“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV).
“Do your kids know how to defend their faith?” “Ready to equip parents for cultural challenges?”
Those are the subject lines of two emails I recently received. The first is from Focus on the Family, and the second is from Alliance Defending Freedom Church Alliance. As you can probably guess, the topics of both emails are similar. They both offer resources that help equip families, pastors, and churches to better withstand the barrage of assaults on the Biblical Christian worldview from increasingly antagonistic nonbiblical humanist worldviews prevalent in our culture. I have noticed that God has been directing a variety of resources on this general topic to me for a few months. This has been a consistent manner throughout my personal and pastoral spiritual growth and maturity in which God directs me to specific areas of focus, so I am once again paying attention as best I can. The resulting question always becomes, “How can I best use these resources in both my personal life and in pastoral leadership?”
The first way is to recognize that this is a legitimate Biblical issue requiring our attention. The first and primary responsibility of anyone receiving the Gospel message is to personally believe that Jesus bore the cost of our sins on the cross, to confess our sins to God, and to accept His merciful forgiveness. This is salvation. Our next responsibility is to begin growing in spiritual maturity so that we become more and more the person Jesus wants us to be – to become Christ-like. Closely associated with this is our responsibility to serve Christ. Frequently, but not exclusively, this is lived out by serving others who are in need. As James put it, “look after orphans and widows in their distress.” There is an obvious literal application to this instruction, but there are figurative applications as well. Those in distress go beyond just orphans and widows: victims of natural disasters, crimes, accidents, illness, and wars; those suffering from mental disorders and birth defects; those in distress due to financial setbacks; homelessness; and a myriad of other situations. The list can appear endless sometimes, and there are multiple ministries that have been created to respond to these needs.
Actively joining in ministry “to look after orphans and widows in distress” is a meaningful way to serve Jesus. Nevertheless, serving without also growing in Biblical knowledge and wisdom leads us to the place where we find ourselves in this cultural en- vironment. Skeptics’ arguments about so-called Biblical error, faith-science conflict, and moral relativism are driving all too many away from the Christian faith. They are driving wedges into family relationships. They are creating government policies that make it more and more challenging for Christians to practice their faith in the public arena. The second part of James’s definition of pure and faultless religion is “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” We are able to do this only by developing and growing a Christian worldview. “Always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b, NASB). This is a challenge, but God does not leave us to face it alone.
“How can I best use these resources in both my personal life and in pastoral leadership?” The second way is to share the resources that the Lord sends me with those around me. Even though I know that I am not always prepared to give adequate responses to the challenges that skeptics raise using science, logic, and persuasive language, I know that there are others who are prepared. And Christians have access to more of those resources than ever before. The key is to familiarize ourselves with some of them. One of those resources God has recently directed me to is Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies by Hillary Morgan Ferrer (general editor). The word “defense” in 1 Peter 3:15 is translated from the Greek word apologia. It was used as a reference to a lawyer arguing for a case in court. “This is not arguing or being defensive in a negative sense. Instead, it refers to giving reasons to support a conclusion, and doing so in a way that, ideally, is persuasive in nature” (Hillary Short, “How to Be a Mama Bear,” Mama Bear Apologetics, p. 37). I have discovered from some to whom I have recommended this book that they already have it. But if you don’t and might wonder if it is a resource you can use, I have received permission from the publisher to copy and distribute an introductory chapter of the book. If you would like a pdf copy of the file, request it from me via email to pastor- email@example.com or to the church email. It is also available in paper format (it seems funny writing that) at the church. If you cannot make it to the church, call and request that a copy be mailed to you. By the way, this is also a valuable resource for Dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone seeking help in facing the attacks that our culture is making on those who seek to live out the Christian faith.
Another book that has had a big impact on me is The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl. That sounds like a lot, but the beauty of it is that Greg is able to express all of this in a way that is easily readable. In fact, the book is only 198 pages – and that includes the end notes. This book’s impact on my thinking about the meaning of the Christian faith has been so significant that I tell others that if they read only one other book this year besides the Bible – and no matter how many resources we have that help us in our Christian journey, we always start with and stay in God’s Word – that The Story of Reality is that book they should read.
I hope that you find these resources helpful. There are many more available, of course. The important point to remember is to stay connected with God through His Word, through the fellowship in the local church, and through the many brothers and sisters in Christ who are able to apply their gifts, talents, and experiences in ways that help others be equipped to be faithful and effective Christian witnesses.