Tag Archives: religion

Can We Talk Religion?

Can we have an honest discussion about religion? No. Not if those who speak the truth are indiscriminately labeled as bigots.

To discuss religion in the U.S. is to discuss Christianity and Islam. To discuss Islam is to discuss the problem of radicalization. But honest discourse is shouted down by predictable accusations of “hate speech.”

But to point out that Islam has a problem with violence is not hatred for all Muslims. To deny that Islam has a problem with violence is to ignore the facts and to stick one’s head in the quicksand of political correctness.

It is time to stop showing graphs that compare radical Islamic murder in the U.S. with other murder, but begin the count on the day after 9/11! The agenda of such cherry-picking of the stats is plain for all to see: to rewrite history in order to exonerate Islam.

Why the strained effort to elevate Islam and to denigrate Christianity (i.e., defining Christianity by the acts of 1,000-year-dead crusaders)? It’s the new definition of Equality.

The New Equality is not simply advocating for fair treatment between the races, between men and women, between the rich and poor, or between different creeds and religions. The New Equality is systematically dismantling established ideas of what is morally right and wrong.

The New Equality claims to be acting out of heartfelt sympathy for the exploited and the underdog. But the real goal is to establish a new foundation for defining right and wrong.

The long-time foundation for right and wrong is God. Different cultures and religions have diverse views about God, but still he is the authority, the basis for beliefs, values, laws, governments and societies.

But God and religion are no longer valid in the world of the New Equality. Things are simple with this new perspective. Erase all differences. Remove all pride of accomplishment or confidence in righteousness and you eradicate all hatred and violence, right? Soon everyone will be well-fed and satisfied, right? Wrong.

In the New Equality, nobody can claim to be right. All religions must accept absolute sameness. If a certain group claims to be right or to know the truth, then they are accusing someone else of being wrong, and that might hurt someone’s feelings.

Feelings are now more important than truth. Or, put another way, feelings have become truth. Not so long ago we were told, “If it feels good, do it!” Now we are faced with another step back: “If it feels good, it must be right!”

All this moral confusion is a result of denying humanity’s ability to know the truth. In an increasingly secular culture, we are asked to believe that nobody can really know ultimate truth, and so it is impolitic to make such a claim.

And yet certain claims stubbornly refuse to exit the stage of history. The words of Jesus still ring out: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – nobody comes to the Father but by me.” “I am the Light of the world – whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Think of all the kingdoms, movements and philosophies that have come and gone in the past 2,000 years. But Jesus’ words continue to speak truth and hope to hearts around the world.

Just before he slipped away into the pages of history, Pilate asked a famous question, “What is truth?” When he uttered those words he was literally looking truth in the face, but he turned and walked away and washed his hands of Jesus.

The New Equality perpetuates the attitude of Pilate, insisting that truth is illusory. Deciding beforehand that we cannot find the truth really limits the discussion.

An honest dialogue admits to the possibility of real answers, of one position being right and another being wrong. Can we talk religion?

May God’s Spirit open your heart to his truth,

Richard Foster

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Is the Bible Just Another Myth?

A high school student in our church was required to read a book in her English class that claims the Bible is merely a myth. Apparently we can still teach religion in the public schools but only if the lessons attempt to discredit the Bible and destroy people’s Christian faith.

The book is a transcription of an interview with a man named Joe Campbell who asserted that all religions are myths and that all myths are essentially the same. Myths, of course, are fictional stories. So his book promotes the idea that the Bible is not an accurate historical record. According to him, those of us who take the Bible as a serious record about real people, places, and events are just being childish.

The writers of myths, the book says, are seeking to understand and express certain truths about the human experience. To do so, they create mythological accounts in which they personify natural forces. For instance, in the myths of ancient Israel’s neighbors, sea monsters often symbolized forces of cosmic evil.

In Babylonian mythology, Tiamat is the belligerent and monstrous ocean goddess. Another god, Marduk, defeats and kills her, then slits open her corpse lengthwise “like a shellfish.” From these two parts of her body, Marduk forms heaven and earth, and so forth.

But this is nothing like the Bible. Creation was not a battle between squabbling gods, or even between the one God and the forces of nature. God spoke into existence the sea, the land, the skies, and all the creatures dwelling in them and he supervises and maintains everything. Creation is not the carcass of some sea goddess, but the handiwork of the one and only God.

