Atticus Finch and the Search for an Unchanging Standard of Justice

Atticus Finch is a hero.  Or is he?  For decades the character from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been a larger-than-life icon of racial justice.  That image was deeply imprinted on an entire generation when Gregory Peck brought Atticus to the big screen in the 1962 movie.

But now another book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman, reveals a saint that is more ‘complex.’  Atticus, it turns out, was a segregationist who attended Ku Klux Klan meetings.  How will a generation who bowed at the altar of a committed prophet for racial justice deal with his fall from grace?

First of all, let’s not forget that Atticus was never a real person.  The saintly version of the fictional Atticus Finch was probably too good to be true all along.  Real people are not that morally tidy.  The real heroes of civil rights struggles were often more ‘complex,’ as were the segregationists they opposed.

Our struggle for moral clarity in an often confusing and dark world creates a desire in our hearts for strong transparent examples whom we can look to as faithful models.  Like Atticus, however, many of our heroes eventually disappoint us.

Some people will surely be disappointed in the new version of Atticus, wishing to hold on to the morally pristine man that Gregory Peck portrayed.  Others may be willing to embrace the new version of Finch.  They may see the revised character as a reminder that real life is not always so easy to categorize into neat little packages of good and evil.

Whatever happens to Finch’s popularity, we are likely to go on searching for a hero worthy of our admiration and imitation.  Knowing that life is complex does not discourage us from yearning for someone who can present a compelling moral vision and back it up with a consistent inspiring life.

Can we find a great model worthy of following?  One who is more than imagination, someone who lived in our world but did so with victory?  Can we find someone whose message was consistently true and loving, never compromising or accommodating, despite the personal cost?

Years ago, a 30-year-old carpenter laid down his tools and turned to a life of preaching.  That he was no ordinary preacher was evident from the beginning.  His words came with stunning power.  He spoke with authority like no other.

It didn’t take long for this carpenter-turned-itinerant-preacher to make enemies.  Those who hated him made him face the ultimate test: give up his message or give up his life.  He refused to back down or to run away.  He was willing to risk it all.  He was betrayed by a friend, denounced by his people and destroyed by the authorities, or so it seemed.

For two millennia Jesus’ message has outlasted all others.  Many attempts have been made to alter or cast doubt on his life story and his divine message.  But his life is more than fiction and his word is more than inspiration.  In addition, Jesus died for more than his beliefs, he sacrificed himself for his followers.

Jesus is more than a great moral model.  We should do more than imitate him.  Jesus is God’s resurrected Lord and Savior.  We should bow down to him.  Praise God there is one who is always faithful, one whom we can always trust.  Jesus is still Lord.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Camden, July 2015

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Thinking about Gay Marriage on Independence Day

The Supreme Court of the United States of America legalized same-sex marriage. Will freedom be denied those of us who believe that same-sex relationships are sinful? What about the spiritual future of our culture? Can we get a word from our Lord about how we should respond?

In 1 Peter 3 we read that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears on their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those doing evil.” This is a quote from Psalm 34, which was written some 1,000 years earlier. Peter applies an ancient and established truth to current circumstances. The passage of time had not diminished the Bible’s truth.

This is a much-needed affirmation about the Bible and about the God of the Bible. Our circumstances will change, but God’s word and his character do not change. His holiness and righteousness, his love and mercy, they are established and they will never alter.

Leviticus 18 has not changed. Romans 1 has not changed. God’s design for human sexuality, for marriage and for family has not changed. God’s design for marriage is still one man and one woman committed to one another for life, raising their children together and enjoying their grandchildren. And more than that, Christian marriage is still meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church. None of this has changed. Nobody, not even the Supreme Court of the United States of America can change these fixed realities.

But our country’s definition of marriage has changed. It has moved sharply away from God’s design. Will those who believe in God’s design for marriage be penalized in this rapidly changing moral storm?

The text from 1 Peter 3 continues: “Who will do you harm if you are zealous for good? But if you suffer because of righteousness, you are blessed.” Jesus agrees with the notion of suffering for doing what is right. In Matthew 5 he says, “Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” But do American Christians actually believe that suffering is a blessing? In other countries, China for instance, Christians understand these frequent Scriptural statements about suffering for the truth. Because of our religious freedom, this aspect of the faith is unfamiliar territory in the U.S.

1 Peter 3 continues: “Don’t fear what they fear, nor be upset.” Fear is not the answer. Fear is never to be our master. God has not abandoned his people or his plan. He can still be trusted. Some may fall away, but those who believe will discover the anointing of God’s power enabling them to represent him faithfully regardless the cost.

