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World-Class Faith

Some people believe that faith is a very personal and private matter. In fact, they refuse to discuss it. If you try and speak with them about their faith, they get offended.

Other people see faith as a very public thing, even political. They are open and perhaps even aggressive at times. If anyone suggests that their faith is too pushy or partisan, they get offended.

Obviously there are different ideas about how to properly understand and practice faith. What does the Bible say?

Near the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he commends their faith because it is reported in the whole world. Political or not, their faith was very public and the apostle approved.

In Paul’s introduction to the Roman letter he reminded them that they were called to be saints. The word “saint” means holy. All Christians are called to live holy lives. God tells his people, “Be holy, because I am holy.”

This world is far from being holy. It is broken and sinful. Anyone who sets out to live a holy life will be pushing against the rushing tide of culture and society. It is impossible to live a life that is faithful to the gospel and remain invisible to the world.

After commending their public faith, Paul proceeded to write about his desire to visit the Roman believers. He wanted to share a spiritual gift with them so they would be strengthened in their faith. He also wanted to be encouraged by their faith.

Paul recognized that both he and the Roman believers would be stronger through Christian fellowship. He was humble enough to admit his need for their encouragement and caring enough to share his spiritual gift and encouragement with them.

A public faith will be opposed and can get battered severely in this unbelieving world. To maintain a strong public witness requires strengthening and nurturing from fellow believers, from participation in a local church. Biblical faith is practiced in fellowship, in church.

After stating his intention to visit the Romans, Paul testified that he was a debtor to all peoples, all nations. He was obligated to preach the gospel, to share the good news about God’s saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul was motivated by a strong sense of personal obligation, a sense of duty. His duty was expressed by proclaiming the gospel to all peoples, but ultimately the duty was an obligation to God himself. Paul felt obligated to God because God saved him despite his terrible disobedience.

What about love? Would it not be better if love inspired Paul instead of duty? Paul clearly loved God and he loved others. His passion and work are reminders that we should not think of love and duty as disconnected, as if they cannot work in harmony.

True love inspires great acts of duty. We feel a strong sense of obligation toward those whom we love, without any resentment. Jesus’ sacrifice awakens in believers an obligation born out of the deepest affection. Paul’s faith was intensely personal, between himself and God.

Our personal passion for God inspires us to seek out fellow believers and stay in fellowship with them, encouraging one another and living openly for God. As we do, the world notices. True faith is sparked by a personal passion for God, nurtured in fellowship with the local church, and noticed by the world.

May God’s love inspire us to live a world-class faith,

Brother Richard Foster

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What Is A Disciple?

Jesus has given us a great mission. We are to make disciples of all peoples. But what is a disciple? Jesus’ instructions help answer that question.

First, he says that we should baptize disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So disciples are baptized believers. To make disciples, we bring people to saving faith in Jesus and baptize them.

Next, Jesus says that we are to teach disciples to obey all that he has instructed us. Disciples are learners. But they are not just learning information. They are learning to obey. Disciples don’t just know Jesus’ teachings, they apply Jesus’ teachings to everyday life. To make disciples, we instruct them in living the Christian life.

So far, so good. But can we be more specific? In our personal evangelism classes, we use a working definition of “disciple” so that we know what we are trying to accomplish. Here it is: A disciple is a baptized believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who is attending Sunday school regularly. Now that definition is simple, but it gives us something objective to shoot for.

Once disciples are made, they begin to grow spiritually. How do we define a mature disciple? Our definition must be more comprehensive. First, a mature follower of Jesus will attend church regularly. For Grace Baptist, that is Sunday school, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening discipleship, Wednesday evening prayer (or working with children), and any other ministry activities that are necessary.

Second, a mature follower of Jesus finds a place of service in the church and serves faithfully. Many opportunities for service are available: Sunday school teachers, greeters, musicians, children’s workers, cooks, counters, property maintenance, drivers, and much more.

Next, a mature follower of Jesus gives tithes and offerings to the local church.

