Advent Like a Child

2020 has made anticipating anything good very difficult but let us not forget all that was fulfilled.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

On Saturday Nov 28th at 4PM Advent began, ordinary time, the time in which we live, gives way to a time of both remembrance and anticipation. Many of us have placed our manger scenes by now, in our house, the Wise Men begin their long journey to the manger ending at Epiphany on January 6th. At Advent we begin anew, we come back to the story of redemption and look forward to the story of restoration which is playing out before us. The colors change, the green of ordinary time gives way to the purple of Advent, then the pink of Christmas. There has never been a time in my life when I have more looked forward to the season of Advent this this year. 2020 has been a tough year, I am tired, and even though Advent means more time spent working as a pastor, I am looking forward to the reminders of, and anticipation of Advent.

But this year I am looking forward to it for another reason, I am excited to look at Advent and Christmas through the eyes of my daughter.

My daughter is now 21 months old and a bundle of energy and joy, she is now at the absolute best age for wonder and that has been evident even in the first few days of Advent. It started as we were tasting the tree, a pre-lit with LED and Fiber Optics which, when you first turn it on, runs through its “All” setting, flashing the different patterns. When she saw it she immediately got excited and started waving her arms, laughing at the flashing lights. An hour later we were hanging lights in the Living Room, again she loved watching the lights chase around the window and then around the room (I bought about 30 feet too many of lights on accident). Then there was the joy of watching us put ornaments on the tree, both the big tree in the living room and the “Card Tree” that we decorate with Candy-Canes and Christmas Cards people send us.

Then there were the Manger Scenes, we have three, one is a very nice glass one that sits up, out of reach, of little hands. The second is made of kiln fired clay, made by a woman in Nigeria and sent to us via Mercy House “Fair Trade Friday.” The final one, the biggest of the three, is one of the more expensive plastic ones. All three were given to us as gifts and we cherish them. But there is a fourth, a Little People’s Manger which my Mother-In-Law got as a gift for Erin last Christmas which we opened this Christmas as a means to give her something to play with and hopefully deter her from playing with the plastic manger scene. For the last week she has ran out to the Living room in the morning and immediately retrieved this manger scene from the box of toys and said with loud joy: “It’s my Jesus Loves Me!”

Cue the melting of every heart reading this.

But that is how I want to live in Advent this year, with the joy of a 21-month-old running to grab her facsimile of Baby Jesus and yell! “It’s my Jesus loves me!” Because if there is anything the enemy has tried to use 2020 to do, it has been to attempt to steal every ounce of joy and hope and strangle the love for the Church God re-ignited all those years ago in Denver.

But then I open up my bible and I read Matthew 1:1-17 and I think back on the story of Abraham and Isaac, on the story of Ruth and Boaz, of David and God’s promise to him. I am reminded of the Prophet’s who proclaimed a coming birth. I am reminded of the generation, after generation, after generation of faithfulness by God to a feckless and faithless people which the entire arch of biblical history to that point points to, that David will finally have a man to sit on the throne for eternity. Matthew is about to show us a king lying in a manger throne. I read this and I remember, I remember that the Jesus who loved the world so much He gave up His life for it is a fulfillment of a promise made by God. I remember and I start to see Advent as Erin does, there He is, there is my savior, He is lying there in that manger throne. He has come to save the world, to free the oppressed, to show compassion on the lost and broken, I remember, and I am filled with wonder of all that was accomplished and like Luke intended his book to do for Theophilus, I am reminded and encouraged and my faith is strengthened.

But then I go to Isaiah and Malachi and I read about “the Day of the Lord” in which everything will be restored and wicked, who have dominated 2020, will be crushed and trod under and the oppressed will be healed and freed from the bondage of oppression and they will leap like young calves fresh from the stall. That fills me with anticipation, it fills me with longing and with hope, despite my tired and weary eyes, I see what is coming and I can rejoice and hold out just a little bit longer through this momentary suffering. I am reminded what I told my congregation a month ago, that is does not matter what happens in politics, it didn’t matter who won the presidency because God was already working out His plan and men were just that, men, people who wither and fade like grass. The word reminds that God’s word is eternal, that He does not fade, He does not wither, He is not fickle, He keeps His promise and for that reason I can anticipate the second return of YHWH because I remember that He has always kept His promises throughout history, regardless of how bad man gets.

So I can approach Advent like a child, I can look at the reality before me and say: “Okay, this is bad, but remember God has already done so much and look forward, He is going to do so much more.” That gives me the greatest hope of all, the hope that regardless of what men do, God will not let me down or abandon me, I won’t be alienated from Him because He has brought me into Him. I do not have to fear man because I can rest in the truth of what He has done, I can remember what has been accomplished and look forward to what is come. I can anticipate the final establishment of His kingdom on this Earth and that makes me strive harder to reach my neighbors for the Gospel.

This is all a wonder to me, that over 300 times God could promise something and over 300 times Jesus would fulfill that promise, and to think there are more promises to be fulfilled in the ever-nearing future. This is not something you cook up in a lab or pretend you found or even something that can be explained by a Google Search. You can look in wonder at all God has done and be amazed that He still has more to do. You can experience Advent like a child, even during 2020.

