Category Archives: Religion

Vital Information For Kids

Thanks to everyone who has agreed to help with Vacation Bible School in 2017! Pray that God will bless our efforts as we gather together and tell kids about Jesus.

The Bible text for Lifeway’s VBS this year is Colossians 1:15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation, for by him all things were created: in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by him and for him.”

The “he” in these verses is Jesus Christ. The one used by God to write these words was the great missionary Paul the Apostle. Originally Paul was writing to a first-century church. Apparently false teachers were trying to diminish Jesus, teaching that he was less than divine.

In our day people sometimes assert that Jesus is a great man, a great teacher, a great healer, but that he is not the Son of God. They deny that he is the only way to be right with God. We need these great words from the Book of Colossians just as surely as that church long ago needed them. We need to know the truth about Jesus.

Notice that Jesus is not an image of God but the image of God, the one and only. Jesus told his disciples that when they had seen him, they had seen God the Father. Jesus is the Word become flesh who lived for a while among us.

Jesus is firstborn over all creation. Firstborn is a reference to a custom in the ancient world. The firstborn received a double portion of inheritance. He was honored above all others. God appointed Jesus heir of all things. He has the most honored position of all, exalted above all others, the One and only Savior.

Jesus is not a created being. He is the One through whom all things were created. Through him God made the ages. Without him nothing was made that has been made. Jesus is Lord of all creation by virtue of the fact that he is the Maker and Sustainer.

Through Jesus God made all that we see. He also made the things that cannot be seen, even with telescopes or microscopes. Planets and suns, water and animals, love and truth, angels and demons, he made everything. All creation is his.

And Jesus is Lord of all Christians in a double sense. He is our Lord because he is our Maker and he is our Lord because he is our Savior. He not only made us, he also purchased us with his blood. We are no longer our own, but we belong to him.

This great Bible text tells us that all things in heaven and on earth were made not only by Jesus but for Jesus. There is no authority or ruler which is not subject to the power of Jesus. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

What great things we have to share with the kids this year!

May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to believe and to proclaim the truth about Jesus,

Brother Richard Foster

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What Does Spiritual Maturity Really Look Like?

Moses started out by telling God, “No.” He did not want to go. He wanted nothing to do with helping the Hebrew people break free from their cruel bondage under the oppressive rule of Pharaoh in Egypt. But God has a way of persuading people.

In Egypt, circumstances reinforced Moses’ first instinct about this mission. Not only did Pharaoh oppose him, but the very people that he went to save wanted nothing to do with him. His plea for Pharaoh to let the people go made their lives even more difficult. Moses complained to God but he did not quit his mission.

As events unfolded, Moses began to trust God more and more. Eventually he saw the Lord rescue the Hebrew people with astonishing miracles. God’s deliverance took time and required patience from Moses and the Hebrew people, but his methods left no doubt about his power and authority.

Once they were out of Egypt, the people began to test Moses’ patience, perhaps even more than Pharaoh’s stubborn behavior had. They complained about the lack of food and water. They even talked about going back to Egypt. . . .

Then the people sinned against God by making an idol and worshiping it, at the very place where they agreed to worship the Lord only! The anger of God was stirred and he threatened to do away with the people and start over with Moses.

Moses now demonstrates striking spiritual maturity and insight. Instead of stepping aside and allowing God to destroy the people, Moses intercedes. He offers to have his own name blotted out from God’s Book of Life as a substitute sacrifice for them. Very Christ-like behavior! Of course, only Jesus can do such a thing, but Moses’ action displays amazing spiritual growth since his refusal to obey God’s call at the burning bush.

The Hebrew people, however, are slow in their spiritual development. They continue to gripe, grumble and complain. Then, in a breath-taking act of disobedience, they refuse to go up and take the Promised Land, which prompts God to condemn an entire generation to nomadic wandering in the desert. The next generation will enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land.

Now, after 40 years, the time has come for that next generation to answer God’s call, to carry out his plan, and to enjoy his blessing: a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses is now 120 years old. He gives his farewell address to the Hebrews, the people he has devoted his life to serving.

In his last message (the Book of Deuteronomy), Moses seems to have a bone to pick with the people. He says to them, “because of you,” the Lord was angry and refused to allow him entrance into the land.

He is referring to one of the many times during the years in the desert when the people grumbled against Moses and against God. On this occasion it was because water was scarce. Moses prayed and the Lord instructed him to speak to the rock. God would provide.