Also, a mature follower of Jesus reaches out to people outside the church, looking for open doors of ministry, looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus. Part of being a disciple is making disciples, that is, helping others come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Finally, a mature follower of Jesus is someone who faithfully attends to personal spiritual disciplines, like reading the Bible, prayer, worship, and fasting. These disciplines are spiritual sustenance to followers of Jesus. Without a steady diet of Christian spiritual disciplines, a follower of Jesus will be spiritually anemic.

So our goal is for every follower of Jesus to be faithfully attending, serving, giving, sharing and growing in Christ. All of this is done in the local church. We grow toward maturity in Christ together, in fellowship, a fellowship which provides the encouragement and accountability that each of us needs.

Making disciples is an ongoing mission. These goals are never finished in this life. No individual believer reaches perfection in this age. We always have room for growth. And, no local church should ever stop reaching new souls for Jesus. Those new believers must then be grown toward maturity. And God’s kingdom advances.

So, let’s be disciples and make disciples!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to do great things for his kingdom,

Brother Richard Foster

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The Theistic Fork in the Road

Everyone is on a journey of faith, even atheists.

We all start the faith journey by asking the fundamental question: Does God exist? How we answer this question influences our basic views about living in this world. Those who answer “No” and those who answer “Yes” have different conceptions of reality and different pathways in life. This does not mean that we cannot be kind and tolerant with one another. We can even work together on important issues. But there will be vital differences between the two groups.

Those who answer the fundamental faith question by believing that God does not exist are immediately faced with a second question: How do I live when life has no real meaning? Despite suggestions to the contrary, atheism leads to a philosophical position known as nihilism. Nihilism says that there is no real significance in life. Whatever one accomplishes will eventually be erased and forgotten. Our very universe will someday either tear itself apart from relentless expansion or crush itself in a Big Crunch. There is nobody in eternity to remember anything or anybody for good or ill – supposedly.

For those who follow nihilism to its logical conclusion the ultimate question is this: How should I commit suicide? Why? Because life in this world inevitably brings pain, sometimes intolerable pain. Since the atheist has embraced the (incorrect) notion that life is accidental and meaningless, then the most reasonable thing to do is avoid the pain and choose one’s method of death as soon as possible.

This is extreme, however, and so atheists rightly avoid such nonsense. Instead they often end up adopting some version of the position promoted by a dead philosopher named Nietzsche. This ‘enlightened’ humanistic thinker envisioned a sort of ‘superman’ who knows that life has no real meaning yet lives defiantly, pretending that life is meaningful. Is that honest? It sure doesn’t sound very ‘scientific.’

Penn Jillette, a magician, comedian, musician, (and perhaps several others –‘ian’s) is a well-known atheist. He is assertive about his atheism. He actively promotes his idea that God is myth. He works to convert us all to his way of thinking.

Surprisingly, Jillette recently decided that atheists should pray. He apparently recognizes some kind of personal therapeutic value in prayer and does not believe that atheists should be denied the benefits of prayer.

But how can you pray if there is nobody to address (unless you redefine prayer)? When people pretend to converse with someone, when there is no one, we usually take that as a sign that something is not quite right. . . .

So atheists believe life has no meaning but wish it did and they believe that God isn’t listening but wish he were (or someone?). All this time atheists have accused theists of pretense but it turns out that they are the ones who are pretending, pretending that life has purpose when they supposedly know that it doesn’t and pretending that ‘prayers’ to nobody have value.

Now for those of us who answer the first faith question with “Yes, God does exist,” we also face a second question: “Who is God? What is he like? What is he doing?” (Sounds like a lot of questions but they are related!)

As the atheist spends the rest of life trying to find meaning from meaninglessness, the theist spends life discovering the meaning and purpose that flows from the character and attributes of God. When we learn about God’s character we also learn about his mission and purpose. When we understand God’s mission and purpose we are challenged to join him.

