Tag archives: Bible

Is Diversity a Biblical Goal?

by Joseph Backholm

January 14, 2022

While racial tensions reached a fever pitch in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death, the issue is not new. Two thousand years ago, Paul addressed the issue of race in his letter to the Galatian church when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Appropriately, the church has taken a leading role in the effort to bring unity and racial reconciliation where it is needed. In some cases, this has led some church congregations and denominations to place a special emphasis on cultivating racial diversity in their midst.

For example, the Acts 29 church planting network, started by Mark Driscoll and now led by Matt Chandler, has a Diversity Initiative. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has a Kingdom Diversity Initiative. Hillsong Church says they are “committed to providing strategic direction to enable us as a global church to make progress in racial diversity and equity.” Various Christian colleges have published their “Christ-centered rationale for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

All this emphasis on diversity begs the question: should church congregations be making a concerted effort to be racially diverse?

There are many things Christians are commanded to do, including loving one another (Rom. 13, John 13), honoring one another (Rom. 12:10), accepting one another (Rom. 15:7), being at peace with each other (Mark 9:50), serving one another (Gal. 5:13), carrying each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), and forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32). There are no exceptions for people who don’t look like you, talk like you, or think like you.

But nowhere does Scripture command us to have racially diverse congregations.

Of course, this does not mean racial diversity is wrong. It can often be helpful. But it is not specifically a moral good because nowhere does God say that diversity is a virtue in and of itself.

It is beyond dispute that the Kingdom of God is racially diverse. Not only are the world’s 2.3 billion Christians spread all over the planet, but John’s vision of heaven in Revelation gives a glimpse of what the diversity of heaven looks like: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:8-9). Heaven is diverse.

This vision of different people praising the same God is beautiful and even aspirational, but it does not mean that racial diversity is inherently virtuous. We know this because if that same group of people pictured in John’s vision were chanting “Hail, Satan!” it would be no consolation that they are a diverse assembly. What we intuitively understand—but must say—is that racial diversity can be a sign of something good but is not something good in and of itself. Racial diversity could be a sign of discipleship, but is not a form of discipleship.

In one sense, this is simply practical. It would be silliness, for example, to tell a group of Christians in remote places like the jungle of the Congo or the mountains of India that they need more racial diversity. In some places, racial diversity isn’t realistic. But this point is not merely practical. If we emphasize the secondary over the primary, we end up with the wrong goals.

The primary goal for Christians is to love God and others. We rightly see racism as a violation of God’s commandment to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) and may see racial diversity as evidence that racism is not present. This is logical, but there is a risk. The emphasis on racial diversity as the antidote to racism may create a situation where we see racial diversity not as evidence of love but as a form of love. As a result, diversity has become an end unto itself.

The problem with confusing diversity for the sake of diversity with real, biblical love is that it puts the cart before the horse. In a world where diversity is a form of love, communities that are “diverse” are inherently better than those that are not. In a world where diversity is a form of love, we inevitably value people differently based on their ability or inability to contribute to our diversity. Christians can’t subscribe to this mindset. In addition, while efforts to be diverse are nearly always well-intentioned, the temptation to appear diverse can easily become self-centered. Only God knows when we’ve crossed the line from trying to love people well to trying to look good, but the line exists.

Consider an analogy from Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira were a couple in the early church who made a public display of generosity. However, they intentionally misrepresented their gift, and God put them to death for it (Acts 5:1-11). Generosity is a good goal; wanting to look generous in the eyes of our fellow man is not. In the same way, it can be good to be diverse but not if we are merely wanting to look diverse. If God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than the complexion of our skin—and He is—we should be, too.

What every Christian can do, in all times and all places, is love people the way Jesus does. In communities where people look different, the love of Jesus will transcend racial barriers and bring people together. In communities where people look the same, the love of Jesus will transcend other boundaries, including class, politics, age, or sex.

None of this means that concerns about racism are invalid or that the church should not be part of the solution. Our call to seek justice, provide hospitality, and care for the marginalized will create a community that some might call diverse. In addition, when people share pain and frustration about the brokenness of the world, we should be slow to speak and quick to hear. But racial diversity that honors Jesus will never be achieved by making it our primary objective. It will, however, inevitably develop as Christians follow the example of Jesus. Seeking Jesus will lead to racial diversity; seeking racial diversity will not lead to Jesus. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seem to apply here: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

No doubt, the emphasis on diversity is well-meaning, but it comes with real risks. If we pursue diversity with more passion than we pursue love, we are very likely going to miss both.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 5): Mary Endured the Crisis of Ostracization

by Joy Zavalick

December 24, 2021

This is the final part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

***

The fifth and final woman acknowledged in the genealogy recorded in Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ mother, Mary. Scripture tells us that Mary was a young woman from Nazareth who was highly favored in God’s sight (Luke 1:26-28). The angel Gabriel visited her to explain that she would serve the Lord in an unprecedented way; the power of the Holy Spirit would allow for Mary to conceive even though she was a virgin, and the child would be the Son of God.

