Monthly Archives: August 2012

The True People of Hope and Change

Our nation’s legal definition of marriage continues to be a fierce battle ground.  Bible-believing Christians want to preserve God’s design for marriage: one man and one woman freely and fully committed to one another for life.  Radical gay activists are working hard to undermine and redefine marriage in order to include same-sex couples.  Much is at stake in the struggle over how to define marriage.  Countless lives will be affected if our country distorts the boundaries for legal marriage, both in ways that can be predicted and in ways that cannot yet be imagined.  Who could be harmed, and how?

As always, when society loosens the laws that establish healthy limits for marriage and family, children pay the highest price.  Single-parent families have taught us the hard way that children generally do much better when they live with both mom and dad.  Nevertheless, gay activists insist that two moms or two dads will be just as good.  Why should we believe them?  As children grow into adults they desperately need godly models for healthy and responsible sexual behavior, not gender confusion.

Some who oppose same-sex marriage often argue that tradition has established heterosexual marriage as the best foundation for society.  But traditions are established by people and they can change.  Marriage is more than a tradition.  Marriage is instituted and designed by God.  In addition, marriage and family are not simply building blocks for human society.  The Bible presents much higher ideals for marriage.

In the Old Testament, God used husband and wife as a picture of his relationship with his chosen people Israel.  In the New Testament God’s design for marriage is given as a picture of Christ’s bond with his church, his Bride.  More than nurturing children, more than directing young people about their God-given sexuality, more than providing the building blocks of culture and society, marriage is about God’s love for his people.  Essential spiritual Truth is transmitted through God’s design for marriage.

Some would argue that the fundamental spiritual Truth meant to be communicated through marriage is simply love and commitment.  Therefore, loving and committed same-sex couples, we are told, fulfill the Bible’s commands.  If that were true then loving and committed relationships of any kind would eventually be proposed.  But this argument ignores the fact that homosexuality is condemned every time it is mentioned in Scripture.  Should that matter?

The question of defining marriage ultimately brings us to an even more fundamental and critical issue.  What is the Bible?  Is it God’s perfect Word to humanity?  Or is it a collection of words by imperfect people who were searching for divine insight and inspiration?  Those of us who support God’s design for marriage point to the Bible as the premier authority for defining marriage.  As a result, gay activists have attacked the church’s understanding of God’s Word.  Scriptures that clearly condemn same-sex relationships are said to be irrelevant to our age.  But should human desires judge God’s Word or should God’s Word judge human desires?

For those of us who have decided to stand on the perfect Word of God, we must be committed to the whole counsel of God.  The Bible not only condemns same-sex marriage, Scripture also condemns all sexual immorality.  Any sexual misconduct undermines the spiritual Truth that is to be reflected through godly marriage.  Let us not merely fight against a radical gay agenda.  Let us fight for the radical holiness that God has called us to.  Let us do it not because it is traditional, or pragmatic, or comfortable, but because it honors our Lord.  He who called us is holy, so let us be holy in all that we do.

In addition, the whole counsel of God reminds us that we do not simply speak the Truth.  We speak the Truth in love.  Men and women struggling with sexual sin deserve to hear the Truth but they need to hear from someone who genuinely cares.  The many angry voices in the debate over defining marriage easily draw attention to themselves.  God’s people must be different.  Righteous indignation is a legitimate response, but loving confrontation and encouragement is a vital ingredient.  We are the true people of hope and change.

May the people of God rise up and contend for the faith with the love of Christ,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

 

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Would You Wash Judas’ Feet?

Jesus spent time with his disciples just before his crucifixion.  John chapter 13 begins with the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.  Just imagine how flabbergasted they were to see their Master on his knees with a towel and a bowl of water performing such a menial task!  Jesus had to argue with Peter before the proud fisherman would allow it.

After washing their feet Jesus returned to his place of honor at the table and asked his disciples if they understood what he had just done.  They learned three things which still apply to the followers of Jesus today.  First, if the Son of God is willing to perform such a humble task, then all who follow him should be willing to accept assignments that are less than glamorous.

Second, Jesus washed the feet of all twelve of his disciples, including Judas.  Judas had been treated like a close friend, walking side by side with Jesus and his other disciples for almost three years.  Nevertheless, he was about to shamefully betray Jesus, handing him over to his enemies for shocking and cruel treatment.  And yet Jesus washed Judas’ feet, too.  In following Jesus we will find ourselves sometimes serving those who are less than deserving.