Penn Jillette is right about this: prayer is beneficial. But the benefit of prayer is not some kind of personal therapy. The benefit of prayer is that it provides us with a personal connection to the invisible Living God who made us and who gives us purpose in this life and hope for the life to come.

The Bible is our primary document for answering questions about God. It is God’s word to us about who he is and what he is doing. The Bible helps us discover how we fit into God’s kingdom plan and experience meaning and purpose in life now.

God’s purpose for each of us cannot be taken away even in the midst of suffering and pain, issues that atheists regularly use to justify unbelief. But we need not despair even in the most painful of circumstances because God insures that our struggles are purposeful.

Theistic faith provides an answer for the question of why we instinctively believe that life should have meaning and purpose. God made us with an innate sense that our lives matter – because they do. We need not pretend that life matters, as atheists are forced to do. Believing faith enables us to live with confidence.

So each of us must choose to have faith in an accidental universe which can provide no meaning now and no hope for the future, or faith in a loving God who created us and promises us hope for eternity. I choose God.

Brother Richard Foster

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Christians And The American Dream: A Radical Choice

In his book, Radical, David Platt asks if the American dream is compatible with Christian discipleship. Can we be faithful to Jesus and pursue success by this world’s standards?

What is the American dream? Does it mean that we do whatever we must in order to get bigger houses and bank accounts, fancier cars and clothes, richer meals and vacations? If so, then how does Jesus and his agenda fit into such a life?

Jesus challenges his followers to make radical sacrifices, even to the point of risking one’s life in this age. He urges us to do whatever it takes in order to join him in his kingdom agenda.

The Lord’s agenda is clear and concise: “Go make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).”

To be a disciple of Jesus we must make disciples for Jesus.

According to Jesus, the first step in making disciples is to go. We reach out to others with the good news about Jesus. We don’t just sit and wait for them to come to us.

Jesus tells us to make disciples of “all the nations.” Our outreach for making disciples is not limited by distance, race, nationality, politics, gender, or any of the other lines drawn by people to define and divide. We should go across the street and around the world to make disciples.

Jesus says that making disciples includes two things: baptizing and teaching.

Our first goal in reaching out is to bring people to a point of faith in Christ so that they will receive Christian baptism. We tell others about Jesus so that they will be saved and then profess their saving faith publicly through believer’s baptism.

Once people become disciples, we also help them be disciples.

Making disciples includes teaching them to obey all that Jesus commands. This is a life-long journey, the same journey that we are experiencing as disciples of Jesus.

So, we want to see lost people saved and saved people stronger.

Making disciples takes time, and so does the American dream. In his book, David Platt questions whether it is possible to succeed at both pursuits. Jesus puts it this way, “Nobody is able to serve two masters, for he will hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24).”

Platt also points out the terrible loss that occurs when Jesus’ followers opt for the American dream and do not make disciples. Hundreds of millions of people around the world will be lost, suffering in hell forever.

So the cost of not making disciples is high, too high. On the other hand, the reward for making disciples is beyond measure. All the houses, money, clothes, food and vacations in this life will be forgotten, but those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever.

Treasure on earth can be destroyed and stolen. Treasure in heaven will never be destroyed or stolen. And as Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).”

May the Lord give us hearts that store up treasure in heaven,
Brother Richard

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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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Don’t Try To Hide The Jesus In You

Jesus says that we are the light of the world. We are to let our light shine before people so that they will see our good works and praise our Father in heaven. Nobody lights a lamp and hides it under a bowl, he says, but they put it on a lampstand and it gives light to everyone in the house (see Matthew 5:14-16).

What is his point? As followers of Jesus, we are not to hide our Christianity. Keeping our faith in Christ a secret is like putting a lamp under a bowl; it is useless. Instead, we are to do good works so that people will see them and praise God.

What does Jesus mean by “good works”? What should we be doing? Jesus gives us several examples in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Jesus tells us that we are to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” he says. People should see us do things that demonstrate mercy.

Jesus tells us that we are to be peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” he says. People should see us making efforts to bring peace into their lives.