To God Be the Glory

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: What is Advent? Part 1: Luke 1:1-4, Matthew 1:1-17

This week at FCCBC we began a new series entitled: “What is Advent?” in which we seek to answer some questions about the season of Advent. This week: “Advent is a time to remember.”

Watch the Full Service Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcD4Y…

 

 

Life Update: Entering Advent Expectant.

We have a lot to be thankful for as we enter this Advent Season.

The Faulkner Family

Dear Reader,

We have a lot to be thankful for this Holiday Season and we wanted share that news with you on this Friday after Thanksgiving.

There are a number of things that have been going on in our life behind the scenes of God’s heart that has us excited for the future. First, this site has smashed all of its previous records because you, our readers, have liked, shared, commented, followed and so much more. Thank you for that, this site has been growing steadily in regard to traffic since 2018, but this year we have seen an explosion in our readership and in consistent and faithful readers, so the new readers we have gained are also coming back. We have addressed some controversial topics this year and we have found a readership among those who want to read about and hear critiques of ideas and not people. That is the lane we have chosen to occupy, and we will continue to occupy that lane into 2021.

As for family life, Rachel, Erin and I are doing well. We have managed to avoid the Coronavirus, even as it has heavily impacted our community. This has allowed us to care for and pray for those who have contracted it. We did cancel our Christmas Vacation to Rachel’s Parents in Mass. But that is for the better as, and this is big news, we are expecting a new little girl in June. As you can imagine, we are excited, Erin, who was 22 months on Sunday, has not yet figured out what is going on. With the surge in cases in our area we are taking extra precautions to protect Rachel’s health and the babies. Pray for us, for a smooth pregnancy and delivery as well as recovery. There is some speculation we may have access to the Vaccine by June, so we are waiting and hoping expectantly for that as well.

As you can probably imagine, 2020 has been a long year for us regarding ministry. They do not teach “How to Pastor in a Pandemic” in seminary, and while we have not seen some of the hurtful comments that many pastors have reported from their flocks, from ours, it has been a long year. I did 4 funerals in 40 days, two of them were of grandparent like figures we have gotten to know since we arrived here in May. At the same time we lost my grandmother in August and my Uncle in October. We also had the challenge of taking a Church with a minimum online presence to a full blown livestream and radio ministry. When I was in High School I was a Turn Key for our schools broadcasting crew and in college ran a show for our colleges radio station, I never thought I would use any of those skills ever again, but yet, here we are. God did know though, which is why I worked in those areas. I am thankful for those skills this year since it has allowed us to provide a high-quality livestream and still maintain ecumenical services in the midst of a pandemic.

Speaking of Livestreams, if you have not seen any of Rachel and I’s 4 Streamed Concerts then check them out on my Facebook page under Videos. We will also be hosting another one on December 17th at 7PM Central from the Church, A Faulkner Family Christmas will feature original music, traditional favorites and some of the more popular CCM Christmas hits. Rachel will be playing piano and singing, and I will be joining on guitar, vocals and drums.

I think if you told me in January of 2020 that this is where we would be in November I would have laughed, and yet, God has seen us through. We do not take for granted the fact that we have not faced financial concerns like many pastors, food insecurity as some of our neighbors, but that God has allowed to give away food to those who needed it and fill other material needs. We have done this out of Gratitude to God because we know that all these good things come from Him and that what He blesses us with is to be used to bless others.

Love in Christ

The Faulkner Family

P.S. Reader, again, thank you, in this postscript I would like to list a few of the milestones this site hit so you can see how you have blessed us in leadership this year.

  1. Posted our 300th post
  2. God’s Heart has been accessed in 83 countries +30 over our best year.
  3. Had two pages accessed 350 times with one accessed over 1850 times. (this does not include the homepage)
  4. 1 Article accessed over 450 times
  5. 4 Articles accessed over 300 times
  6. 5 Articles accessed over 200 times
  7. 12 articles accessed over 100 times.
  8. 91 total articles published this year (so far)
  9. 1 Article picked up and published in a major work
  10. The site has been accessed over 12,000 times to date. This is up by more than 9,000 views from our best year in 2018.
  11. The site has been accessed by over 7,100 people to date (both 9 and 10 are records)
  12. Over 50 new followers on WordPress and 100+ followers between Twitter and Facebook.

Again, thank you! We have a mission, to bring reformation to God’s people and you are a part of that. Let’s keep working together #FortheUnityoftheEntireChurch

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: “Bread to be Thankful For” – John 6:25-35

 

Our Thanksgiving Eve sermon from the Buffalo Center Community Thanksgiving Service features a reflection on John 6:25-35 by Rev. Faulkner. In this year, when everything seems so bleak, when we long for our family on Thanksgiving, let us be reminded that God has not abandoned us, that if we believe in Him we are not alienated from Him or from others. We have the true bread, a bread that when eaten, quenches hunger for all time.

