms of life, whether or not he performed a miracle.

They had learned to trust him. I remember one godly lady who had terminal cancer. When I visited her I asked her what the Lord had been saying to her in her illness. Her response taught me a lot about the life of faith. She said the Lord had been saying to her, “Just trust me.”

For her, his presence was enough.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

 

 

The Lessons of History

I read an article on the teaching of history in American schools. The author bemoaned the fact that students are being encouraged to overlook the failings of other cultures while being hypercritical of the USA. For example the ancient Aztec civilization is renowned for architecture and agriculture, but teachers fail to mention their practice of human sacrifice. Historians may discuss the Great Wall of China without saying that it was built with slave labor in which thousands died.

In the teaching of US history the National History Standards are quick to call attention to the KKK, the Great Depression, and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japanese cities, while paying scant attention to the achievements of America’s founding fathers, scientists, inventors and adventurers.

In a USA Today op-ed, John Zmirak wrote that it is now possible to earn a degree from an elite US university without taking a single course in American history or classical literature. He wrote, “If we expect the next generation to preserve the constitution of a free society, we cannot send students out after a Lexus-priced education knowing less about America than the graduate of a Slovakian high school. But that’s what we’re doing.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews wants his readers to learn from biblical history. The eleventh chapter summarizes highlights of Israel’s past to teach readers of the New Testament to live by faith in God today. It reads like a list of heroes, a hall of fame of the Bible.

The people listed were not perfect people, but they are singled out because of their faith. John Calvin wrote: “There was none of them whose faith did not falter. . . . Nevertheless, although faith may be imperfect and incomplete, it does not cease to be approved by God.”

Regular readers of this blog have noticed that I have been surveying Hebrews 11. We have now arrived at verse 32 where king David and the prophet Samuel are mentioned. What do these men teach us about faith?

David, one of the great men of the Old Testament, trusted in the Lord when he was a mere lad, tending his father’s sheep. He faced the giant Philistine warrior Goliath with complete confidence that the Lord would give him the ability to defeat him. His psalms are a testimony of his faith. His kingship and the dynasty that followed are based upon his faith in the unconditional promise of God.

Samuel represents all the prophets of God.  He was a man of prayer. He was a man of courage who was willing to confront king Saul when he was wrong. He was a preacher of the truth during the time of the Judges when people wanted to do what was right in their own eyes.

The rest of the chapter describes the fate of many in Israel who were not named but they had a faith worth dying for. They were “tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison, They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. . . . These were all commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:35-39).

These verses remind me of our Lord’s words in Luke 9:23-25, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

Living by faith can be dangerous. It involves the possibility of suffering and dying for the Lord. Hebrews 11 refutes the preposterous claims of some preachers that if we have enough faith (as they define faith), God has obligated himself to give us lives that are prosperous and pain free. As a matter of fact, this chapter proves that living by faith does just the opposite.

Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Most of us know nothing of suffering. The church in America is protected and almost pampered, but it may not always be so. The pampered church may one day become the persecuted church.”

He was right. The experience of persecuted and martyred Christians around the world resembles the closing verses of Hebrews 11. We’d do well to pay attention to the lessons of history.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Imperfect People

We live in distressing times. Every day there are news reports that cause anxiety and uncertainty. Pick your issue: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, the immigration crisis, political divisions, random mass murders, the national debt, the rise of autocratic extremists, and moral ambiguity. Many Americans testify to a sense of foreboding, feeling that democracy itself is being threatened.

Hebrews 11:32 refers to such a time in Israel’s history, the distressing days of the Judges. It was a turbulent time. The obscure Old Testament book of Judges is full of stories of strange events and strange characters that are hard to understand and even harder to explain.

It describes a time (about 400 years) between the Exodus and the beginning of Israel’s monarchy. It is an historical bridge from the occupation of the Promised Land under Joshua to the anointing of Israel’s first kings. The book tells the stories of twelve civil and military leaders who led the tribes of Israel into battle against  powerful nations that threatened their survival.