Finally, Jesus’ footwashing was more than just a physical act of kindness.  Washing feet symbolized the cleansing of souls.  In fact, Jesus pictured his entire ministry with that one act of service.  When he took off his outer garment and left the table it pictured him setting aside his glory in heaven and stepping into human history at Bethlehem.  When he washed the feet of his disciples it pictured his humility on the cross outside Jerusalem, sacrificing himself to cleanse the souls of sinners.  And when Jesus stood up and assumed again his place of honor at the table, it symbolized his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the throne in heaven.

In the same way that Jesus’ footwashing was filled with great symbolic meaning, our service is filled with great spiritual purpose.  We do not serve simply to make this world a better place, although our actions will often ease suffering and increase joy.  But much more than that, we are serving in a cosmic rescue mission led by an Eternal Savior who is pulling souls out of the vast kingdom of darkness and opening a way for them to have a permanent place in the everlasting kingdom of Light.

May we always represent our Lord Jesus Christ well through our humble service,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

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Can You Do Greater Things than Jesus Did?

Just before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said things to his disciples that were nothing less than astounding.  He told them that he would soon be leaving and returning to the Father.  As a result of his going to the Father, Jesus revealed to his followers that they would do greater things than he had done (John 14:12).  Do greater things than Jesus did?

Jesus turned water to wine at a wedding.  He satisfied over 5,000 hungry people with only five small barley loaves and two small fish.  He walked on water.  He gave sight to a blind man.  He went to a funeral and told the dead man to come out of his tomb, and the man did.  How could Jesus be serious in saying that his followers would do greater things than these?

Jesus made this promise to his disciples before he died on the cross, before giving his life as a ransom for lost sinners.  His death and resurrection was greater than anything he had done before because his sacrifice made eternal salvation available.  After all, what good is it to make a heart merry with wine, a stomach satisfied with food, a pair of eyes able to enjoy light, or even a dead man to get up and walk, if they still face an eternity in hell?

After Jesus died to provide God’s forgiveness and rose again to offer new life, the greater work could be done.  Jesus entrusted the proclamation of his saving work to his followers.  Jesus’ followers still have the responsibility and the honor of telling the world about the greatest work ever done.  What could be greater than seeing lost souls transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light, to see a person’s eternity changed from everlasting death to everlasting life?  Eternal salvation is a greater work than food, sight, or even earthly life.

True, Jesus attended to people’s immediate needs, and so should his followers.  But Jesus did not get distracted from the greater work of eternal salvation and neither should his followers.  Our Lord has not only saved us to live a new life, but he has called us to proclaim this new life to others who are still lost.  To enjoy God’s blessings is a good thing.  To live holy lives is pleasing to God.  To help those in need is work worthy of our labor.  But to share in God’s work of salvation is truly the greatest thing we can do.

Please pray about your participation in the core mission of your church, proclaiming the Good News about God’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  Attend a personal evangelism class.  Tell others about the faith.  Invite people to church.  Go or help send someone else on a mission trip.  Find your place in God’s Kingdom mission and enjoy the excitement of doing greater things.

May Jesus Christ always be our greatest passion,

Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR

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Is Jesus a Democrat or a Republican?

Political parties attempt to recruit Jesus as a spokesman for their platforms from time to time.  This is nothing new.  On one occasion, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000-plus people by multiplying five loaves and two fishes.  Some people in that crowd suddenly realized that Jesus would be a great leader for their cause.  They tried to make Jesus king by force.  He declined the invitation.

Jesus was faced with several political choices.  His own people were subject to the sometimes harsh rule of Rome, which motivated various groups to respond in different ways.  One group was convinced that violent resistance was the only acceptable course.  After all, were they not to be ruled by God alone?  This group was deeply committed to throwing off the Roman yoke even if it meant shedding blood.  They were called Zealots.

Jesus rejected the politics of violence.  He refused to engage in brutality or terror in order to build his Kingdom.  The politics of violence is still alive and well in our world today.  Based on Jesus’ actions and teaching, we are persuaded that he would reject the politics of violence and intimidation today, too.

