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God’s Heart for Those featured in new book by James A. Beverly and Annette Johnson.

We have kept this under wraps all summer and now its official.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Since founding God’s Heart for those as a part of 10:31 Life Ministries back in 2012 it has been a labor of love. What started as a personal blog has morphed into a social, historical and theological commentary site having a record year thanks to loyal leaders. It is amazing what God does when you just obey Him, and this has been as much a journey in Obedience to YHWH as it has that labor of love I mentioned earlier. I have endeavored to use this platform for the kingdom, to use my influence to tear down and give positive critiques rather than the negativity that is so prevalent in our culture. When I have addressed someone directly I have endeavored to address their ideas, rather than attacking the people themselves, a policy we developed in the 10:31 days as we faced down groups like Westboro Baptist Church and later Joshua Feuerstein. One of our most popular articles this year, The Scandal of Carl R. Trueman’s Mind.” Is a critique of Christian Populism, and now it has garnered scholarly attention in the form of finding itself included in a primary source collection on the response to Mark Galli’s CT Editorial from December 2019 put together by James A. Beverly and Annette Johnson entitled Evangelical Civil War: Mark Galli, Christianity Today and Donald Trump. Which is now available in paperback and digitally in the Kindle Store. Let me reiterate that I have great respect for Carl Trueman, his book on Historiography Histories and Fallacies was essential to my formation was a Historian and Scholar and I greatly enjoyed his monograph The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” as a pastor. The issue I take with Trueman in my piece is the idea that we should not question Populist Christianity, a position I see as dangerous to historical, biblical and orthodox Christian faith. It is extremely humbling to be included in this work, and do not take the opportunity for granted.

While this website has decided to stay above the muck and mire of attacking the president, again, a policy we brought over from 10:31 to never attack any human being, but seek reconciliation where we can and attacking ideas when they are opposed to scripture by using factual, verifiable information and biblical testimony that is not spun in any one direction. This honest approach is the long road, and the more difficult one to take, but it is one I personally have strong convictions of maintaining. I approved of this article being used in this project because as a historian I recognize the value of works like this for future generations of Historians. I once lamented on Twitter that future Historians will have a hard time sorting through all the data being produced to get to truth of a historical event, and Beverly has provided us with a collection of primary sources with little editorializing all in one place.

The piece is well balanced, including people from the left, middle and right of the political spectrum. The editors stated goal in the introduction: “As editors we thought it prudent to keep our views out of the collection. If we came out for or against the editorial, then readers might think we are pre-judging what others think. We worked hard to track down views from across the political spectrum, without including obscene or others kind of material not worthy of civil discussion.” This approach has served them well. The book includes the original Mark Galli Editorial, President Trump and Franklin Graham’s Twitter replies, responses by John Fea, Albert Mohler, James Dobson, John Daly, Peter J. Liethart, Phil Vischer, Jerry Falwell Jr. Eric Mataxes, Thomas Kidd, Beth Moore, Carl Trueman (who I responded to), David French, Nancy French and many journalists, podcasters and newscasters who, as mentioned, are found along the entire political spectrum.

As a website devoted to Ecclesiastical Unity I understand some readers, in fact, some in my own congregation might be hesitant to see my name associated with the idea of an “Evangelical Civil War.” Another large section of my readers will inevitable question why I would want my name associated in any way with President Trump. This is the price of being a hard line Centrist (I do not believe in the squishy middle) where to one third of your friends lean right, one third lean left and one third think just like you. There is value in viewpoint diversity, something else I value as the writer and editor of this site. The fact of the matter is that we can either ignore what is happening and let the wound get worse, or we can address the divisions and infighting head on and work towards healing. Again, the editors note: “However, denial or avoidance of the intense disagreements is unhelpful and so this volume seeks to lay out the important arguments at the heart of the Galli controversy. Thankfully, on the positive side, the intense disputes are proof that evangelicals care about the Gospel and its social, political, and moral implications. This volume is proof that Evangelical Christians are not a Monolith.” The point here is not to take a pro-Trump or anti-Trump stand. I have made my thoughts and feelings about where I stand on that in the past and have no need of rehashing them here. The point of being involved in and promoting this project is out of respect for ideas and civil discussion. We have to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable and this work, presented without a slant one way or the other, is a means to having civil discussion without the emotional spin and misinformation that makes up the 24 hour news cycle.

If you are following the history of events in Christianity during the last year, then you will enjoy this piece. I highly recommend using the kindle edition as some of the pieces are excerpts and some link to videos, but on the whole, I recommend adding this to your library.

Book-Cover

 

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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

 

 

Negativity Feeding Negativity

We have entered a negative feedback loop, and the Spin Zone is killing us.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

For the last few months I have been encouraging anyone I council and even placing in sermons exhortations to turn off the news media and social media, or at least spend a lot less time paying attention to them, and spend more time reading their bibles. I have hit this really hard in recent weeks after a report from Lifeway came out that said that Bible reading is at an all-time low among older American Protestants. This is not because I do not want my people to be informed, on the contrary, I want them to know what is true about a situation, but it is nearly impossible to get to the cold hard facts of a situation while listening to the 24-hour spin cycle. Our news cycle now moves so fast it is impossible to remember what happened last week, if not yesterday. Combine that with an April PBS independent report that found that up to 70% of what can found on the internet about the Coronavirus Pandemic is false or intentionally misleading. It is September, by the way, and it has only gotten worse.

