Tag Archives: Jesus

What Is God’s?

Jesus raised this question with one of his most familiar sayings.  He was being tested by the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

They asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar.  Caesar was the leader of the Roman Empire, an uninvited and unwelcome occupier in Jerusalem and Israel.

Since the Jews hated their Roman overlords, Jesus would be risking the displeasure of the people if he agreed with paying Roman taxes.  But if he openly encouraged people not to pay their taxes then he would be seen as a threat to Rome, very hazardous.

Jesus’ response is famous.  He asked his opponents for a coin, then asked them whose image and inscription were on the coin.  “Caesar’s,” they answered.  Jesus concluded, “Then give the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.”

The men who came to trap Jesus were amazed by his response.  They left without further comment.

The question and Jesus’ answer make it clear that the “things of Caesar” include money.  But what about the “things of God”?  Since money is at the forefront of their conversation, it is natural to ask what financial responsibility we have to God.

The Old Testament saint was instructed by God’s word to give a tithe (10% of income).  What does Jesus say to his New Testament followers?

Jesus noticed a poor widow who gave two small coins as an offering to the Lord.  Even though her money was not worth much, it was everything she had.  Did Jesus rebuke her for giving such a meager amount?  Was he troubled because she gave too much?

Jesus drew a contrast between the woman and the other worshipers.  They gave out of their wealth, but she gave out of her poverty.  Jesus praised her gift, not because of its great monetary value, but because of the great love and faith it expressed.

The Lord was not introducing a new command for God’s people to give 100% of their money in offerings.  God blesses us with work and income so that we can provide for ourselves and our families.  Jesus is honoring the widow’s special offering.

Jesus revealed his mind about giving when he told his followers this: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The one who gives a small portion to God has a small heart for God.

The cheerful giver is not restrained by rules and regulations.  Tithing is a great starting point, but a debt of love is never paid in full because the heart of love is always eager to give.

Giving is an act of worship to God and an expression of agreement with God.  We give regularly and generously to the Lord because we love him, and we want to participate in the victory of his great kingdom work.

May God’s Spirit inspire us to be cheerful givers to him and his kingdom,

Brother Richard Foster

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Have We Forgotten Part of Christmas?

We celebrate God’s great gift at Christmas, but have we misunderstood it?

Inspired by his love, God has given his Son Jesus to be our Savior. The value of this gift is beyond calculation. Is there nothing that we can or should do in response?

Jesus and his sacrifice at Calvary are the essence of God’s amazing grace. Given 10,000 lifetimes we could never do enough good deeds to earn such an astounding act of mercy and its eternal blessings. And if we could earn it, God’s grace would no longer be a gift, right?

In Jesus’ own teaching we find an important aspect of his God-given mission that we dare not miss. During a conflict with the Jewish religious leaders just days before his crucifixion, our Lord told a parable that reveals something vital about a healthy relationship with the God of grace.

In Jesus’ parable a landowner entrusts his vineyard to tenant farmers. The farmers refuse to turn over the fruit of the vineyard when the landowner sends his servants to collect. They even kill the landowner’s son when he comes for the harvest.

The landowner represents God, the farmers are the religious leaders, and the son is Jesus. God sent Jesus looking for spiritual fruit from the Jewish religious leaders, but they rejected him, even plotting against him and having him crucified.

Jesus warns these religious leaders that God’s kingdom will be taken away from them and given to a people who will produce its fruit. The new people who take up responsibility for God’s kingdom is the Christian church. As followers of Jesus, we are now the farmers in God’s vineyard, blessed with the opportunity and honor of producing fruit for God.

God’s desire for spiritual fruit from his people is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching. A tree is known by its fruit. Only a good tree can bear good fruit. A tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

But what does the fruit represent? First, a holy life. God is holy and his people are to live holy lives. When God’s people live holy and righteous lives in an unholy and unrighteous world, they bear testimony to God’s goodness, shining like light in a dark place.

In addition to a holy life, God expects his people to be faithful witnesses. God entrusts his word to his people. His word is not meant to be hidden away like a lamp under a bowl. It is meant to be scattered like seed, finding receptive hearts and bearing fruit for eternal life.

God gives us his kingdom, an astounding expression of his marvelous grace. We did nothing to earn the honor of working in his kingdom. But fruitful labor in God’s vineyard is the proper response to God’s grace. God’s grace is not meant to lie fallow in our lives, idle and useless.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” We need not fear failure. With Christ as our source we will share in a great harvest, an eternal victory.

As we rejoice over God’s great gift this Christmas let’s also remember and celebrate the fact that God has blessed us with fruitful labor in his eternal kingdom. The proper response to the gift of Jesus is to give ourselves to God in service.