Near the place where Jesus fed the 5,000 another group made their home.  This group saw only evil in both Roman rulers and in the leaders of their own people Israel.  They rejected any kind of real participation in the politics of their day.  They withdrew into the wilderness and formed their own community, pursuing only personal religious goals.  They were called Essenes.

Jesus did not join the Essenes.  He was not absent from the public debate nor was he afraid to face the leaders of his people with challenging ideas.  The politics of withdrawal is practiced in our world, too.  Some groups see political participation as something beneath them, and so they avoid becoming entangled in the complex problems of this world.  We are persuaded that Jesus would not be a recluse from society today.

Other groups in the first century were more pragmatic about politics.  Rome was the center of power and likely to remain so at least into the foreseeable future.  Given the realities of the situation, why not deal with Rome on Rome’s terms?  This group compromised and served the Empire.  They shared power by collecting taxes for the occupiers.  As a result they made bitter enemies among their own people.  To be called a Tax Collector in first-century Israel was not a compliment.

Jesus did not join the Tax Collectors.  In fact, he refused to compromise with anyone about anything.  He claimed to have an independent and superior authority: God.  That claim disturbed those who were invested in the established power structures.  They recognized that Jesus represented a threat to the status quo.  Nevertheless, Jesus refused to soften his message in order to make friends with the powerful people of his day.  We cannot imagine that Jesus would compromise his message today.

Some may wish to argue that Jesus was not political at all, that he was only a religious philosopher or teacher.  But he was political enough to frighten both the Jewish and Roman officials.  They conspired against him and executed him, hoping to get him out of their way.  Ironically they were merely tools in the hands of God, used to advance his Kingdom, the very Kingdom that Jesus was working to establish.  The Kingdom of God challenges the politics of this age, both first century and twenty-first century politics.

True, Jesus did not join the Zealots or the Tax Collectors, but a Zealot and a Tax Collector joined him.  Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector would normally have been bitter political enemies, more so than democrats and republicans of today.  But with Jesus they found someone who was greater than their personal politics.  In Jesus they found another way to do politics, leaving behind their previous ideas and embracing his.

So, is Jesus a Democrat or a Republican?  No, he is not.  Jesus does not have to conform to any pre-determined political dogma.  Jesus is himself a power greater than all others and he does politics his own way.  How then do we label Jesus?  Some may say that we cannot and should not, but I disagree.  There is a label for Jesus, the perfect label: Jesus is Lord.

– Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR, May 2011
Printed May 2011;  Camden News;  Camden, AR.

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Did God Change His Name to Higgs Boson?

On July 4 scientists announced the discovery of an important particle in the universe: the Higgs boson.  It has been called the “God particle.”  Some say that this discovery is another important step toward proving that our universe exists without God.  Is that true?

First of all, despite the fireworks coming from the scientific community over this triumph of human intellect, many riddles about the nature of our universe remain unsolved (What in the world is “dark matter”?).  But why this preoccupation with trying to disprove God’s existence anyway?

Scientific exploration in our world was carried on for thousands of years by men and women who assumed that careful study of the physical world yields answers because the physical world operates based on observable and predictable laws.  The laws governing our universe are guaranteed by the Lawgiver: God.

Because God is the Designer, his world exhibits design, complex beauty which is worthy of our careful study.  And because God has created each of us in his image, we have curious minds capable of recognizing and appreciating design.

But another group of scientists has gained prominence.  They assume that God is a myth, so there is no design and no guarantee of answers.  The question of why the world operates according to laws and principles is taboo with this newer group.  In fact, physical laws are merely accidental forces that are to be described and manipulated, nothing more.

For instance, the law of gravity is manipulated in order to produce flight.  Asking why our universe should have a law of gravity is dangerous because it might lead back to the search for God.  Just fly and don’t ask too many questions.

The godless scientists come with a curious irony.  When badly outnumbered by the God-believing scientists, they insisted on their right to think and explore outside the established dogma.  Now they refuse to allow others the same courtesy.  They insist on limiting exploration of the universe by closing the door on God, or trying to.

But the God question refuses to go away, why?  Because questions about “the beginning” are unavoidable and yet they seem to be beyond the reach of human science.  “The beginning” seems to hide behind a mysterious cosmic curtain that human science is incapable of piercing.

Some scientists may wish to limit the debate, but human curiosity will not be silenced.  If scientists have found the Higgs boson, great! but how did it originate?  Why does it exist at all?  If science finds a particle that explains the beginning of the Higgs particle then we must ask how that particle originated.