I suppose that this is the point, the constant changes in the news cycle, is meant to desensitize so that we cannot keep up with what is happening or are even scared of what is happening. It has another effect too, it has made us all increasingly negative towards one another. Let me be clear here, I am not saying that the media is the enemy of the people, there is responsible and ethical journalism going on in our world, it just gets lost in the muck and mire of everything else going and is often called “fake” even though it is more real then what those calling it “fake” are listening too. I have long stopped watching cable news because I have no desire to enter the “spin zone” where emotions take over and responsible reporting goes out the window. I am old enough to remember when my parents talked about leaders and media types having good character and I internalized a lot of that, I can still remember when our politics and media had some semblance of civility. Now, everything is in the spin zone and even what is passed off as responsible reporting would be better left in the Op-Ed section. Add to it the deep partisan divide in our country and it becomes a self-completing feedback loopoo fueled by negativity about some perceived “other” who is going to come and steal all your pizza rolls in the middle of the night. The corruption means we are a nation of children being governed by children who think their political savior is the only adult in the room.

It is tiring, and it is fueling a crisis of negativity, and yes, the “Spin Zone” is killing us.

I have said for awhile that not many, especially on the right, though the left struggles with this as well, to articulate in the positive, everything is articulated in the negative. That means, we are very good at articulating what we are against, but we are not good at articulating what we are for. Conservatives call ourselves “Pro-Life” but the “Pro-Life” platform today could be better designated as the “Anti-Abortion” movement, it fails to be what it once aspired to, a womb to tomb pro-life from conception to the grave movement. That does not mean there are not “Pro-Life” conservative groups out there running organizations that actually operate on a “Full Life” principle, but that the popular voices in the movement are defined more by Anti-Abortion rhetoric, rather than truly “Pro-Life” rhetoric. We are quick to say: “All Lives Matter” when someone says “Black Lives Matter” but our actions sadly do not back up the idea that All Lives, in fact, do matter. Yet if we are going to say that “All Lives Matter” then we need to grieve with the grieving families when a black man is killed in police custody and demand justice for that loss of life. While at the same time, seeking what is best for our police officers rather than just participating in #Activism and posting a Facebook post of solidarity that ignores the broken system that is not working for our officers either (the suicide rate among officers was around 30% in 2019 and will likely be worse in 2020). These things just look good, but do not offer solutions to extremely complicated problems and they are of course, tribalism at its worst. If you really support first responders, especially police, advocate for the training and mental health resources they need to do their jobs in a healthy manner that benefits the communities they are policing and the officers themselves. I hate what I am deeming “performativism” because it is a means of assuaging the conscious without acting one ones convictions. I feel the same way about Veteran’s Day, thanking those who served while the suicide rate among veterans is 22% and there are 67,000 Homeless veterans, while the VA system is broken and in desperate need of repair. It is easy to be an armchair quarter back, but make the sacrifice necessary to make a change for the benefit of all Americans…

I have written before on Performative Christianity and the dangers therein, the danger in what I am describing above is that we end up with a lot of people saying a lot of things and no one is actually doing anything and those that are need the calming voice of a leader to help them channel their energy but do not even have that. Instead, divisions are being stoked, the flames fanned, and Rome burns along with her citizens. The secular world has no way to stop this, but the church does and it should not be the practice of the church to take a side because both the protests over police killings and the state of policing for the officers themselves are life issue and they are also justice issues. Life because they do harm to the communities and the officers who do the policing and justice because a system that is unjust for one group is unjust to the other. Oppression harms both oppressed and oppressor, Christian reconciliation should eliminate both categories. If I really care about someone, I am not just going to post a picture on Facebook claiming solidarity, I am going to walk with them and I am not going to enable destructive behaviors and claim that by letting them destroy themselves I am actually loving them, that is not love.

One thing we have heard throughout the shutdowns and we have collected a good amount of data on is an increase in the number of people in poor mental health. Panic Attacks, general Anxiety and other treatable mental health outcomes have seen an increase as isolation and uncertainty mount. We were already becoming a more isolated society, with a 15% rise in youth who experience loneliness and isolation on a regular basis. Meaningful connections that seemed inherent in the older generations are not forming in younger people. Add to an already isolated populace a 24-hour news cycle that is loaded with negative spin, fear-mongering and images of chaos and people shouting at one another, and negative feeds negative, and the depression deepens.

I should not have to say that this is unsustainable, but it seems necessary, and as someone asked me recently: “Where is the Church?” Well, it seems we are only participating in and perhaps even adding to the chaos and mess. Instead of being the people of God in prayer “At the place the world is in pain” (N.T. Wright). We play the game of “Whataboutism” or “Bothsideism” or participate in the world’s performativism when we have both real solutions and real positivity to offer the world. Christianity should not be candy-coated, artificial light, instead we are simply joining the fray, or offering greeting card spirituality when real, gritty, in the trenches, praying over phone calls and deep listening are required.

It should be the Bible that influences our worldview and not the news media or social media and yet, we are allowing both to determine what we think and feel about the world. We should be a people of prayer, and of repentance, instead of a people who inspire fear and doubt among the masses. We have a great savior who has already overcome the grave, the world has its whims and flimsy hopes. Which is greater? The comparison is not even close.