You can watch the Full Service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyUuPe7iQzQ

A Thanksgiving Reflection on John 6:25-35

This is bread to be thankful for,

John 6:25-36

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

While the typical thanksgiving sermon may be filled with images of smiling pilgrims sitting down across a table with native Americans, (As an aside, please take some time to pray for the anscestors of teh tribe who helped our ancestors survive, it has been reported they have been hit especially hard by the Pandemic and are in desperate need of medical relief. If you can help, there are a number of charities you can donate to). And even though it may be fair to say that this Thanksgiving resembles that first Thanksgiving which was born out of loss of life and hardship. However, I want to go to a different time in History, to the time just before a Monk named Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five thesis to the door of the Church at Whittenburg. The times then were as they are now, the people felt alienated and abandoned\by the Catholic Elites, who had also placed a n unbearable religious burdens on the people, and by the Politicians of their day. Further, another bout of the Bubonic Plague had broken out in the area around Whittenburg, one of the many epidemics that ravaged late Medieval Europe from 1300 on. Yes, the fields were ripe for something to take place, and onto the scene comes Martin Luther with his emphatic emphasis on Christ and his willingness to take this message to the towns and villages with his friend Philip Melanchthon that Historians say caused the Reformation to spread so quickly among the downtrodden and disconsolate peasant class. “I am saved by grace through faith in Christ?” They asked, what new teaching is this? Luther of course was quick to point out that this was not a new teaching but an old one. Now, they teach Historians not to make one to one comparison between time periods and certainly there are many differences between our time and Luther’s 502 years ago. If I may be allowed one more comparison, both our time, and the time of the Reformation share many similarities with the people that Jesus is interacting with in our text from the Gospel of John today.

But let’s set the context, as we approach our text we need to look at what has happened immediate before. Jesus has been greeted in the wilderness by a large crowd made up of 5000 souls whom he met on the other side of the sea of Galilee after crossing during Passover, Jesus asks his Disciples to get them something to eat, which is a trick question, since He knew what was about to happen, and they bring this boy who is carrying five loaves and two fish, Jesus has them sit down and he blesses the food and does this miraculous sign where everyone has enough of the bread and fish to satisfy completely their hunger and they even collect a number of leftovers. This story you recognize is the Feeding of the Five Thousand and in one of the Gospel Accounts the author tells us that one of the reasons Jesus accepted these crowds is because the people were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He had compassion on them. They were alienated from the Roman Elite who considered the Jews dogs and who could be merciless to the Hebrew peasant class. They were also alienated by the religious class, the Scribes and the Pharisees who demanded much of the people and condemned them when their righteousness did not match theirs. After this happens though John tells us the Disciples left for the opposite shore and Jesus comes to them walking on the water and when the crowd wakes up the next day, apparently they had camped there or they returned to the place to find him again, we are not told what they did, but they find that Jesus and the Disciples are gone so they cross to the other side of the Lake and catch up with Him and that is where our text picks up today.

The people of course, are curious, they want to know when Jesus crossed the lake, they were not aware of His crossing on the sea the night before, and they know he did not get in the boat with His disciples. They likely assumed he took the northern road, the shortest route around the lake, but Jesus does not tell them, instead, as he usually does, he interprets their intentions and discerns the thoughts of their hearts. He knows why they have come to find Him. These, after all, are subjects of the Roman Empire, they are used to their leaders pacifying them with food and entertainment. The Romans had so conquered them that they will go where the bread and food is. They’re peasants, under heavy taxes from their overlords. Just give us our bread and circuses and we will suffer under this burden. But they had also discerned He was a prophet and were about to seize him and make him king, Jesus knows this, he says to them: “you do not seek me because you saw a sign, but because you ate your fill of bread.” Their intentions are laid bare, but Jesus is not rebuking them, He is going to make them an offer; “Do not work for the bread that perishes, but work for the bread that will lead to Eternal Life, that is sealed by My Father.” How do we receive this bread? They ask, What work must we do?” Jesus tells them: “Believe, that is the work of the Father, believe in Him who was sent.” By now, John, in his narrative, has told us that Jesus is referring to himself, Jesus is the one on whom the dove rested by the waters of the Jordan, a sign which John saw as a “Seal” from the father. Jesus has already, in chapter 4, referred to himself as the “Well that springs up water which those who drink of will never third again.” Now He is making the same claim about Himself before this crowd.

But the crowd argues back, they want Jesus to perform another sign, do another miracle, do another work so that we may believe you, they are not unfamiliar with the setting in which this happened, in a wilderness region on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. They know their ancestors have experienced a miracle of Bread and Meat in the Sinai Wilderness. “We know our fathers ate the bread in the wilderness, as it is written: “He gave them bread to eat.” Now Jesus has them, he knows that the popular teaching of the day was that Moses gave the people the bread in cooperation with God, that is, Moses prayed, and God provided the bread. Jesus knows what really happened, after all, He was there. “Moses did not give you the bread in the wilderness, it was God the Father who did and He is the one who gives the True Bread, and that True Bread is the bread that comes down from heaven, and that bread will satisfy them forever.

