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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How Can We Be Alert In Prayer?

Does your mind wander when you pray?

Praying alone in a quiet place can be a relaxing activity. In fact, it can be easy to doze off. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane the night before his arrest, he asked his disciples to watch and pray with him.  They fell asleep . . . 3 times.

Being informed can make us alert. What if Jesus’ disciples had known that an angry mob with torches and clubs was coming to take Jesus away by force? I doubt if they would have fallen asleep!

The Bible urges us to be alert in prayer: “With every kind of prayer and petition, pray in the Spirit at all times; and to get this done, be alert by using all perseverance and prayer for all believers, and for me, that a word will be given to me when I open my mouth to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19).

Persistent prayer for all believers is one way to stay alert in prayer.  Pray for all Christians everywhere, those you know and don’t know, those you like and don’t like, those in your local church and not, those in your denomination and not, those in your country or culture and not. That’s a tall order!

There are tens of millions of Christians around the world, we cannot know each one personally. Instead, we must learn what we can about believers in faraway places so that we can pray for them.

God’s Spirit may stir in us a special interest for certain communities or circumstances. For instance, we may have a special compassion for persecuted believers.

Then it says, “and for me,” that is, pray for me. In addition to praying for all believers everywhere, we should also pray for individual believers we know personally.

But what about people who have not yet been saved? Shouldn’t we pray for them?

When Jesus saw crowds of folks looking like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them. He urged his followers to pray to God, not for the lost sheep, but for believers to do the gospel work.

In the instruction above, the writer asks his readers to pray that he will be bold in making known the mystery of the gospel. A mystery in the Bible is not something that is difficult to understand. It’s something impossible to know until it is revealed. The gospel is the revelation about Jesus, that he died and rose again so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life.

The best prayer for lost people is prayer for saved people to be bold and share the gospel. We need prayer for boldness to witness because our natural disposition is to keep quiet about the gospel. Telling others about Jesus requires the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

Pray for God to give you the same concern for others that Jesus has. Compassion for others will keep you alert in prayer.

May the God’s Spirit inspire us to share in his great harvest,

Brother Richard Foster

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Don’t Miss the Signs of the Times

The religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign from heaven. They wanted proof that Jesus was sent from God (Matthew 16:1).

Jesus scolded them. They could read the weather, he pointed out, but not the signs of the times. Jesus gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, cast out demons, and preached with astounding authority. What more did they want?

The Son of God was standing right in front of them, but they couldn’t see it. Their personal agendas were more important to them than God’s kingdom plan.

Jesus told them that they would get no sign except the sign of Jonah. What does he mean?

Jonah didn’t warm up to God’s plan. God sent Jonah to preach in Nineveh but Jonah didn’t want to. So he took a boat going the opposite direction of Nineveh.

Jonah’s flight from the Lord ended in the belly of a big fish. He was as good as dead. But God was merciful and preserved Jonah’s life.

Jesus is telling these religious leaders that something similar will happen to him. Not that he will run away from God, but that he will suffer the punishment for all who do, a punishment that will require his death.

Jesus did not go down into the belly of a big fish but into a tomb, buried and dead. Then God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the sign that Jesus is speaking about, his resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection is God’s greatest sign. For those who dismiss it, nothing will be good enough. For those who recognize it as God’s power, nothing could be better. They see, understand, and act.

In the Old Testament we read about men from Issachar who understood the times and knew what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). Every generation needs men and women who understand the times and know what to do.

Unfortunately, in our day there are many folks who are like those religious leaders who asked Jesus for a sign. They understand nature far better than they understand the Creator. But we need people who can do more than understand nature and question God.

First, we need folks who understand the times from an eternal perspective. Our times are so bad in a spiritual sense that we may be tempted to conclude that God has abandoned us. But that would be a mistake.

Jesus told the religious leaders in his day that they were a wicked and adulterous generation. It’s hard to imagine a more negative analysis! And yet the Son of God came and walked among that wicked and adulterous generation.

We must not be discouraged by the dark state of our world. Despite this present darkness, God is working to accomplish all that he has promised.

The church in America is undergoing historical realignment. Until recently Christians have been divided mostly along denominational lines. But now Christian denominations are dividing within themselves between those who believe the Bible and those who do not.

Those who trust Scripture are now a remnant in many denominations. In some cases they are leaving their institutions behind because they can no longer participate in the disobedient course being taken by spiritually darkened leaders.

Our times are characterized by increasing skepticism towards God’s word and expanding secularism in every facet of life. As a result, biblical illiteracy is growing by leaps and bounds, and church participation is faltering.

Once we understand the times, we must know what to do. A skeptical and secular world must hear and see the truth of God’s word.

The world will only hear God’s word when God’s people are bold enough to proclaim it publicly. The world will only see God’s word when God’s people are confident enough to live in obedience to God’s commands faithfully and openly.

Jesus promises that obedience to his message is like a house built on solid rock. The wind blows, the rain falls, the river rises, but the house stands. He warns that a life of disobedience is like a house built on sand. The wind blows, the rain falls, the river rises, and that house crashes.

All around us we see lives and families and communities crashing because they are built on the sandy ground of skepticism and secularism. We have the answer.

Our task in this dark generation is to obey God’s command and to testify about Jesus. Now.

May God’s Word always be a lamp for our feet and a light for our path,

Brother Richard Foster

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