So what should we do? Next, 1 Peter says, “Set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always be ready with an answer to everyone who asks you for a word about the hope which is in you.” Notice that it does not say that we should always be ready to defend our right to speak, but we should be ready to speak.

Christians in America have sometimes been quicker to defend a right than to exercise it. Tell believers that they cannot pray and they will line up for battle, rightly so. But do those same believers take the time to attend a prayer meeting? Instead of fighting for the right to speak, we must speak what we know is right.

But what about religious freedom? Is legal same-sex marriage not a threat to our religious freedom? Should we not fight for our religious freedom? It has become popular to call religious freedom our first freedom. But is this really true? Religious freedom is a great heritage, a right for which many fought and bled and died. Our first freedom as believers, however, is our freedom in Christ, not political liberty but spiritual freedom.

A person can be politically free and spiritually bound. It is also true that one can be politically bound and spiritually free. Given the choice, we would embrace both freedoms simultaneously. Forced to choose, we relinquish our political liberty in order to remain faithful to our Lord.

The kingdom of God has advanced for millennia, often without the benefit of religious freedom. In fact, sometimes religious persecution has spread the fire of the faith more effectively than religious freedom, which sadly seems to produce spiritual complacency.

We are instructed by 1 Peter 3 to be ready to give a word about our hope. What is our great hope? It is not freedom of religion, nor is it freedom of speech. Our great hope is not the Constitution of the U.S.A. Religious leaders who tell followers of Jesus that they should put their hope in freedom of speech, freedom of religion or the Constitution are at best confused and at worst false teachers.

The Bible tells us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, not our political freedoms or our political documents, as helpful and brilliant as these things may be. Our struggle is not a battle for religious freedom but a battle for spiritual truth. What should we do? We must set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and be prepared to speak about him, nothing less.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist in Camden, AR, July 3, 2015

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God Is At Work in Your Suffering

Joseph was favored by his father, Jacob.  Jacob gave Joseph a special coat, a coat of many colors.  Joseph’s older brothers were jealous.

Joseph was favored by God.  God gave dreams to the 17-year-old Joseph, dreams that predicted his family would someday bow down to him.  His brothers could not say a kind word to Joseph.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers.  They kidnapped him and sold him into slavery.  He found himself in bondage in a foreign land, in Egypt.

Then things got worse.  Joseph was falsely accused and unjustly condemned.  He went from slavery to prison.

After 13 years of captivity, Joseph was suddenly freed and elevated to a position of great political power in Egypt.  Only God could have engineered such a stunning reversal.

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave Joseph a wife.  Soon he had 2 sons.  He was ready to move on and to forget the past, to forget his brothers and his father.  But God had another plan.

Joseph was near 40-years-old when his brothers came to Egypt.  They came to buy grain because of the severe famine.  After hiding his identity and testing them to see if they had changed, Joseph reconciled with his brothers.

Joseph’s brothers were apprehensive to say the least.  After all, they had betrayed Joseph.  He now had the power to exact revenge.  They were at his mercy.

But Joseph made an astonishing assertion: God was ultimately responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt.  True, his brothers were guilty of a heinous crime against him.  But God used Joseph’s suffering for their salvation.  Joseph was now in a position to save his brothers and his entire family from starvation.

Does God really use evil to accomplish good?  Since God is all-powerful and all-good, we must conclude that he allows evil to exist.  And since God is all-good, we can rightly deduce that he will use evil to bring about a greater good.

When betrayed by his own brothers and sold into servitude, Joseph was not yet ready to consider the idea that his suffering would save his brothers.  His brothers!  They who sold him like a piece of property.

Thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, Joseph was not ready to hear that his pain would serve a greater good.  Even after he was released from prison, elevated to power and blessed with his own family, he only wanted to forget the past.  He was not ready to think that God was using his pain to save others.

Only after decades of life was Joseph ready to see and accept God’s plan to use his sorrow in order to save many.  God’s mysterious ways are often better understood in retrospect.

Much of what Jesus did made no sense to his disciples at the time.  Later, with the help of God’s Spirit, they were able to see that God used a terrible loss to bring about a great victory.

The death of God’s sinless and perfect Son, Jesus, was the most heinous and deplorable crime of this age.  Yet God used Jesus’ sacrificial suffering to achieve eternal salvation for all his people, elevating him to the ultimate victory through his resurrection and ascension.

As sons and daughters of the God of Joseph and faithful followers of his Son Jesus, we too can be certain that whatever suffering God allows in our lives will surely contribute to eternal victory.  Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

May the Lord give us eyes to see and hearts to agree with his great plan,

Brother Richard Foster

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Time for Vacation Bible School!