But the people still do not get it, we know because John has already told us elsewhere that Jesus is talking about Himself, but they still think He is referring to a physical piece of bread, just like the Women at the Well was looking for a pale for Jesus to draw water with, the people were looking for baskets of more bread that they could eat and never hunger again. “Sir, give us this bread” they demand, perhaps they think that if they just eat this bread, then they won’t have to rely on Rome or the Jewish Elites anymore, Give us this bread so we can be free. Or perhaps they just do not want to worry about hunger again, it’s a simple request, give us this bread sir, like Oliver Twist asking for more porridge. Whatever the reason, Jesus knows they still do not understand and so He says: I am the bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never again hunger, whoever believes in me will never again first.”

Jesus starts this phrase in verse 35 with the term “Ego Aimee” this is the Greek rendering of the divine name given to Moses in Genesis, I Am, is the bread of life, Come to I Am and you will never, ever Hunger, Believe in I Am and you will never, ever Thirst. Jesus is emphatic, you will never ever, not once, not today, not tomorrow. But how does this happen, The Greek again gives us a glimpse as to how that the English does not, it uses this word “Eis” which is a word to indicate a change in spatial positioning. That is, you come into I Am, you believe, Into I Am and you will never, ever hunger and you will never ever thirst. You step out of the former world where your sins separated you from God and you through belief you step into I Am, into Jesus and your hunger and thirst is satisfied.

Application: Oh, how many of us need to hear this tonight. How many us, find ourselves this weekend feeling alienated from the people in power and from the leaders in the Church. How many of us find ourselves alone because of lockdowns and shutdowns, limits on family gatherings and concerns over spreading this deadly virus. How many of us listening have allowed 2020 and its events to drive us to despair? Further, how many of us have begged God for some sort of sign, some sort of marker to tell us that things will get better? How many of us have placed our fleeces on the ground like Gideon but have been disappointed to find it dry? Finally, how many of us have come to Jesus looking for bread, not the bread from heaven that is sealed by the father, but the daily bread we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, that earthly sustenance, while we keep him at arm’s length spiritually? How many of us will sit before tables of food which are usually filled with laughter and the sounds of kids at the table in the next room, and wonder how we can thank God for this food that is usually so wonderfully shared?

But when you do look at that food, will you do something for me? Remember that if you believe in Jesus, if you have entered into Him, then you have the food that never perishes, the food that is sealed by God. You get to partake of the true bread form heaven, the bread that will keep you from hungering again spiritually. Yes, even though you feel alienated by the people of this world and alone due to the shutdowns and limits on gatherings, even though 2020 has just about driven you to despair remember that you have the True Bread, the Bread of Life, you have Jesus Christ, the one who will not alienate you, the one whose table you share everyday, the one whose flesh we eat and blood we drink around the communion table. Thanksgiving is a day to remember, remember what God has given us, the family, the friends, the loved ones, the material goods, the food before you, they are all given by God, they are signs to you that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, signs that should point you to the True Bread that comes from heaven, the bread of life, Jesus Christ.

Eat of this bread, and perhaps like our reformation ancestors, perhaps like Jesus hearers we will spark a new renewal of the Gospel in our land and reach our neighbors with the Truth of God. Eat of this bread and watch how God transforms you, then transforms those around you by working through you, eat this bread and you will never, never, no never, I said never hunger or thirst again and that, brothers and sisters, is bread to be thankful for.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: The Final Words of the Old Testament – Malachi 4:1-6

 

Our Sermon from Sunday, November 22nd, 2020j. This week we looked at the final words of the Old Testament from Malachi 4:1-6. We saw that the culmination of Life for teh believer, for those whose names are written in the book of remembrance, is eternal life, healing and reconciliation. But for those who practice evil and prop up those who do evil, their will be swift and terrible judgment. How does this impact us today? Read or watch here!

You can watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7twD74Dckes

 

On a Conservative Upbringing.

Reading Edmund Burke will really mess you up.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

This article has been coming for a long time, but I have waited until now to write it because I did not have the time to solidify my adult positions on these matters until after 2016, but 2016 forced me to really think through the answer to the question of “Why do I hold to certain tenants of conservative thinking?” Why do I believe in Small government and limited government spending? Why do I believe in incremental changes to the status quo that help ensure the flourishing of the greatest number of people? Why do I believe in the power of institutions like churches, the media, town governments, local grocery stores and locally owned businesses? Why, well, my faith informs many of these, and we can talk about that later, but the easy answer is that I hold to all of these because I was taught about them. Not as essential beliefs or articles of faith, but as common-sense approaches to government that, though informed by biblical principles, were not biblical principles themselves. My parent’s way of encouraging me to live in both kingdoms and teaching me how the Kingdom of God could encourage and inform my participation in the kingdom of man. I was taught the principles of Burkian conservativism and I was taught them well. Growing up in Appalachia during the collapse of the coal industry I saw how communities could band together to care for one another. My church had a massive “Basic Needs Ministry” that helped hundreds in our small town. I saw these principles at work on the local stage and saw them nationally with George W. Bush’s “Compassionate Conservativism” in 2000. I actually remember my dads opposition to the 2005 bailouts of the auto industry because they violated tenant number 1. Governments job is to follow the laws of the land and protect the people of the land. Or so I learned from reading the founding fathers. My parents were center right, and they taught me how to be center right. There are points where I diverge from that position and lean a little to the left, but for the most part I lean center right on most issues. On top of those principles I remember all the arguments about the character of our leaders, and I internalized those. When I came of age I saw pastor after pastor fall to either secularism or sexual sin and take their churches down with them, character obviously mattered.