Comparisons between the Bible and mythology are only convincing if one uses very carefully selected portions of the Bible and certain myths. Surprisingly, Campbell’s book about mythology is honest enough to consistently point out the many differences between the Bible and mythology. But doesn’t that destroy his original premise that all myths are basically the same? He seems to be confused, or deceived.

Probably without realizing it, Campbell makes two important points that are true. First, ancient texts can be very relevant to modern people. Despite all the changes in science and technology, people remain essentially unchanged, still concerned about the same pressing issues and still seeking answers to the same fundamental questions.

The Bible is an ancient book that reveals God’s answers to the most important questions in our lives. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What went wrong? What is the solution? Where are we going? Since God is the Author of the Bible, not people, we can depend on the answers we discover in its pages.

Second, ancient and modern myths alike demonstrate people’s belief that there is something more than impersonal forces at work in the world around them. Instead of personifying the forces of nature they are searching for the intelligence they know is behind nature. When you pull back the curtain on eternity, people expect to find not principles, philosophies or forces. They expect to find a Person.

The search for a person behind nature should not surprise us. We are really searching for more than answers to questions. We are also searching for meaningful relationships. We want to love and to be loved. Why? Because we are hard-wired that way by our Maker, the personal God. He is love and he offers love, the greatest love of all through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

May the Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth continue revealing himself to us through his perfect Word,

Brother Richard Foster

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Our First Freedom

We exist on a very tiny island in the vast ocean of history. Surrounding us are hundreds of millions of people who face persecution for their personal religious convictions. Stretching back for millennia are the stories of untold billions of souls who lived in fear and persecution, denied the right of religious freedom.

For most of human history in most every culture or society, religious beliefs have been imposed by coercive measures. Those who dared to dissent endangered themselves and their families. Religious freedom was not even a consideration. Conformity was demanded. Any deviation from the accepted religious belief and practice was seen as a threat to order, a threat to society.

Then Jesus uttered revolutionary words, insisting that people should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. He surprised the powers of this world when he announced that his Kingdom is not from this world. Clearly he was introducing an innovative idea: the notion that two distinct kingdoms exist in the world, the church and the state.

Jesus also stunned his followers by defining his disciples not by nationality, or ethnicity, or ability, or geography, or politics, or wealth, or any other human status, but simply as those who are willing to accept the demands of discipleship. He invited social outcasts to be his followers and he allowed powerful and privileged people to reject his invitation and simply walk away.

So our Lord introduced two ground-breaking truths. First, church and state have distinct missions in this age. Second, people should be free to accept God’s truth without coercion and to reject God’s truth without persecution. Upon these two fundamental realities a new vision for religion in this age rests: individual God-given freedom of religion.

After centuries of political and religious oppression, the founding fathers of our country forged a new nation that incorporated and applied Jesus’ revolutionary ideas. In keeping with his revelation about two kingdoms, they adopted a Bill of Rights that prohibits government from establishing religion or from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

America has experienced a season of religious freedom that is stunning in its contrast to the rest of world history. What people in Europe bled and died for, we have come to take for granted. And now our complacence seems to be resulting in a steady erosion of this precious first freedom, our freedom of religion.

Jesus warned his followers that they would be hated in the world on account of their loyalty to him. John’s Apocalypse foresees a time when God’s people will be universally ostracized and persecuted. These things must happen before the Lord comes and establishes his kingdom, a kingdom no longer divided into civil and religious realms.

When our Lord chooses to turn the page of history and remove the invisible hand of protection that keeps us from suffering the mistreatment of government, so be it. But until then, let us not give up our precious, hard-won first freedom simply because so many people are uninformed, uninvolved, and uninspired.

May the Lord of our salvation continue to bless us with freedom and with the wisdom to use it for his glory,

Brother Richard

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Jesus Died To Unite Black and White

The Bible presents Jesus’ death on an old rugged cross as the crown jewel of God’s salvation and the climax of his revelation. As a precious diamond unveils numerous spectrums of beautiful light when turned slowly in the sun, Jesus’ sacrifice unveils multiple layers of truth about God’s salvation when we study the pages of the New Testament.

