Tag Archives: theology

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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Podcast: Freedom of Religion and the Old Testament II

Freedom of Religion in the Old Testament II – Listen

Are our freedoms in the United States of America eroding? If so, in what areas are they eroding? Why? Brother Richard discusses this issue in-depth in this message, “Freedom of Religion in the Old Testament.”

This is the conclusion of a two-part series on freedom of religion and the Old Testament.

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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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The Christian Life In Three Words

Can you reduce the Christian life to three words?  Not entirely, but we can come close.  Jesus said that anyone who wants to follow him must take his cross (Matthew 10:38).  A cross was a horrible tool of execution used by the Roman Empire for the most heinous of criminals.  Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross, but not before he spoke those words.  Although following Jesus leads to martyrdom for many, taking one’s cross is a way of living in this age.

The Apostle Paul wrote that believers should offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1).  Followers of Jesus are willing to make costly personal sacrifices in order to advance the Kingdom of God.  Jesus gave himself in order to save God’s people from sin.  Jesus’ followers make sacrifices that demonstrate the love of Christ by benefiting people who are undeserving, the essence of grace.

Jesus said take your cross.  His statement is very personal.  Each follower of Jesus has a calling, a purpose that contributes to the big picture of God’s Kingdom.  The New Testament tells us that we were saved by God in order to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  The good deeds mentioned here are not just random acts of kindness.  Christians are called and equipped by God to do things that make a difference in eternity.

Finally, the word take is a reminder that Jesus is giving his listeners a choice.  Jesus told the so-called Rich Young Ruler to sell all that he had and become a disciple.  The man was overwhelmed and unwilling.  He walked away.  Jesus let him.  Jesus does not force anyone to make the sacrifice necessary to be a follower.  But for those who make the choice, Jesus promises great reward.  Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

May Jesus Christ always be our greatest passion,

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

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How Do We Make Disciples?

Our common love for the Lord Jesus unites us in our work, and our common desire to obey the Lord Jesus binds us together with a single goal: to glorify Almighty God.  Our Lord’s commands will keep us focused as we face many challenges and opportunities along the way.

Our Savior summarized his instruction for all of his followers in all places at all times in this age when he spoke to his disciples after his resurrection.  As they stood on a certain mountain in Galilee Jesus came to them and gave them, and us, a mandate for action.

Jesus prefaced his instruction with a statement about his right to command the people of God.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, he said.  When we obey the Lord Jesus, we are in step with the highest authority in all the cosmos.

So what has Jesus commanded his followers to do?  The short version is this: Go make disciples.  In other words, go make more followers of Jesus.  Before explaining how, Jesus addressed the question of whom; to whom should we go?  He simply said, everyone, make disciples of all nations, all peoples.  Jesus placed no limit on the type of person who can become his disciple.

How do we make disciples?  First, we baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Baptism means conversion.  We announce and explain the Good News about salvation through faith in Jesus.  Then we invite people to trust the Lord and become followers of Jesus.

Saving souls is the beginning of a new life that requires instruction.  So Jesus has commanded us to teach disciples after we make them.  And he has given us the curriculum; we are to teach all that he taught his disciples, which is recorded in the Bible.  Our textbook for discipleship is God’s Word.

We have a mandate from the Lord of heaven and earth.  Our shared labor of love is to help people find saving faith and then to help them grow in their faith.  As we obey our Lord’s command we, too, grow spiritually.  Jesus himself is our model.  Our goal is to become more and more like him.

Not only is Jesus our model in discipleship and our authority for making new disciples, he also has the power to enable us in our work.  He finished his instruction by promising his very Presence will always be with us no matter how long the job lasts.  “And look!” he said, “I am with you all the days, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

May we always bring glory to God through our obedient service to Jesus,

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

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The True People of Hope and Change

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 hard to undermine and redefine marriage in order to include same-sex couples.  Much is at stake in the struggle over how to define marriage.  Countless lives will be affected if our country distorts 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?  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 often argue that tradition has established heterosexual marriage as the best foundation for society.  But traditions are established by people and they can change.  Marriage is more than a tradition.  Marriage is instituted and designed by God.  In addition, marriage and family are not simply building blocks for human society.  The Bible presents much higher ideals for marriage.

In the Old Testament, God used husband and wife as a picture of his relationship with his chosen people Israel.  In the New Testament God’s design for marriage is given as a picture of Christ’s bond with his church, his Bride.  More than nurturing children, more than directing 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.

Some would argue that the fundamental spiritual Truth meant to be communicated through marriage is simply love and commitment.  Therefore, loving and committed same-sex couples, we are told, fulfill the Bible’s commands.  If that were true then loving and committed relationships of any kind would eventually be proposed.  But this argument ignores the fact that homosexuality is condemned every time it is mentioned in Scripture.  Should that matter?