Christians, hear this exhortation, turn off the TV, stop Googling, start reading the Word of God. Get out of the negative spin zone where you are being actively told to fear, something Jesus tells us not to do, hate your enemies, again, Jesus says not to do this, and think in black and white about issues that require a lot of grey area. Shake off the constant droning of the spin zone and go sit in the front yard with your neighbor or your pastor. Talk about the world from the perspective of the Holy Spirit, not through the perspective of the news or social media. Do the gritty work that is required in a life of faith in Jesus Christ.

And please, please, please, read and study the word of God. To Him be glory and honor forever and ever, Amen.

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

Sermon Cast: “Cry Out” Psalm 88

Our Sermon from Sunday, August 30th reflects the deep cry of lamentation our world is experiencing and encourages us through the example of Christ and the teachings of Scripture, how to mourn with our grieving neighbors and walk through our own grief in a healthy manner that looks first to Christ and then to His Word.
 
Watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6j5MGBQBd8

Jesus and Stoicism

Jesus and Stoicism

Scripture gives us a savior who grieved and who felt obvious despair in the Garden. The world is desperate for a Jesus they can connect with, that is the Jesus of Scripture and History, the very one whom we are called to imitate.

Rev. Jonathan Faulkner

One of aspects of the Chosen I have come to love is that, unlike many of the popular depictions of Jesus there is an attempt to balance both the human and divine aspect and serious research and effort is being put in, by Dallas Jenkins and the Biblical Scholars advising the project to get us as close to Jesus and his world as we possibly can get. With all the data and information available to us from the explosion in archeology and historical study, they have been able to get pretty close. The result is a Jesus who laughs, cries, celebrates, even dances at the wedding party at Cana. You get the sense that this Jesus would actually eat with Tax Collectors, and he does, Matthew is an important feature in the first season One of the first times we see Jesus he is in the local watering hole where all the rough and tumble fisherman hang out and it is inside this establishment that he meets Mary for the first time and right outside it that he heals her. Jenkins has done a good job restoring Jesus humanity while at the same time giving us the sense that He is who He says He is, the son of the Living God. The problem with most characterizations of Jesus in the twentieth and twenty-first century film industry is that you get the sense that he is this powerful stoic who shows little to no emotion ever, calm and steady the entirety of his ministry. One adaptation even has Jesus, in a moment that the bible portrays as holy anger, as smiling while he flips tables and runs out the money changers. Obviously, the Chosen is not perfect, but one appreciates the care Jenkins has chosen to take in his presentation of God Incarnate. This is likely why the show has gained so many followers and supporters, to date the show has been watched almost 53 Million times.

Because this Jesus and his followers stand in stark contrast to how Christians approach the world today and how we have seen Jesus portrayed in Christian Media. The portrayal, as stated above, is one of a stoic defined as: “The endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings or complaint.” Stoicism was one of many Schools of Philosophy present in the time of Jesus. Founded Athens in the 3rd Century B.C. by Zenu of Citium. The entire Stoics were not a people of emotion, they endured whatever came about, be it pleasure or pain, with indifference, seeing true detachment from this world as the end goal. Their opposites were the Epicureans who believed in the dictum: “Eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” As far as Greek approaches to life go in Hellenism, one cannot be one any more opposite of the spectrum. Jesus, living in a Hellenized culture likely had opportunities to interact with both groups and it cannot be said in any way that he belonged to either. There is an epicurean portrayal of Jesus by the way, 2014’s Son of God produced by Roma Downey of Touched By An Angel fame. This is where the aforementioned scene of a smiling Jesus turning tables is taken. But if Jesus did not belong to either group why are we so quick to portray him as one or the other?

Perhaps we are more influenced by the Ancient Greeks then we want to believe. That is, Western Culture, through the Enlightenment and the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy and Theology have syncretized Ancient Greek teaching like Stoicism into our modern teachings both in the culture and in Christianity and has denied us the ability to either grieve or demonstrate grief in a healthy way. This can be demonstrated in a season two episode of the hit procedural drama NCIS when a piece of evidence in a missing persons/murder investigation called “The Good Wife’s Guide” urges wives to: “Carry on and be strong in their husbands stead.” This is Stoicism, the message is that your feelings are not important, so pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get back to work in your husband’s stead. There has been an equal and opposite reaction to this as Jonathan Chait in “The Coddling of the American Mind” notes how “fragile” our youth has become and how we need to do a better job at teaching them to be “Anti-Fragile” that is a halfway point between the Stoicism of older generations and the unbridled Emotionalism of the younger. This is the problem with the “Snowflake” designation, one cannot expect younger people to interact and respond to tragedy in a healthy way, if they are not shown how.

There is another adverse effect of Stoicism that keeps us as believers from responding to the world around us in a biblical manner, that is, after the example of Jesus. Stoicism, by its very teaching, requires one to be detached from what is happening in the world which often makes us dismissive of what is going on. The Stoics response to a Plague in the ancient world would be that “people die, there is nothing we can do about it, best not to grieve and just get on with our lives.” The Epicurean would have the same response, “People die, best celebrate life to the fullest in the meantime.” Both dismiss the dire circumstances in which the speaker may find themselves in. By the way, one can hear both in discussions about the current Coronavirus Pandemic, both the Stoic response: “People are going to die, when your time is up, better just move on.” And “People are going to die, party hard and if you get it, well, I guess I get it.” This kind of fatalism is detached from the real-world experiences of so many people and if you have the ability to hold one of these views, you may have not been impacted directly. There is a reason that it was Elites in Greek society who belonged to these schools, just as today it is the elite to middle class who can make statements like this. Most of the people in this country and around the world do not have the ability to ignore the incredible amount of human suffering that is going on due to the Pandemic, economic downturn, an already depressed state of mental health and all the uncertainty that comes from this.