But this time Moses could no longer contain his frustration with the people. He scolded them harshly and then struck the rock with his staff in anger not once, but twice. As a result of disobeying the Lord’s instructions, God would deny Moses entrance into the Promised Land.

Now, in his farewell address, Moses tells the people that he pleaded with God to let him enter the Promised Land. But God refused to listen, telling him to stop asking. Moses would die east of the Jordan.

As Moses recounts this episode in his farewell address, his disappointment is evident. He blames the Hebrew people for his failure, not once, but three times (Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26; 4:21).

His resentment is understandable. Moses’ life has been devoted to leading God’s people into the Promised Land. How many times in their wilderness wanderings when the people grew weary and wanted to give up did Moses inspire them to carry on by reminding them about the land flowing with milk and honey that awaited them in the future? And now, at the climax of his life’s work, he is being refused the opportunity to experience the blessed land which they had waited for all their lives.

Moses may complain, but he does not give in to the temptation to walk away and give up on the people. He does not say, “If I can’t go in, then I don’t care what happens to these people!” He does not stomp away and sulk.

Instead, Moses recognizes God’s authority in the matter and works to prepare the people for the next step in God’s plan. He gives his farewell address, readying the people for their lives in the Promised Land. And he encourages their new leader: Joshua.

At first blush, Moses’ struggle with resentment and bitterness indicates that he may not be as spiritually mature as he appears. If he were really mature, would he even be struggling with such ugly emotions?

On further reflection, however, we should take note that Moses’ continued commitment to God’s plan and God’s people reveals a remarkable level of spiritual maturity. Moses is somehow able to act right when he feels wrong!

The world says, “Follow your heart.” But doing only what we feel like doing, only when we feel like doing it is a great definition of adolescence, not maturity. God’s word reminds us that our hearts are deceitful. People often do what they know is wrong or even dangerous. Why? Because they want to.

We need a more dependable source of guidance. Moses followed God’s direction in his life, even when it was painful and disappointing. He valued God’s judgment above his own. When his own heart was not in harmony with God’s, Moses chose to trust God’s heart.

The Lord gave Moses a consolation. From the height of Mt. Pisgah on the east side of the Jordan River, God showed his faithful servant the blessed land which his people were about to inherit. Was Moses given a vision that surpasses what natural eyes can perceive?

That short time with the Lord on the summit of the mountain, viewing the prize, was precious for Moses. It was worth far more to him than many days or years of bowing to his disappointment and walking away in defiance to God’s word.

Moses’ experience with the Lord on Mt. Pisgah has become a powerful symbol in Christian thought. In fact, the entire Exodus has been used by believers for generations to give expression to the Christian experience.

Egypt symbolizes our former life in bondage to sin. Crossing the Red Sea is a powerful picture of salvation through faith. The wilderness wanderings often epitomize our struggles to obey God in a world full of temptations. The Jordan represents death and the Promised Land is heaven.

In this theologically rich vision of the Christian life, Mt. Pisgah occupies an inspiring place in the minds of Jesus’ followers. It has come to picture a vision of heaven enjoyed by the faithful when they draw close to physical death, an encouraging foretaste of glory provided by the gracious hand of a loving Father.

This beautiful idea appears in hymns. “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer; May I thy consolation share, Till from Mt. Pisgah’s lofty height, I view my home and take my flight.” What a view! And what a flight!

Moses really was a man of great spiritual maturity. He knew that whatever God withholds is worth nothing compared to what God grants. Better to be in fellowship with the Lord on Mt. Pisgah than to be in defiance of him in the Jordan valley. What God shows us is always better than what we can see for ourselves.

May God’s Spirit transform us into the image of Christ from grace to grace and glory to glory,

Richard Foster

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Is It Time to Give Up?

Jesus denounced the cities where most of his miracles were done. He said that it would be worse for them on the Day of Judgment than for notoriously wicked cities like Sodom.

Why is Jesus being so judgmental? Why is he condemning large groups of people? Not because they persecuted Jesus. They didn’t (that would come later). Not because they opposed Jesus or rebuked him. In fact, they were indifferent.

Jesus is denouncing these cities because they did not repent. Repentance is a change from disobeying God to serving God. It is turning away from a life of sin and turning to a life of obeying God. They declined.

