God Is At Work in Your Suffering

Joseph was favored by his father, Jacob.  Jacob gave Joseph a special coat, a coat of many colors.  Joseph’s older brothers were jealous.

Joseph was favored by God.  God gave dreams to the 17-year-old Joseph, dreams that predicted his family would someday bow down to him.  His brothers could not say a kind word to Joseph.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers.  They kidnapped him and sold him into slavery.  He found himself in bondage in a foreign land, in Egypt.

Then things got worse.  Joseph was falsely accused and unjustly condemned.  He went from slavery to prison.

After 13 years of captivity, Joseph was suddenly freed and elevated to a position of great political power in Egypt.  Only God could have engineered such a stunning reversal.

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave Joseph a wife.  Soon he had 2 sons.  He was ready to move on and to forget the past, to forget his brothers and his father.  But God had another plan.

Joseph was near 40-years-old when his brothers came to Egypt.  They came to buy grain because of the severe famine.  After hiding his identity and testing them to see if they had changed, Joseph reconciled with his brothers.

Joseph’s brothers were apprehensive to say the least.  After all, they had betrayed Joseph.  He now had the power to exact revenge.  They were at his mercy.

But Joseph made an astonishing assertion: God was ultimately responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt.  True, his brothers were guilty of a heinous crime against him.  But God used Joseph’s suffering for their salvation.  Joseph was now in a position to save his brothers and his entire family from starvation.

Does God really use evil to accomplish good?  Since God is all-powerful and all-good, we must conclude that he allows evil to exist.  And since God is all-good, we can rightly deduce that he will use evil to bring about a greater good.

When betrayed by his own brothers and sold into servitude, Joseph was not yet ready to consider the idea that his suffering would save his brothers.  His brothers!  They who sold him like a piece of property.

Thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, Joseph was not ready to hear that his pain would serve a greater good.  Even after he was released from prison, elevated to power and blessed with his own family, he only wanted to forget the past.  He was not ready to think that God was using his pain to save others.

Only after decades of life was Joseph ready to see and accept God’s plan to use his sorrow in order to save many.  God’s mysterious ways are often better understood in retrospect.

Much of what Jesus did made no sense to his disciples at the time.  Later, with the help of God’s Spirit, they were able to see that God used a terrible loss to bring about a great victory.

The death of God’s sinless and perfect Son, Jesus, was the most heinous and deplorable crime of this age.  Yet God used Jesus’ sacrificial suffering to achieve eternal salvation for all his people, elevating him to the ultimate victory through his resurrection and ascension.

As sons and daughters of the God of Joseph and faithful followers of his Son Jesus, we too can be certain that whatever suffering God allows in our lives will surely contribute to eternal victory.  Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

May the Lord give us eyes to see and hearts to agree with his great plan,

Brother Richard Foster

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Time for Vacation Bible School!

LifeWay’s Bible verse for VBS this year is Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

The voice spoken of in this verse is none other than the voice of the Lord. Our faith is grounded in the wonderful truth that God himself has spoken and he is still speaking.

God has spoken to us through his written word, the Holy Bible. When we read the Bible, we are reading the words of the Almighty. What a thrill it is to have in our hands and in our hearts the written message of our Maker, Sustainer and Savior!

God’s word takes us back to the beginning of the heavens and earth and forward to the new heaven and earth. Only through God’s special revelation can we know about our true origin and final destination. Only through God’s special revelation can we learn about his unfolding plan for our lives now.

The voice of God also comes to us through the presence of his Holy Spirit. As God’s people we have his Spirit in our hearts illuminating his written word, enabling us to comprehend what we read.

God’s Spirit empowers us not only to grasp the great Truth revealed in his written word but also to apply it to our daily lives. We can see “the way” and “walk in it.” We understand and obey.

What a great honor and tremendous responsibility it is for us to teach these things to children. God has entrusted his word to us and called us to pass it on to the next generation. We are the most recent link in a gospel chain that stretches almost 2,000 years back to Jesus, and even further back into Old Testament times.

In this generation we face a pernicious spiritual darkness that threatens to silence the voice of the Bible in our country, thus denying children the joy of knowing Jesus. God’s word increasingly meets with a hostile reception in the halls of our government and in the classrooms of our schools.