Jesus tells us that we should be men and women of our word. “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’,” he says. People should see us as faithful in all that we say.

Jesus also tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecutes us. Most of the time people hate their enemies and hope for their demise. Jesus’ good deeds are different from the ways of this world. Following Jesus will bring attention to us.

The goal of our good works is this: that people will see our works and will praise our Father in heaven. We obey Jesus publicly so that people will be turned toward God.

Many humanitarian organizations exist to do good works for people, to be kind and compassionate and to help those in need. They usually enjoy a place of honor in society. If we also do good things but say nothing about God, then folks may honor us, thinking that we are good people.

If the world sees our good works and gives us credit, then we have failed. Our works are not supposed to persuade people that we are good. Our works are supposed to convince others that God is great.

Jesus expects us to teach others to obey all that he has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). In order to ensure that our lives bring glory and praise to God, we must open our mouths and tell people about Jesus and about his words.

So it is not enough to simply learn from Jesus. As true disciples of Jesus we must learn and do. And, more than that, we must also speak. We want our lives to lead people to God so they can know his abundant love.

Our job as believers in the Lord Jesus is to be the light of the world so that people will praise God. We learn, we do, and we speak for the glory of God.

May God’s Spirit make us shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father,

Brother Richard Foster

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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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What More Does God Want?

When he had lived 75 years, Abraham was called by God to leave behind all that was familiar to him: home, work, culture, and career. The Lord challenged him to move hundreds of miles and to live as a sojourner in a foreign country. Abraham followed God’s leadership.

God promised to make Abraham into a great nation, but he and his wife Sarah had no children. Years passed and the couple entered their senior years, but God insisted that they would have a son. Abraham believed God’s promise.

God commanded Abraham to be circumcised and to circumcise all the males in his household. This was a sign that he believed God’s promises and entrusted his future into God’s hands. Abraham accepted God’s mark of ownership.

Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years, until she was beyond child-bearing years and he was 100. Finally, God’s promise was fulfilled. They had a son and named him Isaac, which means laughter. Sarah laughed with joy. At last, things seemed to be coming together. Abraham celebrated God’s blessing.

Then God challenged Abraham again. The Lord tested him. He commanded Abraham to take his son, whom he loved, and to sacrifice him on a certain mountain. Isaac, who represented the future of God’s promises to Abraham, would be gone.

How many times did Abraham have to prove his faith to God? After all, he had left his home to live as a stranger in a strange land. He had believed God’s promises and adopted the sign of circumcision. And he had waited for a quarter of a century for his son to be born. What more did God want?

The Lord wanted Abraham’s faith to keep growing. No matter how many years he lived in this world, God kept urging Abraham to reach new heights in his walk with the Lord. God wanted him to have a vital and living faith, content but not complacent, confident but not presumptive.

As he had in the past, Abraham obeyed God. And on that mountain, God provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac. Abraham gave up his son for the Lord’s sake and as a result he got Isaac back, along with an even stronger and more mature faith. Abraham passed the test.

Only our Lord knows what he has in store for us in 2014. Surely we will enjoy many great times of joy and blessing as God continues to fulfill his promises to us. We may face a test along the way. If we do, we can be certain that the Lord will provide.

May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to soar to new heights and discover greater depth in the faith this year,

Brother Richard Foster

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The New Face of Bigotry in America

Fifty years ago a grand march on Washington, D.C. marked one of the high points in the struggle to secure civil rights for racial minority groups in America.  In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a massive crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  In his inspiring remarks he envisioned a time when all people would be judged by their character instead of their color.

In celebrating the anniversary of that optimistic moment, advocates for gay marriage recently continued their efforts to identify their cause with the moral high ground of racial equality.  Gay sex, so they say, is the same as dark skin.  To be denied the same legal and social benefits that marriage gives to heterosexual couples is the same thing as being forced to sit in the back of the bus, so the reasoning goes.

