Tag Archives: Christian

Jesus’ Cure for Anxiety

So much to worry about! What if I lose my job?  What if my car breaks down?  What if the doctor tells me I need surgery?  Will Hillary or Trump be our next president?  How many more times will we have leftovers for supper this week . . . ?

Jesus knows we tend to worry about things.  In his Sermon on the Mount, he tells us why we worry and what we should do about it (see Matthew 6:25-34).

First, Jesus points out that birds don’t plant, harvest or gather into barns yet God makes sure that they eat. Aren’t we more valuable than the birds?

Jesus is not forbidding us from planning for tomorrow.  He is helping us to work and be wise without worrying.  After all, worry is fruitless.  Jesus asks, “Who can add one hour to their life by worrying?”  The answer: nobody!  So why worry?

Jesus then urges his followers to consider the beauty of the wildflowers. If God adorns the grass of the field with such splendor, and the grass is here today and gone tomorrow, will he not do much more for his people?

He addresses his followers as “little-faiths.”  In the old King James version it is rendered like this: “O ye of little faith.”  The root of worry, Jesus says, is lack of faith in God.

So, how do we exercise faith in God so that our worries are eliminated?  Jesus tells us to get our priorities straight.  “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness,” Jesus says, “and all these things will be added to you.”

As followers of Jesus, our first priority is God’s kingdom and his righteousness.  God is king of all creation but many people want to reject his rule.  We seek God’s kingdom by serving him as our king and encouraging others to do the same.

God’s righteousness is expressed through his commands in Scripture.  We seek his righteousness by obeying him fully and teaching others to obey him.

By “all these things” Jesus means the things in life that God knows we need.  We may not get all that we want, but Jesus promises that God will provide for us.

So Jesus connects the world of faith and spirituality to the daily world of food and clothes.  We are tempted to trust God for ‘religious’ things and trust ourselves for daily, material ‘practical’ things.

In other words, Christians sometimes live as though God rules the church and the Devil rules all else.  We follow God’s ways in church and play by the Devil’s rules in the world.

Jesus recognizes the struggle.  In fact, he goes on to say that we should not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Our Lord is not denying the fact that life is filled with challenges.  He freely admits that any day can be a tough day.  But God is King.  He rules over every day.  He rules over time.

God’s way, his righteousness, is the right way. All other ways are dead ends.  When we walk in God’s ways we have no need to worry.  When we serve the King we need not be anxious.

Let’s not allow the Enemy to replace our joy with anxiety. The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  True, but Jesus has come that we might have life more abundantly!

May God’s Holy Spirit inspire and empower us to support his church and share his victory,

Brother Richard

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What About the Syrian Refugees?

My knee-jerk reaction to the idea of bringing thousands of Syrian refugees into the U.S. was “Don’t do it!” Muslim immigration in Europe seems to have caused an alarming increase in terrorist attacks, shedding innocent blood and threatening personal freedoms.

How many of our soldiers have fought, bled and died in order to secure and protect the precious liberties we enjoy in America? Is it not an insult to their sacrifice if we throw away our freedom and security by foolishly welcoming potential terrorists into our communities?

After the attacks in Paris on November 13, which claimed the lives of 130 and injured many others, the debate about immigration quickly moved to front and center. Some insisted that we should bring in thousands of Syrian refugees who are fleeing the death and destruction spread by ISIS, a radical Muslim group murdering thousands and pillaging an entire region.

The Bible is being cited as support for the idea of helping refugees by bringing them to America. God instructed his people not merely to be compassionate toward aliens, but to love them (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Therefore, since our society claims a Christian heritage, we should follow the admonition of the Bible. (Never mind the fact that we have been lectured to stop thinking of our country as a Christian nation.)

I welcome the opportunity to apply God’s Word to our current lives, including the immigration question. But let’s listen to the full counsel of God’s Word.