Jesus gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, gave hearing to the deaf, raised the dead and preached the good news to the poor. The crowds were amazed at his miracles. But Jesus did not perform miracles in order to amaze or entertain or even to satisfy their curiosity.

Jesus’ miracles were meant to convince people that they should take his message seriously. They should turn from sin and turn to him for forgiveness. Cities full of people in Galilee saw his power and went home unfazed. So Jesus pronounces them doomed.

This is a sobering text (Matthew 11:20-24). It shows a side of Jesus that many wish to ignore or deny. True, Jesus is a friend of sinners. But he is their friend because he tells them the truth about heaven and hell. Instead of approving of their sin, he offers salvation from sin.

The cities in Galilee were given a great gift. They were eyewitness to the healing power of God. They heard the powerful preaching and teaching of Jesus with their own ears. But they failed to act.

The Bible tells us that when God gives more, he expects more. This was solemn news for the towns in Galilee. It is also solemn news for United States of America.

What other country in modern times has been more blessed by God? We have enjoyed religious freedom from shore to shore, Christian churches in every town, and Bibles on every shelf.

What will happen to a country that has been so privileged and yet turns its back on God?

Like Jesus in Galilee, Christians in the U.S.A. often meet with indifference when sharing the message of God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, the spiritual decline in our land is discouraging. It would be easy to give up our efforts to reach a culture that seems so determined to self-destruct.

But we must take our cue from Jesus. After denouncing the cities that ignored his message he did two things. First, he praised God. Jesus thanked the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth, for his work in the world and his work in his own life.

No matter how difficult things may get, we must never stop worshiping the Lord, our Maker and Savior. He is our source of strength and inspiration.

The second thing that Jesus did was to continue extending an invitation to those who might hear and respond. “Come to me all who are weary and burdened,” he said, “and I will give you rest.”

Like Jesus, we must be faithful in offering the good news about God’s amazing grace. God’s word promises us that if we do not give up, at the proper time we will reap a harvest!

Let us faithfully speak the truth in love,

Brother Richard Foster

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Can Jesus Get A Witness?

Jesus encountered a man who was demon-possessed. The man was so dangerous that people quit trying to help him. They avoided him. But Jesus set the man free.

The man is so grateful to Jesus and so impressed with his power that he wants to go with Jesus. But at this point Jesus does something a bit surprising.

Jesus does not allow the man to come with him like his other disciples are doing. Instead, Jesus instructs the man to go home and tell how much God has done for him.

The man does what Jesus asks. He goes and tells all over town how much Jesus has done for him (Luke 8:39).

This account shows that our Lord does not always send his followers to faraway places in order to tell others about him. Jesus wants us to reach out to people across the street as well as around the world. We cannot all travel to far-away places but we can all speak to our friends and neighbors.

This episode illustrates another very important point. Jesus sends the formerly demon-possessed man out with no training. He does not teach him a gospel presentation or provide him with pamphlets. How will the man know what to say?

Jesus gives the man a very simple instruction. He directs the man to tell others how much God has done for him. In other words, just give a personal testimony.

A personal testimony about how God has worked in someone’s life is compelling. The Apostle Paul was a great teacher and preacher of the gospel, yet he often used his personal testimony as a tool for reaching out to others.

Any believer can construct a short, simple and effective personal testimony. Think about something that God has changed in your life. Practice telling others about the “before” and “after” of what God has done.

Your testimony may use this form: “I used to. . . . But now I. . . .” Perhaps you used to have no desire for church, but now you love the fellowship with other believers and the joy of worshiping and serving the Lord.

Maybe you used to be confused by the Bible but now God’s Spirit is enabling you to understand and apply Scripture in life-changing ways.

The formerly demon-possessed man sure had something remarkable to tell! Our story may not be as dramatic as his, but it is just as important. Jesus has liberated every believer from sin’s eternal punishment.

After telling about the change in your life, make a clear statement giving God the credit. All of this may take just a minute or two.

Finally, after sharing a personal testimony, extend some sort of invitation. Invite your listener to church. Or, ask if you can pray for him. Maybe you are attending a Bible study and you can invite him to join you.

In some cases, you may even sense that he is ready to be saved. If you are comfortable doing so, lead him in a sinner’s prayer. If not, urge him to meet with your pastor or Sunday school teacher or other leader in the church.

Go tell how much God has done in your life. Amazing things will happen!

