Comparing the Crusades to Terrorism

Certain voices in our society keep emphasizing that Islam is a religion of peace and Christianity has a history of violence. Apparently the current violent Muslim terrorists do not represent Islam, so they say, but violent Crusaders from a thousand years ago do represent Christianity.

We are being asked to compare the most peaceful and loving Muslims with the most violent and hateful Christians. Is that not an admission that it is difficult to make Islam look peaceful and difficult to make Christianity look violent? In other words, plenty of recent evidence shows the violent tendencies of Islam but one must go back a thousand years to find evidence of such violence among Christians.

The Crusades were a period of war between Roman Catholic Europeans and Islamic Middle Easterners. The conflict is dated to almost a thousand years ago, but that is not the beginning of the story, any more than World War II started with America dropping atom bombs on Japan. It would be unfair to ignore the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in telling the story of the Second World War and it is unfair to mention the Crusades without telling the rest of the story.

Militant Muslims marched across North Africa, into Eastern Europe and Spain for more than 400 years before Europeans finally roused themselves and stopped their advances. The idea that evil hard-hearted Christian Crusaders suddenly butchered innocent and unsuspecting Muslims without any provocation is a myth. The Muslims were aggressors and both sides fought to win.

We can all agree that there are those who misrepresent Islam and Christianity. We should also agree that it is unfair to judge a group by those who are poor examples of the group’s true beliefs. What better way to determine a group’s true beliefs than to look at the founder’s life and teachings?

After being rejected by the Jews, Muhammad cut off the heads of some 700 Jewish men and took their women and children as spoils of war. After being rejected by the Jewish and Roman leaders, Jesus told his follower Peter to put down his sword and then he went voluntarily to a shameful, painful and undeserved execution on a Roman cross.

Violent Muslims are following the example of Muhammad. Violent Christians are rejecting the example of Jesus. But there is more to this story, too. Jesus was not waging a holy war or jihad. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom in order to save lost sinners. His kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world. His followers are not guaranteed power in this age, but eternal life in the age to come.

Here is part of the problem. Those who are skeptical about heaven and hell tend to see all religions as equally unnecessary and dangerous. Why argue or fight about a God that does not exist? Instead, the non-religious seek a secular state and a secular world that will supposedly get beyond all the violence caused by passionate religious convictions.

But secularists do not subject their own belief system to the same standards which they frequently apply to religion. We need not go back a thousand years to find horrifying violence among atheists. Within the last one hundred years atheists controlled a state that perpetrated violence against its own citizens on a scale that makes violent religionists look like beginners. The atrocities of Communism somehow get a pass in the judgment day against religion. Is that right?

The fact is, violence is a human problem, not a religious problem. In the days of Noah, the famous ark-builder, the Bible tells us that the earth was full of violence. Noah, however, was different. He was a preacher of righteousness. But the people rejected him and his message. They took no serious interest in his giant boat.

God waited patiently in the time of Noah. But a day came when the door of the ark was closed and the rains of judgment arrived. The flood waters rose and only those few who were on the ark survived. The majority was wrong.

Jesus told his listeners that the last days will be like the time of Noah. The comparison between the Crusades and terrorism makes one very important point: humanity has not changed. We are not evolving into a more peaceful and benevolent race. If anything, we seem to be discovering even more appalling ways of killing.

But Jesus also meant that another day is coming like that day when the door closed on the ark. People were trying to ignore the day of God’s judgment and in doing so they also ignored God’s provision for salvation. God always leaves a door open for those who wish to experience salvation instead of judgment.

Jesus predicted that wars and rumors of wars will continue unabated in this age. Secular humanists assure us that humanity can evolve and do away with the horrors of war. Humanists continue to be wrong and Jesus continues to be right. Based on the historical evidence, we would be wise to find the door to God’s ark, the way to his salvation.

Instead of comparing ourselves to one another, we should compare ourselves to Jesus, God’s ultimate standard. In so doing, we will all realize our need for salvation. The good news is this: Jesus is not only the standard which we cannot meet, he is the Savior whom we do not deserve. Because of God’s grace, we can find true peace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, February 2015

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Can the Holy Bible Survive?

Gay marriage, women in ministry, abortion, social reform versus saving souls, capitalism verses socialism, these are some of the hot-button issues that are causing turbulence for some Christian groups in America today. Several denominations are undergoing sharp disagreements about what they believe and what they stand for.

At the center of these highly emotional issues that are disturbing so many churches in our nation stands the Bible. Is the Holy Bible God’s perfect word to humanity or not? If it is not, then where can we turn for answers to life’s most important questions?