The Church has an answer to these concerns, if we are willing to lay down and put off the syncretistic tendencies we have inherited from our ancestors and follow the upward call of God in Christ Jesus through the downward mobility of Christ. If we are willing to put our convictions about human life mattering in every way shape and form into practice and live as the Christ of Scripture, not the Stoic Christ of culture, Because the Christ of Scripture wept over the death of a close friend (John 11:35). Jesus sweat blood out of the agony of the sinfulness of humanity being placed on his shoulders, while praying a prayer that comes from the depths of human despair akin to Psalm 88 (Matt 26:36-46). Jesus showed holy outrage over the desecration of the temple by the exploitation of human beings coming to sacrifice in the temple, disrupting worship of the Almighty God (Matt 21:12-17). Jesus told a group of followers. Jesus does not tell the people to just shrug off the deaths of 18 individuals when the tower of Siloam collapses but uses it to issue and emotional call for repentance from sins that were no worse than the 18 that died (Luke 13). Finally, Jesus also cried out on the cross, emotional pleas for the forgiveness of his persecutors, and unlike the Stoics who would forgo food or drink when they were killed, he asked for a drink. Cries of pain and suffering, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant on full display for all the world. Were Jesus a Stoic, he would not be able to refer to himself as a “Suffering Messiah” because suffering was something to be indifferent too.

The real Jesus, the one we find in scripture and other pages of history, the one who cried out. He is the one the world needs and because He is with us today in the person of the Church we should again take up our crosses like Him and suffer with those who are suffering without trying to diminish or downplay their suffering with greeting card spirituality. It is poignant to me that Paul writes the words he does in Philippians 4 from a prison cell, chained to a guard, while waiting to hear if he is going to be set free or killed. The secret to contentment in the Christian Life is to face head on the pain and suffering of this world with only Christ as your source of strength. This is not Stoicism, but a gritty reliance on Christ, which includes His Church which is eternally bound to Him through the Holy Spirit. Paul is not detached from his circumstances, but has learned to secret dwelling in them, and that secret is Christ.

But too many Christians look at the rising death toll and increasing suffering of the current year and dismiss it out of hand. Playing down what is happening our world denies the chance to see Christ who did not downplay the sin and suffering of his time or of our own but went to the cross for it. He did what was necessary, but too many Christians are not willing to set aside even the smallest comfort for the sake of another, The world is watching and continues to pour out of our church buildings because they are not seeing Christ, but something else, and they do not like it. Reasoned approaches are ignored or called suspect. It is unfortunate for a people bearing the name of the suffering servant that this is the route we have chosen.

There is one final problem that the syncretism between Christianity and Stoicism has created. That is that less than 33% of Churched Gen Z feels as though they have formed meaningful relationships with older Christians. They are craving deep relationships, and they should be able to find them in the church, but they are often met with a cold detachment to the world around that reminds them more of Mr. Spock than Jesus. They read in Scripture of a suffering Servant and then see Christians not only refuse to grieve with those who are grieving but grieve at all. There is no comfort for the mourner in many churches today, and that has turned many off to Christianity. As Gandhi told Martin Luther King Jr. the up and coming generation is fond of Jesus but is not fond of Christians.

For meaningful connections to form again, we must learn to lament and grieve again. We cannot approach the suffering of our neighbors with indifference, but must do what the Good Samaritan did and get down in the mud and blood and dirt of the beaten and broken man and pick him up and place him on our donkey. Take him to inn and pay for whatever is necessary to heal him and care for his needs. Because God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, there is literally no lack of resources in the universe to meet the needs of human suffering from His perspective, and it is His perspective which we are to adopt as we imitate Christ. Christian, God is who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will do. That means separating the sheep from the goats of those counted among his people based on how they treated Christ in the midst of His suffering when He came to them in the form of a prisoner, beggar, ill or poor. It is the Stoic Christian who has been indifferent to Christ and who is thus ignored His suffering in these various forms who is told to depart. May it not be so with you Brothers and Sisters.

Christian, be willing to learn how to grieve the way Jesus did, be willing to look at the thief next to you on the cross and meet the deep spiritual need along with the deep physical need (keep in mind, in coming to salvation, the thief receives a glorified physical body). Let us not leave Christ out in the cold, suffering from the Pandemic which we think is “overhyped” or “under reported” or whatever side of this pathetic culture war you on is. Be Christ to the masses, full stop, so that on the day you stand face to face you will not be sent away, but hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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

 

The Church is Never Closed

While some Governors have certainly overstepped their bounds and made it harder to churches to return to in-person worship. The idea that the church is closed is preposterous.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

California Governor Gavin Newsom, in my opinion, has overstepped in regard to some of the restrictions he has put on the church. But if you have been watching the fight between Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur, then you have seen the equal and opposite reaction play out. For those who have not been following, Churches in CA could reopen with a fairly heavy amount of restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 caused by the Novel Coronavirus which at the time of this writing is still raging in the state. Some of those restrictions, were unnecessary and even overstepping the authority the government has over the Church as I noted. Grace Community then sued to be able to meet without any kinds of restrictions whatsoever and won. This has been met with criticism from pastors across the country, as to meet without restrictions of any kind seems foolish. I have written on why we do not just fling the doors open, and I stand by that idea. However, MacArthur’s reaction against any restrictions at all also reveals a fundamental misconception about the nature of the Church that has been realized by most of the Christianity long before we as Americans have had to reckon with it.