The Bible addresses our desire to know about “the beginning.”  Scripture starts with these momentous words in Genesis 1, “In the beginning God created. . . .”  The answer to the beginning of the Higgs boson, of dark matter, and of everything else is God.

Here is the problem for those who want to cut God out: God does more than answer questions about beginnings.  Once we admit that God cannot be removed from the equation then we are faced with the next logical question.  Who is God and what is he like?

According to Scripture God is holy, righteous, and just.  As our Maker, he expects us to be holy because he is holy.  To refuse living by his standard is to fall under his judgment.  To admit that disobedience is wrong and seek his forgiveness is to experience his mercy and love.

Maybe God would be more acceptable to secular science if he simply answered questions about the physical universe without bringing in moral, ethical, and spiritual matters.  But God is indivisible.  To have his answers about origins is to face his challenges about ethics.

Secular people think that scientific exploration of the universe, and everyday life, should be liberated from God.  Such a freedom, however, comes at a terrible cost.  Without God we lose the ability to ever answer the questions about the origins of our universe and about the source of the laws that govern it.  But even more hangs in the balance.

Without God there is no fixed standard of truth, goodness, and love.  In a godless universe these are not eternal realities, they are simply human ideas, subject to constant change, suspension, or cancellation.  But fortunately for us, God has not changed his name nor will he ever change his character.

The God question persists because God persists.  The stubborn question about “the beginning” is a reminder that like God, morals, ethics, and spirituality will never be expelled from human experience.  And because God is eternal and God is love, then love is eternal.

Am I saying that without God there is no love?  Yes I am.  And without God there is no science.  Science depends upon the laws of physics and the laws of physics depend upon the Lawgiver.  Don’t allow anyone to limit you in your quest to learn about “the beginning.”

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, July 2012

Printed July 2012;  Camden News;  Camden, AR.

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Should Marriage Be Defined By Tradition or Truth?

In the ongoing debate about marriage, conservative voices often use the word “traditional.”  The legal definition of marriage, they say, should be based on tradition.  Is that right?

Cultures tend to evolve and ours is no exception.  In the last few decades attitudes have shifted dramatically about what behaviors should be accepted, and therefore, should be promoted and protected by our legal system.

First, voices began saying that not every sexual relationship should be restricted to marriage.  As this idea gained acceptance immorality and adultery multiplied.  Decades of progressive attitudes about sex have left their mark.  Has sexual immorality become a new American tradition?

Then people began to say that not every baby deserves to live.  As a result our society legalized and accelerated the destruction of what came to be called “fetal tissue.”  After destroying tens of millions of unborn babies, can we say that abortion has become a sad new American tradition?

Next, people decided that not every marriage is worth fighting to save.  The result was an explosion in the number of broken homes.  Higher and higher percentages of marriages ended in divorce.  Another new American tradition?

It also became popular to say that not every child needs both a mom and a dad.  Single-parent homes emerged as a valid choice for family.  With so many children growing up in one-parent households, could we say that single parenting has become an American tradition?

Now our culture wants to say that not every marriage must be between one man and one woman.  A vocal and politically powerful minority is working hard to establish another new American tradition: so-called “gay marriage.”

If the definition of marriage is determined by tradition, then it is doomed to be tossed about by the fickle cultural breezes that constantly swirl in our country.  Traditions come and go, some good and some not.  Marriage is far too important to be left to the shifting winds of culture and tradition.

The Bible reveals God’s original design for marriage.  Early in the account of creation, in Genesis 2, God’s Word says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and join with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Note the beginning: For this reason.  For what reason?  Because God made them male and female.  Marriage begins with the unique compatibility between a man and a woman.

Jesus affirmed God’s ancient design for marriage more than a millennium later.  When asked about divorce he quoted Genesis 2, and then he added, “So what God has joined together let no man separate.”  Jesus agreed with God’s original definition of marriage, rejecting the idea that family evolves or that it must bow to popular cultural notions.

Conservative defenders of one-man-one-woman marriage often claim to believe in the authority of the Bible, yet they choose to argue that tradition should define marriage.  Why?  Do they believe that tradition will be more agreeable to a secular culture than the Bible?

Another argument says that traditional marriage is the best foundation for a healthy culture.  This line of reasoning also attempts to persuade culture about godly marriage without mentioning God or the Bible.