The Bible shows us that the Lord Jesus himself reached out to the marginalized and oppressed. His compassion is famous. But he had more in mind than alleviating suffering. Jesus was concerned about saving souls in addition to healing bodies.

I wonder if those who are quoting the Bible to support immigration will agree that conversion to Christianity should be an important goal when offering assistance to refugees.

If the Bible has the authority to urge us on toward compassion for immigrants, then it also has the authority to demand that spiritual goals be included. One cannot duck and cover behind “separation of church and state” when the Bible’s commands are unwelcome, but then turn and appeal to Scripture when it happens to support one’s political agenda.

In addition, Jesus did not endanger the lives of his fellow citizens in order to help others. The Bible places responsibility for keeping law and order and providing security in the hands of the state (Romans 13:1-6).

If the state adopts policies that endanger the lives of her citizens, then she is not fulfilling her biblical duty. We have a right to insist that our leaders take strong precautions against bringing terrorists into our neighborhoods.

Christian love compels us to work hard and find ways to help the Syrian refugees, but not by risking our neighbors’ children and grandchildren. It is not too much to ask that we help refugees, nor is it too much to insist that it be done wisely.

May the God of all compassion give us love for our neighbor,

Brother Richard Foster

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Why So Much Confusion About Marriage?

Family has become a free-for-all. In the mad rush to affirm everybody’s right to do whatever they please with their private lives, our society is dismantling the institution that serves as the bedrock and basis for any culture. As family life weakens, other critical institutions in our society suffer. The legal system has to keep up with all the dead-beat dads and domestic violence. The welfare system has to keep up with all the abused and abandoned children. The education system is on life-support in many places because so many kids live such insecure lives that they cannot focus on classroom learning.

Not only is family becoming a do-it-yourself affair, it is becoming a do-it-for-self arrangement. Many people want to redefine family in order to suit their lifestyle, instead of adjusting their lifestyle in order to have a healthy family. If they don’t want to be faithful to their mate then they simply find someone else. If they don’t want to raise their own children then they simply abort or abandon them. If they don’t want to support the children they have left behind then they simply vanish or claim to have no resources. Any culture that lets the sinful and selfish human heart define acceptable family behavior is bound for serious turbulence. When children grow up around broken lives and broken relationships then they are at great risk for simply repeating the pattern of unhealthy family life. The resulting tangled nest of modern families seems to be expanding exponentially.

How did we get into such a twisted and confusing place? If we go back a little more than fifty years into the 1950s, we discover significantly different attitudes about family from what we see today. In retrospect, one indication that changes would soon take place was reflected by some striking research about human sexuality. Compiled by supposed experts, the book claimed that large percentages of the population were engaged in sexual misconduct, more than anyone realized (Kinsey, Pomery, and Martin, 1948). The findings of this pseudo-scientific study were shocking. The writers alleged that vast numbers of people were breaking society’s established sexual boundaries. The implication was that perhaps the boundaries should be moved, or removed.

A generation came of age in the 1960s that apparently took the ideas that were reflected in that report about human sexuality to heart. Many of them concluded that traditional ideas about family, marriage, and sex were hopelessly outdated and perhaps completely obsolete. They insisted on a new approach to sexuality: ‘free love.’ As time went on that shocking research about human sexual behavior in America was exposed to be fraudulent. It turned out that those reports were not very scientific (Reisman and Eichel, 1990). In other words, the so-called experts had lied (or at least been mistaken). But it was too late. ‘Free love’ had been loosed on an unsuspecting society. Or perhaps the facts did not matter to a large number of people who only wanted to justify irresponsible lifestyles.