Let me be clear here when I talk about conservative principles and Ideals, I am not talking about policies or isms, but core tenants of conservativism, I am staunchly Pro-Life if you define Pro-Life as from the moment of Conception to the date of death, what some are calling “whole-life” but that is a policy position informed by a tenant, specifically the idea that the status quo needs to change incrementally to make sure the maximum number of people are flourishing, but it is not a tenant and that distinction is important. When you abandon the tenant to try to advance the policy, you make the policy something it is not. That is what has happened with the current conservative iteration of the “Pro-Life” movement, it has reduced itself to selling policy that is really just “Anti-Abortion” while it tramples over every single other life in the room. If we believe that life has sanctity, then it has to have sanctity from the time it is conceived, to the time human life passes. We cannot ignore the sanctity of other lives by steamrolling over them in favor of our policy. Further, I want to offer too a full-throated rejection of the sins that unchecked conservatism has indulged in, particularly in the Church. Misogyny, bigotry of any kind, Nationalism, sexual misconduct, particularly in conservative churches that has been covered up to protect the leader. I reject all of these, they are abominations before God and sins to be sure, no less sinful than the sins of the world we love to demonize. They need to be repented of, and forgiveness needs to be asked for them, lest we stand before God and be told to depart from him. As it stands, I cannot currently uphold our present idea of “Personal Liberty” because, again, it is not a tenant of Classical Conservative, what is a tenant is “Social Liberty,” that being the idea that society is free and men and women are free within that society to do as they wish so long as they are not doing harm or hindering the life of another. Free societies were intended to punish those who sought to undermine them, who created oppression and profited from it. This is another aberrant idea, yes, man is free, but you are only as free as your neighbor. Making sure your neighbors life is conserved would help to ensure that your life was conserved.

Like said, I learned these tenants well and so it was concerning when the Bailouts were rolled out and compromises on these principles and claims were legitimized. That opened the door for more undermining of those principles and claims. As a Church Historian I recognize the pattern that begun in the generation after Martin Luther and John Calvin, you make a compromise, the next generation makes another and before you know sect and schism are rampant in the 19th century and though the Church grew until the 1950’s, we are now seeing an ever quickening decline. Which is what happened with conservativism as I watched it, one compromise led to another, which led to another and then they began gaining speed and ground and eventually it snow balled and all that talk about a persons character were thrown out. The principles I had learned so well still worked when applied, but they were no longer being applied, instead conservativism became not compassionate, but power hungry, rude and vulgar. It was not what I was raised with and on top of that, all the people who had told me to trust institutions are now telling me not to trust the institutions as we see democracy undermined (another system I was taught well).

Those institutions though were meant to uphold civic and moral order while helping to create a society built on just laws. The Media was to inform us, and while it had stumbled in that job, it had not totally lost its way. Churches were to encourage us, to help us become good and Holy (though this is an area where I disagree since The Church is not an intended to be an institution but an organism and only Christ makes us good and Holy). Democracy, as ai institution was the greatest government system since sliced bread and we should fight to uphold it. But most of those people who taught me these things have now given themselves over to illiberalism, they have abandoned any pretense and told me straight up that I cannot trust the institutions designed to help inform and uphold our society. This is reflected not so much in statistics about the Media, since a vast majority still trusts the media, but in public trust in Churches and Clergy. Clergy now ranks second to last on the list of most trusted professions, why? Because character became an afterthought in many seminaries. As Chuck DeGroat noted in his book: “When Narcissism comes to Church” we have favored charismatic personalities which can often be driven by narcissistic personality disorder types over the quiet men of character who will humbly lead through service. Most pastors have sought to secure their comfortable futures before caring for their flocks, when those pastors fall from some moral failure or other reason, we shake our heads, wonder why it happened and then find the next Charismatic Seminary student.

Public trust in institutions in general is extremely low in the mid-west as many of those institutions have been taken over by outside groups or government agencies based not in the states, but in Washington DC. There is a reason to be concerned with bigger government and weaker state and local governments since the people who are most likely to know what life is actually like on the ground are the people who live on the that very ground. Therefore so many feel alienated, why we heard so much about: “the forgotten man” in 2016. Strange that we did not hear about him in 2020.