May God’s Spirit enable us to bear much fruit for his kingdom,

Brother Richard

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Jesus Goes Viral

Jesus’ popularity with the people came and went.  Once he had a group of more than 5,000 that followed him out into a wilderness region. No building, no music, no food, no port-o-potties, but they stayed with Jesus for days.  He was ‘in.’

Suddenly the crowd was gone and Jesus was back to his small group of 12 disciples.  All it took to turn the people away was for Jesus to teach them the truth. He was ‘out.’

On another occasion excited crowds of thousands of people were singing Jesus’ praises.  It was almost time for the great Passover Feast.  The city of Jerusalem was filled to overflowing with worshipers from all over.

Jesus traveled from Galilee to attend the feast.  He walked the entire way, as he always did.  But once he was near Jerusalem he insisted on riding a donkey into the city.

Jesus wanted to make a point.  He was fulfilling a prophecy spoken by God through Zechariah, “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look! your king comes to you meek and riding on a donkey, on the foal of a beast of burden.’”

One day God’s promised Messiah, the Anointed King of Israel who would rule forever, would come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  This was that day and Jesus was the man!

The crowd spread their garments on the road in front of Jesus’ donkey, along with branches cut from nearby trees.  This was their version of the ‘red-carpet treatment.’

They also cried out in praise of Jesus, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  They openly acknowledged him to be God’s chosen ruler, King of Jerusalem, King of Israel.

People in the city were stirred up by the commotion and asked, “Who is this?”  The crowd answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  So, not only did they recognize him as God’s chosen king, but they also realized that Jesus was God’s chosen spokesman, the prophet.

One thing they missed: Jesus came gently, riding on a beast of burden to show that his mission was one of a servant, the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah.  John the Baptist said it this way, “Behold! the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus was king, prophet, and priest.  And not just any priest.  This priest was also the sacrifice.  Days later when Jesus stood before Pilate, he was ready to die.  The crowds were no longer friendly.  “Crucify him!” they cried out.  What happened?

The crowds wanted a king to defeat their current political enemy: Rome.  Romans occupied and ruled their country and Israel wanted liberation.  But Jesus came to bring spiritual freedom and eternal life, not temporary political relief.

To stay popular, Jesus would have to change his mission and do what the crowd wanted.  But Jesus’ mission was greater.  Praise God, Jesus stayed with his God-given mission and did not succumb to the pressure of popularity!

Popularity still calls out today.  Many will do almost anything to please the adoring crowds, to gain more followers, to get more ‘likes.’  But the crowd’s goals are rarely in step with God’s.  The only ‘like’ we really need is the love of God.  The only followers we need to make are disciples of Jesus.

May God’s Spirit keep the eyes of our hearts on the things above,

Brother Richard

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Moses’ Advice for Twenty-First Century Christians

Every follower of Jesus faces three powerful enemies. First, Satan prowls around like a lion looking for those he can devour. Second, the world is filled with sin that entangles and destroys. And third, our own sinful desires draw us away from the Lord.

When the people of Israel were ready to go in and take possession of the Promised Land, their leader Moses knew that they would face these spiritual enemies. So he gave them instructions on living in God’s victory and blessing (see Deuteronomy 6).

Moses said, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all you heart, soul and strength. These commandments that I am giving you today are to be on your hearts.”

The commandments Moses speaks of are primarily the Ten Commandments, but also the many applications of those commandments in their daily lives. These words of God were to be on the hearts of God’s people.

Moses continued speaking about God’s commandments, “Impress them on your children. Speak about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the way, when you lie down and when you get up.”

In addition to having God’s word on their hearts, they were to have God’s word in their homes, obeying it in their daily lives and speaking about it with their children. In this way they would pass God’s word on to the next generation.

Then Moses said about the commandments, “Tie them on your hands as symbols and bind them to your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

The “gate” of an ancient city was the place of official business, much like the courthouses in towns and cities today. Moses is telling the people that private faith is insufficient. They had to take God’s word into their communities, into the public square.

So, in addition to having God’s word on their hearts and in their homes, they were to have God’s word in their communities. Only with the word of God’s truth would God’s people be victorious over their enemies.

The same dynamics are in play now. As God’s people, we face powerful resistance to God’s eternal truth. We need to carry God’s word into the public square, into our communities. This is our only hope for pushing back the darkness that presses in from every side.

Please notice, however, that we will not have God’s word in our communities until we have it in our homes, impressing it on our children. And we will not have God’s word in our homes if we do not have it on our hearts.

Victory in the public square begins in the heart of each and every believer. Every man and woman of faith must diligently read, passionately believe, and faithfully obey the Bible. Without the sure foundation of God’s word, we can build nothing of lasting importance. With it we will overcome!

May God’s empowering Presence inspire and enable us to carry his word into our communities,

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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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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