The question of defining marriage ultimately brings us to an even more fundamental and critical issue.  What is the Bible?  Is it God’s perfect Word to humanity?  Or is it a collection of words by imperfect people who were searching for divine insight and inspiration?  Those of us 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.  But should human desires judge God’s Word or should God’s Word judge human desires?

For those of us who have decided to stand on the perfect Word of God, we must be committed to the whole counsel of God.  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.  Let us not merely fight against a radical gay agenda.  Let us fight for the radical holiness that God has called us to.  Let us do it not because it is traditional, or pragmatic, or comfortable, but because it honors our Lord.  He who called us is holy, so let us be holy in all that we do.

In addition, the whole 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 deserve to hear the Truth but they need to hear from someone who genuinely cares.  The many angry voices in the debate over defining marriage easily draw attention to themselves.  God’s people must be different.  Righteous indignation is a legitimate response, but loving confrontation and encouragement is a vital ingredient.  We are the true people of hope and change.

May the people of God rise up and contend for the faith with the love of Christ,

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

 

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Is Jesus a Liberal Or A Conservative?

Both liberal and conservative groups claim to represent the ideals of Jesus Christ.  But the two positions often adopt very different ideas about moral and ethical issues.  How can this be?  Is one side or the other simply mistaken?  Is one side or the other being dishonest?

The crowds were somewhat fickle about Jesus, sometimes following him in large numbers, other times abandoning him because his teaching did not tickle their fancy.  The rulers, however, quickly targeted Jesus as their enemy.  They had much to lose and so they could not afford to be lukewarm about this powerful preacher and miracle-worker.  They believed that he would undermine their authority and so they were looking for a way to destroy Jesus.

On one occasion these hostile rulers confronted Jesus with a quandary that they felt sure would at least embarrass the carpenter-turned-rabbi.  They presented him with a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.  In front of witnesses, they asked Jesus what he thought should be done with her.  Should she be stoned to death according to the Law of Moses?  Or should she be shown mercy and set free?

The religious leaders who concocted this heartless trap for Jesus thought that they had backed him into an ethical corner.  If he agreed with stoning the woman, then he would come across as harsh and unforgiving to the everyday people who were helping to fuel his ever-threatening popularity.  More importantly, he would be endorsing an action that was forbidden by the occupying Romans.  Rome denied the Jewish people the authority to carry out capital punishment.  Jesus could then be painted as a subversive in the eyes of the Romans; and the Empire had zero tolerance for any movement that challenged their absolute authority.

On the other hand, if Jesus did anything but support the woman’s execution, he would be challenging the authority of God’s holy Law given through his revered servant Moses.  If the rulers could prove that Jesus broke the Jewish Law then his preaching ministry would be severely damaged in the court of public opinion.  So what could Jesus do?  Was it possible for him to uphold God’s Law and yet show mercy to the woman?

Jesus responded with some of his best known and often repeated words, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Shocked into silence and shame, the hostile group dispersed.  Without witnesses the woman could not be condemned, according to the Law.  Jesus followed the letter of the Law and he spared the life of the woman.

Jesus then uttered words that should also be well known and often used.  He told the woman, “Go, and from now on sin no longer.”  With these words Jesus made it clear that the Law prohibiting adultery is good.  He did not justify her lifestyle.  He did not agree with her sexual immorality.  He encouraged her to make better choices.

Despite some liberal assertions, God’s grace does not proclaim a sinful activity to be upright.  God’s grace declares a sinful person to be forgiven, which requires a standard for upright behavior.  To the angst of some conservatives, God’s grace to sinners is immeasurable.  There is no three-strikes-and-you’re-out protocol in God’s Kingdom.  All who admit their mistakes and turn back to God find in him an apparently inexhaustible fountain of mercy.

No matter how utterly frustrating to liberal ideals, God’s standard for upright behavior never changes to accommodate popular culture.  No matter how endlessly aggravating to conservatives, God’s tolerance for repentant sinners never wavers.

So God’s standard for right human behavior is unchanging, but at the same time, his love for rebellious yet repentant people is unwavering.  These two characteristics of God seem irreconcilable to rigid right-left thinking.  Yet God’s holiness and God’s love met head-on at an old rugged cross just outside of Jerusalem.  The results are cosmic and eternal.

Unfairly condemned, the sinless Son of God voluntarily sacrificed his life.  In doing so, Jesus sealed both the honor of God’s righteousness and the salvation of his people.  Jesus is the guarantee that God’s standard for upright behavior is not broken, and yet God’s love for repentant sinners is not denied.

So, is Jesus a liberal or a conservative?  Yes, he is.  Jesus is the most liberal conservative to ever walk the face of the earth.  In Christ the simplistic human notions of liberal and conservative converge and become something far greater: God’s amazing grace.  How sweet the sound.

– Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR, September 2011

Printed September 16, 2011;  Camden News;  Camden, AR.
This article also won Award of Outstanding Merit at the Amy Foundation.

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