I worked in Stafford Country Kansas as a Pastor and probably could have predicted 2016 based on what I heard and saw. As you enter the city of Stafford on US 50 coming from Wichita one of the first things you see is the shell of what used to be Bowing’s Engine Assembly plant. In 2014 Stafford Country had the second highest Opiate death rate in Kansas, trailing only Rice country where I lived. The Churches there had just voted to merge, except for my little Baptist church which may not be there anymore. I was the fifth pastor they had called in four years and was the longest tenured when I left in the summer of 2015. All four had been bi-vocational and 2 of us had lived in other towns and commuted in because we had to live where there were jobs. I was working for Sterling College’s maintenance department at the time, which for a single college graduate was a good gig. I tried to explain this picture to my classmates at Gordon-Conwell during a session of Dr. Price’s Project of Reconciliation after the 2016 election. I understood the grievances of the Midwest, and even shared many of them, but I did not understand, nor could I, give up principles that had been engrained in me from my youth. The price for having my voice amplified was way too high for me and it still is. Grievance Politics just leaves us, in the words of Special Agent Dinozzo, with: “a bunch of toothless blind people” and I cannot stomach it.

I recently became a subscriber to the center-right “The Bulwark” through their “Bulwark+” subscription service. Even if you do not subscribe you can still get their daily podcast with Conservative talk show host and author Charlie Sykes formerly of The Weekly Standard. You can listen to the podcast here but one of the things that caught my attention was Charlie’s statement that “we are better than this.” That struck me, because if you look at all this nation was built on, all the principles and laws of democracy, all the appeals to moral order and justice, we really should be better than we are now. And Christians, we should be even better because we have the transcendent life and truth of Jesus Christ dwelling within us and allowing us to be better, to “grow up into maturity” as Ephesians puts it. But if you are just an average conservative or even an average liberal and you believe in what this country stands for, then we should be better than this. We should be better than these petty divisions, we should be better than the nasty fights and silly culture wars that have divided us and divided our politics. How can the very people who call us “one nation under God” turn around and act like we are one nation under two parties? That is unsustainable and we are currently reaping the rewards of that in our national moment.

We have become a nation of children, governed by children, this is not good. But here is the thing, this is not just run of the mill hypocrisy, no, as Jonathan V. Last (also of The Bulwark) pointed out, this is pure nihilism since: “Hypocrisy implies that there is a moral norm and they have left moral norms behind.” Nihilism is a philosophy that should stay far from the halls of power, if you believe there is nothing to believe in, you should not be a leader in any world. Or if power is all you believe in and worship, you should not be a leader, leaders have to lead, but they should lead through service, not might. Again, this is a place where biblical principles inform conservativism and in fact the American founding, the idea that our leaders are servants who serve people through upholding the laws.

Let me close by saying that while I still hold to the tenants of conservativism generally, they are not primary for me, they probably should not have been. Through Christ I am learning a new how to live in this world as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. If you want to know what this looks like in real time, go listen to my sermons or follow Brian Zahnd on Twitter. It is true that Edmund Burke will mess you up, but reading the bible, really reading it, will make it even harder for us to live in such a way that denies the truths of scripture or synchronize them with the philosophies of this world. As Conservatives, we should accept the results of the election and turn to praying for President-Elect Joe Biden not because we have trust in the system of democracy, but because we have trust in God and His word. Joe Biden is the next leader God is placing over us, so let us pray for Him as Romans tells us. Let us also work to lower the abortion rate through not just through an anti-abortion lens, but throat did ugh a fully Pro-Life lens. If the Church is every going to regain public trust, then it needs to start doing what helped it gain public trust in the first place over 2000 years ago. It needs to reclaim its uniqueness as the Called Out Body of Christ, the continuation of His presence on this Earth. To lead again in things like Health care from the beginning to the end of life. To reclaim its prophetic role as a truth teller which tells the truth in love through service. Maybe then we can start informing conservatism again, or perhaps we can come up with something better. Who knows, when we do what Christ calls us to do the possibilities are absolutely endless.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: “Robbing God” Malachi 3:1-16

Our Sermon for Sunday, November 15th 2020 focused on Malachi 3:1-15 where we learned that God is a God of Justice, and when we do not give back of the material resources God has given us, or do not use those resources for His purposes we are in both active and passive disobedience. Find out what those purposes are and the differences between the Old and New Testament teachings on Giving by listening or watching.

You can watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqUkYrlwL9k

The Salvation of Wooden Planks – A Poem

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Saturday at 4AM
I am in the basement again
Before me is the wall
Wooden planks that are older than I
I preach my sermon to them
This is the best time
Before the hustle and bustle of the day
Recording a Sunday Sermon leads me here

And so I preach to those wooden planks
I preach to them from Isaiah
From Mark
From Ephesians
From Malachi
I tell them all about the plan of salvation
I tell them how they can come down from their wall
How they can know the God of the universe

I lay it out for them,
Week in and week out
Telling the of Christ’s finished work
The nail holes
The humility
The death
The burial
The resurrection
I tell them of it over and over again
I preach the Gospel to those wooden planks

Yet they are silent
They are unresponsive to this good news
When the hymns are sung
They stare blankly
As though untouched
Unloved
Cold
motionless
Does this news not make them shout?
Should they join the rocks?
What great grace has been lavished on us
Yet the planks stare blankly

Oh my dear planks
Don’t you know you are loved?
Don’t you know you are alive?
touched?
Cared for?
Held?
Watched over?
Where is your joy O Planks?
Where is the peace of Christ?
Where is the fruit of the Spirit in you?