True, Jesus died so that any person can be forgiven of every sin and spend all eternity in the very Presence of Almighty God. His voluntary sacrifice is sufficient to save anyone who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead and confesses that Jesus is Lord.

But the Bible presents other important facets of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ sacrifice revealed God’s love, demonstrated God’s righteousness, established God’s law, liberated creation from death and decay, satisfied God’s anger, defeated Satan, and more.

The Bible also tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. “He is our peace, who made the two groups one, who destroyed the dividing wall of hostility by his body” on the cross (Ephesians 2:14).

The Temple in Jerusalem was surrounded by courts, divided from each other by walls. Only the Jewish priests were allowed to enter the innermost court immediately surrounding the Temple. Only Jewish men could enter the court outside that inner court. Jewish women could only come as far as the next court.

All non-Jewish men and women, Gentiles, were restricted to the large outer court that surrounded the Jewish areas. Signs on the dividing wall were posted, threatening Gentiles with death if they tried to enter the Jewish courts nearer the Temple.

Soon after Jesus died on a Roman cross just outside of Jerusalem, mighty Roman armies led by Titus surrounded the city in order to crush a revolt. When the fighting was finished the Temple and all of its walls and courts were completely destroyed.

But a dividing wall still existed in the hearts of many early followers of Jesus. Jewish Christians did not want to worship with Gentile believers. They insisted that the Gentiles must change and become like them before they would accept them into their fellowship.

The sometimes bitter division between Jewish and Gentile Christians is a subject that occurs often in the New Testament. But after much arguing, praying, and soul-searching, the Early Church realized that established cultural divisions in their world had no place in the Church.

In Christianity “there is not Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female,” for all Christians are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Jesus’ death destroyed the dividing wall of hostility that existed between different groups in the ancient world, even the acrimonious division between Jew and Gentile.

Jesus had already been preparing his followers for the day when cultural barriers would be removed in the Church. For instance, he took the time to speak with a Samaritan woman. Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean half-breeds and did everything they could to avoid contact with them.

When Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman, commonly called the Woman at the Well, his disciples were stunned into silence. They were accustomed to treating some people as hopelessly unclean. And not only was she a Samaritan, she was a woman, definitely a second-class member of humanity in the first century.

But the cross of Christ broke through the ancient barriers built and reinforced by the hostility of sinful men and women, including racial barriers. Racism is not only a sin against people, it is an insult to God, the Maker of all races, and a denial of the power of Christ’s cross, the Savior of all nations.

John’s vision of heaven, which we call the Book of Revelation, tells us that Christ spent his precious blood on Calvary in order to purchase a people for God “from every tribe, language, people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Jesus’ cross is not too weak to save us from our sin and reconcile us to God. Neither is the cross of Christ too weak to tear down the walls of hostility and reconcile us to one another, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, black and white.

It is true: many different groups exist within Christianity. Differences in doctrine, worship styles, schedules, and other matters make it easier for us to worship and serve our Lord in various local churches. Nevertheless, to use race as a dividing line between Christian and Christian is to deny the power of the cross.

Jesus died to provide victory over sin for his followers. Christians still struggle with sin, but Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees success, so the battle is worth fighting.

Jesus died to remove the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. The first-century church struggled with desegregating themselves, but Jesus’ death and resurrection guaranteed them success, so the battle was worth fighting.

Jesus died to remove all the dividing walls of hostility, including the one between white and black. Believers struggle with desegregated worship, but Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees success, so the battle is worth fighting.

Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, January 2013

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Teachings on Prayer

One sign of the Lord’s favor is answered prayer.  Jesus promised that if we remain in him and his words remain in us, that we can ask him for what we want and it will be done (John 15:7).  He also said that whatever we ask in his name, he will do (John 14:14).  These are startling promises from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m afraid that many people have a short relationship with prayer.  Somewhere along the way they hear that you can ask God for things and he will answer.  They try asking in prayer for a few things that they truly want.  They do not get what they want.  As a result, they determine that prayer doesn’t work and that is the end of their serious efforts at prayer.

A person that has had an experience like this with prayer may say that prayer doesn’t work, but they are wrong.  The truth is that their prayer doesn’t work. Jesus’ prayer works.  His disciples were so amazed by Jesus’ prayer that they asked him to teach them to pray.  We can learn a lot about effective prayer from Jesus.