Those who are skeptical about the claims in the Bible tend to value pluralism over truth. They approach the Bible as one source among many for spiritual reflection and insight. In their minds, the Bible must compete with human reason, traditions, personal experiences and other holy books from non-Christian religions.

Skeptics cannot speak with a voice of confidence or authority about right and wrong, good and evil, or heaven and hell. As a result, they offer few if any clear answers to a world that is increasingly mired in moral and spiritual confusion and darkness. In addition, they consider those who have confidence in the Bible to be closed-minded, rigid, and even hateful.

But the Bible presents compelling answers to the deepest questions in life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? The Bible gives us God’s answers about our life in this age and in the age to come.

The Bible tells us that God has spoken a complete and coherent message. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible warns us that we must respond to God’s message. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever trusts in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Our generation is not the first to see God’s word questioned, criticized, doubted, and attacked. The unchanging truth revealed in God’s word has always encountered stiff resistance in this world full of sin. But the anchor for our souls will never fail, despite the wind and waves of skepticism raging all around us. If the foundation beneath our feet is the word of God then we can live with assurance.

Influential men and women come and go, but Jesus is still God’s Savior. Mighty nations and cultures rise and fall, but God’s Kingdom is still advancing. Impressive ideas and philosophies are celebrated then forgotten, but the word of God will never fade away.

This is our great task as Bible-believing followers of Jesus: To know the Bible and its Author; to live according to the unchanging Truth revealed in the pages of Genesis through Revelation; to celebrate the victory that comes from following the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.

We are a people of the Word.

May the God who has revealed himself to us in the Bible always be our wisdom and our power in everything,

Brother Richard

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Jacob’s Wrestling Match

Abraham’s grandson Jacob encountered God in a very unusual manner.  It was nighttime.  Jacob was alone.  Tomorrow he would see his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years.  Esau had wanted to kill Jacob when he left home two decades earlier.  Had Esau changed his mind?

Then it happened.  In a rugged area not far from the Jordan River, some miles north of the Dead Sea, Jacob was attacked.  Suddenly a man began wrestling with him.  And they wrestled all night.

Neither one could seem to gain the upper hand in this nocturnal wrestling match.  So as dawn approached, the man touched Jacob’s hip, which was immediately and permanently disjointed.  After a brief conversation, the mysterious man changed Jacob’s name to Israel and then he was gone.

With whom did Jacob wrestle that night?  Was it Esau?  Was it an angel?  As the sun rose and Jacob went limping away, he realized that he had encountered God face-to-face.  And he lived to tell about it.

This was not Jacob’s first encounter with God.  Twenty years earlier when he left home, God appeared to Jacob in a dream.  In the dream, Jacob saw God high and lifted up, standing over a ladder which reached from heaven to earth.  But now God comes to Jacob as a man, wrestling.  Why?

Jacob could stand in awe when God stayed in heaven overseeing that ladder with angels ascending and descending on it.  He could be amazed and astonished at God, but Jacob could not relate closely to such transcendence.  God-in-flesh, however, was easier for Jacob to understand, to get his hands on, to draw close and relate.

Jacob’s encounter with God was a foreshadowing of Bethlehem.  More than a thousand years after Jacob’s wrestling match, God’s Son Jesus stepped down from the throne in heaven and took on the very nature of a man, God-in-flesh.  In Jesus Christ, God condescended.

But if the man who wrestled Jacob was God-in-flesh, then why could he not instantly overcome Jacob?  Why did he prolong the contest?  Because God did not step down from heaven and wrestle Jacob in order to destroy him.  God came to mold Jacob and to build him up.  God fought Jacob so Jacob could have the victory.

A similar question occurs when Jesus becomes God-in-flesh.  How could he die on the cross at Calvary?  Can God really die?  Yes, Jesus can die and he did, so that we can be saved from sin and have eternal life.  God became like us so that we can become like him.  This is the mystery of God among us.

Jacob had no way of knowing that his wrestling match that night in the dark east of the Jordan River anticipated the momentous day when the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).  Jacob’s encounter with God was a hint of Christmas future.

Jacob’s pre-Christmas encounter with God-in-flesh left him a changed man.  Not such a silent night, but it was surely a holy night.  He had a new name and a new walk.  Our encounter with the God-Man Jesus has also changed us forever.  We have a new identity and a new life.  Joy to the world!  The Lord is come.