Mary would have understood the social consequences of her conceiving prior to her impending marriage to Joseph. She would have faced possible ostracization from her community, since at this time in history, women could even be executed for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Nevertheless, Mary readily accepted the Lord’s charge for her, telling Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

What Mary’s community would have viewed as a “crisis” was all part of God’s plan. In reality, the crisis Mary faced was not her pregnancy but the pain of facing a world that would not celebrate the creation of this new life with joy. We learn from Scripture that Mary did receive support from at least a few people in her life. These included her fiancé, Joseph, and her cousin, Elizabeth.

After the angel of the Lord affirmed to Joseph in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, and that the child in her womb was the Son of God, Joseph responded in faith and accepted his charge as the adoptive father of Jesus. Joseph cared for Jesus as his own son throughout the entirety of his earthly life. In so doing, Joseph set a strong example of a man of God rising up to fill the role of an earthly father for a child who was not biologically his own. Prayerfully consider if God might be calling you—like Joseph—to adopt, foster, or mentor children who are not biologically your own.

The response of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth paints a beautiful image of how all Christians ought to respond to the news of a pregnancy, even if the surrounding circumstances are not easy. Elizabeth was also pregnant at the time of Mary’s visit, and Scripture tells us that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, who would later become known as John the Baptist, “leaped in her womb” as he recognized the nearness of the Messiah. Elizabeth and her own unborn child shared in Mary’s joy at the news of her pregnancy and treated it like the miracle that it was.

Just as Elizabeth shared in Mary’s joy, Christians ought to rejoice at the news of pregnancy, encouraging the mother and reminding her of the miracle of life in which she is participating. Each child is a unique individual handcrafted by the Lord and worthy of celebration. Although Mary had the unique honor of carrying the Savior in her womb, every mother has carried a human made in the image of God.

Every new life is a gift of God, but not all pregnancies are surrounded by joyful or peaceful circumstances. Some pregnancies are unexpected. Some pregnancies might be unwanted by one or both parents. Some pregnancies result from rape. Some pregnancies are accompanied by a prenatal diagnosis of a disease or disability. However, the faithfulness of the Lord ensures that a response of trust in His plan can contribute to redeeming a broken situation. Even amid dark circumstances, the light of miraculously creating a new image-bearer can shine through.

Though not in bodily presence, as he was with Mary, Christ is present with each of us as we face challenges. The world may see an insurmountable trial, but as Christians, we are called to believe that each “crisis” no matter how big or how small is all part of God’s plan.

Let us pray that this Christmas, no matter what circumstances we happen to be facing, we would recognize that God will use every moment of our life for good. May we join Mary in singing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49).

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 4): Bathsheba Endured the Crisis of Sexual Sin

by Joy Zavalick

December 23, 2021

This is the fourth part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.

***

The fourth woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Bathsheba, or “Uriah’s wife” as Matthew refers to her. If we take a closer look at Bathsheba’s story, it becomes clear that Matthew’s description of her as Uriah’s wife is intentional.

According to 2 Samuel 11, King David remained at home while his army was away at war. One night, while walking on the roof of his palace, he noticed Bathsheba bathing. Instead of respecting the woman’s privacy, a lustful David sent one of his servants to find out the woman’s identity. Despite learning that she was married to someone serving in his army, David continued to pursue Bathsheba.

David commanded his officials to bring Bathsheba to him, and he slept with her, causing her to conceive. Scripture does not tell us what Bathsheba’s role in this affair was; she could’ve been a co-conspirator in David’s act of sexual immorality or a victim of sexual assault. However, Scripture does show us that David misused his position of authority to initiate a crisis of sexual immorality.

When David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant, he attempted to hide his sin by tricking her husband into sleeping with her so that Uriah would believe the child was his. After this strategy failed, David resorted to placing Uriah at the front lines of battle so that he would be killed. Thus, David not only sinned against Bathsheba sexually but also by murdering her husband and leaving her a widow.

Bathsheba married David after Uriah’s death. She might have had little choice, given David’s position as king and her own desperation to survive after being widowed. Although David believed his sin to be in the past, the prophet Nathan reminded him of the Lord’s wrath against David’s acts of sexual immorality and murder. David was convicted and cried out to the Lord in repentance. His prayer for forgiveness, Psalm 51, is one of the most well-known penitent psalms in Scripture. Although he repented, David still had to live with the consequences of his sin. Tragically, the first child that Bathsheba had conceived with him died (2 Samuel 12:19).

Bathsheba eventually bore David a son named Solomon, who later succeeded his father as king and became known for his immense wisdom. However, the trauma and anguish that David caused Bathsheba may never have fully healed in her life. Even if the intercourse between David and Bathsheba was consensual (which is unknown based on the biblical evidence), it was nevertheless a sinful act that God mercifully commuted. The Messiah’s lineage passing through Solomon, David, and Bathsheba’s son, demonstrates God’s willingness to graciously use for good situations that man intended for evil (Genesis 50:20).