One-man-one-woman marriage does offer the best foundation for any culture.  But marriage is more than a strong platform for society.  Marriage is meant to be a visible expression of God’s love for his people.

The risk of rejection is no excuse for softening God’s Truth.  God designed marriage to be one man and one woman totally and freely committed to one another [f]or a lifetime.  Jesus affirmed God’s unchanging design for marriage and added a statement about the permanent nature of the relationship.

So, why not boldly and honestly promote God’s Truth about marriage?  The Bible itself promises that God’s Word is eternal and unchanging: “The grass withers and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.”

In the debate about marriage the church must decide whether to argue for tradition or for God’s design.  Traditions change but God’s Word stands forever.  Let’s take our stand with the Truth.

– Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR, May 2012

Printed May 2012;  Camden News;  Camden, AR.

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Is Jesus a Communist or a Capitalist?

A young man approached Jesus and asked him how to inherit eternal life.  Instead of a spiritual answer Jesus gave an economic reply.  He instructed the young man to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.

Jesus’ response would surprise almost anyone, but it was especially stunning for a very wealthy person.  And this man was very wealthy.

Was Jesus endorsing income redistribution?  Was he telling the man that he should give up his elite financial status and become part of the 99 percent?  Was he saying that economic justice should be top priority?  Is that not advice that Marx would appreciate?

What would the man do?  Apparently he was so attached to his great wealth that he could not bring himself to obey Jesus.  So he turned and went away sad.

The man’s love for his wealth is no surprise.  What is remarkable is that Jesus had nothing more to say to him.  He merely allowed the rich young man to choose his own gloomy destiny.

If Jesus believed in redistributing wealth, he certainly had a strange way of showing it.  He did not insist on passing a law that forced the man to give up his riches.  He did not start a revolutionary uprising among workers to take back what was rightfully theirs.  He did not even put up tents in the park and organize a protest against the injustice of economic disparity.

So Jesus agreed that the man had a right to own property, lots of property, when others were in desperate need, even though it could not bring him true happiness.  Jesus must be a capitalist.

But why did Jesus urge the man to sell all his property and give the money to the poor?  It was his wealth, after all.  Why not just give a generous donation and stay rich?  He could do more for the downtrodden by maintaining a healthy income stream, right?

As the rich young man walked away, Jesus turned to his followers and uttered one of his best-known sayings.  “Easier it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he said, “than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”  That sounds bad for rich people.

On another occasion Jesus told about a wealthy man who ignored a dirty beggar named Lazarus.  But a great reversal took place in the presence of God.  The rich man found himself in torment while the poor man was comforted.

Is that a fair outcome?  The beggar was just a welfare case who refused to work, right?  Apparently the Lord expected the rich man to do more than trickle down on the poor man.

Jesus taught that nobody can serve both God and money.  He warned about the riches of this world, pointing out that material wealth is prone to theft and decay.  He told his followers to give, and if someone takes what belongs to them, do not demand it back.  Does that sound like capitalism?

Change the terminology to socialism instead of communism or to free markets instead of capitalism if you wish.  The point is the same.  Jesus cannot be recruited to promote our popular systems of macro-economics, unless he is severely edited.  And editing Jesus is difficult because, as he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words (all of them) will never pass away.”

How are we to understand Jesus on wealth?  He did more than instruct that rich young man to give his riches to the poor.  Jesus urged the man to come and follow him.  Wealth was not the issue; it was a distraction from the issue.  The issue was, and is, following Jesus.

If we could undo all the economic injustice in this harsh world, but we did not become followers of Jesus, then our efforts would be of no lasting value.  If we could produce a great fortune that creates jobs and income for millions, but we did not become followers of Jesus, then our accomplishments would be trivial.

The rich young man did not like what Jesus had to say about wealth so he walked away.  He elevated his ideas and feelings about wealth above Jesus.  If we elevate our ideas about wealth above Jesus, whatever they may be, then we, too, have missed the point.

Instead of hearing only the words of Jesus that seem to support our preconceived ideas about wealth, let us hear all that he has to say.  When we do, we will find that Jesus Christ has much more to offer than economic freedom or fairness.  Jesus is more than a reformer.  Jesus is Redeemer.

– Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR, January 2012

Printed January 2012;  Camden News;  Camden, AR.

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