Monthly Archives: April 2013

Worshiping God

The Book of Psalms is 150 mostly shorter poems that instruct and inspire God’s people in authentic worship. This ancient book of praise reveals a rich and complex variety of attitudes and actions when God’s people encounter God’s Presence.

So extensive and varied is the picture of worship in the Psalms that one lifetime could not possibly be sufficient to fully explore and experience all the subtle nuances of praising God. Approaching the Presence of God is an ever-unfolding experience that pulls worshipers upward to greater heights of rejoicing and onward to deeper places of faith.

An important part of worship is remembering God’s mighty works. God’s people remember that he spoke the universe into existence and so his beauty and power are reflected in nature. God sustains and supervises the entire cosmos, from electrons and protons to spiral galaxies and black holes; from sun, soil, and water for a blade of grass to security, love, and purpose for each of his people.

God’s people also remember God’s great works in salvation when they worship. The psalmists recall and celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel from cruel bondage in Egypt. Inspired by God’s Spirit, they also heard the voice of prophecy in their worship, looking forward to the day when Christ would fulfill the promise, being the one and only Savior sent from God.

Not only is the vast array of God’s attributes and acts on display in the Psalms, but the encounters between God and his people include the full range of human emotion. Worshipers at times approach the Lord from the depths of despair. They come asking God for his protection, for his forgiveness, for his answers to difficult questions, and much more.

At other times worshipers approach the Lord with a melody in their hearts and a song on their lips, praising the Maker of heaven and earth for his majesty, wisdom, justice, power, love, mercy, or one of God’s other marvelous characteristics. In short, real worship calls God’s people to come with honest hearts.

So if you are feeling down and out on the next Lord’s Day, or if you have a heart full of happiness, make it a point to gather with God’s people for another meeting with God’s Presence. A lifetime of enriching encounters awaits us in worship.

May God’s Spirit always fill us when we gather in his holy Name,

Brother Richard

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Are We Our Brother’s Keeper?

Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous. When God asked Cain about his brother’s whereabouts, he fired back at the Lord in anger, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Cain meant that he was not responsible for his brother, but God disagreed.

Cain’s question has become a symbol for issues far greater than the tragedy between two brothers from the ancient past. The question is now asked in relation to the Church’s responsibility to society. Is the Church called to eradicate all injustice in this world?

God’s command in the Old Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17) could be seen as an answer to Cain’s question. God’s people have a responsibility not just to their own family members, but also to neighbors. Does that include the society at large?

In the New Testament, a man asked Jesus about this command to love one’s neighbor. He wanted to know where to draw the line. How does God define “neighbor”?

Jesus answered the man’s question with a parable. A traveler was robbed and left for dead on a dangerous road. Two religious Jews passed by and denied the man any assistance. A Samaritan, however, went out of his way to help the dying man.

Jesus told his listeners, Jews, to be like the Samaritan, a people considered inferior by the Jews. Clearly Jesus expects his followers to help those who are in need, and not just those within one’s own socio-economic or ethnic group.

God’s people should reach across the multitude of lines that divide humanity in order to help anyone who is in need. But did Jesus expect his followers to establish a just and equitable society?

Jesus was a prophet like those in the Old Testament. They spoke truth to power. As bold messengers from the Lord, they stood against exploitation and oppression. They were advocates for the poor and disenfranchised in their culture.

Did not Jesus carry on the tradition of exposing and denouncing the sins of the ruling class? He did. Jesus excoriated the leaders in his day for using their places of privilege to enrich themselves at the expense of the marginalized.

The prophets’ fiery denunciations against abuses of power are a good model for the Church today, but only if their full message is understood and imitated. The prophets clearly saw that a just society depends upon a God-fearing and God-obeying people. Trying to remove injustice is not enough. The prophets’ ultimate goal was to turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.

Jesus condemned social injustice, but he left no mandate for redeeming cultures, societies, or governments in this age. He predicted that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, and it was. He also predicted that all kingdoms in this age will fall and they will. Why? Every new generation battles with sin and injustice because this world is broken by sin; and this broken world needs not just progressive social reform, but radical spiritual change.

Jesus expects his followers to denounce social injustice, but not as part of an attempt to establish heaven on earth because that would be an impossible task. Every generation starts over with a fresh crop of sinners whose hearts are drawn toward disobedience to God, leading to another harvest of injustice.

Despite the perpetual and inevitable failure of humanity to achieve a just and righteous society, God’s people are not allowed to be pessimistic. Instead, the Lord expects his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. In fact, the Bible asserts that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). But good works without faith are futile.

The man who asked Jesus how to define “neighbor” had first asked Jesus’ opinion about God’s greatest command. Jesus answered by noting the command to love one’s neighbor, but he said that it was second in importance, not first. The primary command is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. Loving one another is not a substitute for loving God.

A rich man asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give all the money to the poor, but not so that first-century Palestine would be a more just and equitable place. The young man needed to rid himself of all that would keep him from following Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus was the ultimate goal then as it is now.