Tragically, there are many women who must live with the consequences of evil acts committed against them, such as sexual assault or abuse. Just as David attempted to escape the consequences when Bathsheba became pregnant, many men today try to conceal evil actions or simply escape the responsibility of fatherhood by abandoning women or coercing them to undergo abortions. It is important to note that although men must be held accountable for sexual abuse, children conceived through an act of sexual sin are never to blame for their fathers’ sins and must be treated with the same inherent dignity as every other child made in the image of God.

Chemical abortion pills have provided yet another way for men to avoid the responsibilities of fatherhood. But what makes this abortion method even more appealing to abusers is that it limits the woman’s contact with an in-person physician, making it harder for the abuse to come to light. Women who have suffered a coerced abortion ought to know that there are resources available to help them. Additionally, women who have taken the chemical abortion pill should know that this form of abortion is reversible if only the first pill has been ingested and action is taken quickly to reverse it.

Many women have been sexually manipulated or assaulted and may be struggling to recover from this pain. The church must rise up to protect and care for these women, ensuring that they have access to resources and ministries designed to help them heal.

The story of Bathsheba reminds us that Jesus Christ came to free mankind from captivity to sin and demonstrates the loving character of God in bringing beauty even from the depravity of human actions.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 3): Ruth Endured the Crisis of Being Widowed

by Joy Zavalick

December 22, 2021

This is the third part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar and Rahab.

***

The third woman identified in Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Jesus is Ruth, a Moabite woman who married into the nation of Israel. In addition to being an ancestor of Christ, Ruth has the distinction of being one of only two women with a book of the Bible named after her (Esther being the other).

The book of Ruth opens with an introduction to three widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. Naomi had relocated to Moab with her husband and two sons in order to avoid an ongoing famine in Israel. While they were living in Moab, Naomi’s sons married two local women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, all three husbands passed away, leaving Naomi alone in a foreign land and Orpah and Ruth childless.

When Naomi decided to return to her homeland of Israel, Orpah returned to her parents’ household, but Ruth refused to abandon Naomi, knowing that her mother-in-law had no one left to care for her. Ruth demonstrated her loyalty to Naomi by saying, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:6).

Ruth and Naomi returned to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Upon arriving, Ruth provided for them by gleaning in the fields of a man named Boaz, the son/descendent of Rahab and a relative of Naomi’s late husband. Boaz took notice of Ruth, impressed by her loving sacrifice to leave her home in order to stay by Naomi’s side. Boaz treated Ruth with kindness and ensured that she could work safely in his fields without being harmed by men who might prey on her.

Naomi informed Ruth that Boaz was one of their family’s kinsmen-redeemers. According to Hebrew law, Boaz was eligible to purchase their family property and marry Ruth, thus allowing her to carry on her late husband’s family line (Ruth 2:20). When Ruth approached Boaz and explained her family’s situation to him, he went through the proper cultural channels to redeem Naomi’s husband’s inheritance and marry Ruth (Ruth 3:9-13). Ruth’s first son with Boaz was named Obed. In God’s wonderful providence, Obed had a son named Jesse, whose youngest son, David, would one day become king of Israel.

The intricate story that God wove from the tragedy of Ruth’s widowhood shows His ability to bring beauty even from crisis situations. After the death of her first husband, Ruth likely was unsure of her future. When Ruth selflessly refused to abandon Naomi, she took a leap of faith and trusted that God would care for her—and He did, grafting the Moabite woman into Israel’s family tree.

It is worth noting that Ruth likely did not see the ultimate plan that God was working through her suffering during her lifetime. This is true for us as well. In this life, we will likely never fully understand why God allows us to experience a tragedy. Whether it is the experience of heartbreak, miscarriage, death of a spouse or loved one, or loneliness, it is important to know that the Lord is still present even when He seems silent and that hope for the future remains even when today’s circumstances are filled with pain. Just as Ruth mourned her loss and placed her faith in God, so should we today whenever tragedy strikes.

There are ministries and resources equipped to support widows as they raise a child while simultaneously coping with grief. The book of Ruth may also be read as a call to action for the men of the church to meet the needs of women facing crisis circumstances. Marriage aside, there are countless other ways for Christian men to emulate Boaz and serve the widows or single mothers in their community through acts of kindness.

Ruth’s example may provide inspiration to women and men who have experienced a tragic loss or who unexpectedly find themselves in the position of being a caretaker. Ruth displayed her noble character by acting based on her love for her family and trust in God, rather than allowing the pain of loss to overshadow her hope for the future. Her story reminds us to turn to the Lord in every sorrow and trust that He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 2): Rahab Endured the Crisis of Protecting Her Family

by Joy Zavalick

December 21, 2021

This is the second part of a five-part series. Read our previous entry on Tamar.

***

The second woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Rahab. When Scripture first introduces us to Rahab in Joshua 2, she is a Canaanite prostitute living in the city of Jericho at the time that the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Two spies sent by Joshua to scout out the fortified city of Jericho secretly lodged in Rahab’s house. When word reached Jericho’s king that Israelite spies were inside the city, he commanded Rahab to turn them over. However, she sent the king’s men to search elsewhere instead of betraying the spies’ true location.