That is, that the church cannot be closed because the Church is not a building. If the Church were a building, then the scattered flocks of believers meeting underground or in secret to avoid persecution by their governments could not be the Church. IF the Church is a building then those towns in Iran that Elliot Clark describes in his book “Evangelism as Exiles” would not be members of the Church since they have no way of gathering with other believers. Those churches have been attacked and maligned and even scattered and yet, they are still part of the Church, they are still Churches. They still share in the same organic unity that comes through the Holy Spirit and which transcends this world. The Church cannot close precisely because it is not a building, but an organism. It is quite a low view of something God has created to diminish the church to these brick and mortar structures that Tornados blow over and fires consume. These holy places are just that, places, and what has made them Holy is the saints who come to gather in them, when they can. To say that the Church is closed is to say that the world has defeated us, to which I say “preposterous.” It may be that, in the West, we have made idols out of our meeting places and meeting preferences, so much so, that we are willing to put people’s lives at risk long before we will ever consider giving them up.

But at the same time, I understand MacArthur’s motivations, at least on some level. Theses shutdowns have been hard on everyone, especially pastors who are considered “non-essential” and who are dealing with the boots on the ground mental health crisis that has accompanied this pandemic. There is something healing about gathering, about being able to sing together and worship God together. On top of that we have verses in scripture about not giving up meeting together, and those verses spark convictions about meeting together which have to be balanced with convictions about keeping the wolves and thieves out of the sheep pen. By the way, this virus is a thief and wolf and it has already killed, stolen, and destroyed. Those are dueling convictions that pastors are trying as hard as we can to balance. It would be inappropriate for us to ignore one in favor of the other, we have to dwell in the tension between the two, it is an imperative, one we can model for the world who is watching all this aghast. If we are truly Christians, then humility, not hubris are the answer in these days.

My regional pastor Dr. Ray Delaurier made the distinction that makes the most sense to me on the phone the other day. He distinguished the difference between the Gathered Church, when we can meet in one place, be it building or house or gymnasium, and the scattered church, when we cannot meet in public or at all. Right now, the Church is scattered, God has taken away our corporate worship and forced us to rethink everything we ever thought to be true of the Church. We need to remember that the church has always been on the brink of being scattered, and around the world, the gathered church is less normal than the Scattered church. We are now experiencing, due to a virus, what our Chinese Brothers and Sisters experienced for most of the last century and are still experiencing today.

I had a parishioner say to me a few weeks ago; “why is it that abortion clinics can be open but churches cannot?” The answer is because to the world we are non-essential,and the position of power and influence which we enjoyed in the 18th-20th centuries in this country, which is now waning significantly, is not and has not been the norm in the majority world and we should be surprised, given Jesus promises to us in the Gospels and the book of Revelation, that it even lasted as long as it did. The good news is that, in places like Europe where Christendom is a distant memory, Christianity is once again starting to spread. But as David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock have noted, the church in the West, particularly in the U.S needs to relearn how to do ministry in what they call “Digital Babylon.” That will require a great deal of humility that it seems, unfortunately, Grace Community does not seem to be demonstrating now.

On a practical note, there are underlying assumptions made when one calls for the church to “reopen.”  First, and this has been my biggest struggle through the many calls to reopens, it implies that pastors have not been working. When you close the building, there is a lot of new infrastructure that has to be put in place to take a church online, unless that infrastructure was not already in place. In the case of my church, it was not, and because I have experience in both Radio (college) and TV (High School) I had an understanding of how to make this all work, many churches are still figuring out livestreaming with little to no help from bigger churches. Pastors have been crashing and researchers are estimating that we will see a mass-exodus from the already greatly diminished pastorate in the next year. To imply that not having “in-person” worship means the church is closed, is to imply your pastor has been taking vacation. Just the opposite, I do not know a pastor who can continue their pastoral ministry, who is not working more hours, myself included. Second, it continues what should be considered theological heresy among the laity and pastors born our of Gnosticism that divides the church into “visible” and “Invisible” or “unreal” and “real.” This is the idea that has been the justification for every Church Split and new denomination born in the history of the Church since Augustine formulated it. But it is a direct violation of Scripture to divide the church in anyway since dividing the Church divides Christ and Paul is adamant that Christ is not divided (1 Cor 1:11-4). This pandemic has given us a chance to do away with that once and for all, and we have not done a particularly good job. The Church is both Visible and Invisible consisting of those who are in Christ, it is not the people in the building who make up the Church, but the ones organically fused to Christ. To reduce it to anything less is to remove it from its original purpose and Christ’s intent in its creation, something we should shy away from.

Though we are scattered, we will soon be gathered, and that is something we should not take for granted. The Church cannot reopen, because the Church cannot be closed. It is an error to think otherwise, our ministries continue, our worship continues, it may look a little different, but to think that the governments of man have the ability to close the very presence of Christ on Earth is truly…well…preposterous.