Unfortunately, ‘free love’ resulted in too many unwanted babies. But experts claimed that an unborn baby was nothing more than a troublesome blob of tissue, a piece of opportunistic tissue that if allowed to grow, would become a major inconvenience, a bothersome liability. Women had the right, they said, to remove useless tissue from their bodies without any intervention based on the moral scruples of some self-righteous, backward, uneducated, religious zealots. In fact, aborting babies became the centerpiece issue for women’s health and a badge of honor for those who prided themselves in taking measures to save the Earth. Without abortion on demand, women would be denied healthcare and doomed to outer darkness and the Earth’s natural resources would be raped and depleted before the next Earth Day could be planned. This new attitude about unborn babies solved the ‘free love’ problem. Unwanted pregnancies were simply terminated—by the tens of millions.

But people discovered that they wanted children, despite the risk to the planet and the inconvenience to their personal lives. As a result, many continued to have babies, but they also continued to engage in irresponsible sex. Lack of sexual commitment, however, destroys families by ripping away an important foundation for a long-term relationship. This instability in family devotion puts children in a precarious situation. ‘Free love’ resulted in an explosion in the number of marriages that ended in divorce. Kids from broken families struggled with deep feelings of insecurity and abandonment. And parents were getting loaded down with dark feelings of personal guilt as they saw what their decisions did to their offspring.

The experts were standing by once again with yet another solution: simply redefine marriage and family—change the definition of what is right and acceptable. If family requires fidelity and lifelong commitment but sexual freedom demands infidelity and short-term relationships, then a new vision of family that allows for more personal freedom must be envisioned and promoted. Culture had to evolve and adapt to the needs (wants) of the people who make up society. What right does some faceless society have to make demands for sacrifice from individuals who have their own ideas about happiness? But what about the harm that would be done to the children living in unstable household environments? Experts could convince everyone that kids are flexible and actually happier when removed from a home where one or both parents are unfulfilled, and the problem is solved, supposedly.

With all this experimentation about how families can be deconstructed and redefined came an ever-increasing openness to other boundary-busting ideas about human sexuality, marriage and family. Gay and lesbian relationships, long understood to be outside the realm of healthy family arrangements, were suddenly provided with an opening to move toward the mainstream in popular culture. With so many people breaking down the boundaries of healthy human sexual relationships, who was left to say that same-sex couples should not take center-stage and redraw the lines even more? If personal sexual satisfaction is so important that we must kill the unborn so that they do not get in the way, then why not let same-sex couples murder a few moral standards?

So we have arrived in a place of utter confusion about marriage and family. Everyone has a right, we are being told, to define marriage as they see fit. Limiting marriage to one man and one woman is denying people their constitutional rights, supposedly. This argument is designed to paint supporters of biblical marriage as cold-blooded and hard-hearted. This is no surprise since proponents of ‘alternative’ forms of family and marriage sometimes claim that traditional families are oppressive to women and children. Raising children, some lament, is nothing more than a punishment. Alternative lifestyles liberate women, so the argument goes. How ironic it is that liberal sexual lifestyles have placed so many women in the tough and demanding position of being single parents!

Meanwhile, the children who have survived abortion since 1973 have been at higher risk to live in a broken home. More children are growing up with only one of their biological parents, or with parents whose commitment to the family is nebulous at best. An unsettling number are being raised by someone other than their parents, like a grandparent or other guardian. Despite all the assurances from experts that children are flexible and able to bounce back, kids often struggle with suffocating anxiety and bitter anger over their sense of abandonment because one or both of their parents apparently had more important things to do than to raise their son or daughter.

So the fight to define (or destroy) family rages on. Who would have imagined that ‘free love’ would result in so many murdered babies, angry youth and dysfunctional families? Where is the love? Where is the freedom? We have no time to stop and answer questions or reflect on the terrible cost of all these alternative moral visions for family life because the changes only seem to be accelerating. Same-sex families are the most recent experiment. Who knows what horrible social destruction may be caused by allowing “gay marriage” to take hold and multiply. When will our society learn that the so-called experts who promote all of these alternatives are leading us deeper into disaster?

