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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Comparing the Crusades to Terrorism

Certain voices in our society keep emphasizing that Islam is a religion of peace and Christianity has a history of violence. Apparently the current violent Muslim terrorists do not represent Islam, so they say, but violent Crusaders from a thousand years ago do represent Christianity.

We are being asked to compare the most peaceful and loving Muslims with the most violent and hateful Christians. Is that not an admission that it is difficult to make Islam look peaceful and difficult to make Christianity look violent? In other words, plenty of recent evidence shows the violent tendencies of Islam but one must go back a thousand years to find evidence of such violence among Christians.

The Crusades were a period of war between Roman Catholic Europeans and Islamic Middle Easterners. The conflict is dated to almost a thousand years ago, but that is not the beginning of the story, any more than World War II started with America dropping atom bombs on Japan. It would be unfair to ignore the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in telling the story of the Second World War and it is unfair to mention the Crusades without telling the rest of the story.

Militant Muslims marched across North Africa, into Eastern Europe and Spain for more than 400 years before Europeans finally roused themselves and stopped their advances. The idea that evil hard-hearted Christian Crusaders suddenly butchered innocent and unsuspecting Muslims without any provocation is a myth. The Muslims were aggressors and both sides fought to win.

We can all agree that there are those who misrepresent Islam and Christianity. We should also agree that it is unfair to judge a group by those who are poor examples of the group’s true beliefs. What better way to determine a group’s true beliefs than to look at the founder’s life and teachings?

After being rejected by the Jews, Muhammad cut off the heads of some 700 Jewish men and took their women and children as spoils of war. After being rejected by the Jewish and Roman leaders, Jesus told his follower Peter to put down his sword and then he went voluntarily to a shameful, painful and undeserved execution on a Roman cross.

Violent Muslims are following the example of Muhammad. Violent Christians are rejecting the example of Jesus. But there is more to this story, too. Jesus was not waging a holy war or jihad. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom in order to save lost sinners. His kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world. His followers are not guaranteed power in this age, but eternal life in the age to come.

Here is part of the problem. Those who are skeptical about heaven and hell tend to see all religions as equally unnecessary and dangerous. Why argue or fight about a God that does not exist? Instead, the non-religious seek a secular state and a secular world that will supposedly get beyond all the violence caused by passionate religious convictions.

But secularists do not subject their own belief system to the same standards which they frequently apply to religion. We need not go back a thousand years to find horrifying violence among atheists. Within the last one hundred years atheists controlled a state that perpetrated violence against its own citizens on a scale that makes violent religionists look like beginners. The atrocities of Communism somehow get a pass in the judgment day against religion. Is that right?

The fact is, violence is a human problem, not a religious problem. In the days of Noah, the famous ark-builder, the Bible tells us that the earth was full of violence. Noah, however, was different. He was a preacher of righteousness. But the people rejected him and his message. They took no serious interest in his giant boat.

God waited patiently in the time of Noah. But a day came when the door of the ark was closed and the rains of judgment arrived. The flood waters rose and only those few who were on the ark survived. The majority was wrong.

Jesus told his listeners that the last days will be like the time of Noah. The comparison between the Crusades and terrorism makes one very important point: humanity has not changed. We are not evolving into a more peaceful and benevolent race. If anything, we seem to be discovering even more appalling ways of killing.

But Jesus also meant that another day is coming like that day when the door closed on the ark. People were trying to ignore the day of God’s judgment and in doing so they also ignored God’s provision for salvation. God always leaves a door open for those who wish to experience salvation instead of judgment.

Jesus predicted that wars and rumors of wars will continue unabated in this age. Secular humanists assure us that humanity can evolve and do away with the horrors of war. Humanists continue to be wrong and Jesus continues to be right. Based on the historical evidence, we would be wise to find the door to God’s ark, the way to his salvation.

Instead of comparing ourselves to one another, we should compare ourselves to Jesus, God’s ultimate standard. In so doing, we will all realize our need for salvation. The good news is this: Jesus is not only the standard which we cannot meet, he is the Savior whom we do not deserve. Because of God’s grace, we can find true peace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, February 2015

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Can the Holy Bible Survive?

Gay marriage, women in ministry, abortion, social reform versus saving souls, capitalism verses socialism, these are some of the hot-button issues that are causing turbulence for some Christian groups in America today. Several denominations are undergoing sharp disagreements about what they believe and what they stand for.

At the center of these highly emotional issues that are disturbing so many churches in our nation stands the Bible. Is the Holy Bible God’s perfect word to humanity or not? If it is not, then where can we turn for answers to life’s most important questions?

Those who are skeptical about the claims in the Bible tend to value pluralism over truth. They approach the Bible as one source among many for spiritual reflection and insight. In their minds, the Bible must compete with human reason, traditions, personal experiences and other holy books from non-Christian religions.

Skeptics cannot speak with a voice of confidence or authority about right and wrong, good and evil, or heaven and hell. As a result, they offer few if any clear answers to a world that is increasingly mired in moral and spiritual confusion and darkness. In addition, they consider those who have confidence in the Bible to be closed-minded, rigid, and even hateful.

But the Bible presents compelling answers to the deepest questions in life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? The Bible gives us God’s answers about our life in this age and in the age to come.

The Bible tells us that God has spoken a complete and coherent message. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible warns us that we must respond to God’s message. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever trusts in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Our generation is not the first to see God’s word questioned, criticized, doubted, and attacked. The unchanging truth revealed in God’s word has always encountered stiff resistance in this world full of sin. But the anchor for our souls will never fail, despite the wind and waves of skepticism raging all around us. If the foundation beneath our feet is the word of God then we can live with assurance.