“The world is a terrifying place”
They reply
There are axes here
Fire
Torment
Agony
Despair
Are not you paying attention?
Do not you see how terrible it all is?
How can you expect Joy from us?

Oh dear planks
Why is your heart downcast?
Do not you know that Yahweh has overcome the world?
You have nothing to fear
to fret
to despair
to be concerned about
The day of the Lord has come
Christ is present
There is nothing to be afraid of
You can trust in Yahweh
He will never fail you.

It’s Sunday at 10AM
I step out of the pulpit again
I pray that the planks of this house
Built on the foundation of God
Will stand for Him
Will not wilt under the fear of this world
I pray that they know salvation
I pray for the salvation of wooden planks.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

A New Donatist Controversy?

What do we do with those who want to come back to Orthodoxy?

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

The Church at Carthage is one of those important places in Church History because if you look at it you can see a microcosm of the Church from the 1st to the 6th century. If it affected the church catholic, it was probably magnified in some way at Carthage. Carthage was where the first martyrs’ blood was spilled and in Carthage where the Christians first gained recognition for their care for the sick during a plague. Similarly, it was also a magnifier of some of the many controversies that arose within the Church and was the origin and epicenter of the Donatist Controversy from the 4th to the 6th centuries. It broke out over an appointment b of a Bishop by another Bishop who had turned over copies of Holy Scripture to the Romans under the Persecution of Diocletion. The Donatists believed that priests and pastors had to be perfect, there could not be any impurity in them and so for a bishop to be appointed by a traitor meant that he was impure, since he was appointed by a traitor. The controversy lasted for almost 200 years and drew writings from another North African Bishop, Augustine of Hippo whose writings would prove to be a stinging critique of Donatism. One most notable critique was that the Donatists had separated themselves from the Church Universal: “Caecilianus,” Augustine writers: “the Biship of Carthage is accused with the contentiousness of men; the Church of Christ established among all nations, is recommended by the Voice of God, and love forbid us to receive the testimony of men whom we do not find in the church, which has the testimony of God, for those who do not follow the testimony of God have forfeited the weigh which otherwise would attach to their testimony as men.”

It is important to note what Augustine is saying here: Those who have separated themselves from the Church Universal have no recourse to make accusations against those who are inside the Church Universal. The Donatists had separated themselves from the majority opinion, namely that there could be forgiveness for clergy and for Christians in general who had given in to the Empire so long as they were truly repented. By separating themselves then, the Donatists lost the authority that comes from the Testimony of God. If God had told us not to forgiven apostates, then perhaps the churches majority opinion would have been different. But the contrary is the position of the scriptures, when someone has truly repented of sin, receive them back into fellowship as a brother. Further, the church should not entertain accusations against Clergy on theological matters that come from those who have separated themselves from the Church catholic because the have forfeited their testimony by dividing the people of God. In Augustine’s mind, the Donatists had responded to sin with more sin. Demanding the perfection of the clergy meant no grace could be shown to those who had fallen and so no restoration could be granted, it was to deny them the power of the sacrament of Bread and Cup. Further, dividing from the church was and still is an sin because it divides Christ and Christ cannot be divided. Those who split are to be considered “outside” the church universal.  In our modern context, while this argument makes our denominational divides a sin, it also pushes us past mere ecumenicism to deep unity wherein we agree on the essentials and allow disagreement on the non-essentials.

Underneath the entire controversy was the question: “What do we do with those who succumbed to the pressure to apostatize and worship the Emperor but are now repenting and want to come back into the fold?” That has the baseline to the question I have seen people posting on Twitter, what do we do with the people who sold themselves out for political power, who will, when this over want to come back to the fold as if nothing happened?

I have written before about the heresy of Christian Nationalism. Statism that masquerades as Christianity is no different than the Priests who sold themselves out and either turned over Holy Books, or who burned incenses to the Emperor. The choice by Diocletian was either denounce Christianity or die or rot in prison. Those who sold out the imperial cult under Diocletian and Galerius in the East now found themselves in a Roman Empire under Constantine that was favorable to Christianity and so it made sense for them to renter the Church and it would have been understandable if people like Nicholas of Smyrna, who had languished in prison, took exception to this returning. Yet, they met the challenge with grace, unlike the Donatists who gracelessly refused to accept anyone who had betrayed Christians, regardless of how penitent they may have become.

I wrote way back in 2015 that those who were clamoring for power, the “Court Evangelicals” as John Fea calls them, were not building up the flock, but instead feeding it to the wolves, and feeding the other shepherd to the wolves as well. The reality on the ground, that is, the reality of those of us who interact with real people in the real world is that the world looks at us and hears Christian and automatically associates us with the power hungry who think that the future of Christianity hinges on a political party (fact check, it doesn’t). Not some of these people want to come back to the Orthodoxy table like nothing happened and so we are faced with the inevitable question: “How do we treat those who sold themselves out for power, who separated themselves from the Church Universal to support Statism masquerading as Christianity, and more so, what do we do with the Cultists who might want to re-enter the fold after this is over and they realize they are on the wrong side of history?