Jesus did not offer a principle or a formula to make prayer work.  Prayer is asking God for something and God is a person with certain characteristics and traits.  Children learn over time what kinds of answers to expect from their dad when they ask him for something.  They know because they have lived with him and they have learned to understand his character.  After asking him for things many times, they learn to predict pretty well what his answer will be to most of their requests.

In the same way that children should not expect their dad to give them things that go against his nature, followers of Jesus should not expect God to give things that go against his nature.  The Bible teaches us that sometimes we ask with incorrect motives and so God simply says “No” to our request.

Some people are disappointed to find out that God will only say “Yes” to things that he agrees with. Their idea about prayer was selfish all along and the notion of submitting to God’s will is out of the question for them.  Others are sincerely confused because they felt certain that God would agree with their request.  Perhaps they asked for a loved one to be healed or they needed a job in order to pay bills.  How could God say “No” to such good things?

Jesus said that we must pray in his name and that his words must remain in us.  Only then can our desires be expressed in prayer and answered by the Lord with his “Yes.”  This goes beyond simply knowing what God will do and limiting our requests to his character. Jesus is talking about having a heart that actually desires the things that God will do.  Only a change of heart will enable us to have the powerful prayer life that Jesus describes.

Jesus also said that answered prayer will bring glory to God.  In simple terms, to glorify God means to make him look good.  When our prayers are answered it makes God look good. He is glorified.  So prayer is not only something that benefits us, it also does something good for God.  If we really love the Lord and want to bring him glory, then this is another reason to learn how to pray.

The Bible tells us to pray continually! (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  Prayer can be woven into all parts of our lives, touching all that we do.  A single prayer can be very simple, but a life of prayer should be rich and complex.  One of the best ways to get better at prayer is to pray more.  Please pray.

May God’s Spirit give us a heart that desires his glory,

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

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Growing Up

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he addressed them as brothers because they were fellow believers, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He expressed real affection for them.  Nevertheless, he also conveyed some frustration and disappointment over their lack of spiritual growth.

Paul wrote, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet able.  But now you are still not able”(1 Corinthians 3:2).  Paul was comparing spiritual life with physical life.  He said that the believers in Corinth were infants in Christ.  In other words, they were not growing up spiritually as they should.

Peter encouraged followers of Jesus to crave pure spiritual milk, like newborn babies, so that they could grow up in their salvation (1 Peter 2:2).  Milk is good for babies.  Healthy adults require more than milk.  New believers are satisfied with the basics of faith.  But healthy Christians grow and require an expanded spiritual diet.

The writer of Hebrews also compared spiritual growth with physical growth, noting the necessary change in diet.  He was frustrated with the believers to whom he wrote because they should have been teaching others about God’s truth but they still needed someone to teach them the basics (Hebrews 5:12-14).  Baby Christians, he said, were those who still struggle to distinguish good from evil.

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and encouraged them to grow spiritually so that they would no longer be infants, tossed around by false teaching and deception (Ephesians 4:14). He explained that Christ is the measure of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13, 15).  The Christian life is a life of being transformed into the likeness of our Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The leaders of the Early Church expected followers of Jesus to grow in faith, building on the basics of salvation and moving ever closer to spiritual maturity, living like Jesus. Spiritual growth requires greater understanding of God’s Word and greater passion for God’s glory.  Growing spiritually requires health and vitality that comes from God’s indwelling Spirit.

Of course, to grow toward maturity in Christ one must first be in Christ.  In other words, to grow spiritually a person must first be saved. New birth is the first step in spiritual growth just as birth is primary in physical growth.  If a newborn fails to grow then everyone agrees that something is wrong.  The same is true of Christians.  When a follower of Christ fails to grow spiritually then something is wrong.

Our task as a church family is to help lost people get saved and to help saved people get strong.  We are in the business of growing spiritually mature Christians.  Paul told the believers in Corinth that there is a message of wisdom for the mature. We want to help as many people as we can to enjoy the message of wisdom that is for the mature.

What a joy it is for me to see brothers and sisters who are spiritually healthy, growing in Christ and being transformed from glory to glory into his image.  But like Paul, I also see those who are struggling to move beyond the basics.  Let us continue to labor together in the Lord’s power and wisdom until we all become mature, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV).

May the Lord bind us together and strengthen us in His great power and wisdom,

Brother Richard Foster

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