Praise God that he is with us and for us,

Brother Richard Foster

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Chicken Sandwiches and Other Offenses

Even a chicken sandwich can be offensive in America.

A high school principal in California recently refused to let a local business provide chicken sandwiches to the football team, not because someone was offended, but because someone might be offended.

Nobody complained about the chicken sandwiches, but they were banned from being used to support school sports anyway. Why? The family that owns the chicken restaurant believes in God’s definition of family.

The family in question is the family of Truett Cathey and the restaurant he started is Chick-fil-A, famous for not opening on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and yet still achieving great financial success.

The owners of Chick-fil-A have no policy against people with alternate lifestyles. They do not refuse to serve them. They don’t make it a habit to say disparaging things about them.

But the fact that they believe in what the Bible teaches about marriage was enough for the school’s principal to refuse their money, money that would have benefitted the students involved with the football team. All this despite the fact that nobody was offended (except perhaps the principal).

Followers of Jesus across our land have become all too familiar with the wave of offensiveness that now seems to attach itself to Biblical Christianity. The cross is offensive. Nativity scenes are offensive. Prayer in Jesus’ name is offensive. “In God We Trust” printed on our money is offensive. And the list goes on and on.

Have we somehow made the Christian message offensive to the world?

When Jesus was teaching a crowd once, they got offended by his message. He taught them that he was the true bread that came down from heaven and that they did not have life in themselves unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood (see John 6:25-66).

Since the crowd was offended, Jesus explained his remarks, making it clear that he was not talking about cannibalism, but about spiritual life. Nevertheless, they walked away, offended. One wonders if they really understood him but refused to accept his message, using “offense” as an excuse more than a reason.

It’s true, some Christians may act offensive at times, but we have not made the Christian message offensive. People were offended when the Lord himself told them the truth. Things have not changed.

Jesus is our model. Despite the offense, he spoke the truth publicly. In the face of opposition, he carefully clarified his remarks to ensure that there was no misunderstanding, but he did so without watering down his message. And he was not discouraged when people walked away offended. He kept on speaking the truth in love.

It is vital that we follow our Lord’s example. We must speak the truth publicly. We must be clear about our message without compromising God’s word. And we must not be discouraged when people reject the gospel.

As Jesus said, “Go! Look, I am sending you all out like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). He recognizes that we will meet significant opposition, just like he did. But he also promises to send the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit with us so that we can achieve the victory, just like he did.

May God’s empowering Presence enable us to always speak the truth in love,

Brother Richard

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Mom’s Bible

The night before my mother passed away I found her Bible. It was a well-worn Bible, not from being mistreated, but from being read. The cover was soft and worn down from being held open for many hours. The pages had long ago lost the stiffness of being new and unused.

As I flipped through the pages of Mom’s Bible, the first piece of paper I came to was a recipe (for baked grits, which I don’t remember ever eating). It had her mother’s name written on it. That recipe was a reminder that Mom loved to cook for and spend time with her family. Her last night in this life was spent at home surrounded by the sounds of her family. That was a blessing.

The next item I came to in her Bible was a bookmark with Psalm 23 printed on it. Then there was another smaller bookmark with a verse reference and a drawing of a little boy smiling. That picture of the little boy reminded me that my mother loved to tell children about Jesus. She spent years working with kids, and others, teaching them about God’s love and truth.

The verse reference on the small bookmark was Psalm 69:30, “I will praise the name of God with song, And shall magnify Him with thanksgiving.” My mother could not hit a musical note with a shotgun. Singing was not her gift, at least not by the standards of this world. But when she worshiped, she sang all those bad notes with all her heart. I suspect that God loved Mom’s singing because it came from a heart of praise.

Mom’s Bible also had many Scriptures highlighted and some hand-written notes. The notes were shaky looking, reminding me that Mom lost the use of her right hand years ago but she taught herself how to write with her left hand. She refused to give up. She went right on making notes about Bible studies and writing in her journals for years, even though her handwriting didn’t look very pretty.

We brought Mom home from the hospital on Friday night. Hospice had already set up a bed in the house. On Saturday morning I got up, came downstairs with Mom’s Bible and sat by her bed. I read to her from the Book of Revelation, descriptions of heaven. I read the 23rd Psalm. I talked to her about some of the notes she had written on the page with the Lord’s Prayer. I prayed for her and told her that I loved her.

My family expected Mom to be with us for at least a few more days, if not a couple of weeks, but soon after I read to her from her Bible, Mom slipped away. She told us earlier that she was ready to see Jesus. I know she was hurting and wanted to rest from the struggle, but she was not talking about Jesus simply as a euphemism for the end of her pain. She was ready to stand in the presence of her Lord. Now she does.