Jesus attended to the sick and poor, but he did so in order to bring attention to his message. At the end of his time on earth he gave his followers instructions for carrying on his work. “You all will be my witnesses,” he told them, to everyone everywhere (Acts 1:8). The record shows that Early Christianity’s main focus was placed on announcing the truth about God’s salvation.

Moments before Jesus surrendered his life on a Roman cross, he said, “It is finished.” What was finished? Surely he was not referring to the work of social justice, because as he uttered those words the world was filled with war, poverty, sickness, violence, and despair.

Jesus’ finished work was to give his life as a sacrifice for sin so that all who trust in him will be right with God and spend eternity with the Lord in a place without social injustice and without sin. Help those in need, but put your faith not in social reform, but in the Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church

Published by the Camden News in Religious Reflections April 12, 2013

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What is Your Next Step of Faith?

Noah was commended for being righteous, blameless in his generation, and for walking with God (Genesis 6:9). Walking with God seems to be the climax of the list. Not only did he live an upright life, not only was he a bright spot in a corrupt and wicked generation, but he actually walked with the Living God, a very high compliment in Scripture. But what does it mean to walk with God?

The word walk is used in the Bible for a person’s lifestyle. Some of our newer translations simply use the word live. For instance, Galatians 5:16 is sometimes rendered: Live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). A literal translation is: Walk by the Spirit. By using the picture of walking we get the idea that our spiritual life is going somewhere. So we can ask: What is the next step in following the Lord?

To live a godly life in an ungodly world was only one step in Noah’s spiritual life. God challenged him to take the next step: to build an ark. If Noah was trying to blend in and stay out of sight, he was in for a surprise. You cannot hide a 450-foot-long, 75-foot-wide, 45-foot-high ark. In order to walk with God, Noah had to do something that would make his faith very public, very noticeable.

Building the ark must have taken many years of hard work. Surely Noah got used to the routine. In addition to all the things he did before, he now had to find time for building that massive floating box. But all the things he did before were still there, providing some continuity. Then, when the ark was finally finished, it was time to take another step of faith, the next step in walking with God.

God instructed Noah to enter the ark with his family. Once inside, God himself closed the door. It’s one thing to build the ark, but it is something else to go inside and leave the past behind. Everything changed for Noah when he took his family inside that ark. God unleashed the flood, and with it his judgment on a wicked and rebellious world. Noah’s life would never be the same.

Noah understood that walking with God meant leaving his comfort zone and following the Lord into the unknown. He knew that he could trust God, even though it meant losing what was familiar to him. Trying to stay in the previous stage of faith would have been a disaster for Noah. He was not called to build arks, but to build one ark and to entrust himself and his family to that one ark. He had to find the courage to take the next step.

What is the next step of faith for me? for you? If we are going to walk with God, then we will be called on by God to move forward one step at a time, not to stand still. Occasionally we will face a step that requires great faith on our part because it means leaving familiar things behind and going on to something new and unprecedented.

Perhaps the Lord is calling you to take the next step of faith by doing something new. To stand still would be like Noah refusing to enter the ark, or to leave it when the time came. Obedience will keep your spiritual life healthy and vital. Jesus is calling us to follow him, one step at a time, hand to the plow, not looking back, and fit for service in the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to follow Jesus every step of the way,

Brother Richard Foster

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King David’s Support

David was an extraordinary man. He was a mighty warrior, a wise king, a gifted musician and poet. As a king in the ancient Near East some 3,000 years ago, he was in a position of almost unquestioned power and authority. David united the people of Israel into a strong and successful nation, subduing all his enemies. He captured Jerusalem and built his capital there, forging a well-deserved reputation as an effective leader.

David’s successes could very easily have persuaded him that he was invincible. Such power and notoriety could have resulted in a man who was proud to the point of arrogance. But in addition to David’s military might, political ability, and musical talent, he was a deeply spiritual man. David trusted the God of heaven and earth implicitly. In fact, it was his trust in the LORD that inspired him to fight and defeat the giant Goliath when David was still a lad.

David is credited with writing many of the Psalms in our Old Testament. In Psalm 18, he expressed his deep love for the LORD in passionate worship. David recognized that the LORD was his strength, his security, his song, and his salvation. In verse 18 he remembered that his enemies confronted him in a day of disaster, but the LORD was his support. David gave God credit for his victory.

In Psalm 18:6 David recounted how he cried out to the LORD when he was in distress. His response to distress is remarkable. When people are in distress they tend to reveal what their real support truly is. Under stress we discover what we really believe, what or whom we really trust. When serious stress hits, different people run to different things for support. Some people simply go into despair. Apparently they have no support at all.

When you are being pressed hard, where do you go for strength, security, and deliverance? What or who is your support? If a man as powerful, popular, smart, successful, and talented as King David needed the LORD for support, surely the rest of us do, too. David cried out to God, and as David recorded in Psalm 18:16, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me.” What better place to be than in the grip of God?

May Almighty God be our support in all that we do,

Brother Richard

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