Rahab had heard about the mighty deeds of Israel’s God and decided her fear of this God and love for her family were worth the risk. In the face of impending death for herself and her family, Rahab saved the lives of the Israelite spies by hiding them from the king and asked them to do the same for her and her family, acknowledging, “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

The spies assured Rahab that they would spare her when the Lord delivered the land into their hands, so long as she tied a red cord to her window and kept her family members inside during the impending attack. When the Israelites eventually surrounded Jericho in Joshua 6, God miraculously delivered the city into their hands. Prior to the battle, Joshua commanded his men to spare Rahab and her family because she had honored her word to protect the spies.

Rahab and her family were rescued and brought into the camp of the Israelites, where she married a member of the tribe of Judah named Salmon. According to Jewish tradition, Salmon may have been one of the two spies whose lives Rahab had saved. Rahab was either the mother or direct ancestor of Boaz, whose marriage to Ruth is named later in the genealogy of Christ. The Lord transformed Rahab from a prostitute and a woman who likely worshipped pagan gods to the wife of an Israelite and an ancestor of the Messiah, thus adopting a Gentile woman into His family.

Rahab’s brave actions embodied obedience to the charge God gave Joshua himself in Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Hundreds of years later, Rahab’s faith was even included in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. Many women today face circumstances that seem insurmountable and approach motherhood with trepidation. Rahab modeled a response to fearful circumstances that constitutes courage, trust, and devotion to God.

Rahab’s story can encourage women (and men) that their past does not have to define them. God did not have to include a prostitute in the family line of Christ. He did so to demonstrate that no life on earth is too broken, shameful, or deeply steeped in sin that He cannot redeem it and use it for His glory. Rahab’s family lineage went on to produce the Messiah, who spent His time on earth ministering to those lost in sin, as well as the needy and the downcast, in further affirmation of God’s love even for those that society rejects or those who start out their lives far away from God.

Rahab’s actions on behalf of her family also contradict the modern narrative of individualism. Just as Rahab risked much to protect her family, women and men facing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies ought to consider their duty as mothers and fathers to their unborn children rather than using abortion to bypass that responsibility.

Tragically, the pain of abortion is already part of many women’s stories. Rahab’s example shows that women who have something in their past that they are ashamed of ought not to distance themselves from the Lord but rather draw near to the throne of grace and accept the mercy that is theirs in Christ.

Resources such as Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard exist to bring healing to women who have suffered the pain of abortion and to help them to lead lives reconciled to God. For women who, like Rahab, have worked as prostitutes, resources such as Gems helps provide an exit from the commercial sex industry. Additionally, for trafficking victims who were involuntarily forced into the sex industry, organizations such as Justice Ministries assist with rescue and coping with trauma.

Rahab’s story shows that being strong and courageous can take many different forms—sometimes, it is simply choosing to trust the Lord and serve one’s family that can produce the greatest fruit.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 1): Tamar Endured the Crisis of Familial Abandonment

by Joy Zavalick

December 20, 2021

The genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, includes many of the most recognizable and celebrated men of the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the kings David and Solomon. Five women are also listed as being among Jesus Christ’s earthly ancestors: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and, of course, his mother Mary.

In the coming days, we will explore the lives of these women. Each one faced challenging circumstances and endured hardships, but ultimately God saw fit to include them in the family line of the Messiah. Moreover, given that Matthew’s genealogy is not comprehensive—and that the inclusion of women’s names in a genealogy was unique for Matthew’s time and culture—we can be sure that each of these five women were included in this list for a reason. The Lord evidently wants us to learn important truths about His grace by considering these women and their stories. The beauty of God’s plan is that the unique “crises” that each woman faced ultimately led to Christmas.

***

The first woman listed in the genealogy is Tamar, who was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Genesis 38 says that Tamar’s husband, Er, was put to death by the Lord for unspecified wickedness. According to custom, it was the responsibility of Er’s brother, Onan, through “levirate marriage,” to marry his brother’s widow in order to provide an heir and keep property in the family. Onan, however, refused to accept this responsibility (likely motivated by sinful desires to assume the position of family leadership and a double inheritance). Because of his failure to fulfill the duties of levirate marriage, he sinned against his deceased brother and Tamar. For his actions, he was also put to death (v. 10).

After the death of his second son, Judah was fearful of giving any more sons to a woman he thought might be cursed, so he sent Tamar away to live in her father’s household. Although Judah promised Tamar that he would give her his third son in marriage, he evidently had no intention of keeping his word. This abandonment of Tamar was a grave evil.

Years later, Tamar learned that her father-in-law was visiting her hometown. Determined to carry on the family lineage of her late husband, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute. Judah, not recognizing her as his daughter-in-law, solicited her and impregnated her. Three months later, Judah learned that Tamar had conceived a child and demanded she be put to death for prostitution. This hypocritical demand reveals not only the inconsistent manner in which men and women were treated in that day, but also puts in sharper relief the evil of Judah’s abandonment of a woman he was supposed to provide for and protect. Tamar immediately revealed that Judah was the father of her child. Judah responded that his daughter-in-law had been “more righteous than I” and rescinded his call for the death penalty.