 

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 Completed Joy VI: Philippians 3:12-4:1

The Penultimate Sermon in our series on the book of Philippians. Today we saw how Paul’s teachings in Philippians all come together as he talked about continuing to strive and pursue the end result of the Christian Life, Resurrection and eternity with Jesus. We saw how this should also spur us to continue forward in Christ Jesus, caring for and loving our neighbors and sharing the good news of the Christian Gospel above all else.

 

Little Feet that Run the Earth, and the Tension of the ones that Do not.

My daughter is one of the great joys of my life, but after losing a child to Miscarriage and Infant Loss, this is the tension I live in now.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I have been thinking a lot lately about my March 2018 article: My Baby Had Feet as I have tried to finalize thoughts for the book by the same title and search for a publisher for it. One of the final chapters goes by the same title as this piece. Readers and followers of this website know that in August of 2019 we announced a new pregnancy and in February of 2019, 13 months, and 2 days after we lost the first baby, our daughter Erin was born. These are exciting times to be sure, and we celebrated them thoroughly, just as we celebrated her first Birthday in February. I have loved almost every minute of being a father, almost because there are things that you struggle with, especially when its your first full term child. There were some ups and downs as we navigated finding an eye doctor and surgeon to remove the congenital cataracts she was born with. There were sleepless nights and near sleepless nights, we both almost gave up hope as we struggled to finish seminary and help a newborn adjust to life outside the womb. It has been exciting to hear her find her singing voice (already, at 18 months) and start to speak and even say “amen” when we finish praying together, or when she comes running to me when I get home from the church yelling “Daddy!”. As her little personality develops, we are challenged in new and exciting ways as we seek to shepherd her, even now. To a faith that we not only pass down, but she also owns as her own as early as possible.

Still, there is a tension here, a tension that I hope to zero in on in the last chapter of “My Baby Had Feet.” This tension is this: If we had not lost the first child, the child we have now would not exist. The child we miss, and never got to meet, the child who we loved and had started to bond with and whose still, tiny frame only saw this earth for a moment, had that child lived, our daughter would not. That is a strange and yet necessary thought as you see their ultrasounds sitting side by side on the bookshelf in the living room (pictured above). Instead of grieving one and rejoicing in the other, we would have rejoiced in the one and been ignorant that another even existed or was in store for us (although by now we may have been expecting another).

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Some may say I am being overly dramatic, but this is part of my healing journey, so please walk with me. As a theologian, I am okay with such tensions, after all, we live in the liminal space of the now-but-not-yet tension of our salvation, saved, being saved, already saved, going to be saved. I am used to tensions and okay with them…as a theologian. As a human being, I am not okay with tension, I hate it, it is uncomfortable. There have been times when I want to take that ultrasound picture and throw it across the room and shout at God for taking that Child from us, even though I know it was the fallen world and not God who took that child from us, but my human instinct is to blame him. Even though I know it was He who could have let the child live and also He who brought around us friends and family who supported us, prayed for us and loved us. Even though I know it was Him who provided the tickets to the Rend Collective Concert where we started to heal, as a couple and as individuals. He did not cause my child to die in the womb, He could have prevented it, but He also had something else for us, a little girl who belts our Rend Collective, even though she does not yet have the language to do so. Maybe this is something we need to develop, along with a better theology of suffering, a theology of tensions. As I said, theologians have one, we are willing to hold in tension what seems totally contradictory, such as Man is created in the image of God, and Man is fallen, broken and utterly depraved. Like Suffering, we need to learn to sit in the liminal space between two events or two ideas or points of tension.

Like tension, we do not like suffering either, American Evangelicals and American Protestants in general are “Suffering averse” and to avoid tension we will hThe Adventuresold a completely heretical or anti-biblical position and demand others hold it too. We will downplay suffering, even ignore it, so that we can remain in our happy-go-lucky bubble. We scream or grumble at pastors who make us feel uncomfortable, we refuse to listen to any leader or government official who disagrees with our established viewpoint. We generally hate being challenged on anything, and yet, if we really dig down and dig deep in scripture, we will find a challenge to everything this world has taught us to hold dear. We will also find a lot of teaching about suffering….A LOT of teaching about suffering.

Take the book of Philippians, we love to polish this book up, to make it some great letter of affection from the Apostle to the Church which has supported him, and it is. That is not the entire story though, Paul is saying all that he says in Philippians chained to a Roman Praetorian Guard, waiting day-in and day-out to hear whether or not he is going to live to see the year 62. Nero has risen to power, and while he is not yet persecuting Christians to the extent he would in a few years, he is uttering murderous threats, and this may have concerned the Philippians. On top of that, there has been a divide among them, certain people in the church have allowed Pride to well up and cause divisions in the Church. Add to that the fact that other teachers were in the area, trying to damage Paul’s ministry, even thought they were preaching the True Gospel. Finally Paul is concerned about the Circumcision Group gaining a foothold in Philippi, likely because they had done so much damage in nearby Galatia. It is under House Arrest, chained to a guard, with detractors attacking him and a myriad of concerns for the spiritual welfare of the Philippian Church, which He loves, that Paul writes the oft misquoted and misapplied: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation, I am to be content” (4:11). And “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13)

Image may contain: 3 people, including Rachel Faulkner and Jonathan Faulkner, baby and outdoor