During the time of the Judges, Israel was a loose confederation of tribes. They had not completed the task of conquering Canaan. The religion of the Canaanites was a persistent threat to their devotion to the Lord (Judges 2:10-19). Their spiritual compromise is expressed in the key verse of Judges. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 17:6). This theme is repeated later in the book (Judges 21:25).

The New Testament teaches us that we are learn from the experiences of God’s people in the Old Testament. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

A few of the lessons we learn from reading the strange book of Judges are: (1) The Lord wants his people to worship him as ruler. (2) When his people neglect  to acknowledge him, trouble follows. (3) Enemy nations are tools God uses to discipline his people and drive them back to dependency on him (Judges 2:14). (4) The Lord is gracious and merciful. When his people return to him, he is ready to forgive them. In the book of Judges we can see a four-fold cycle repeated: rebellion against God, retribution by God, repentance toward God, and rescue from God (under the leadership of one of his Judges).

We find the names of four of the judges in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. They apparently represent the other eight. They were not priests or kings, but warriors who were called by God to deliver his people in times of trouble. In spite of some obvious moral and spiritual  flaws, they are held up before us as examples of faith. They are Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah (Hebrews 11:32).

Gideon (Judges 6-8) is distinguished for his unlikely victory over the vast Midianite army with an underwhelming 300 fighting men. All the credit for this victory went to the Lord. Other notable acts of faith were his tearing down of images of Baal, construction of an altar to the Lord, and his refusal to accept kingship, declaring that “the Lord will rule” over Israel (Judges 8:23).

Barak was called to be a leader in Israel by the prophetess Deborah who spoke for God. She summoned Barak from the tribe of Naphtali to fight against the Canaanite army (Judges 4:7). He agreed to lead the armies of the tribes of Naphtali, Zebulon, and Issachar on the condition that Deborah join him and share in the leadership (Judges 4:8). The eighth chapter of Judges is Deborah’s song of praise to God celebrating the victory of the Lord ever his enemies.

Samson may be the most familiar of the Judges. Every child in Sunday School has heard of this strong man’s exploits, as well as his moral failures. He may have displayed more faith in God at the time of his death than he did during his career as an unlikely hero (Judges 13-15).

Jephthah was a born leader of men, a warrior, who lived on the fringes of Israelite society, estranged from his family (Judges 11:1-3). When his neighbors called on him to lead them into battle against the forces of Ammon (Judges 11:4-11), “the Spirit of the Lord” confirmed his call (Judges 11:29). The Bible says that when the Israelite army under Jephthah fought the Ammonites, “the Lord gave them into his hands” (Judges 11:32).

His story is complicated by a dreadful vow he made to God before he went into battle (Judges 11:31). Did he really carry out his pledge to God to offer his daughter as a human sacrifice in return for victory? And if he did, how could the New Testament regard him as a hero of faith? He should have known that the law of God repeatedly prohibited human sacrifice. He should have known that obedience to the law of God overruled any rash vow that would have come from his mouth.

Bible students are divided in their opinions. Some say Jephthah’s daughter was given to Israel’s central sanctuary and dedicated to a life of perpetual virginity in the service of God. Others say that Jephthah was a son of his times and was influenced too much by the pagan practices of Israel’s neighbors and “he did to her as he had vowed” (Judges 11:39).

Clearly, God uses imperfect people. Gideon was fearful. Barak was hesitant and timid. Samson was egocentric and flippant. Jephthah was impulsive. But then, we are all imperfect people, aren’t we?.

God uses imperfect people who depend on him in faith.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Moses’ Faith, and Yours

The main subject of Hebrews chapter 11 is faith. Verse 6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” As examples of faith, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews calls our attention to  some of the prominent personalities of the Bible. They show us what it is to live by faith.