Influential men and women come and go, but Jesus is still God’s Savior. Mighty nations and cultures rise and fall, but God’s Kingdom is still advancing. Impressive ideas and philosophies are celebrated then forgotten, but the word of God will never fade away.

This is our great task as Bible-believing followers of Jesus: To know the Bible and its Author; to live according to the unchanging Truth revealed in the pages of Genesis through Revelation; to celebrate the victory that comes from following the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.

We are a people of the Word.

May the God who has revealed himself to us in the Bible always be our wisdom and our power in everything,

Brother Richard

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Jacob’s Wrestling Match

Abraham’s grandson Jacob encountered God in a very unusual manner.  It was nighttime.  Jacob was alone.  Tomorrow he would see his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years.  Esau had wanted to kill Jacob when he left home two decades earlier.  Had Esau changed his mind?

Then it happened.  In a rugged area not far from the Jordan River, some miles north of the Dead Sea, Jacob was attacked.  Suddenly a man began wrestling with him.  And they wrestled all night.

Neither one could seem to gain the upper hand in this nocturnal wrestling match.  So as dawn approached, the man touched Jacob’s hip, which was immediately and permanently disjointed.  After a brief conversation, the mysterious man changed Jacob’s name to Israel and then he was gone.

With whom did Jacob wrestle that night?  Was it Esau?  Was it an angel?  As the sun rose and Jacob went limping away, he realized that he had encountered God face-to-face.  And he lived to tell about it.

This was not Jacob’s first encounter with God.  Twenty years earlier when he left home, God appeared to Jacob in a dream.  In the dream, Jacob saw God high and lifted up, standing over a ladder which reached from heaven to earth.  But now God comes to Jacob as a man, wrestling.  Why?

Jacob could stand in awe when God stayed in heaven overseeing that ladder with angels ascending and descending on it.  He could be amazed and astonished at God, but Jacob could not relate closely to such transcendence.  God-in-flesh, however, was easier for Jacob to understand, to get his hands on, to draw close and relate.

Jacob’s encounter with God was a foreshadowing of Bethlehem.  More than a thousand years after Jacob’s wrestling match, God’s Son Jesus stepped down from the throne in heaven and took on the very nature of a man, God-in-flesh.  In Jesus Christ, God condescended.

But if the man who wrestled Jacob was God-in-flesh, then why could he not instantly overcome Jacob?  Why did he prolong the contest?  Because God did not step down from heaven and wrestle Jacob in order to destroy him.  God came to mold Jacob and to build him up.  God fought Jacob so Jacob could have the victory.

A similar question occurs when Jesus becomes God-in-flesh.  How could he die on the cross at Calvary?  Can God really die?  Yes, Jesus can die and he did, so that we can be saved from sin and have eternal life.  God became like us so that we can become like him.  This is the mystery of God among us.

Jacob had no way of knowing that his wrestling match that night in the dark east of the Jordan River anticipated the momentous day when the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).  Jacob’s encounter with God was a hint of Christmas future.

Jacob’s pre-Christmas encounter with God-in-flesh left him a changed man.  Not such a silent night, but it was surely a holy night.  He had a new name and a new walk.  Our encounter with the God-Man Jesus has also changed us forever.  We have a new identity and a new life.  Joy to the world!  The Lord is come.

Praise God that he is with us and for us,

Brother Richard Foster

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Chicken Sandwiches and Other Offenses

Even a chicken sandwich can be offensive in America.

A high school principal in California recently refused to let a local business provide chicken sandwiches to the football team, not because someone was offended, but because someone might be offended.

Nobody complained about the chicken sandwiches, but they were banned from being used to support school sports anyway. Why? The family that owns the chicken restaurant believes in God’s definition of family.

The family in question is the family of Truett Cathey and the restaurant he started is Chick-fil-A, famous for not opening on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and yet still achieving great financial success.

The owners of Chick-fil-A have no policy against people with alternate lifestyles. They do not refuse to serve them. They don’t make it a habit to say disparaging things about them.

But the fact that they believe in what the Bible teaches about marriage was enough for the school’s principal to refuse their money, money that would have benefitted the students involved with the football team. All this despite the fact that nobody was offended (except perhaps the principal).

Followers of Jesus across our land have become all too familiar with the wave of offensiveness that now seems to attach itself to Biblical Christianity. The cross is offensive. Nativity scenes are offensive. Prayer in Jesus’ name is offensive. “In God We Trust” printed on our money is offensive. And the list goes on and on.

Have we somehow made the Christian message offensive to the world?

When Jesus was teaching a crowd once, they got offended by his message. He taught them that he was the true bread that came down from heaven and that they did not have life in themselves unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood (see John 6:25-66).

Since the crowd was offended, Jesus explained his remarks, making it clear that he was not talking about cannibalism, but about spiritual life. Nevertheless, they walked away, offended. One wonders if they really understood him but refused to accept his message, using “offense” as an excuse more than a reason.

It’s true, some Christians may act offensive at times, but we have not made the Christian message offensive. People were offended when the Lord himself told them the truth. Things have not changed.

Jesus is our model. Despite the offense, he spoke the truth publicly. In the face of opposition, he carefully clarified his remarks to ensure that there was no misunderstanding, but he did so without watering down his message. And he was not discouraged when people walked away offended. He kept on speaking the truth in love.

It is vital that we follow our Lord’s example. We must speak the truth publicly. We must be clear about our message without compromising God’s word. And we must not be discouraged when people reject the gospel.

As Jesus said, “Go! Look, I am sending you all out like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). He recognizes that we will meet significant opposition, just like he did. But he also promises to send the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit with us so that we can achieve the victory, just like he did.

May God’s empowering Presence enable us to always speak the truth in love,

Brother Richard

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