Prayer For A Nation

God makes a promise about prayer in 2 Chronicles:

. . . and (if) my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I myself will hear from the heavens, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (7:14)

The Lord is speaking to King Solomon. At the dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem Solomon prayed publicly and asked God to always answer the prayers offered at the temple.

Thirteen years later God is finally answering Solomon’s request. That’s a long delay but hearing from God is worth the wait!

To understand God’s answer to Solomon we must move back one verse. God tells Solomon, “When I stop the rain or send locusts to devour the land or if I send a pestilence, and my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray” etc.

God’s promise is about those times when he uses natural disasters to soften hard hearts and bend stiff necks. Extreme weather is now blamed on man-made global warming (or “climate change”). Nevertheless, God is still the master of nature and the Bible clearly says that he sometimes employs nature to get our attention (see Exodus 9).

Of course, every bad storm is not a judgment from God. Jesus used a storm on the Sea of Galilee to demonstrate his divine authority by commanding the wind and the waves to stop. He made no mention of any national sin.

The point is this: When God’s people disobey him and deserve his judgment, God offers a pathway to return to his favor.

First, God’s people must humble themselves. Genuine humility starts with attitude and stirs action. The Israelites often humbled themselves by fasting. Skipping meals was a way to demonstrate that they were contrite.

Next, God’s people must pray. When combined, prayer and fasting are powerful. By fasting and praying God’s people demonstrate their desire to connect with God.

In addition, God’s people must seek his face, that is, his personal presence. Seeking requires time and effort. When God’s people gather for combined prayer and fasting the purpose is to experience God’s powerful, personal presence.

Finally, God’s people must turn from their evil ways. No amount of fasting, praying and seeking will solve the problem if God’s people defiantly persist in disobeying his commands.

To simply turn from evil ways without turning to God would also be short of the goal. The objective is always to enjoy God and his favor.

God promises to hear from heaven despite the chasm between him and his people. God will then forgive their sin and heal their land, both spiritual and physical restoration. He is Lord of the visible and the invisible, of individuals and of nations.

As followers of Jesus we are God’s people now and we share in this wonderful promise about prayer. So let’s humbly seek the Lord in prayer, turning from sin to him. God will hear and restore.

May God always hear from heaven and visit us with his healing presence,

Brother Richard

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Christians are Prone to Wander

The Bible often pictures God’s people as a flock of sheep.  Apparently, God sees some things in common between people of faith and small wooly livestock.  How are believers and sheep alike?

One point of comparison is noted by Peter.  He writes to Christians, “For you were like sheep going astray. . .” (1 Peter 2:25).  Sheep tend to stray from the safety of their shepherd and his flock.  On their own, in the open, sheep face a variety of dangers: predators, cliffs, thieves, and so forth.

Christians also tend to stray away from the safety of the Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, and from his flock, the church.  Like straying sheep, straying Christians face various threats.

The New Testament warns believers about 3 spiritual dangers.  First, the devil is like a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour.  Second, this broken world is full of temptations that can entrap believers and shipwreck their faith.  And third, the ‘flesh’ is an inner threat, sinful desires that pull us back to a destructive lifestyle of disobedience to God.

To the believers who had once strayed Peter goes on to say, “but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Of course, the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls is Jesus, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep.

Safety from the devil, the world, and the flesh is found in close communion with Christ.  And Christ gathers his followers into his church like a shepherd gathers his sheep into his flock.  In the flock, under the watchful eye of the shepherd, the sheep find security from every danger.

And more than protection, the sheep find provision when they are in the flock.  The shepherd leads his flock to green pastures and quiet waters, the necessities and joys of a healthy and enriched life.

Our Shepherd Jesus has come so that his flock may have abundant life.  Following Jesus, we find the provisions necessary for a strong faith.  The Shepherd and Overseer of our souls nurtures us so that we can grow in the grace of God and enjoy his blessings to the fullest extent.

Peter’s warning against straying reminds us that a spiritual downfall often begins in subtle ways.  Wandering away from the Lord is a gradual process that may go unnoticed until disaster strikes.  The wandering believer is rarely alarmed and often in denial about potential dangers.

James writes to Christians, “My brothers, if one among you strays from the truth, then someone should bring him back” (James 5:19).  As God’s people our highest goal is to be like Jesus, which includes seeking and restoring those who wander away.  Doing so is one way that we are his hands and feet.

A wonderful old hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”  Knowing that God’s people are prone to wander, we should faithfully seek out those who do.  And if you or I happen to be the wanderer, we should be gracious when they come looking for us.

May the Good Shepherd always keep us,

Brother Richard

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Coming Home to God’s Truth About Marriage

Jesus was questioned about marriage and divorce by hostile Jewish religious leaders. They hoped to trick him into saying something that would cause him trouble.

Jesus quoted from Genesis, reminding them that God established a design for marriage when he created Adam and Eve. He made them male and female, and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.

Jesus emphasized the permanent nature of marriage by adding these words: “They are no longer two but one flesh, so what God has joined together let no one separate.” God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman freely and fully committed to each other for life.