But it is hard for me, as a Pastor, to apply contentment in tension like this to any and ever situation. It is even harder for me to apply them to the loss of a child. To live in the tension, as Paul did, between prison and freedom in Christ. That is uncomfortable, it is also uncomfortable to live in the tension between wanting to meet and hold a child you cannot while playing tag with, singing with and dancing with a child you can. But that is where I live, between saying: I am content with this child, but I miss the one we lost. I am happy this one exists, but I wish I had these experiences with the other as well. It is the tension ever Christian lives in, “Thy will be done father” alongside “please intercede on the behalf of so and so.” I do not want to be content, I do not want to live in Liminal space, the sinful world took something from me, and I want to make them pay, I want to be angry, I do not wish to be content and focus on Christ in my pain. But this is what Scripture challenges me to do, to suffer well, because it is in suffering that God will be glorified (John 9:1-15, Phil 1:14) whether that suffering be because of the fallenness of nature (miscarriage and infant loss) or from the sinfulness of human kind such as persecution. I do not want to “Rejoice in the Lord” that is, Rejoice in all that God has done for me and for the Church in general, but at the same time, I know this is what is best for me. Christ, after all, was able to live in the tension between suffering and life, and he chose to give his up for my sins, to glorify God the father, whom He was equal with, by humbling himself and taking up the towel and then the cross. I can glorify Him through these momentary afflictions and losses without grumbling and complaining as I look forward to the day of Christ Jesus. In doing this I know I will show my salvation, and the destruction of my detractors, as well as shine as a light to the world which is depraved and fallen (Phil 1:27-2:30, 2 Cor 4:17).

I may not be saying anything here, just working out thoughts and hoping to have some good. Maybe a dad is reading this who lost a child and then had another one in the next year and they are saying: “yes, I know this tension, thank you I am not alone.” Or maybe the theologians who read this post will spend the day dissecting me and correcting me because my theology of suffering and tension needs some work or to be better fleshed out. The latter of that is true, since this post is short, and Bonhoeffer wrote books on the Theology of Suffering. But I hope I can speak clearly to one father who has gone through this experience, who is living in this tension, and help you sort out your thoughts a little bit. Because, while we focus so much on the mother after a miscarriage or infant loss, you too lost a child, someone who carried something of you and was in your image, as well as Gods. Yet, you are often left to suffer alone, and usually long after your wife has started to heal, since you have walk with her in her pain, often delaying your own grief in the moment. I know, because I have been there, just as I am here now.

Or maybe you’re a father who has never had this experience, how can reading this, gaining knowledge of this tension help you reach out to those who have. The father whose wife has struggled with infertility, or now inhabits the tension I am talking about here. How can you reach out and better walk with them through this? Or maybe you are a father who has lost many children to infant loss and miscarriage and infertility. Yes, you are a father, even if those children are not living with you on this planet, they are yours and you were part in creating them, just as I helped created Shalom. I know that it seems now that your hopes and dreams of beginning a family are smashed against the rocks, and that you live in the tension of wanting to hope in the Lord, and curse his name from grief. But hold on, you are not alone and you are not forgotten, by God or by me. Stand firm in the tension, and know that whatever happens, Christ has not abandoned you or not heard your cries. He is there with you, weeping with you and holding you up so that you can endure all things though Christ who strengthens and redeems you.

I praise God everyday for every second I get to spend with my little girl, I do not take her for granted and cannot imagine life without her, and I thank God for everything He has given me through her. But that does not mean I do not miss the child we lost, do not love the child we lost, or at times think about what that child would be like. Praise God for his mercy and the fact that I can, in fact, live in the tension.

If this is you, or this is your story and you are looking for someone to talk to or council you on this subject. I would love to listen to your story and even walk with you where I can. You can contact me through this site, and I pray you will.

 

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.

 

Sermon Cast: Completed Joy V: Philippians 3:1-11

My Sermon from Sunday, August 9th 2020. This week we continued our series Complete Joy where we have been looking at the book of Philippians as we looked at 3:1-11. We continued to see how the way of Christ contrasts with the way of the world, as Paul described the laying down of achievement and personal success for the sake of Christ. We also saw how the sin of pride can keep our confidence in the flesh, a confidence that is contrary to our confidence in Christ.

 

The Church in Changing Times

All that remains of the Temple of Artemis is a pillar (shown above). But the Church has survived the rise and fall of empires…whatever happens next will not change that.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

It is one of my favorite pictures from Church History, the one, lone marble column surrounded by some foundation stones that is all that remains of the once grand temple of Artemis of the Ephesians. The Greek goddess of animals, hunting and childbirth is just one of the many ruins that dots the landscape of modern-day Ephesus where Paul spent 3 years of His ministry. The Pillar and Buttress construction, would be used by Paul to describe what the Church was when he commented to Timothy and the Church at Ephesus: “I have written these things to you to know how one aught to behave in the Church, which is a Pillar and Buttress of the Truth.” The Church, however, stands in stark contrast to the Temple of Artemis. The keyword being “Stand” since while one lone pillar of the Temple of Artemis remains, the Church has continued to persevere through the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires and democracies. Yes, even when internal forces threatened to tear her apart, the Church of God has prevailed.