The age of ‘free love’ has provided plenty of evidence that children generally do better when they are raised by their biological parents. Unfortunate and heartbreaking is the fact that we had to learn this the hard way, by watching millions of kids grow up without their parents and observing the disappointing results. It is clear that kids need mom and dad, even if the marriage is less than stellar. Despite this hard-won knowledge, we now stand poised to place kids in families where they will be denied mom or dad, or both. Children raised by two dads are denied a mother. Children raised by two moms are denied a father. Vague and emotional assertions about love and affection being the most important thing of all cannot make up for what is missing in a mom or a dad.

Sadly, “gay marriage” is not the last enemy of the family. Waiting in the shadows are those who wish to reduce or abolish the age of consent. Once again, children are at greatest risk, as they always are in these tragic social experiments. And the so-called experts will be ready with quick answers to soothe the consciences of those who step into their trap. Once again, the personal desires of adults will trump the legitimate needs of children.

The experts lied about sexual behavior, they lied about unborn babies, they lied about divorce, and they are lying about “gay marriage.” Any other alternative model will be just as deceitful. Why are these destructive distortions about family met with such eager acceptance by so many people? Because the spiritually rebellious heart wants God to be proven wrong at any cost. The fight for family is not a contest between tradition and progress or conservative and liberal. No, it is a conflict between truth and deception. The current fight to define marriage is only the latest manifestation of an ancient struggle between the holiness of the One Living God and the wickedness of the desperately sinful heart.

Destructive desires call us to satisfy self now, no matter what the cost might be to our marriage or our children. And the world at large echoes and amplifies those selfish desires, calling out, “Give up on God’s way. Serve yourself and be happy now. Forget tomorrow. You deserve it. You need some ‘me time’!” But the one who wanders through life guided only by their own immediate happiness or pleasure will end up with an empty heart and a barren soul. And the society that not only allows but promotes so many broken and sinful models of family is driving quickly toward ruin.

But there is good news. God himself, the Maker of humanity and the inventor of human sexuality, has indeed given us his plan for marriage and family. His plan is for one man and one woman to stay together for life, raise their children, and then enjoy their grandchildren. God’s plan goes against the selfish desires that tempt us to put immediate gratification above all else. And living according to God’s plan is an expression of love for the Lord who has given us our lives. Adopting God’s design for family is an act of faith that is rewarded by God with blessings which far surpass anything we can manufacture from lifestyles that ignore his commands.

Those who trust God’s plan will work hard to save and strengthen their marriages even at great personal effort, risk and sacrifice. Those who trust God’s plan will work to nurture and care for their children no matter what the losses to professional development, financial security, personal excitement, or any other secondary consideration. They will stand in the face of great challenges and terrible disappointments. They will reject the tempting voices of selfishness. They will sometimes sustain deep wounds but refuse to change course. Those who trust God and fight for their family will fill their hearts and households with great rewards. They will have the deep love that only a lifetime marriage can yield. They will see their children stand strong and confident in the face of trials and temptations. They will rejoice over their grandchildren with gladness because of the solid foundation that parents forged for their children’s futures.

Lifetime love grows a physical and spiritual union between husband and wife that soars far above the emotional junkyard of the broken relationships that are currently scattered throughout our land. In an age of increasing confusion about gender roles, gender identity, parenting, raising children, and all things pertaining to family, lifetime love leaves a heritage of faith for children and grandchildren so that they can build their own families with confidence and with victory. When strong families are the rule instead of the exception in a culture, then that culture is on a more sure footing in every conceivable way. After decades of failed experimentation with selfish models of family, our land needs a return to the family model that has God’s endorsement and enjoys God’s blessing. The benefits of protecting marriage are great, so the risk of letting marriage wander further into the spiritual wilderness is also great.