But God assures us that his word is like a seed, carrying the power of life. Planted in receptive soil, the seed of God’s word brings a harvest of eternal life. It is our great joy to plant and nurture the word of God in the precious hearts of boys and girls in our community.

What greater hope do we have for the future?

May our hearts be tuned to God’s Spirit so that we will always hear his word clearly and always walk in obedience to him,

Brother Richard Foster

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Consequences of Losing Our First Freedom

We exist on a tiny island of religious and political freedom that is surrounded by a vast sea of religious and political oppression. Wherever you go in history, whatever culture or nation or society, on every continent, you find religious oppression and the political oppression that is always its wicked sister.

Almost 400 years ago a small band of religious separatists braved the North Atlantic in a ship called the Mayflower. They were fleeing what we now call the Old World, Europe, a place where governments imposed religious belief. If you disagreed with the government about religion then you were not politically free, in fact, you could be in grave personal danger.

Almost immediately the group that came to the New World was tempted to remake that Old World system. Some insisted that they use the government to enforce one religious belief and limit the freedoms of all those who disagreed.

Prominent among those who demanded full unhindered religious freedom were Baptists. Religious freedom is a part of our heritage that we should know about and hold dear.

It took a long time and much effort, but in 1833 the last state in the Union disestablished its state church and created a healthy separation between church and state. Our forefathers learned from hard lessons that political freedom only stands on the solid rock of religious freedom.

In 1993 then President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. It was written to protect this precious freedom because serious threats to that freedom are growing like weeds in our society.

At that time the president called religious freedom our “first freedom.” He was right. Without religious freedom we will not be free at all.

Sadly, we are in danger of forgetting these lessons and losing what so many people worked and fought very hard to gain. What a tragedy if all the blood and tears that were given in payment for our religious freedom are forgotten by a younger generation.

Confusion is one of the best weapons of the enemy. Religious freedom is being painted as hate and bigotry. If a baker refuses a cake to a gay couple’s wedding then that person must be financially crushed and publicly humiliated.

The gay couple can still get a cake for their wedding. In fact, the gay couple can still find food, clothing, housing, jobs and so forth. What the gay couple apparently cannot abide is the fact that someone, anyone, might disagree with their beliefs. The power of the government must be used to crush anyone who dares hold a different opinion from the gay couple.

Some appeal to Jesus, saying that he would bake the cake for the gay couple because he loves everyone. It is true that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He spent time with them and he did love them.

But Jesus did not reach out to sinners because he wanted to affirm their lifestyles. He did so in order to change them. I do not believe the gay couple wants a cake from someone who is trying to persuade them to change their lifestyle.

The point is this: those who wish to bake the cake for the gay couple in order to reach out to them with the love of Jesus should do so because of the firm convictions of their heart, not the coercion of Washington, D.C.

Do we still live in a land where we are free to follow the dictates of our consciences?

May we stand firm and not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,

Brother Richard Foster

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Christians Must Aim Higher with Marriage

Bible-believing, Bible-honoring Christians are alarmed at the rapid deconstruction of marriage in our land, and rightly so. Within one lifetime our culture has rushed headlong into an explosive increase in pre-marital sex, babies born out of wedlock, adultery, abortion, divorce, single-parent homes, and now same-sex relationships.

Many voices who oppose these deadly experiments with family have made their case based on practical matters. Family is vital, they say, because it is the fundamental institution upon which all other institutions in a society are constructed.

One man and one woman committed to one another for life is the design that has been the foundation of communities and countries for thousands of years. Why? Because this model produces the greatest percentage of healthy productive citizens. Children are more secure, capable and productive when raised by their biological parents.

Children who are not raised by their biological parents are at much greater risk for poverty, illness, crime, drug abuse and yet another generation of the same. As a result, broken families put enormous pressure on every important institution in the community.

Schools, churches, businesses and governments all suffer when the family structure suffers. These vital institutions are strengthened when the family is healthy. Healthy families provide a new generation ready to face a world full of challenges and opportunities.

So, healthy families strengthen the community. Broken families hurt the community. This is reason enough that we should protect the traditional model of family, not experiment with it.

These practical insights are accurate and helpful, but they are only part of the marriage story. Marriage and family are much bigger than local communities and societal institutions. Christians aim too low when we pursue these matters alone, important as they are.

Marriage is a spiritual institution that serves God’s kingdom as well as man’s societies. In the Bible we learn that Christian marriage is meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church.