The religious leaders thought they had trapped Jesus into contradicting Scripture. They said, “Why, then, did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus corrected them. Moses allowed divorce; he did not command it. And he allowed divorce, Jesus said, because of people’s hard hearts. It was not God’s design or desire. In fact, God sees unwarranted divorce and remarriage as adultery.

But God also knows that hearts sometimes become so hard that broken relationships are the inevitable result. So he makes concessions, but he does not change his design. The goal is still a faithful union between one man and one woman. A divorce in the past need not keep us from succeeding at God’s design for marriage now.

Jesus is saying that some parts of the Bible are weightier, or more fundamental, than other parts. God’s original design for marriage is more fundamental than his allowance for failed marriages. The concession does not cancel the design.

Jesus’ disciples were listening carefully to this discussion. They were surprised by Jesus’ strict view of marriage. Perhaps it would be better not to marry at all, they suggested.

Jesus agreed that some people are called to live single, but not so they can engage in open and temporary physical relationships. God’s call to live single is a call to live celibate, and to devote oneself to God’s kingdom work in a special way.

Jesus’ words are helpful for Christians today. Our culture is rejecting God’s design for marriage. As a result, many people have suffered broken homes and strained relationships.

If we reject everyone who has deviated from God’s design for marriage, then we are raising unnecessary barriers to the life-changing experience of God’s transforming grace. On the other hand, if we follow the world in redefining marriage and sexual morals, then we are misrepresenting God and his truth.

We should model our lives after Jesus. He unapologetically exalts God’s unchanging design for marriage, but he also extends God’s mercy and grace for hearts that were once hard but are now open and willing to come home to God’s truth.

May we be faithful agents of God’s holiness and his grace,

Brother Richard Foster

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Called to Greatness

Vacation Bible School is a great opportunity for fruitful gospel ministry. Thanks to everyone who is preparing for VBS 2018! Please pray for God’s Spirit to move in a mighty way in our hearts and in the hearts of kids and their families.

This year’s Bible verse for Lifeway’s VBS is 2 Peter 1:3: His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (CSB)

The Lord provides everything we need for life. He is our Maker and our Sustainer. His power is our source for life, both physical and spiritual. Nothing is missing from what our Lord provides us.

In addition to life, the Lord’s power is our source for godliness. We are created to do more than simply exist. Our lives are meant to have meaning and purpose. Each of us is called to live a godly and devout life, one that reflects all the goodness of our Maker, a life that is blessed by him.

Peter writes that we have this divine power “through the knowledge of him,” of God. This knowledge is more than information, it is relation. Peter is referring to more than simply being acquainted with God. He is addressing those who belong to God.

Vacation Bible School is a great way to help kids know God. God has revealed himself through his written word, the Holy Bible. In VBS we teach kids Scripture so that they will encounter the Living God through his word.

God has also revealed himself in a special way through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In VBS we make sure kids know about all that Jesus said and did so that they can have saving faith in Christ now.

God also reveals himself through the lives of his people, you and me. Notice that the knowledge Peter writes about is “of him who called us.” God has called us first to enjoy the blessings of his salvation and also to share his great salvation with others.

As we interact with kids during VBS we are living examples of salvation. We model for them what it means to be the people of God. Our attention to them is an expression of God’s love for them. We are called by our Lord to be his hands and feet, to be his face and voice, and to help kids know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Vacation Bible School is a high calling! God has been pleased to bless VBS in extraordinary ways for many years. Please pray for that blessing to increase.

May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to know God better and to help others know him,

Brother Richard Foster

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What Is A Great Christian?

Jesus’ disciples asked him who is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens. In other words, who is greatest among Jesus’ followers? If they expected him to choose one of them, they got a surprise.

Jesus called a child and had him stand among them. He told his disciples that unless they changed and became like children, they would certainly not enter God’s kingdom. Notice the switch: not just fail to be great in God’s kingdom, but fail to enter God’s kingdom!

So, Jesus said that the one who humbles himself like a child is great in God’s kingdom. But why is humility so great?

The Bible tells us that Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly glory and became not just a man, but a servant. In another place Jesus says that whatever we do to the least of these brothers of his, we do to him. So Jesus humbled himself and he identifies personally with those who are humble.

To be great in God’s kingdom one must be like Jesus: humble and willing to identify with others who are humble.

Jesus goes on to say that anyone who causes one of these little ones who believe in him to stumble would be better off if they had a large millstone tied around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. That’s harsh!

He also says that if our hand or foot causes us to stumble then we should cut them off and throw them away because it’s better to enter life maimed than go to hell with both hands and feet. Jesus is calling for radical action to keep from sinning, not literal dismemberment, but his figure of speech gets our attention.

Our personal sin can lead others astray, especially the “little ones.” Christian humility demands that we live holy lives not just for ourselves, but for one another. Christian humility is not just words. It is actions. It is putting others before ourselves.

Finally Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones because their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Popular opinion values the “big ones”: the big celebrities, the big politicians, the big money makers, and so forth. So we may be tempted to look down on the “little ones.”