The current threats against marriage are daunting. Our nation’s legal definition of marriage continues to be a fierce battle ground. Bible-believing Christians want to preserve God’s design for marriage: one man and one woman freely and fully committed to one another for life. Radical gay activists are working diligently to undermine and redefine marriage in order to include same-sex couples in the mainstream of family life. Much is at stake in the struggle over how to define marriage. Countless lives will be affected if our country continues to distort and erase the boundaries for legal marriage, both in ways that can be predicted and in ways that cannot yet be imagined. Who could be harmed, and how?

As always, when society loosens the laws that establish healthy limits for marriage and family, children pay the highest price. Single-parent families have taught us the hard way that children generally do much better when they live with both mom and dad. Nevertheless, gay activists insist that two moms or two dads will be just as good. Why should we believe them? Why should we subordinate God’s word to their unfounded and untested opinions? As children grow into adults they desperately need godly models for healthy and responsible sexual behavior, not gender confusion.

Some who oppose same-sex marriage argue that tradition has established heterosexual marriage as the best foundation for society. But traditions are established by people and they can change. Traditions evolve, often to meet the seemingly expedient demands of different groups in a given society or culture. Marriage, however, is bigger than tradition. Marriage is too critical to be left up to the dictates of unpredictable currents in human tradition. Marriage is instituted and designed by God, fixed and unchanging. In addition, marriage and family are much more than building blocks for human society. The Bible presents higher ideals for marriage.

In the Old Testament God used husband and wife as a picture of the relationship between himself and his chosen people Israel. In the New Testament God’s design for marriage is presented as a picture of Christ’s bond with his church, his Bride. More than nurturing children, more than mentoring young people about their God-given sexuality, more than providing the building blocks of culture and society, marriage is about God’s love for his people. Essential spiritual truth is transmitted through God’s design for marriage, and that truth becomes a living reality in marriages where husbands and wives follow God’s design, not out of love for society or as a pragmatic solution to family ills, but out of love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Marriage is a spiritual relationship with far-reaching spiritual ramifications for all of us.

These ideas, some say, are ancient and culturally bound. Now that culture has moved on, we are told, the notions of yesteryear must recede into the background and give way for new and progressive ideas. But God has not recalled his design for marriage. It is not defective. It is not obsolete. It is not even a work in progress. Marriage between one man and one woman is a fixed design feature of humanity and it is still God’s plan for family today and all the tomorrows of this age. God is not required to answer to human society or to conform to popular human ideas. God is the author of what is right for culture and he is the source of all truth.

Some would argue that the fundamental spiritual truth that is meant to be communicated through marriage is simply love and commitment. Marriage and family are not about the outward forms, supposedly, but about genuine affection and devotion. Therefore, loving and committed same-sex couples, we are told, fulfill the Bible’s vision for family. If that were true then loving and committed relationships of any kind could eventually be proposed as fulfillment of this Scriptural principle. But such an argument ignores the fact that homosexuality is condemned every time it is mentioned in the Bible. A holy home cannot be constructed on an unholy union. Marriage is about more than tradition and it is about more than love and commitment. God’s design for marriage is cosmic in scope. It is a reflection of God’s plan for the ages.

The question of defining marriage ultimately brings us to an even more fundamental and critical issue. What is the true nature of the Bible? Is it God’s perfect Word to humanity? Or is it a collection of words by imperfect yet inspired people who were searching for divine insight when they put pen to paper? Those who support God’s design for marriage point to the Bible as the premier authority for defining marriage. As a result, gay activists have attacked the church’s understanding of God’s Word. Scriptures that clearly condemn same-sex relationships are said to be irrelevant to our age, archaic and outmoded. But should human desires judge God’s word or should God’s word judge human desires? God’s perfect truth provides the much-needed anchor for any culture when it is tugged by the tides of unholy human passions and blown by the winds of deceptive pop-culture philosophies.