LifeWay’s Bible verse for VBS this year is Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

The voice spoken of in this verse is none other than the voice of the Lord. Our faith is grounded in the wonderful truth that God himself has spoken and he is still speaking.

God has spoken to us through his written word, the Holy Bible. When we read the Bible, we are reading the words of the Almighty. What a thrill it is to have in our hands and in our hearts the written message of our Maker, Sustainer and Savior!

God’s word takes us back to the beginning of the heavens and earth and forward to the new heaven and earth. Only through God’s special revelation can we know about our true origin and final destination. Only through God’s special revelation can we learn about his unfolding plan for our lives now.

The voice of God also comes to us through the presence of his Holy Spirit. As God’s people we have his Spirit in our hearts illuminating his written word, enabling us to comprehend what we read.

God’s Spirit empowers us not only to grasp the great Truth revealed in his written word but also to apply it to our daily lives. We can see “the way” and “walk in it.” We understand and obey.

What a great honor and tremendous responsibility it is for us to teach these things to children. God has entrusted his word to us and called us to pass it on to the next generation. We are the most recent link in a gospel chain that stretches almost 2,000 years back to Jesus, and even further back into Old Testament times.

In this generation we face a pernicious spiritual darkness that threatens to silence the voice of the Bible in our country, thus denying children the joy of knowing Jesus. God’s word increasingly meets with a hostile reception in the halls of our government and in the classrooms of our schools.

But God assures us that his word is like a seed, carrying the power of life. Planted in receptive soil, the seed of God’s word brings a harvest of eternal life. It is our great joy to plant and nurture the word of God in the precious hearts of boys and girls in our community.

What greater hope do we have for the future?

May our hearts be tuned to God’s Spirit so that we will always hear his word clearly and always walk in obedience to him,

Brother Richard Foster

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Consequences of Losing Our First Freedom

We exist on a tiny island of religious and political freedom that is surrounded by a vast sea of religious and political oppression. Wherever you go in history, whatever culture or nation or society, on every continent, you find religious oppression and the political oppression that is always its wicked sister.

Almost 400 years ago a small band of religious separatists braved the North Atlantic in a ship called the Mayflower. They were fleeing what we now call the Old World, Europe, a place where governments imposed religious belief. If you disagreed with the government about religion then you were not politically free, in fact, you could be in grave personal danger.

Almost immediately the group that came to the New World was tempted to remake that Old World system. Some insisted that they use the government to enforce one religious belief and limit the freedoms of all those who disagreed.

Prominent among those who demanded full unhindered religious freedom were Baptists. Religious freedom is a part of our heritage that we should know about and hold dear.

It took a long time and much effort, but in 1833 the last state in the Union disestablished its state church and created a healthy separation between church and state. Our forefathers learned from hard lessons that political freedom only stands on the solid rock of religious freedom.

In 1993 then President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. It was written to protect this precious freedom because serious threats to that freedom are growing like weeds in our society.

At that time the president called religious freedom our “first freedom.” He was right. Without religious freedom we will not be free at all.

Sadly, we are in danger of forgetting these lessons and losing what so many people worked and fought very hard to gain. What a tragedy if all the blood and tears that were given in payment for our religious freedom are forgotten by a younger generation.

Confusion is one of the best weapons of the enemy. Religious freedom is being painted as hate and bigotry. If a baker refuses a cake to a gay couple’s wedding then that person must be financially crushed and publicly humiliated.

The gay couple can still get a cake for their wedding. In fact, the gay couple can still find food, clothing, housing, jobs and so forth. What the gay couple apparently cannot abide is the fact that someone, anyone, might disagree with their beliefs. The power of the government must be used to crush anyone who dares hold a different opinion from the gay couple.

Some appeal to Jesus, saying that he would bake the cake for the gay couple because he loves everyone. It is true that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He spent time with them and he did love them.

But Jesus did not reach out to sinners because he wanted to affirm their lifestyles. He did so in order to change them. I do not believe the gay couple wants a cake from someone who is trying to persuade them to change their lifestyle.

The point is this: those who wish to bake the cake for the gay couple in order to reach out to them with the love of Jesus should do so because of the firm convictions of their heart, not the coercion of Washington, D.C.

Do we still live in a land where we are free to follow the dictates of our consciences?

May we stand firm and not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,

Brother Richard Foster

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Christians Must Aim Higher with Marriage

Bible-believing, Bible-honoring Christians are alarmed at the rapid deconstruction of marriage in our land, and rightly so. Within one lifetime our culture has rushed headlong into an explosive increase in pre-marital sex, babies born out of wedlock, adultery, abortion, divorce, single-parent homes, and now same-sex relationships.