Brother Richard Foster

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What To Do With All These People?

What do you see when you look at the crowds of people in the world? Jesus sees men and women who are harassed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

Too many people lack solid spiritual leadership in their lives. Like sheep among wolves they wander helplessly in a world full of danger and deception. Many fall prey to false beliefs and false hopes which lead them astray, often to disastrous results.

Jesus is moved by a deep sense of compassion when he sees the multitudes, knowing that they are in need of a shepherd. They need spiritual guidance from someone who is caring and competent.

When Jesus looks at the crowds in this world he also sees a great harvest, souls ready to be cultivated for eternal life. But he warns that workers are lacking (Matthew 9:37).

Harvest is a time filled with joy, especially in a year when fields have produced a bountiful yield. But that time of celebration can end in sadness if the fruit of the field is not harvested in a timely manner. Without workers the crops will fall to the ground and rot.

Jesus assures us that souls are ripe for a spiritual harvest. The time is now. Tomorrow may be too late. The joy of harvesting lost souls for eternal life is grand. The loss of waiting too long is tragic.

Jesus is God. He can do the impossible. He can send his angels to bring in the harvest. He is the Good Shepherd. He can find and save the lost sheep. He can guide and bless the flock.

But Jesus does something that may seem terribly risky to us. He calls on his followers to join in the task of harvesting souls, finding and caring for those who are lost. In fact, he entrusts the job to them . . . to us.

How can we possibly carry out this difficult job of harvesting precious souls? The task is ponderous. The barriers to success are overwhelming. We are unqualified and weak. Where can we find the power and wisdom necessary for such awesome work?

Jesus urges us first to pray. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send workers into his harvest, Jesus tells us (Matthew 9:38). Prayer is our lifeline to God’s throne of grace and mercy. Here we find the vision and the vigor to act with confidence and to succeed.

Be advised, however, that as we pray it may turn out that we are the workers we are praying for! Prayer puts us in touch with the heart of the Lord, a compassionate heart that sees the crowds and steps forward to teach, preach and heal. God calls us to share his heart and to be his hands.

Pray for the Lord to send workers into his harvest, Jesus says. Many generations of believers have answered this call and share in the joy of the harvest. Let’s be faithful in our generation and join them in the task and in the triumph.

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

Brother Richard Foster

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The Theistic Fork in the Road

Everyone is on a journey of faith, even atheists.

We all start the faith journey by asking the fundamental question: Does God exist? How we answer this question influences our basic views about living in this world. Those who answer “No” and those who answer “Yes” have different conceptions of reality and different pathways in life. This does not mean that we cannot be kind and tolerant with one another. We can even work together on important issues. But there will be vital differences between the two groups.

Those who answer the fundamental faith question by believing that God does not exist are immediately faced with a second question: How do I live when life has no real meaning? Despite suggestions to the contrary, atheism leads to a philosophical position known as nihilism. Nihilism says that there is no real significance in life. Whatever one accomplishes will eventually be erased and forgotten. Our very universe will someday either tear itself apart from relentless expansion or crush itself in a Big Crunch. There is nobody in eternity to remember anything or anybody for good or ill – supposedly.

For those who follow nihilism to its logical conclusion the ultimate question is this: How should I commit suicide? Why? Because life in this world inevitably brings pain, sometimes intolerable pain. Since the atheist has embraced the (incorrect) notion that life is accidental and meaningless, then the most reasonable thing to do is avoid the pain and choose one’s method of death as soon as possible.

This is extreme, however, and so atheists rightly avoid such nonsense. Instead they often end up adopting some version of the position promoted by a dead philosopher named Nietzsche. This ‘enlightened’ humanistic thinker envisioned a sort of ‘superman’ who knows that life has no real meaning yet lives defiantly, pretending that life is meaningful. Is that honest? It sure doesn’t sound very ‘scientific.’

Penn Jillette, a magician, comedian, musician, (and perhaps several others –‘ian’s) is a well-known atheist. He is assertive about his atheism. He actively promotes his idea that God is myth. He works to convert us all to his way of thinking.

Surprisingly, Jillette recently decided that atheists should pray. He apparently recognizes some kind of personal therapeutic value in prayer and does not believe that atheists should be denied the benefits of prayer.

But how can you pray if there is nobody to address (unless you redefine prayer)? When people pretend to converse with someone, when there is no one, we usually take that as a sign that something is not quite right. . . .