For those of us who have decided to stand on the perfect word of God, we must not be surprised or disheartened when the world rejects God’s design for marriage. Only God’s presence in our lives can give any of us the ability to put his plan before our own agenda. Despite the world’s hostility toward God’s design, we must be committed to the full counsel of God. It is unfair to God’s word and intellectually dishonest to champion some portions of Scripture while remaining silent about others. The Bible not only condemns same-sex marriage, Scripture also condemns all sexual immorality. Any sexual misconduct undermines the spiritual truth that is to be reflected through godly marriage.

The fight is not merely against a radical gay agenda. The fight is for the radical holiness that God has called his people to pursue and promote. The goal should not be to make families more traditional, or pragmatic, or comfortable, but to make families honor the Lord. He who called us is holy, so let us be holy in all that we do, including our marriages. Followers of Jesus Christ cannot simply blame culture for all the confusion about marriage and embrace some vague hope that things will somehow get better. God’s people must know his word, live according to his word, and share his word.

The full counsel of God reminds us that we do not simply speak the truth. We speak the truth in love. Men and women struggling with sexual sin of all types deserve to hear the truth, but they need to hear from someone who genuinely cares. The many angry and bitter voices in the debate over defining marriage easily draw much attention to themselves, but they often drown out their own words by the bitter opposition they inspire. God’s people must be different. Righteous indignation is a legitimate expression, but loving confrontation and encouragement is a vital ingredient. Christians are called to be the true people of hope and change. Salt and light can be uncomfortable but should never be hateful. People may reject the truth, but it should be the content and not the presentation that they find distasteful.

What should Christians do in response to the downward spiral of family? First and foremost, we must live according to God’s word. Despite past mistakes, we must commit ourselves to God’s design for family: one man and one woman committed to each other for a lifetime, committed to raising our children together and enjoying our grandchildren. This includes everyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ. If one has had an affair, lived through a divorce, fallen prey to same-sex encounters, or any other failure, forgiveness and restoration is available through Christ. No matter how many failures litter our past, we can decide that this marriage will be a godly marriage; the rest of our life will honor the Lord. If we are presently single, we can determine to remain pure until we are able to enter a godly marriage, or serve God as a single adult, honoring the marriage bed by remaining celibate.

Second, Christians should pray for God’s Spirit to move in a mighty way in the hearts of people throughout the land. We can plead with our Lord to renew a spirit of love for truth in households and hearts everywhere. And third, as Christians we must open our mouths and speak the word of truth. We cannot be intimidated into silence. Too much is at stake in the fight for family. And we must speak the truth in love. As families falter, hungry hearts will multiply; countless souls will be thirsty, longing for a better way. This is an opportunity to explain and to promote God’s ways to a population that is increasingly ignorant about the unvarnished biblical truth.

In order to live according to God’s design for marriage, couples must have commitment, understanding, and ability. The ability can come only from the empowering Spirit of God. The commitment can come only from the married couples themselves. The understanding comes from learning the truth about God’s design for marriage as he has revealed it in his Word, the Holy Bible. To all who are followers of Jesus, let us devote ourselves to knowing, obeying, and promoting God’s design for marriage and family. The need is great but our God is more than sufficient.

Richard Foster
Camden, AR
September 2013

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What Is “Impact Lostness” (sic)?

People keep telling me to “impact lostness.”  But what does that mean?  The phrase is vague almost to the point of nonsense.  Are we being encouraged to have an impact that supports or opposes lostness?

And what is lostness?  My Office Suite software insists on placing a squiggly red line under the word lostness, warning me that something is amiss.  An online dictionary service told me “no dictionary results” and went on to ask me if I meant “lousiness.”

Surely the word is meant as a reference to the state of being lost.  But who or what is lost?  And what are we to do about it?  Presumably we are being called to create a state of foundness, but my software does not like that word either (“Do you mean ‘fondness’?” I was asked.).

The context in which this phrase occurs must be consulted in order to discover its meaning.  I hear the phrase used by Christians when they exhort fellow believers to action.  Given that environment, the word lost begins to make sense, maybe.