One of those people was Moses. The Bible tells us he was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). As the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter it is possible that he was trained in military science, agriculture, economics, architecture, law, and diplomacy, among other things. He doubtless had access to great wealth and influence.

“By faith he left Egypt” (Hebrews 11:27). He abandoned the power, prestige, pleasures, and possessions Egypt offered him. Actually Moses left Egypt twice. The first time he left was in fear for his life. He had killed an Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Hebrew slave. He left as a fugitive to live in the desert of Midian as a shepherd. For the whole story read Exodus 2:11-25.

The second time he left Egypt was after God had called him to lead the Hebrew people to freedom. Moses conquered his fear and failure to live by obedient faith in the true God. He went back to Egypt to confront the powerful Pharaoh with the Lord’s message: “Let my people go!”

Hebrews 11:27 says that this time he was unafraid of the king’s anger. Instead, “he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” This is a way of describing Moses’ close relationship to God. “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11). This close relationship began when the Lord called Moses from the famous burning bush (Exodus 3:1-22). It sustained Moses through many difficult days.

“By faith he kept the Passover” (Hebrews 11:28). Probably this means that he instituted, or established the Passover, following God’s instructions. Through Moses the Lord had given the king of Egypt repeated opportunities to relent and allow the Hebrews to leave. God had sent one plague after another against the Egyptians to display his power over their idols. Each time the Egyptian ruler became more resistant and rebellious.

The final plague was a terrible sentence of death against the firstborn in every Egyptian household. Only those dwellings were spared whose doorposts and lintel were sprinkled with the blood of an unblemished sacrificial lamb. God had said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:12-13).

These instructions were unusual and unprecedented, but the people of Israel obeyed them by faith. There was nothing like this in Moses’ previous experience, either. He had nothing to go on but faith in the word of God. Because the blood of the Passover lamb was seen on the entrances to the houses of the Hebrews, they were spared the awful judgment imposed by God’s angel of death. The people of Israel were permitted to leave Egypt after that.

We may learn several practical lessons from the faith of Moses. First, we are reminded that faith pleases God and that unbelief displeases him. Pharaoh denied the Lord’s existence and power and it cost him  his life. Moses believed the word of the Lord and God was pleased to invite him into a special relationship.

Another thing we notice is that early mistakes (Moses was guilty of manslaughter) do not permanently disqualify one from serving the Lord. Moses’ brother Aaron led the people to worship a golden calf idol. Yet he was forgiven and eventually anointed as Israel’s high priest. Think of the early mistakes and sins of Jacob, Samson, David, Peter, and Paul.

Also, it is obvious from the story of Moses that nothing is wasted in the plan of God for a believer’s life. Without a doubt, Moses’ early training among the young aristocrats of Egypt helped prepare him for leadership among the people of God. Not only that, his years in the wilderness of Sinai made him familiar with the geography and topography of the region where the Israelites would travel on their long journey to Canaan.

Finally, the New Testament teaches us that Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). It is through faith in his shed blood (Ephesians 1:7) that we may be saved from eternal destruction and given the gift of eternal life. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Faith Filled Parenting

In my daily prayers I regularly give thanks for my parents who brought me up to have faith in Jesus. My prayers also go up to the Lord for my children as they rear their children in the faith. I desire that my grandchildren, too, might pass along true gospel faith to their descendants after them.

This sentiment is expressed by the prophet Isaiah. “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 59:21).

The recent birth of my thirteenth grandchild, a beautiful baby girl, has reminded me again of the important role of parents in the training of children. I am praying that my son and daughter-in-law will bring up this precious child to know and love Jesus as savior.

God ‘s word makes it clear that parents are responsible for the guidance and instruction of their children in the ways and will of the Lord. It is certain that in our world there are all kinds of negative influences and godless ideas that are impressed upon children every day. Church youth pastors and Sunday School teachers can support parents in their role, but there is no substitute for Mom and Dad in the spiritual teaching of children.