As Christians we do not have purity tests, or at least we should not, if we do have one it is the only Jesus gave, and that is by the fruits of the believer, we will know who they are. Those fruits are the fruits that come with repentance and a life in the Spirit. The key there is repentance, the complete change in thought, attitude, and action from one direction to another in keeping with the transformed life of the Spirit. If you have truly repented , there will be evidence in the transformed life of the Spirit, those who have not repented will not show evidence of a transformed life.

This is why I had no faith in the claims that many of the Evangelical Elites that President Trump was a “Baby Christian.” There was no evidence of repentance or a transformed life, instead, his sinful habits and worst characteristics have gotten worse overtime. If you do not believe, just look at Twitter. A repentant man would have humbly confessed the truth to the many allegations against him when they were true, a repentant man would have apologized for the harsh rhetoric and dehumanizing speech directed at Blacks, Latino’s and other minority groups. A repentant man would not have lied and downplayed real threats to public health and our soldiers overseas,  A repentant man would have been one showed contrition, but also vowed to do better, to turn things around. Repentant people don’t act tougher, don’t act like they have a mandate from heaven to do whatever they want, speak however they want. One of my prayers for the president these last four years would be that he would genuinely repent of all these things, the greed, malice, hatred, fearmongering, lying and slandering, all of which are vices mentioned in scripture that we are to turn away from, to put off, if we truly have put on the Spirit of God.

I know that some want to “Forgive and forget” but that is a little harder when we are as divided as we are. There has to be true and real reconciliation and that can only come through repentance from those who have wronged other. But here is the thing, those who have remained in the Orthodox Camp may have to do some self-evaluation of our own attitudes. There may need to be some things that repent of as well, maybe it is unrighteous anger, maybe it is a pure hatred of the “other side” or demonizing or dehumanizing on our own account.

But here is the thing, if they or we are genuinely repentant than forgiveness has to follow suit, if we are to be like Jesus, then those who genuinely repent have to allowed a twentieth chance. I am sorry, but this is not my thought, it is Jesus, he is the one who tells us to forgive, he is the one who tells us to love our neighbor and our enemies. I do not get a say in whether I offer forgiveness, it is there fore the taking if repentance comes. At the same time, if repentance doesn’t come we have to still be willing to forgive, even if the lack of repentance means we cannot fellowship together until that repentance has occurred. As Dr. Bryan Lorrits says: “Forgiveness if required, with reconciliation there is a loophole.”

But, with that I have to remind everyone that God’s goal is reconciliation, that is stated several times in Scripture including in Colossians 1:15-20. God’s desire is to draw all people to himself and if He is drawing all people to Himself then He is also drawing all people to each other. There is a trajectory towards God we are all taking, or should be taking, and if we are on that trajectory then we have inevitably getting closer to one another To look and see a Brother and Sister who I disagree with and say: “If these are the people you’re inviting into the Kingdom God, then I am out.” Doesn’t halt their trajectory towards God, it halts yours. It is important to note that we are all taking the same path towards God, Jesus Christ, if we are all on the same road we should not cause a roadblock by fighting over who should or should not be here. We do not get to determine that, only God does.

Because here is the reality before us, the Church was left here to prepare the way for the return of Christ. That means we are to do everything we possibly can to make it as easy as it can possibly be to see God’s desire that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:5) come to fruition. If our actions turn people away from God, we are not preparing the way, we are hindering the way. Isaiah prophesied long ago that a voice would cry out, and six hundred years later one did.

Church What a vision! What a reality and it is a reality we are currently living in and will one day realize fully. That cry, in the wilderness, it has already happened: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” John the Baptist calls out, God is coming, get ready, make the Highways Straight. And you know what, not only did John cry this, God showed up in the person of Jesus Christ the true and permanent heir to the David Throne, born to the Virgin Mary and her betrothed Joseph of the Royal Line of David. The Glory of God was revealed in Him and He proved over and over again that God’s word would endure forever, even though the leaders of the people were fickle and immoral, God showed that he would keep his promises. Then through His death on the cross He made a way for the lambs to be gathered back to God, for all sins to be forgiven and the scattered flock of God to come home and to this day He takes care of the young lambs, the rich, the poor, the lame, the sick, the imprisoned, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the lost, the least, there is not one who does not fall from his sight. Now he sits at the right hand of God and he is coming again as the right hand of God, in full power, in full splendor, as the Shepherd King and He will one day complete the gathering process. Every mountain is being made low, every valley lifted high, every rough place a plain and every uneven place even! There will no longer be any barrier to Him for anyone, His full glory will be revealed, Church Behold Your God! He is the same today, He was the same yesterday, He will be the same tomorrow, You and I will fade away and die, but He will endure forever.

This is the God who tells us to forgive, this is God who is working to reconcile us to one another as He reconciles us to Himself. So, when people repent, we will welcome them back, until then we will work on forgiving them, it is not going to be an easy road, but it is one we are required to take. We should do it by avoiding purity tests like the Donatists and let the fruits speak for themselves, just as Jesus told us to.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center