Lost is a word right out of the Bible.  Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10).  He said that the Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones be lost (Matthew 18:14).  In his so-called High Priestly prayer Jesus told the Father that none had been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled (John 17:12).

Jesus used the word “lost” in reference to people.  Jesus’ mission was about people.  He came to seek and save lost people.  So the opposite of being lost is being saved and the object of salvation is not a state of being but individuals.  Jesus came not to impact lostness, but to seek and to save lost people, living, breathing, hurting people.

Jesus used the picture of a shepherd and his sheep to illustrate his mission.  A shepherd looks for, finds, and brings home sheep who have wandered away from safety and sustenance into danger and darkness.  Jesus came looking for people who wandered away from God and got entangled by the dangers of sin and worldliness.  His mission was to bring them back to the safety of the flock, God’s people, where they receive the protection and encouragement they need in order to heal and to grow stronger.

Jesus entrusted his mission to his followers, the church, with the instruction that has come to be known as the Great Commission.  Go, he said, and make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that he commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).  His instruction, to make disciples and to teach them, is easy to understand: convert people to Christian faith and then help them grow in the faith.

Now perhaps people who use the phrase “impact lostness” are simply trying to express Jesus’ meaning with different words.  If so, then their word “impact” must somehow relate to Jesus’ word “make” and their word “lostness” must somehow relate to Jesus’ word “disciples.”  If the phrase “impact lostness” is meant to be synonymous with the instruction “make disciples,” then what is gained by changing Jesus’ terminology?  What is the goal of using different words?  Is it possible that something is lost in the switch?  Jesus was pretty good with words.  We had better have a good reason to change his terminology.

Perhaps the new phrase is meant to be more accessible to our increasingly secular environment.  “Disciple” is an old word and maybe people no longer understand what it means.  Or worse, it could be an old word with negative connotations and so it creates unnecessary barriers to carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission.  Is that the problem?

“Lostness” is a somewhat friendlier word.  “Lostness” can mean a lot of things.  It could mean a lost culture or society.  Pointing the finger at individuals and telling them that they are lost is intimidating, confrontational, and perhaps a bit judgmental.  To say that society is lost, or unjust, is softer and friendlier; no one gets their feelings hurt.

A similar effort has apparently influenced the language used by some Christians in the debate about how to define marriage.  The word “tradition” is popular with Christians who, no doubt, have a sincere desire to engage the culture in meaningful dialogue.  Unfortunately, traditions are usually established by common practice and the common practice for family is rapidly changing in our culture.  God’s people should support and promote Biblical marriage, God’s unchanging design for marriage, not traditional marriage.

Perhaps we should simply use Jesus’ words in order to stay as close as possible to Jesus’ intentions.  New words come with new meanings that may also usher in new goals, whether intentional or not.  True, different visions and missions can be very attractive and can make the church more acceptable to secular culture.  But variations to Jesus’ original mission will almost certainly distract from his mandate for his church.

One of Jesus’ followers rebuked a woman for her extravagance in worship because the incense she used to anoint the Lord could have been sold and the money used to great benefit for the poor (John 12:1-8).  Jesus’ concern for the poor was clear from both his words and his actions.  Nevertheless, on this occasion he subordinated that concern to his primary focus: to die for sinners.

Jesus’ commission ends with a promise: He will be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  To the degree that we stay faithful to Christ’s vision for ministry and mission, the church can count on the authority and power of Christ.  If we replace Jesus’ goal with our own vision then we operate without a mandate from the Lord and without the power of God’s Spirit.

The clear implication of Jesus’ promise at the end of his Great Commission is that he will empower his followers for the task of making disciples.  He gave no promise about power for other tasks, no matter how good other tasks may be.  Good works abound, but the best work for followers of Jesus is to make disciples.  The Lord gave no promise about popularity in carrying out the task which he outlined.  In fact, Jesus warned that his representatives would meet with firm opposition from the world (John 15:19).