The story of Tamar reveals God’s enduring faithfulness to Abraham in allowing the line of Judah to continue so that Jesus could be born from it. Tamar gave birth to twin boys—Perez and Zerah. From the line of Perez came King David, and later, Jesus Christ—the Son of God.

God saw fit to use Tamar, a widow who faced the crises of being abandoned by her family, feeling that she had no recourse but to act as a prostitute, and having her father-in-law threaten to have her killed, in the story of His Son’s birth.

Today, many women, like Tamar, are abandoned by their families. Many women feel their only option is to allow men to use them. Many women face abuse from those who should love and protect them. These women can find encouragement in God’s faithfulness to Tamar—a woman who was never deserted by God, even when her earthly circumstances were less than ideal.

Women who find themselves in situations like Tamar should know there are people ready to support them as they work to raise their children. Approximately 3,000 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) are available across the country, seeking to provide material support, emotional encouragement, and spiritual healing to pregnant mothers facing difficult life circumstances. These centers allow women to advocate for their children even when they lack support from those who are closest to them.

Although Tamar’s husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all failed to love and care for her, and although Tamar’s act of prostitution was immoral, God still provided for her and saw fit to include Tamar and her family in the earthly lineage of His Son. Tamar’s life proves that God’s mercy is endless, and His ability to bring good out of our missteps is boundless.

The Redeeming Gift of Adoption

by Molly Carman

December 1, 2021

The majority of individuals are blessed to be born and raised by their biological parents. However, many children across our nation are waiting for a family to welcome them home through the process of adoption. According to the Adoption Network, two percent of Americans have adopted children into their homes—roughly 140,000 children are adopted in the United States each year, with nearly 1.5 million children adopted in America today.

Saturday, November 20th was National Adoption Day when courts across America celebrated the finalization of adoption cases. For children seeking a forever home and adoptive parents, this day is eagerly awaited with joy. This year, National Adoption Day is an especially relevant reminder that adoption may very well become even more critical if the Supreme Court rules to overturn Roe v. Wade in the pivotal Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that is being argued there today. If Roe is overturned or scaled back by the Court and abortion is increasingly restricted in more states as a result, there will be thousands more unplanned babies that will be born that will be in great need of being adopted.

Family is such a blessing, and for those who have faced tragedy or unexpected circumstances, adoption is a redeeming gift and a way to find family again. Adoption is particularly significant for Christians as it is a picture of our relationship in the family of God. Just as children waiting for adoption are hoping for their forever home, Christians have been adopted as sons and daughters of God and await Christ’s return when we will be reunited and go to our eternal home of glory.

Scripture speaks frequently about God’s hearts for orphans. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Orphans and widows were the most vulnerable individuals in the ancient world, and for the most part this is still true today. God has had a heart for the vulnerable from the founding of Israel. When Moses received the law he commanded them, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Ex. 22:22). In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as God’s son whom He cared for, saved, and redeemed.

In explaining the gospel, New Testament authors often use language that refers to believers as orphans before they were saved and adopted as sons and co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). We are orphans because sin separates us from God our Father, and we are unable to be reconciled to Him in our own strength or actions. Without redemption from sin, we are condemned to eternal separation from God through death. However, Scripture reminds us, “that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) and it is through Christ’s death that we are no longer separated from our Heavenly Father but are reconciled and adopted into His eternal kingdom. John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12). This message is reiterated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he explains, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26). Christ also promised the disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:8), referring to His second coming when He will fully redeem us and bring us home.

Adoption is a biblical value and is a tangible representation of God’s desired relationship with humanity. While not everyone will be able to welcome children into their homes permanently or temporarily, Christians are called to love the least of these. Christians should be intentional to promote this beautiful representation of redemption and healing, remembering that “we love because He [Christ] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). 

National Adoption Day is an opportunity to celebrate children who have found loving and safe homes. The U.S.A. Coalition of National Partners, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Alliance for Children’s Action Network, and the Freddie Mac Foundation all came together to found National Adoption Day. It began in 2000 when these coalition partners asked seven cities to open their courts the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize and celebrate adoption. The event was a huge success, and by 2014 over 400 cities were participating. By 2018, nearly 70,000 children in foster care had their adoption finalized on this day.

Anyone can participate in National Adoption Day and help raise awareness for the thousands of children who are in foster care and waiting to find their forever home. Whether or not the Lord is calling your family to adopt, Christians everywhere should remember that Christ is preparing an eternal home for all those who are redeemed by His sacrifice.

From Eating to Dining: How Shared Meals Reveal What It Means to Be Human

by Dan Hart

November 24, 2021

In 2019, a disheartening survey was released on the eating habits of Americans. It found that only 48 percent of respondents eat at the dining room table, with 47 percent saying they eat on the couch or in their bedrooms instead. Tellingly, 72 percent of respondents also said that they grew up eating in the dining room. This is the latest illustration of a trend that has been happening for quite some time in America. Families and households are putting less of an emphasis on one of the most fundamental pillars of family and communal life—a shared meal.