Reflecting God’s love for his people is the high calling for our marriages. We cannot, we dare not, think that simply because we have committed heterosexual marriages we have somehow fulfilled our Lord’s calling in our marriages. We must aim higher.

Wives submit to your husbands as the church submits to Christ. Husbands love your wives as Jesus loves the church, willing to sacrifice everything for her. This is a great mystery. This is our great task.

To reflect God’s love for his people in our daily lives with our spouses is pretty lofty stuff. How do we put hands and feet on such a grand idea?

First, we must know God’s truth about marriage well. Wisdom comes from devotion to God’s word. Support a church family where biblical truth is taught and lived.

Second, we must accept God’s truth about marriage. As Christians, our marriages are not ours alone. Even our relationships with our spouses are part of our walk and witness as followers of Jesus Christ. Confess Jesus as Lord of everything you do.

Finally, we need the power to live in a way that proclaims God’s love for his people. Christian marriage is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. It is beyond our natural abilities. We need more than human effort in order to succeed.

To live up to the high calling of Christian marriage we must have the powerful presence of God’s Spirit in our lives. Salvation is not the end of Christianity. The Christian life is not meant to be one of spiritual stagnation or backsliding, but one of spiritual growth and victory.

Let us aim higher in our marriages. Let us be devoted to the full measure of God’s design for our homes.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, April 2015
Published in Camden News, May 1, 2015

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Death and the Second Coming

The Apostle Paul planted a church in Thessalonica. His enemies were jealous of his success so they drove him out of the city. Paul had planned to stay longer. He was worried that the believers in that new church were not sufficiently established in their faith.

Since he was unable to visit them personally, Paul wrote to the fledgling church in Thessalonica. He was anxious to finish the things lacking in their faith.

One of the issues troubling the believers in Thessalonica was apparently their understanding of Jesus’ Second Coming. They were concerned about Christians who died before Jesus’ return. What happens to them?

“Since we believe that Jesus died and rose,” Paul wrote, “so also God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”

Notice that Paul speaks of death as sleep. For those who belong to Christ, death has lost its sting. Death for a Christian is like falling asleep on a journey and waking up at home. Jesus died to defeat sin and was raised by God to defeat death. All who trust in him share in these great victories.

Paul goes on to write that the followers of Jesus who are alive when he returns will be reunited with the believers who have died. When Jesus comes again Christians will be privileged to attend the world’s greatest reunion. What an incredibly joyous time that will be!

The Apostle also writes that we will be with the Lord always after he returns. Jesus warned his disciples just before his crucifixion that he was about to leave them. Their consolation would be God’s Holy Spirit, whom God later poured out on his church.

But when Jesus comes again, his followers will never again be separated from him. We will have all eternity to enjoy his visible presence, finally able to cast our crowns at his feet and marvel at that face which shines like the sun in all its glory.

This uplifting section of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian Christians ends with a command: “So encourage one another with these words.” Paul did not want those men and women who were new to the faith to be ignorant, mourning like the rest of world who have no hope.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. For believers, death is like sleep. As believers, we look forward to the greatest reunion ever imagined. And as followers of the Risen Christ, we have a guaranteed place in his presence for all eternity.

This is a great time of year for every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us encourage one another with these great words.

May the power of the Risen Christ carry us forward in the grace of God,

Brother Richard Foster

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Why Do So Many People Love Spock So Much?

Spock died. That is, Leonard Nimoy passed away. Devoted fans of Star Trek sometimes have trouble separating the man from the myth, or the pop-culture icon.

In fact, Nimoy’s autobiography was titled I Am Not Spock. But fans were so unhappy that he subsequently published another book titled I Am Spock.

It’s no surprise that Spock leaves such a big footprint on our generation. He portrayed the character of an intelligent, thoughtful, courageous and sacrificial man. Even his one apparent fault, a lack of emotion, was mitigated by the fact that he chose to live with those who thrive on emotions (After all, he was half-human. . . .).

Spock leaves behind some well-known sayings. “Live long and prosper” (Can you make the Vulcan “V” with your fingers?) “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” or of the one.

That last statement is speaking about sacrifice. A few, or one, should be willing to make great personal sacrifice when necessary in order to benefit the many. And in one of the Star Trek movies, Spock does just that, selflessly giving up his life in order to save his friends.

Then with a great Hollywood twist, Spock is resurrected from the dead. Alive again and reunited with his friends (and able to continue making more movies!).