Linking arms with a movement that has already enjoyed huge success is a shrewd political tactic.  But their comparison between race and sexuality is severely undermined if people can actually choose their sexual orientation.  Everyone knows that race is not a choice.  So the strength of the comparison between race and sexuality is based squarely on the argument that sexuality is not a choice either.  Any evidence that sexuality is a choice poses grave danger to the politics of gay activism.

Another assertion made by gay apologists is that the cultural majority forces some people into accepting gender roles that are a mismatch for their true sexual orientation.  In other words, the power group bullies everyone into conforming to the commonly held notion of acceptable behavior.  Only gays and other gender-related minority groups are ever subjected to this kind of coercion in matters of sex, so it seems.  Social pressure is aimed at them and so they are victims who live in constant fear of openly asserting their orientation.  But is that true?

First, people who publicly announce their gay or lesbian orientation are consistently affirmed and celebrated in the pop-culture of today.  The news media falls all over itself to provide a venue for those who are said to be courageous enough to take such a valiant step and “come out.”  Elected officials and judicial types rush to be first in line to challenge the heterosexual status quo, claiming the coveted status of champion or defender of civil rights.

On the other hand, those who share their faith in Christ often risk ridicule and rejection.  Christians are being told that public expressions of religious faith are unconstitutional.  Any faith that embraces Judeo-Christian sexual values is shouted down and accused of being hate-filled.  So it seems that the gay is urged to come out and the Christian is urged to go in.  Anyone seeking popularity and support in our society is apt to find it quicker by proclaiming dedication to what was recently defined as aberrant sexual behavior than to announce their devotion to God’s Savior Jesus Christ.

Second, the gay movement is quickly becoming a rigid and intolerant political juggernaut.  Gay and lesbian people started with seemingly reasonable appeals to fairness.  A large number of kind-hearted and somewhat morally ambiguous Americans have responded to these appeals by making ill-advised changes to the laws which provide structure and boundaries for human sexuality in our culture.  But as their influence has grown, gay groups have become more insistent that anyone who dares question their assertions be silenced, shamed, and punished.  So a new political power has emerged and is vigorously asserting itself.

Power often corrupts those who wield it, and the greater the power the more dangerous the corruption.  Groups with power over large segments of the population, the legal system, or of the economic system are capable of doing great harm to many people.  Groups with great power often become addicted to power and take harsh action against anyone who might threaten their power.  This sad but common characteristic of humanity is so prevalent that organizations of all shapes and sizes have learned through hard experience to craft leadership structures with carefully devised divisions of power and sufficiently durable avenues of accountability.  But some groups avoid accountability.

Gay activism is a recent player in the game of power politics, but already it shows signs of intolerance and small-mindedness.  Should students in graduate schools be banished from counseling programs simply because they question the new dogma about human sexuality?  Where will the forum for critical thinking be if not in academia?  Should Christian photographers be punished for declining to celebrate unions which go against their core convictions, even when other photographers are available?  Where will people of faith be free to exercise their religious beliefs if not in their daily lives?  Should organizations that believe in the Bible’s definition of marriage be labeled as hate groups for expressing their beliefs in non-violent ways?  Where will the forum for public debate be?

Recently a law was enacted in New Jersey that forbids counselors to help young people who are confused about their sexuality and seeking to avoid a gay or lesbian lifestyle.  If people are born gay or lesbian, then some must also be born “straight” as well.  And if people are sometimes forced by society to act straight when they are actually gay or lesbian, then society, or powerful political groups within society, can just as surely put pressure on people to act gay or lesbian when they are really straight.

The gay movement has been a player in power politics for a relatively short period of time.  Nevertheless, a new group is already emerging that presents a problem for them.  The new group is former gays.  This group is a potential embarrassment to the gay agenda for at least two reasons.  First, they are living proof that at least some people may be able to choose and/or change their sexual orientation and that some people who have experienced the gay and lesbian lifestyle have rejected it.  Second, ex-gays represent a new suppressed group that calls into question the original promise of the gay agenda that they were seeking fairness and equality for everyone.  Does fairness and equality stop with them?