Sinful pride tries to convince us that we are better than the “little ones.” But when we lift ourselves up by putting others down we are not acting like citizens of God’s kingdom, much less great citizens. And sinful pride comes before a painful fall.

Jesus did not rebuke his disciples for wanting to be great in God’s kingdom. But he did make sure that they understood God’s criteria for true kingdom greatness. The one who humbles himself like a child is great in God’s kingdom (see Matthew 18:1-10).

May God’s Spirit enable us to be great Christians,

Brother Richard Foster

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Culture Wars and Prayer

Elijah appears suddenly in the pages of the Bible in 1 Kings 17. He is a prophet, a man of God.

Elijah lives at a time of spiritual decline in Israel. God’s people are being led astray to forget the God of the Bible and to adopt a competing worldview.

The champion of this competing worldview is a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel is a Baal worshiper. Baal is an idol. Baal worshipers give this idol credit for controlling the rain, and thus having the power of life.

Jezebel is married to the king of Israel, a man named Ahab. She uses her political position to promote Baal worship. She also abuses her power to intimidate and persecute those who worship and serve the Lord.

Baal worship threatens to extinguish belief in the Living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God sends Elijah to confront King Ahab with bad news. Rain in Israel will cease. Why? To prove to the people that Baal does not control the rain, God does.

Eventually Elijah faces a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. This event is one of the most dramatic in all the Bible (see 1 Kings 18). It is a contest to prove who is really God.

The contest was simple. The prophets of Baal would prepare a sacrifice and call on Baal. Elijah would prepare a sacrifice and call on the Lord. The one who answered by fire would be the true God.

The prophets of Baal cried out to the idol but, of course, it failed to answer. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord. In his prayer he called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again, back to the truth, back to the Lord.

Israel was experiencing what some would call a “culture war.” Two competing worldviews were struggling for the hearts of the people: Baal worship versus faithfulness to the God of their forefathers.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today, a time of frustrating spiritual decline. Powerful proponents of secularism are working diligently to erase the God of the Bible from the public square and from the hearts of the citizenry.

Whether we call this struggle a “culture war” or a “spiritual battle,” the stakes are high. Elijah recognized the fundamental issue in his struggle and he expressed it well in his prayer. The basic issue was not the laws of the land or the leaders on the throne. The basic issue was the hearts of the people.

Elijah’s response to the struggle in his time included bold prayer. His prayer called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again. We should follow his example and pray passionately for God to turn the hearts of the people back to the truth, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.

God answered Elijah’s prayer and brought a great victory. But the struggle continued. We can expect the same: great victories and continued struggles. We can be faithful in fighting the good fight, because we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to be faithful,

Brother Richard Foster

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What Is A Disciple?

Jesus has given us a great mission. We are to make disciples of all peoples. But what is a disciple? Jesus’ instructions help answer that question.

First, he says that we should baptize disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So disciples are baptized believers. To make disciples, we bring people to saving faith in Jesus and baptize them.

Next, Jesus says that we are to teach disciples to obey all that he has instructed us. Disciples are learners. But they are not just learning information. They are learning to obey. Disciples don’t just know Jesus’ teachings, they apply Jesus’ teachings to everyday life. To make disciples, we instruct them in living the Christian life.

So far, so good. But can we be more specific? In our personal evangelism classes, we use a working definition of “disciple” so that we know what we are trying to accomplish. Here it is: A disciple is a baptized believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who is attending Sunday school regularly. Now that definition is simple, but it gives us something objective to shoot for.

Once disciples are made, they begin to grow spiritually. How do we define a mature disciple? Our definition must be more comprehensive. First, a mature follower of Jesus will attend church regularly. For Grace Baptist, that is Sunday school, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening discipleship, Wednesday evening prayer (or working with children), and any other ministry activities that are necessary.

Second, a mature follower of Jesus finds a place of service in the church and serves faithfully. Many opportunities for service are available: Sunday school teachers, greeters, musicians, children’s workers, cooks, counters, property maintenance, drivers, and much more.

Next, a mature follower of Jesus gives tithes and offerings to the local church.

Also, a mature follower of Jesus reaches out to people outside the church, looking for open doors of ministry, looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus. Part of being a disciple is making disciples, that is, helping others come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Finally, a mature follower of Jesus is someone who faithfully attends to personal spiritual disciplines, like reading the Bible, prayer, worship, and fasting. These disciplines are spiritual sustenance to followers of Jesus. Without a steady diet of Christian spiritual disciplines, a follower of Jesus will be spiritually anemic.

So our goal is for every follower of Jesus to be faithfully attending, serving, giving, sharing and growing in Christ. All of this is done in the local church. We grow toward maturity in Christ together, in fellowship, a fellowship which provides the encouragement and accountability that each of us needs.

Making disciples is an ongoing mission. These goals are never finished in this life. No individual believer reaches perfection in this age. We always have room for growth. And, no local church should ever stop reaching new souls for Jesus. Those new believers must then be grown toward maturity. And God’s kingdom advances.

So, let’s be disciples and make disciples!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to do great things for his kingdom,

Brother Richard Foster

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