These themes should be familiar to many of us, not merely because we grew up watching Star Trek, but because we have read our Bibles. That’s right, our Bibles.

The Bible includes the record of the greatest one-for-many sacrifice ever made. In an upper room in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast almost 2,000 years ago Jesus spoke these words: This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many” (Mark 14:24).

Later that night he surrendered himself to his enemies. They executed him on a Roman Cross. After giving sight to the blind, casting out demons and feeding the hungry, it turns out that his death was his mission. He came to give his life as a ransom for many.

Then they laid Jesus’ broken body in a tomb, thinking that his story was finished. But on the third day that tomb was empty. Death lost its grip on Jesus.

Is Hollywood borrowing material from God?

Now I know that Star Trek presents a utopian view of humanity’s future. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, envisioned a future when human effort has wiped out war, poverty, racism and all the other evils entangling our race now.

More than that, Star Trek finds its setting in a universe where life evolved on many different planets. All of this seems so secular that any comparison with the Bible and Christianity would be absurd.

But then there is Spock. Yes, he is the ultimate scientist. But surprisingly, he has a spiritual side. Maybe Spock is a reminder that science is not enough. Spirit cannot be denied.

The Bible assures us that God is Lord of the heavens and the earth, Maker of the visible and the invisible. He penned the laws that regulate matter and time and energy. He also revealed the truth that governs morals and ethics and worship. He gives the words that bring eternal life.

Why does a fictional character like Spock resonate with such power in our culture? Maybe because he points to more than secular scientific data. He reminds us that we are spiritual beings after all, searching for ultimate truth.

We live in the great age of science, but secular science has not erased our deep yearning for something more, something metaphysical. That something more has been revealed and awaits our discovery. God promises that if we seek him with
all our hearts, we will find him.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist, March 2015

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Identifying God’s Favor

Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, was remarkable from his youth. At age 17 he received a word from God in the form of two dreams. Those dreams predicted a great future for Joseph, but they also infuriated his family. As a result, Joseph found himself sold into slavery and dragged away to a foreign country.

Far from home and unfairly enslaved, Joseph was seduced by his earthly master’s wife. A lesser man would have given in to the temptation. After all, it seemed as if nobody cared about Joseph. Why shouldn’t he take advantage of the situation?

Now Joseph had a choice. He could despise the people who treated him unfairly and allow hate to embitter his soul. He could withdraw or become aggressive, trying to hurt the people around him because of the pain he was forced to endure. He could be angry with God and forget about any effort to obey or to serve him.

Or, Joseph could remember the word that he got from God in those dreams. He could believe that God’s word would surely stand, somehow, someday. He could look for signs of God’s favor despite his unfair circumstances. He could choose to continue living in a manner that was pleasing to God and that reflected well on God.

Joseph refused to indulge in sexual immorality. He did so because he knew that adultery would be a sin against God. It is amazing that Joseph would be concerned about God when God seemed to have forgotten about Joseph. Couldn’t God have protected him from being sold as a slave in a foreign land? Wasn’t it God’s fault that he was in this foreign land facing this seductive woman?

In spite of his difficult circumstances, Joseph could see the hand of God working in his life. Yes, his own brothers had turned against him and sold him as a slave, but God made sure that Joseph ended up in a household where he would be treated with respect by his master.

Yes, he was still a slave, but his master noticed that God’s favor rested on Joseph and so Joseph was entrusted with almost the entire household. Even the pagan slave owner could see that Joseph was special.

Unfortunately, Joseph’s trials were not finished with that test of sexual temptation. Even though he did the right thing, Joseph was accused of wrongdoing and found himself in prison. Nevertheless, Joseph did not give in to despair or bitterness.

Joseph chose to believe God’s word and to serve God faithfully. It took years, but the word that he got from God was fulfilled. He was humbled for a time, but God lifted him up.

Like Joseph, we have a word from God that includes great promises. Our Lord promises to walk with us and show us his favor even in the difficult times. And our Savior assures us that a day is coming when we will be lifted up and blessed in amazing ways.

God has promised that if we humble ourselves before him, keeping his word and obeying his commands, then he will lift us up! (see James 4:10). The Apostle Paul put it this way: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18, NIV).

May the God’s Spirit enable us to serve him well until he comes,

Brother Richard Foster

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