Hebrews 11:23 is an illustration of this principle. “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw that he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

This verse is a brief tribute to two people whose courage and faith insured Moses’ survival and shaped his early life. Amram, his father, and Jochabed, his mother, were from the tribe of Levi, but along with the rest of their fellow-Israelites, were slave laborers in Egypt. To inhibit the rapid growth of the Israelite population the Egyptian king had issued an order that male babies born to the Hebrews were to be killed. I notice two things about Moses’ parents.

Insight

There is an ancient Jewish tradition, reported by the historian Josephus, that Moses’ father received a vision that his son was a child of destiny. Amram believed that God had special plans for Moses and was going to use him as a great leader in Israel. The story as reported in Exodus highlights the role of Moses’ mother.

Even though they were under orders to have the baby killed, “they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” They had faith in the God of Israel, not in the gods of the Egyptians.

Initiative

The book of Exodus describes how they disobeyed the king’s decree, at great risk to themselves. They hid the child for three months then placed him in the Nile River in a little floating vessel made of papyrus reeds. Apparently the location was strategically chosen because it was the place where the Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe.

When she found the baby she had pity on the child and wanted to keep him. Moses’ sister Miriam approached the princess and offered to “go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you” (Exodus 2:7). When the princess agreed, Miriam brought Jochabed to her as nursemaid for the baby.

In the faithful providence of God, Moses’ own mother  got to be the earliest spiritual influence in his life. We cannot know for sure the full extent of that influence, but surely she implanted in the child as best she could, a knowledge of the God of Abraham and his identity as a member of the Hebrew nation.

I have read that fifty per cent of a child’s basic attitudes are formed during the first three years of life. If that is true it emphasizes the importance of the parents in the early spiritual training of their children. No one can take the place of Mom and Dad in setting the right example and teaching the truths about God.

“What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord . . . which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:4-7).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Could This Be the Year?

Could 2024 be the year in which Jesus comes again? Christians of all theological persuasions believe (or are taught to believe) that Jesus is coming again. The New Testament reminds us to anticipate our Lord’s return. These reminders to be alert and watchful lead to the conviction that Jesus could come at any time.

Romans 13:11-12 — “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”

1 Corinthians 1:7 — “You eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed”

Philippians 3:20 — ‘But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 1:10 — “To wait for his Son from heaven”

Titus 2:13 — “While we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”

Hebrews 9:28 — “So Christ . . . will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation, to those who are waiting for him.”

James 5:7-9 — “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. . . . The Lord’s coming is near. . . . The Judge is standing at the door.”

1 Peter 1:13 — “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Jude verse 21 — “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”

Revelation 3:11, 22:7, 12,20 — “I am coming soon.”

There have been those in every generation since these words were written, who have believed that Jesus could come at any time, even in their own lifetimes. His coming is imminent. It could happen at any time. That is why believers are taught to watch and be ready.

The verses cited above refer to the next great event on God’s prophetic schedule. It is described by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Paul says this is a “mystery.”  A mystery is is a truth that was not revealed in the Old Testament scriptures, but is now revealed through the teaching of the apostles of Jesus. Elsewhere Paul refers to it as “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints” (Colossians 1:26, see also Ephesians3:5, 9).

Furthermore, he says this great event will involve the resurrection of dead believers and  the transformation of living believers without their having to die. This will happen when our Lord returns to take his people away with him to their heavenly home.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are alive and are left will be caught up  together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

If the idea of being “caught up” seems strange and hard to understand, we are given examples in the Bible where it has already happened. At his ascension, our Lord was “taken up” into the clouds (Acts 1:9) This was witnessed by his disciples.

The apostle Paul was “caught up” to Paradise and returned to earth (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). When he described the “catching up” of believers to heaven, he knew what he was talking about!

There are two notable examples from the Old Testament. “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Enoch bypassed death. God took him directly to heaven.