Social science bears out the central importance that family dinner has on positive outcomes for children, including lower rates of drug abuse, teen pregnancy, depression, obesity, and eating disorders as well as higher grade-point average, self-esteem, and vocabulary. But the benefits of family meals—or any shared meal—go much deeper than what social science can prove. Dining together fills an innate need that all human beings crave: the desire for true communion and fellowship with our Creator and with one another.

The Centrality of the Meal in Scripture

Scripture tells us a great deal about just how fundamental meals are to human flourishing. Moreover, the Bible contains many examples of how the provision of food often served as a means for teaching important spiritual truths. For example, in the Old Testament, God fed the Israelites manna in the desert. Despite their disobedience (which resulted in the people having to wander in the desert for 40 years), He fed them, teaching them to depend and rely on Him for their daily sustenance (Exodus 16). Similarly, throughout the gospels, Jesus chooses a shared meal as the context not only for building relationships but for enacting His salvific plan.

His desire for forming intimate bonds over a shared meal is shown through His dinner with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi (Luke 5:29-32), eating at the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), dining at the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:25-42), and staying at the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Strikingly, Jesus also emphasizes communal dining with His disciples in His resurrected body. He sups with two disciples that He meets on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), with His disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 14:35-48), and again with His disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, sharing a miraculous catch of fish and bread over a charcoal fire (John 21:1-14).

Indeed, Christ’s plan of salvation is miraculously revealed multiple times in the context of a shared meal. It is at a wedding feast at Cana that Jesus performs His first miracle of turning water into wine, ushering in His public ministry (John 2:1-11). After feeding the souls of 5,000 men (besides women and children, which means the total number may have been as much as 15,000) by teaching them about the kingdom of God, He orchestrates a miraculous, spontaneous dinner for everybody when He multiplies a few loaves and fish to feed the entire throng, so much so that there are 12 wicker baskets left over after everyone has eaten their fill (Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-36). At the Last Supper, Christ reveals a fundamental aspect of His sacrificial mission through sharing bread and wine with His disciples (Luke 22:14-23).

It’s clear that Christ placed great emphasis on the importance of the meal as a conduit for revealing the depth of His love for His flock. But a natural question arises here—why did Christ do this? What is the true nature and potential of a shared meal?

From Eating to Dining”

Judging by the survey referenced earlier, for the most part, eating has become a pretty mundane and isolated exercise for many Americans. At the same time, the popularity of cooking shows and eating out prove that even the fragmented nature of everyday life in our culture has not fully tamped down the pleasures of a good meal. Even so, what our culture seems to lack is a true understanding of just how meaningful meals can and should be. As Leon Kass has reflected upon at length in his profound book The Hungry Soul, the ordinary nature of eating takes on a whole new meaning when we intentionally make an effort to move “from eating to dining”—from eating for the primary purpose of satisfying a grumbling stomach to instead dining with others through a shared experience of food and conversation.

Human instinct tells us that there is something unparalleled and intangibly communal about a dinner table filled with delicious food to share and enjoy together. This is illustrated by the fact that a shared meal is the only human activity that engages all five of our senses at once. We see the food spread out before us and the people we are sharing it with, we smell the aromas which heighten and anticipate our appetites and enhance our eating experience, we touch our forks and knives to eat and pass around the dinner rolls, we taste, relish, and consume our meal, and we listen to the merriment and clinking dinnerware and partake in conversation.

To be sure, a shared meal gives us arguably the richest opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation that has the potential to draw us closer to one another. Aristotle once wrote about how “the truest human intimacy takes place in good conversation.” And as John Cuddeback has observed, “[G]ood conversation … does more than give seasoning to life. It is the beating heart of a real communion of persons, of a happy life-together with those we love.”

Of course, meaningful conversation doesn’t always happen on its own. The best way to facilitate true fellowship is to pray for those who will dine with us and for uplifting conversation that leads to greater intimacy with each other and the Lord. When we fully invest ourselves in a meal shared with others, it has the power to nourish the mind, body, and soul all at once. Because God created us as embodied beings comprised of both bodies and souls, nourishing our physical hunger through eating naturally nourishes our minds and hearts. As we engage in rich conversation, we draw closer and grow in intimacy with each other. Our souls are in turn nourished by this communion we achieve with others during the meal. Since our minds, bodies, and souls are in union with each other, when one is nourished, they are all nourished. It is in this act of dining that we can harness the true communal potential of shared meals that our Creator intended them to be.

It is in this way that a meal shared with others can become a taste of the divine feast in heaven where we will be in total communion not only with all the redeemed but with the communion of love found in the Holy Trinity.

Practical Ways to Enhance a Shared Meal

At this point you might be thinking, “It’s all well and good that meals have such great potential to be so meaningful, but how can we expect to have this kind of experience consistently?” It’s true that we can’t expect every meal to be a profound experience, but there are a few simple, practical ways we can be more intentional about making a shared meal a truly communal and edifying experience for all.

1. Spend a little extra love and care preparing everyday meals.

Anyone who has prepared an elaborate meal for a dinner party, a family reunion, or Thanksgiving knows how much work it can be but also how rewarding it is to experience the appreciation guests express over a well-received meal. This experience can not only be immensely rewarding for the host, but also for the guests: who can’t help but feel well cared for after being served a delicious meal?