Many voices who oppose these deadly experiments with family have made their case based on practical matters. Family is vital, they say, because it is the fundamental institution upon which all other institutions in a society are constructed.

One man and one woman committed to one another for life is the design that has been the foundation of communities and countries for thousands of years. Why? Because this model produces the greatest percentage of healthy productive citizens. Children are more secure, capable and productive when raised by their biological parents.

Children who are not raised by their biological parents are at much greater risk for poverty, illness, crime, drug abuse and yet another generation of the same. As a result, broken families put enormous pressure on every important institution in the community.

Schools, churches, businesses and governments all suffer when the family structure suffers. These vital institutions are strengthened when the family is healthy. Healthy families provide a new generation ready to face a world full of challenges and opportunities.

So, healthy families strengthen the community. Broken families hurt the community. This is reason enough that we should protect the traditional model of family, not experiment with it.

These practical insights are accurate and helpful, but they are only part of the marriage story. Marriage and family are much bigger than local communities and societal institutions. Christians aim too low when we pursue these matters alone, important as they are.

Marriage is a spiritual institution that serves God’s kingdom as well as man’s societies. In the Bible we learn that Christian marriage is meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church.

Reflecting God’s love for his people is the high calling for our marriages. We cannot, we dare not, think that simply because we have committed heterosexual marriages we have somehow fulfilled our Lord’s calling in our marriages. We must aim higher.

Wives submit to your husbands as the church submits to Christ. Husbands love your wives as Jesus loves the church, willing to sacrifice everything for her. This is a great mystery. This is our great task.

To reflect God’s love for his people in our daily lives with our spouses is pretty lofty stuff. How do we put hands and feet on such a grand idea?

First, we must know God’s truth about marriage well. Wisdom comes from devotion to God’s word. Support a church family where biblical truth is taught and lived.

Second, we must accept God’s truth about marriage. As Christians, our marriages are not ours alone. Even our relationships with our spouses are part of our walk and witness as followers of Jesus Christ. Confess Jesus as Lord of everything you do.

Finally, we need the power to live in a way that proclaims God’s love for his people. Christian marriage is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. It is beyond our natural abilities. We need more than human effort in order to succeed.

To live up to the high calling of Christian marriage we must have the powerful presence of God’s Spirit in our lives. Salvation is not the end of Christianity. The Christian life is not meant to be one of spiritual stagnation or backsliding, but one of spiritual growth and victory.

Let us aim higher in our marriages. Let us be devoted to the full measure of God’s design for our homes.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, April 2015
Published in Camden News, May 1, 2015

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Death and the Second Coming

The Apostle Paul planted a church in Thessalonica. His enemies were jealous of his success so they drove him out of the city. Paul had planned to stay longer. He was worried that the believers in that new church were not sufficiently established in their faith.

Since he was unable to visit them personally, Paul wrote to the fledgling church in Thessalonica. He was anxious to finish the things lacking in their faith.

One of the issues troubling the believers in Thessalonica was apparently their understanding of Jesus’ Second Coming. They were concerned about Christians who died before Jesus’ return. What happens to them?

“Since we believe that Jesus died and rose,” Paul wrote, “so also God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”

Notice that Paul speaks of death as sleep. For those who belong to Christ, death has lost its sting. Death for a Christian is like falling asleep on a journey and waking up at home. Jesus died to defeat sin and was raised by God to defeat death. All who trust in him share in these great victories.

Paul goes on to write that the followers of Jesus who are alive when he returns will be reunited with the believers who have died. When Jesus comes again Christians will be privileged to attend the world’s greatest reunion. What an incredibly joyous time that will be!

The Apostle also writes that we will be with the Lord always after he returns. Jesus warned his disciples just before his crucifixion that he was about to leave them. Their consolation would be God’s Holy Spirit, whom God later poured out on his church.

But when Jesus comes again, his followers will never again be separated from him. We will have all eternity to enjoy his visible presence, finally able to cast our crowns at his feet and marvel at that face which shines like the sun in all its glory.

This uplifting section of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian Christians ends with a command: “So encourage one another with these words.” Paul did not want those men and women who were new to the faith to be ignorant, mourning like the rest of world who have no hope.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. For believers, death is like sleep. As believers, we look forward to the greatest reunion ever imagined. And as followers of the Risen Christ, we have a guaranteed place in his presence for all eternity.

This is a great time of year for every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us encourage one another with these great words.

May the power of the Risen Christ carry us forward in the grace of God,

Brother Richard Foster

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