Does this mean that the Lord’s people should not labor to find effective ways to communicate with the world?  Absolutely not.  Jesus was the master at words, both in his instructions to the people of God and in his outreach to lost people.  Compare his approaches to various individuals in John’s Gospel.

To the powerful religious Jewish leader, Nicodemus, Jesus talked about being born again (John 3:1-16).  To the outcast promiscuous woman at the well, Jesus talked about living water (John 4:1-26).  To the fickle crowd that followed him across the lake, he talked about the bread of life (John 6:25-66).  But Jesus’ creativity in communicating one Truth was not used in order to be popular.  His bread of life discourse resulted in negative growth!

Jesus used variety and creativity in his presentation of spiritual truth in order to confront people with the Truth.  He did not employ his great skill as a communicator for popularizing his message.  On the contrary, he seemed at times to use his talent in order to make it more difficult for some of his listeners (Mark 4:11-12).  The guiding light for Jesus was not popularity or acceptance, it was adherence to his God-given mission: to seek and to save lost people (Mark 10:45).

Perhaps it is clear to many people that “impact lostness” is just another way of expressing Jesus’ Great Commission.  Maybe not.  The phrase tends to depersonalize the work of God’s people.  “Lostness” has no personal name.  Moreover, “impact” requires a lot of clarification.  All in all, the phrase seems to leave open the possibility of redefining the church’s mission as social activism.

Without trivializing Jesus’ obvious concern for the marginalized in this world, his followers must not tweak his obvious mission: Make disciples.

May the Lord enable us to fulfill our calling,

Richard Foster, November 2012

 

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The Depth Of The Word Of The Lord

“I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers,” wrote the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:1).  The original readers of these words were first-century followers of Jesus in Corinth.  Paul proceeded to compare the lives of his readers with the lives of God’s people more than 1,000 years earlier.  Paul knew that God’s people today gain important spiritual understanding from the Bible’s record of past generations of believers.

The premier event of God’s deliverance in the Old Testament was the Exodus.  Israel was saved from cruel bondage in Egypt.  In the New Testament the defining act of God’s salvation is Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  Whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  But too many of God’s people living in the current age have too little understanding of God’s work before the birth of Jesus.

The historical events that make up the Old Testament Exodus provide a rich and instructive picture of the Christian walk in this age.  Israel’s time as slaves to Pharaoh is a picture of the Christian’s former life as a slave to sin.  Israel crossing the Red Sea to freedom under God’s miraculous power is an illustration of the Christian discovering freedom under the power of Christ’s cross.

In the same way that Israel wandered in the wilderness, the Christian struggles to live a godly life in an ungodly age.  Israel struggled to obey God’s leadership, constantly tempted to return to bondage in Egypt.  Followers of Jesus are often tempted to give up and return to a life of sin.  The children of Israel could not return to Egypt because God would not allow it.  Their only choice was to be obedient to God and experience his blessings, or disobey and be miserable.

After years of trials and tribulations Israel finally crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey.  Every follower of Jesus, after walking through a life of groaning in this age, will finally lay down the earthly tent and enter an eternal house in heaven, not made by human hands.

The journey through wilderness places was not all heartache for the children of Israel.  They were led by the visible Presence of God, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.  They saw the glory of God fill the Tabernacle.  They also heard the very words of Almighty God from Moses, God’s chosen and empowered leader.

We, too, expect more than trouble in this age.  We are led by the indwelling Spirit of God, touched by the power of God’s Spirit when we gather for worship as the people of God.  We are living stones growing into a holy temple for the Lord.  And we have the Word of God, living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.

Our heritage as God’s people is deep, rich, and inspiring.  The full counsel of God, Old Testament and New, instructs us in living the victorious Christian life now, as we eagerly await the wedding supper of the Lamb in eternity.  No wonder the Psalmist wrote that God’s Word is sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103).  Do not miss a single word!

May the eternal and powerful Word of Christ dwell richly within your heart always,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

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