In the same way, parents or anyone else cooking for others can make dinnertime consistently special by preparing healthy, hearty meals that aren’t elaborate and time-consuming. The Family Dinner Project has some great tips on how to do this.

2. Start dinner earlier in the evening.

When possible, try to start dinner or appetizers as early in the evening as you can. When everyone has their hunger nourished earlier in the evening, it will set the tone for a better overall mood and will allow for a more extended time of fellowship after the meal.

Social science has also found strong benefits for earlier dinners for families. A recent study found that “‘parents who eat dinner before 6:15 p.m. … spend 11% more quality time with children, and spend 14% more overall time with children’ in the evening than those who eat later.”

3. Say a prayer of thanksgiving after the meal.

Most believers pray a blessing over meals before digging in, but less common is the traditional Christian practice of saying a prayer of thanksgiving afterward. Saying a post-meal blessing can help set a grateful tone before partaking in an extended time of fellowship after a meal and serves as an acknowledgment that what everyone just took part in was a sacred experience. While there is always the option of spontaneous prayer, here is a simple, common prayer of thanksgiving.

***

For Americans, Thanksgiving has the most potential to be the ultimate dining experience—it has remained the most popular holiday next to Christmas. This speaks to the power that is inherently present in a shared meal with loved ones—our human natures are drawn to celebratory feasts like a moth to flame.

This Thanksgiving, may we reach for ever greater heights of communion with our family and friends, and in so doing strive for greater communion with our Creator, the master of the eternal, heavenly banquet.

5 Bible Passages That Affirm the Personhood of the Unborn

by Rachael Tracy

November 17, 2021

From the uncertain fate of the Texas Heartbeat Act to the upcoming oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion continues to be a hot-button issue in America. As the country awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in these cases, Christians should take the time to consider what exactly the Bible teaches on the subject of human dignity and abortion. Here are several Scripture passages that affirm life beginning in the womb and the personhood of the unborn child.

1. Psalm 139:13-16

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

King David’s exposition of how God dealt with him while he was still in his mother’s womb is perhaps the most well-known and frequently cited passage of Scripture pertaining to the pro-life argument. David’s usage of the personal pronouns “my” and “I” demonstrates an unquestioning assumption of his unborn self’s personhood. Furthermore, David uses the word “wonderful” to describe the gestation process more than once. This word choice emphasizes the intentionality of the process of fetal development; God is present in the smallest parts of our lives, even before we are born.

2. Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would beg a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This passage affirms the personhood and value of the unborn in several ways. First, Elizabeth calls Mary a mother, despite Mary being in the very early stages of her pregnancy. Second, upon hearing Mary’s voice, the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, meaning John is a person capable of emotion. Third, John’s reaction also means he was capable of recognizing Mary’s voice and acknowledging the unborn Messiah even in utero. Fourth, this encounter represents a partial fulfilment of John’s life purpose: to herald the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah. Even before he was born, John had begun to fulfill his life’s calling. Finally, Elizabeth also affirms the deity of Jesus when she refers to Him as her Lord and again when she and John are filled with the Holy Spirit in the mere presence of prenatal Jesus. It makes the important point that Jesus’ incarnation did not begin at birth but conception.

3. Jeremiah 1:4-5

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

God’s call of the prophet Jeremiah is yet another example of the Bible acknowledging the personhood of the unborn. God consecrated Jeremiah and appointed him to be a prophet while he was still in his mother’s womb. Before Jeremiah was even born, God already had a plan for his life. Not only that, but God said He personally formed Jeremiah and knew him in utero.

4. Psalm 51:5-6

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you desire truth in the inward being, you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

In this psalm, David is asking God for forgiveness after committing adultery with Bathsheba. While David is laying his sin before God, he begins to trace his sin to its origin, concluding that he has always been a sinner, even from when he was in his mother’s womb. The personal pronouns used by David to describe his time in the womb also point to his agency and personhood. As an unborn baby, David was not an impersonal entity, but a person with the agency to be a sinner—and a person desired by God.

5. Judges 13:3-5

And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Here, an angel tells Manoah’s wife that she will conceive and give birth to Samson, who will be a Nazarite “from the womb,” meaning God had a plan for Samson prior to and from the moment of his conception. Nazarites were Israelites whose lives were consecrated to the service of God (Num. 6). Samson’s mother is even instructed to follow the same restrictions a Nazarite must follow while she is pregnant with Samson. The angel uses the personal pronouns “his” and “he” when talking about the boy’s Nazarite status, providing both personhood and agency to a preborn Samson. The plan for Samson’s life, the personal language used to refer to him, and his vocation while in utero all point to Samson being a person known and wanted by God before he was born.