Think about it, Paul writes his second letter to Timothy at Ephesus right before his death in 64 or 66. Rome either has or will burn and the Christians will be blamed by the nefarious emperor Nero who will launch the first of many great persecution that would, instead of hindering the spread of the Gospel, be the catalyst by which it would spread like wildfire. Christians were fed to wild beasts, lit on fire and used to light the street and the games and crucified. Some of the Apostles themselves were victims of this, Paul, Peter, and others and yet, the Church continued to grow and even gain momentum. What was meant for evil, God used for good, what was meant to destroy, God used to expand. This would be the pattern for 300 years before Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the Empire. But the Empire had to end and a combination of internal rot and marauding bands from Gal would lead to the fall of the empire in 476 AD. Yet, the Church would continue and even become a fixture of what would emerge under Charlemagne and come to be called “The Holy Roman Empire.” A dubious alliance between Church and State with Pope and Emperor ruling alongside each other, sometimes banishing each other, sometimes being the same person, the reformation around 1054 bringing about “The Great Schism’ between East and Western Churches, giving us Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet, the Church survived.

The Church survived through the tumult of European upheaval. One could say the Medieval period is marked by wars and changing political landscapes. In this time Roman Catholicism became corrupted by power-lust, which is one of the issues that lead to the Schism of 1054. The Pope’s power grew and thus, so did Christianity’s power in the West. Though not without great consequences as infighting among bishops and priests and an increasing feeling of abandonment by the Church among the Laity. This would 000lay the groundwork for the second Reformation around 1516 with the nailing of the 95 Thesis on the Church Door at Whittenburg by a monk named Martin Luther. The schism that would happen then, into Roman Catholics and Protestants and spark wars between the two groups marked by events such as the Anabaptist slaughter at Munster and Bloody Mary’s burning of 300 protestants at the stake in the U.K. Yet, the Church Survived.

In the modern period, as the Church witnessed the end of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of secular empires such as France under Napoleon, the kings of England, Russia under Alexander the Great and so on and so forth, the church continued to survive, even as Saxxony fell and was divided up, The Church survived and even expanded under the work of the Moravian Missionaries and their leader Nickolas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. The Church continued to survive and expand though the political landscape around her was constantly shifting and moving, creating uncertainly among her ranks. She continued to survive and expand, even if at times her tactics were extremely questionable, she survived. She survived in the nineteenth century, with the rise of democracy across Europe and the new Enlightenment ideas of “Separation of Church and State.” Though she fell out of favor with Governments and was even persecuted in many parts of the world such as China, she continued forward. Through the many divides in America, justified by Hodge and Princeton, though not by the Word of God. She survived the American Civil War, just as she had survived Civil Wars in other countries and places throughout the world. She survived the fall of Colonialism, the rise of secularism, she even survived The Russian Revolution and Nazi Germany, though her numbers were greatly reduced because, like Israel in the Old Testament,  she had sold herself out to the Bolshevik’s and the Nazi’s. She still survived in the Confessing Church and a general remnant, though her lampstand had been removed, God kept a remnant for himself and that remnant is growing again in Europe. In America, she survived the rise of secularism here too, the economic collapse of The Great Depression, and she survived and even aided in the Civil Rights Movement, though many wish she had done more.

cathedral under clouds near leafless tree
Photo by David Kovacs on Pexels.com

She is not perfect, she has committed many sins though History, both in the majority world and in America in general, but the Church has survived and even though her numbers have been reducing in recent decades, she will survive again. Even if God so reduces her to the same Remnant he kept in Europe and Russia, she will survive. Meanwhile, the Temple of Artemis remains nothing more than a pillar surrounded by foundation stones.

The Church will survive.

No matter what happens in our politics, whether we remain a democracy or fall into an authoritarian dictatorship controlled by either right or left. Even if every right is stripped away, every state tries to close our buildings, the police come and arrest her ministers, the church will survive, and there is nothing the secular world can do about it.

So Church, why are you afraid? Why are you concerned about what or who is in power, both parties have turned against scripture and tried to twist it to their own purposes. The empire could fall tomorrow, and the Church will remain. Yes, we may lose our comforts and privileges, but we would only be following the way of Jesus who willingly gave up his right to Godhood to take on the form of a human, then become a servant, then die on the Cross. His downward mobility is held up by the Apostle Paul as a roadmap for us to follow as kingdom citizens (Philippians 2:1-30). We should have been emulating this from the beginning, but we failed to do that, and if we do not turn and repent, we may be forced to do it, whether we want to or not. It may already be too late. Yes, the church will survive whatever comes next, it may look different, but it will survive, so what are you afraid of? Jesus promised us this would happen, the Church being at the seat of power was not the norm when Christianity started, and it has not been the norm outside of the West. Church, your future, eternal rest, is secured in Christ, whatever the world does cannot undo that or take it away from you. Earthly Elections cannot change that, manmade laws have never been able to change that. And your perseverance and life in the Gospel through this time will testify to our opponents of their own destruction and of your salvation through Christ Jesus (Phil 1.27-30).

Church, are you tired of living in fear of this world and what happens in its governments? Then come and drink of the fullness of Christ, the one who loves you so much He gave his life for you and His spirit to you so that you might become like Him. The Church will survive whatever comes next. So turn off the voices, Christian and otherwise, who are prophesying doom and come back to the voice of the Father who tells you that your future is secure and who has already saved you. Lay down your fear and put on the Joy of Christ, a joy that comes in whatever situation you find yourself in, a joy that brings contentment even to a prisoner wondering if he will live or die named Paul. The Church has survived 2020 years, despite all that has gone on, why are we worried about what comes next. The temple of Artemis has fallen, but the Church remains. Praise God!

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

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 Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center 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.