The same is true of the prophet Elijah. 2 Kings 2:1-11 describes how he was caught up to heaven in chariot of fire. He did not die. If we believe the Bible, then we must take seriously its historical accuracy. These events actually happened. If Jesus, Paul, Enoch, and Elijah were caught up to heaven, it is not beyond belief that the church of Jesus Christ will be suddenly caught up to meet him in the air as promised.

This teaching is a source of encouragement and blessing. We are told to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). These truths are  our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). Christians are called to live expectantly. The first century believers had a one-word prayer which expressed this: “Maranatha,” which means, “Our Lord come” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

He could come at any time. There are no intervening events, signs, or prophesies that must take place before the Lord comes to “catch up” his people. This new year could be the one in which the dead in Christ are raised and living believers join them in meeting the Lord in the air.

Does this thought fill you with dread or with hope? Are you ready to meet Jesus as your savior and redeemer? If you are not certain, open your heart today, confessing your sin, and trust in Jesus who died and rose again to rescue us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Mary the Prophet

The virgin Mary was a prophet. She composed one of the songs we find in Luke’s version of the Christmas story. Hers was an echo of the ancient hymns of the Hebrew scriptures. It reminds us of the songs of Moses, Miriam, and especially, the song of Hannah. Mary’s song is a prophetic vision of a future time when God in Christ is going to put our broken world back together.

Singing is an important part of the celebration of Christmas. Connie and I got to attend, for a second time, the Christmas festival at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where our grandson, James Randall Faulkner III, sang in one of the choirs. They sang a modern rendition of Mary’s “Magnificat” by Carolyn Jennings:

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble put on strength. Those who were full are hungry and those who were hungry are filled. Strong is the arm of the Lord, who has scattered the proud in their hearts; God has put down the mighty and lifted those of low degree. … My heart o’erflows, Alleluia!

Mary’s song tells how God is going to turn history inside out, keeping his covenant promises to his people. She repeats the themes of the prophets of Israel who predicted a time when Messiah would come in power to disenfranchise the kingdoms of this world, dethrone tyrants, exalt the humble and invert injustice. Surely this is what we pray for when we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”

In her prophetic anthem, Mary recites God’s word at least fifteen times. Her song mirrors the song of praise uttered by Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet in 1 Samuel 2. Just as Hannah spoke prophetically of a new age and kingdom, so Mary spoke prophetically about when her Mighty God would “help Israel remembering to be merciful” (Luke 1:54).  This would be through the Messiah who was even then in her very womb.

Thus, wherever the message of Jesus has gone, it has “clothed the naked, fed the hungry, served those that harmed it, comforted the sorrowful, bound up the wounded, and sheltered the destitute”  (Menno Simons, 1539). “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.”

It has opposed unjust practices such as the caste system, child marriage and the immolation of widows in India, human sacrifice in South America, polygamy and slavery in Africa. Those missionaries who stood for justice against evil “understood that their faith was not merely private and devotional, but had implications for all of society. … (They) dispensed Jesus’ message of grace to the world. It was Christianity, and only Christianity that brought an end to slavery, and Christianity that inspired the first hospitals and hospices to treat the sick. The same energy drove the early labor movement, women’s suffrage, prohibition, human rights campaigns, and civil rights” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?).

According to Mary in Luke 1 :46-55, there is coming a future, fuller manifestation of God’s mercy. Her words are consistent with those of the ancient prophets who foretold a time when God will bring all of civilization under the rule of his anointed Son. This will mean the end of war, universal justice, the healing of nature, and a spiritual renewal in which God will pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. God’s moral law will be the governing principle of that kingdom.

Theologian R.C. Sproul wrote, “The birth of Jesus did not happen in a vacuum. He was born after generations of promises attached to Israel’s covenant relationship with God. Age after age God had renewed his promises and now they were fulfilled in space and time.”

In the same way, those who believe in Jesus as savior and king will be welcomed into that future glorious manifestation of God’s kingdom. Mary was so sure of its fulfillment, she sang about it as if it had already come. Mary was a prophet.

She reminds us to pray this Advent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner