Tag Archives: Jesus

Why Be Optimistic About the Future of the Gospel?

Our culture’s attitude toward Bible-believing Christians seems to be increasingly intolerant. The ancient beliefs handed down for generations of God’s people are being met with disapproval from the society in which we live.

The Bible still asserts, the Holy Spirit still affirms, and we still avow that faith in Jesus is the only way to peace with God and eternal life, that apart from Christ we are condemned to eternal hell, that God’s design for marriage and family is one man and one woman fully and freely committed to one another for life, raising their kids together and enjoying their grandkids, that life is precious and should not be taken from babies still in their mothers’ wombs, and that God made us in his image: male and female.

I could give additional examples but this is more than enough to start a good fight nowadays. At times it seems as if the whole world is rejecting Christianity. Why be optimistic about the future of the gospel in such a negative environment?

Jesus’ disciples probably asked a similar question. They watched as Jesus faced stiff opposition from the leaders of their culture. They must have wondered about the future of his mission and message. Jesus addressed their concerns with a parable.

A man sowed seed, some on hard ground and birds snatched it up, some in rocky soil and it sprang up but dried out, some among thorns where it was choked, and some on good soil. Only the good soil bore fruit.

Jesus’ disciples asked him what this parable means. Jesus said that the seed represents God’s word and the soils are people’s hearts. Some people have hard hearts. When they hear God’s word Satan comes and snatches away the message that is ‘sown’ in their hearts.

Some people are shallow. They give up on God’s kingdom message when things get tough. Still others are distracted. They are pulled away by wealth or worries.

But some people have hearts that are ready to receive God’s kingdom message. Like the good soil that receives the seed and bears fruit, these people receive God’s word and bear spiritual fruit for God’s kingdom.

What is Jesus telling us? First of all, he is letting us know that many people, perhaps most people, will reject God’s message of salvation. For those who must always be in the mainstream of popular culture, this is a problem. Jesus’ followers are typically a minority.

Jesus never promises us majority status in this age. Quite the contrary, when talking about his Second Coming, Jesus even asks if he will find faith on the earth when he returns.

Jesus seems to paint a rather bleak picture! Why follow him and endure so much rejection? Why promote a message that Jesus himself predicts will be so unpopular?

Jesus’ parable gives the answer. Some hearts will receive the ‘seed’ of God’s kingdom message and bear fruit. God always has his remnant. Our efforts for the gospel will bear fruit despite the resistance.

In addition, bearing fruit points to the harvest. In the Bible harvest is a symbol for that great day of celebration at the end of this age. It is a day when we will see God face to face. Like farmers enjoying the crops for which they labored so hard, we will share in the joy of God’s kingdom victory.

Jesus is optimistic about the future of the gospel. We can and should be, too.

May God give us hearts that bear fruit for his kingdom,

Brother Richard

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Why Waste Time on Such A Broken-Down Beat-Up Organization as the Church?

Jesus’ mom and brothers try to speak with him but they can’t because he is surrounded by crowds of people. Someone tells Jesus that his family wants to see him, but he surprises everyone with his response.

Jesus asks, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” That would seem obvious. Jesus, however, is full of surprises.

Jesus motions with his hand toward his disciples and says, “Look! My mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in the heavens is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

At first glance Jesus seems to be rather dismissive of his immediate family. (Joseph is not mentioned, perhaps because he has passed away.) But even in his agony on the cross Jesus will make sure that his mother is properly cared for (see John 19:25-27).

Jesus is not rejecting his family particularly or the natural family generally. He is revealing something important about true discipleship. When we follow Jesus, we join a new group, a spiritual family, the family of God.

As followers of Jesus we automatically become part of his group: the church. The Bible knows nothing about ‘Lone Ranger’ Christians. All true believers are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same heavenly Father.

Now, comparing church to family is a double-edged sword. Families should be places of encouragement, nurturing, support and love. But unfortunately they can be places of conflict, frustration, misery and animosity.

Sometimes family seems negative because it is a natural place of responsibility and accountability. Responsibility and accountability can be painful in the short term, but they are beneficial in the long term.

But other times the family experience is simply a bad one. Family members say and do harmful things, and because they are family, the wounds run deeper.

Jesus is right. The church really is like a family. At times she is encouraging but at other times she is discouraging. At times she is loving but at other times she is hateful.

One thing the church is not. She is not optional, not for true believers. When a son or a daughter refuses to visit mom or dad or brothers or sisters, then we know that something is wrong. Likewise, when a Christian refuses to attend church, then we know that something is wrong.

Jesus came not just to save individuals but to build his church. “On this rock,” he said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” Wow! No other organization has that promise, only the church.

So often the church looks ragged and ugly and weak. In fact, she sometimes looks so weak that one might think that even a gentle breeze would sweep her away once and for all. But after 2,000 years of tragedies and triumphs this raggedy institution survives and continues to serve the Lord, albeit imperfectly.

How can such a broken down, scuffed-up, out-of-step with the world organization last so long? Only by the power and promise of someone with great power. Only by the word of Jesus and work of his Spirit.