Mom was ready to see Jesus and she helped a lot of other people get ready to see Jesus. Her service in this age is finished. We are still working. We still have the chance to help more people get ready to see Jesus.

May the Spirit of the Living God inspire and enable us to serve him well,

Brother Richard

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Impressing the Faith On Children

When it was time to go in and take the Promised Land, Moses reminded God’s people of how they should live in order to enjoy God’s blessing. He reminded them of the agreement God had made with them, the covenant. He was to be their God and they were to be his people. He would give them his truth and they would live according to that truth.

God’s blessing was designed to last for generations. As a result, each generation of God’s people was responsible to make sure that their children and grandchildren knew about God’s ways. Moses reminded the people that they were to impress God’s words on their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). Moses was not talking to professional teachers but to parents and grandparents. Faith begins at home.

God’s people still have the great responsibility and the wonderful joy of impressing God’s truth on our children. It is pleasing to God and profitable to our kids to make sure that they know God’s Word. When we tell our children about God’s ways, we stir the fires of faith in our own lives, too.

Impressing God’s commands on our children is an ongoing task that must be done in our homes every day and in our church every week. The Christian faith is not merely information, but a way of life. Children must see the faith in the lives of their parents in order to understand and embrace Christianity.

As our culture becomes more hostile toward Bible-believing Christianity, parents who strive to pass on the faith to their children will be harshly criticized. The organizations and institutions in our society will put pressure on Christian parents in order to pull them and their children away from the Bible and from the local church. Schedule conflicts will abound.

In this new environment of aggressive secularism, sadly, many parents will compromise. They will try to balance the recreational, academic, and athletic pursuits of this age with their commitments to Christ and his kingdom work. Their children are watching and they understand the inconsistency of claiming Christ as Lord but setting up idols in his place.

Other families will see the temptations of this godless world for what they really are. They will be ready to make personal sacrifices for the faith, knowing that Jesus calls his followers to deny self, take up a cross, and follow him. These parents will model Christ for their children. They will impress upon their children the Christian faith.

May God’s Spirit empower us to keep the faith alive in our own hearts and in the hearts of our children,

Brother Richard Foster

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A Word From the Heart

“But Christ, honor him as Lord in your hearts, always ready with a defense to everyone asking you for a word concerning the hope in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Peter wrote these words to Christians who were facing opposition and sometimes deadly hostility for their faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote in order to encourage his fellow believers in their struggle.

In this verse, Peter instructed his readers to do two things. First, he called on his fellow Christians to set apart Jesus as Lord in their hearts. Peter started with the heart, that is, the mind and the will. Why? Because Christians are Christians from the inside out. Until the heart changes, nothing else can. The essence of Christianity is to follow Jesus first, before anything or anyone else.

When Jesus is Lord of a person’s inner being, there will be a sense of hope in that individual which shines through. The hope of true faith cannot be hidden, even in difficult times. And nobody can deprive a true believer of the hope that he or she has in the risen Jesus Christ.

Peter knew that outsiders would notice the hope in Jesus’ followers. They noticed that Christians were blessed with a deep and abiding sense of optimism even in the darkest of times. Peter also knew that curiosity would drive some people to ask believers about their hope, opening up wonderful opportunities for sharing the faith.

So the second part of Peter’s instruction was to be ready with a defense. People may have thought that Christians were foolish for being so hopeful when they faced such opposition and persecution. But Jesus had faced the ultimate persecution, death, and he had experienced the ultimate victory, resurrection. How could his followers lose hope when their Lord had defeated death?

Peter wanted believers to be ready with a personal testimony, a testimony that was rooted in their own personal faith in Jesus Christ. He called it a defense. Believers were on trial in the Roman world and they were required to give a defense for their hope in Jesus.

Christians today are on trial in America. The faith is under fire. Only those who have Jesus set apart as Lord in their hearts will be able to give an effective defense for the hope that Jesus provides. And those who have Jesus set apart as Lord in their hearts will not be able to silence the Spirit of Christ within them. The hope and its defense are both signs of authentic saving faith.

The Bible’s instructions are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. The world is still in a state of rebellion against the Maker. God’s people are still chosen and empowered to speak the truth in love. A word from the heart is still compelling and powerful. Let’s make Jesus Lord in our hearts and get ready to fight the good fight of the faith.

May our hope in Christ Jesus inspire us to contend for the faith,

Brother Richard Foster

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