Now that gay activism has started to gain power, we see signs that they are apparently willing to deny people freedom in order to protect their newfound influence.  Maybe we are seeing the new face of bigotry in America.  Is it time to speak truth to power, the power of a bullying gay agenda?  Will ex-gays enjoy the attention of all the civil rights activists?  Will there be marches and speeches and songs for them?  Will journalists give them voice and judges give them protection?  Will Hollywood write sitcoms that present them in a positive light?

None of this should surprise authentic followers of Jesus Christ, but it does.  Why?  Some in the North American Evangelical Church have mistakenly confused popularity with success.  As gays and lesbians gain in popularity and Bible-believing Christians experience ridicule, believers either blame the world or doubt the faith.  There is no reason to blame the world because the world is simply acting as the Bible predicts it always will.  Scripture tells us that the whole world is under the influence of evil (1 John 5:19).  And Jesus warned his followers that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33).

False teachers were a serious threat to the Early Church.  Much of the New Testament was written to combat error and to provide a clear and authoritative statement of faith for followers of Jesus so that they will not remain infants in the faith, “tossed about by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14).  False teachers are troublesome for the community of faith today, too.  Some preachers and teachers are selling the notion that we simply need a winsome approach and the world will love us.  If our smile is white enough and our politics are right enough and our buildings are bright enough then the world will beat a path to our door.  Is that true?

If we start to question God’s Word when the world makes things uncomfortable, then we are in danger of compromising the truth.  We may find ourselves wanting to promote “traditional” marriage instead of “godly” marriage in the hopes that our message will be more palatable to the modern culture.  We may wonder if building relationships with people is smarter than sharing the plan of salvation so that we can avoid conflict and rejection.  We may conclude that hell is an embarrassment and start to peddle a god of unqualified love and acceptance because he is more marketable to today’s progressive mindset.  In short, we are tempted to compromise the one thing that assures us power in this age: God’s unchanging truth.

Jesus boldly and consistently proclaimed God’s word, without compromise.  When he was popular and followed by thousands and when he was threatened by hostile leaders, he still spoke the truth in love.  He calls his followers to do the same.  Jesus compared the word of God to a seed that grows and bears a harvest of eternal life.  Like Jesus, his followers are sent into the world to spread the seed liberally, on good soil and bad.  He promises that we will reap a harvest.  The Bible urges us to share the faith, in season and out of season, that is, when it is convenient and easy, and when it is not.  The world will always resist the gospel and oppose those who proclaim it, but Jesus assures us that we can take heart, because he has overcome the world, no matter who happens to be popular or powerful in the world at any given moment.  How did Jesus overcome this dark, confused, and dangerous world?

Ironically Jesus was illegally arrested, falsely accused, and shamefully executed for being a threat to the established political powers of his day.  But he refused to be made king when the opportunity presented itself (John 6:15), he never engaged in violence against the establishment (Luke 22:52-53), and when falsely accused and arrested, he submitted to the authorities, even though it meant sacrificing himself (John 19:10-11).  Jesus warned his followers against the dangers of political power in this world, urging them to seek greatness in God’s eyes by choosing to serve instead of rule (Matthew 20:25-28).

By keeping himself from the corrupting influence of power in this world, Jesus was freeing himself and his followers to see the true value in every person, despite their status in this age.  Jesus did not see people as members of identity groups that either supported or opposed his political agenda.  He reached out to the marginalized and oppressed, but also to those who were comfortable and influential.  He did not judge people by their position in this world and he did not entice them with the promise of sharing in the fleeting power structures of this age.  Jesus was not looking for political supporters, but for spiritual followers.  Jesus challenges all of us to get our identity not from political or social movements in this world, but from citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus sacrificed himself so that people of all kinds can be citizens of God’s Kingdom, members of God’s family, and living stones in the Temple of God’s Spirit.

–Richard Foster, Grace Baptist, August 2013

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