So atheists believe life has no meaning but wish it did and they believe that God isn’t listening but wish he were (or someone?). All this time atheists have accused theists of pretense but it turns out that they are the ones who are pretending, pretending that life has purpose when they supposedly know that it doesn’t and pretending that ‘prayers’ to nobody have value.

Now for those of us who answer the first faith question with “Yes, God does exist,” we also face a second question: “Who is God? What is he like? What is he doing?” (Sounds like a lot of questions but they are related!)

As the atheist spends the rest of life trying to find meaning from meaninglessness, the theist spends life discovering the meaning and purpose that flows from the character and attributes of God. When we learn about God’s character we also learn about his mission and purpose. When we understand God’s mission and purpose we are challenged to join him.

Penn Jillette is right about this: prayer is beneficial. But the benefit of prayer is not some kind of personal therapy. The benefit of prayer is that it provides us with a personal connection to the invisible Living God who made us and who gives us purpose in this life and hope for the life to come.

The Bible is our primary document for answering questions about God. It is God’s word to us about who he is and what he is doing. The Bible helps us discover how we fit into God’s kingdom plan and experience meaning and purpose in life now.

God’s purpose for each of us cannot be taken away even in the midst of suffering and pain, issues that atheists regularly use to justify unbelief. But we need not despair even in the most painful of circumstances because God insures that our struggles are purposeful.

Theistic faith provides an answer for the question of why we instinctively believe that life should have meaning and purpose. God made us with an innate sense that our lives matter – because they do. We need not pretend that life matters, as atheists are forced to do. Believing faith enables us to live with confidence.

So each of us must choose to have faith in an accidental universe which can provide no meaning now and no hope for the future, or faith in a loving God who created us and promises us hope for eternity. I choose God.

Brother Richard Foster

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God’s One Mistake

Many American Christians have discovered God’s one mistake. It has to do with the Lord’s Day. God was apparently not thinking ahead when he instructed his people to gather for worship one day out of seven.

How could the Lord, who knows the beginning from the end, miss the long list of difficulties he created? Did he not realize that people have birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, holidays, out-of-town visitors, family time (to name just a few)? 52 Sundays out of every 365 days is a lot to ask.

After seeing how his people Israel struggled to keep the Sabbath in the Old Testament one might expect the Lord to learn his lesson and change his mind in the New Testament. But no. Jesus himself had the notable habit of attending Synagogue regularly (and with people who were trying to kill him!). And the Early Church met more than once a week. What were they thinking?

What does God have to say for himself? Well, the New Testament likens the church to a body. In the same way that a person’s body has hands, feet, eyes, ears, etc., the church is a collection of people with diverse spiritual gifts, each one needed by all the others. When someone is absent the body is incomplete and the other parts suffer. Imagine your hands and feet showing up on different days.

We also read that the church is like a temple. Each person is a living stone in the walls of this spiritual place where God meets with his people. When bricks are missing the building is incomplete and weakened, vulnerable to the hostile forces that come against it.

But wait. Must God justify his commands to us? Do we worship on the Lord’s Day because we have approved it as useful and acceptable to ourselves? Do we have the final word on what is right? “Okay, Lord, I’ll obey if you can convince me that I should . . . if not, then I am taking control!” If this is true, then we should dispense with calling him Lord.

Our cultural ancestors in Europe discovered God’s mistake about once-a-week worship before we did in the U.S.A. They have ‘evolved’ morally and spiritually more rapidly than we have (or is it de-volved?). We are apparently now in a competition to take the lead in this race for the cultural bottom, and doing rather well as of late.

But someone will rebuke me: How can a lack of worship on the Lord’s Day be blamed for the spiritual and moral demise of an entire culture? The point is taken. Perhaps a haphazard attitude about the Lord’s Day is a symptom and not the disease. But if so, should we not make an appointment with the Great Physician? Should we not labor to restore this sign of spiritual vitality: regular worship?

What message is sent to the world when God’s people openly defy him? Why should they consider honoring God when his own people fail to observe one of the most visible expressions of faith? Maybe there is a connection between the church’s observance of the Lord’s Day and the rise or decline of a culture.

At the bottom of it all we must answer this question: Did God make a mistake when he instructed his people to worship one day out of seven, or are we making a mistake when we ignore him?

May the Spirit of God always inspire us to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord,

Brother Richard Foster

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