Considering all these verses, it is clear that the Bible is undoubtedly pro-life (even more passages are discussed in the FRC publication “Biblical Principles for Pro-Life Engagement”). The Bible might lack an explicit statement that abortion is morally indefensible, but the principles displayed in these and many other verses point to a God who has intentionally created us all with a plan. He knows and loves each person before they are even born. As we approach the Dobbs oral arguments, Christians must be prepared to stand and defend unborn life and should work to end the scourge of abortion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Rachael Tracy is an intern at FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview.

**On Thursday, November 18th at 8 pm EDT, FRC is participating in a church-led initiative to pray for the upcoming Dobbs case. You can learn more about this free event and sign up at PrayforDobbs.com.

Thinking Biblically About Freedom

by Dan Hart

November 5, 2021

What is freedom?

It’s a question at the heart of the American experiment. Our national anthem dubs us “the land of the free.” Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that America “ought to be Free and Independent States.” Our Constitution’s stated purpose is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

In a certain sense, America has been seeking the meaning of freedom since the country’s founding. In asserting our independence from Britain, we declared that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It was an extraordinarily bold statement, but it also left the fundamental concepts of “liberty” and “happiness” open to interpretation. Perhaps that was Thomas Jefferson’s intention in writing those words, to set forth an ideal that America could eternally strive to define and reach for, and in doing so, create the freest and most prosperous country the world has ever known.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Great American Paradox

Jefferson followed up his declaration of man’s unalienable rights with these words: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Consent of the governed was not a completely new idea; the king of England ruled with the consent of Parliament, which represented the people. However, our Founders took this principle of consent even further by establishing a constitutional republic—foregoing a monarch and entrusting lawmaking to representatives elected by the people.

This leads us to the central paradox of the American experiment. By choosing to define civic freedom in this way, America took a great gamble—it bestowed governing power to a majority, trusting that that majority would decide against tyranny. Ever since then, an uneasy and terrifying possibility has lingered in the back of the American consciousness: If a majority of Americans are somehow convinced that freedom should be abolished, they could in theory “freely” choose tyranny.

A modern iteration of this paradox is currently playing itself out in our culture. On one hand, a sizeable portion of Americans believes that freedom is the ability to do whatever one wants whenever one wants, usually with a vaguely defined caveat that one’s free choices should not “harm” somebody else. But on the other hand, another large portion of Americans believes that freedom is innately tied to virtue and responsibility—in other words, an authentically “free” choice must be not only for one’s own good but also for the general welfare of society at large.

At first glance, there may not seem to be much difference between these two views. But there’s a crucial difference: The first view sees personal autonomy as the highest good, whereas the second view sees personal virtue as the highest good. Here again, we come up against a fundamental paradox and an open question. In a country where everyone is free to decide for themselves what the definition of freedom is, how long can that country maintain some semblance of unity before devolving into either fascism or an anarchy of moral relativism?

The True Source of Freedom

As Christians, we know that true freedom can only come when we freely choose to live in accordance with God’s law. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church concisely states this truth well:

By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” [Romans 6:17]

In America, we see a culture that is awash in the abuse of freedom. In the name of “freedom of choice,” the lives of unborn babies are extinguished in their mothers’ wombs, often due to pressure from fathers and family members. In the name of “freedom of expression,” pornography clogs the internet and sweeps up millions of Americans into the slavery of addiction. In the name of “freely choosing one’s identity,” children are indoctrinated, speech is restricted, and people are canceled. The list goes on and on.

One of the greatest tragedies of the Christian life is to witness others make wrong and poor choices about freedom that lead to enslavement to sin and, ultimately, spiritual death. But herein lies the golden opportunity for American believers. As faithful Christians, we have discovered the only true source for happiness, contentment, and true freedom: faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His laws. Thus, by “always be[ing] prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), we can help spread a true understanding of freedom to our family members, friends, coworkers, and anyone else in our circles of influence, always remembering to “do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).

A Moral and Religious People”

By God’s grace, America has remained a flawed but free country for 238 years, arguably the longest-standing democracy in the world. But, as former President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Indeed, we are seeing authoritarianism creep its way into American life as we speak.

This is why for Christian citizens, American freedom will always be bittersweet. We treasure our freedom to believe and live out our faith in our daily lives, but we also know that it could vanish if enough of our fellow citizens make terrible choices. Consequently, believers ought to not only share their faith with boldness and work to educate their friends and neighbors on the values of civic freedom, but we should also bear witness to what will truly set the human heart free: to do what one ought to in accordance with God’s law. As our second President John Adams wisely observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Despite the precarious nature of American freedom, there is a silver lining in it. The very fact that our country remains free only by the choice of its citizens is a stark reminder for Christians that our true home is not here. As brilliant as our Founding Fathers were in establishing our constitutional republic, it is impossible for fallen human beings to create a system of government that will deliver a utopian paradise (despite what some believe). The paradox of American freedom reminds believers that there is only one truly free place—the heavenly kingdom ruled by our Creator. And while we are called to be good citizens of both the City of God and City of Man (Phil. 3:20), we are nevertheless “sojourners and exiles” in this world (2 Peter 2:11).

To be a Christian citizen of America is to be a person of trust. We harness the opportunities that American freedom gives us by witnessing to the gospel and leave the rest up to God. What could be more freeing than that?

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