Someday she will stand before God in splendor, without blemish, spotless, despite all the bumps and bruises and wrinkles and stains she displays now. On that day she will be brilliant, adorned as a bride for her groom at the wedding supper of the Lamb. And she is the only organization with that promise!

May God’s Holy Spirit bind us together in love as brothers and sisters in Christ,

Brother Richard

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Life’s Three Most Important Questions

The Bible verses for LifeWay’s VBS this year are some of my favorites, Colossians 1:15-16. “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by him all things were made, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were made in him and for him.”

Genesis tells us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In the New Testament we learn that Jesus, the eternal Son, was not only present at creation, but he was God’s agent of creation. And more than that, Jesus is the reason God created the heavens and the earth, the reason God created you and me.

The Colossians text goes on to affirm that Jesus is Savior as well as Creator. He is the head of the body, the church. In him the fullness of God dwells and through his blood on the cross God has reconciled his people to himself (Colossians 1:18-23).

Jesus also gives us power to live in victory here and now. As God’s people, reconciled to him by Jesus, we have his peace ruling in our hearts and his word dwelling in us richly (Colossians 3:15-16).

Jesus is also our eternity. In Colossians 3:4 we read that Christ will appear again and his people will appear with him in glory. So Jesus is our past, our present, and our future.

Jesus answers the three most important questions for us. First, “Where have we come from?” We are created by God through Jesus in the image of God. And Jesus is the image of God, revealing the fullness of God to us.

Second, “Why are we here?” Our lives encounter pain and sorrow, prompting us to wonder if our existence has any real meaning. In Christ, the answer is “Yes!” Jesus suffered, too, in order to bring about God’s great salvation. In Christ, even our suffering has a purpose.

But more than purpose in our pain, Jesus brings a vision of victory. We are reconciled to God and empowered by God’s Spirit to serve him and to enjoy his blessings even in this broken world.

God’s blessings now are only a foretaste of the eternal blessings that he is preparing for us in heaven. The third question is this: “Where are we going?” All those who belong to Christ eagerly await the final trumpet and the shout of the archangel which will signal Jesus’ Second Coming. And when he comes, he will take his people to be with him forever.

Only in Christ do we find satisfying answers to these vital questions: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Only in Christ are we reconciled to God, saved from our sin. Only in Christ are we empowered to live the abundant life. And only in Christ do we have hope for eternity.

May Christ our Maker and Savior always enable us to serve him well and enjoy his blessings,

Brother 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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Defective Discipleship

Jesus was about to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But two men delayed his departure. Each one came and offered to follow Jesus (See Matthew 8:18-22.).

The first man was a scribe, a group usually hostile to Jesus. He referred to Jesus as “Teacher,” and promised to follow him anywhere. Impressive! Surely Jesus will encourage a man who is taking such a big step of faith, right?

Surprisingly, Jesus questions this man’s devotion. He warns the scribe to count the cost. As a preacher on the move, Jesus has no place to lay his head. Is this man really willing to make the necessary sacrifices in order to be Jesus’ disciple?

This scribe is a teacher of the law, a religious leader, a man invested in the established way of thinking about God. But Jesus challenges many of the ideas of the religious leaders. He knows that this scribe’s religion is actually a barrier to discipleship.

Do we have established ideas about religion and discipleship that are out of step with Jesus?

Next, a man addresses Jesus as “Lord” and asks if he can go and bury his father before following Jesus. Now this man seems to have a better understanding of Jesus’ real identity, calling him “Lord” instead of “Teacher.” And he seems to be taking the commitment seriously, recognizing that discipleship may mean separation from his family, at least for a time.

Sounds as if the second man is making a perfectly reasonable offer. Surely Jesus will encourage him!

Jesus tells this man to come and follow now and let the dead bury their own dead. Wow! Isn’t that harsh? Does Jesus not care about the man’s family? It’s not that Jesus lacks compassion for the man’s family. But nothing is more important than God’s call.

The second man is using his family obligation as an excuse to delay following Jesus. By using his family as an excuse not to follow Jesus now, the man is making his family an idol.

Do we use good things in our lives, like family, as excuses to avoid following Jesus passionately?

So Jesus sees something lacking in both of these men. The scribe is a religious man but ironically his religion may be keeping him from understanding that Jesus deserves complete devotion. The second man loves his family, but he is trying to use something good (family) to avoid doing what is best (discipleship).

Jesus finally gets into the boat and crosses the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-34). His disciples follow. Little do they know what awaits them! On the water they witness Jesus rebuking a terrifying storm and bringing a great calm. As a result, they ask themselves what sort of man this is, that even the winds and the sea obey him.

Once on the eastern shore, they encounter a couple of frightening demon-possessed men, so dangerous that nobody risked passing by that way. Jesus, however, boldly commands the demons to leave. They do, in a rather dramatic fashion that strikes fear in the hearts of the local folks, prompting them to beg Jesus to leave their region.

And Jesus moves on. But those two men who stay behind miss the greatest opportunity of their lives. They remain on the shore where it is ‘safe.’ The ones who are willing to follow Jesus out onto the waters have some unsettling moments. But they also see the power of God firsthand.

May the Lord give us hearts that will follow Jesus without hesitation,

Brother Richard

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