Tag Archives: spiritual maturity

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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Agreeing with the Pope, sort of . . . (short version)

The new Pope is enjoying surprising popularity with the media in the United States. Apparently journalists see in him a reformer willing to challenge traditional conservative positions on social and economic issues.

Pope Francis is giving the secular media a vehicle for defining the mission of the Church in ways that agree with their political predispositions. Of course, Roman Catholicism and The Church are not the same. Nevertheless, the question is raised: Is social reform the main mission of Christianity?

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul describes the mission of the Church. “We proclaim Christ,” he wrote (Colossians 1:28). The heart and soul of the Early Church’s work was a proclamation, an authoritative announcement.

The Church’s proclamation was not merely disseminating certain information, or promoting a philosophy, or even advancing a system of belief. The gospel proclamation is an announcement about a person: Jesus, who is the Christ.

The title “Christ,” reminds us that Jesus is God’s Anointed. The Church’s mission today, like that of the Early Church, is centered on proclamation. That proclamation is to be focused on Jesus Christ, his life and ministry.

Paul proclaimed Christ by “warning everyone.” The presence of God’s Son in the world was a warning about how terribly broken our world really is, so broken that we need nothing less than God’s personal intervention.

The problem in our world is more than hateful and oppressive relations between different groups of people. The root problem is a broken relationship between every person and God.

Next, Paul writes, “and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” The message of Christ comes not just as a warning about sin, death and eternal condemnation because Christ is the hope of glory. The proclamation of Christ includes teaching about the Good News that personal faith in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection opens access to God and to a new life in Christ.

Paul finished his thought by revealing the purpose for proclaiming Christ. “We proclaim Christ,” he wrote, “so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The ultimate goal is not temporal or political. The ultimate goal is to present people “mature in Christ” to God on the Day of Judgment.

The Bible assures us that believers will give an account of their life’s work before the bema seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). The crowns we will present to our Lord on that day will be the lives of people whom we helped to grow in Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

What about the Pope’s reform? One sign of authentic gospel ministry is genuine concern for the poor, the poor in spirit as well as the poor in money and power.

Jesus, Paul, and the Early Church all made efforts to alleviate suffering and injustice, but they focused primarily on proclaiming a message that encompassed far more than political and economic equality.

Does Pope Francis see social reform as the primary focus of Roman Catholicism? Time and patience will reveal his beliefs with greater clarity than Western journalists who can barely conceal their own political agendas.

Meanwhile, the Church must not be distracted from the true gospel mission; and the gospel mission is clearly revealed in the pages of the New Testament. Jesus proclaimed freedom for the captives, not just those held captive by unfair political and economic systems, but captive to sin and to Satan.

The Church must remember that any justice gained for the downtrodden is illusory apart from true spiritual freedom. And only Christ Jesus can break all the chains that bind us. So we proclaim Christ.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Camden, Arkansas, March 2014
Published in Arkansas Baptist News, March 18, 2014

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Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Some people have a way with prayer. They are wonderful to hear, but they can also be intimidating. Listeners may get the idea that their own prayers are not worth hearing, or worse, that they need not try praying at all.

Surely Jesus had the most impressive prayer-life of anyone who ever walked the dusty roads of Israel, or of any country. But his prayers were not only impressive, they were inspiring. Once, after he finished praying, one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray.

Jesus could have told his disciples that they had no need to learn about prayer. He could have told them that their prayers were good enough. But he did not.

Or, Jesus might have told his disciples that they were not able to get any better at prayer. He could have said that his level of prayer was beyond them and so it would be futile for them to aspire to praying like him. But he did not.

Jesus apparently believed that his disciples could get better at prayer and so he gave them instruction. His disciples were ready and willing to learn from their Lord about how to improve their prayer. As a result, they learned from the Master about how to talk to God.

We, too, can get better at praying. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we can be inspired by the prayers of our Lord. His prayers create a desire within us to improve our ability at communicating openly and effectively with God.

Learning to pray better is something we can and should do together. Jesus’ disciple did not say, “Teach me to pray.” He said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus’ disciple apparently understood the importance of learning about prayer with his fellow disciples.

True, Jesus prayed alone and he taught his followers to have a private place of prayer, a prayer closet. But Jesus also prayed with his followers, where they could hear his prayers. And he taught them as a group how to speak with God through prayer.

Prayer is fundamental to our spiritual life. Prayer is our lifeline to the Lord. As we learn from our Savior how to get better at talking to God, we will grow stronger spiritually both as individual followers of Jesus and as a church family.

Pray often on your own, pouring out your heart to the Lord. Participate regularly in a local church family, learning how to communicate more effectively with the Lord. Attend prayer meetings, praying for others as they pray for you. And watch for opportunities to pray for anyone in need whom the Lord places in your path.

Lord, teach us to pray.

Brother Richard

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The Depth Of The Word Of The Lord

“I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers,” wrote the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:1).  The original readers of these words were first-century followers of Jesus in Corinth.  Paul proceeded to compare the lives of his readers with the lives of God’s people more than 1,000 years earlier.  Paul knew that God’s people today gain important spiritual understanding from the Bible’s record of past generations of believers.

The premier event of God’s deliverance in the Old Testament was the Exodus.  Israel was saved from cruel bondage in Egypt.  In the New Testament the defining act of God’s salvation is Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  Whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  But too many of God’s people living in the current age have too little understanding of God’s work before the birth of Jesus.

The historical events that make up the Old Testament Exodus provide a rich and instructive picture of the Christian walk in this age.  Israel’s time as slaves to Pharaoh is a picture of the Christian’s former life as a slave to sin.  Israel crossing the Red Sea to freedom under God’s miraculous power is an illustration of the Christian discovering freedom under the power of Christ’s cross.

In the same way that Israel wandered in the wilderness, the Christian struggles to live a godly life in an ungodly age.  Israel struggled to obey God’s leadership, constantly tempted to return to bondage in Egypt.  Followers of Jesus are often tempted to give up and return to a life of sin.  The children of Israel could not return to Egypt because God would not allow it.  Their only choice was to be obedient to God and experience his blessings, or disobey and be miserable.

After years of trials and tribulations Israel finally crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey.  Every follower of Jesus, after walking through a life of groaning in this age, will finally lay down the earthly tent and enter an eternal house in heaven, not made by human hands.

The journey through wilderness places was not all heartache for the children of Israel.  They were led by the visible Presence of God, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.  They saw the glory of God fill the Tabernacle.  They also heard the very words of Almighty God from Moses, God’s chosen and empowered leader.

We, too, expect more than trouble in this age.  We are led by the indwelling Spirit of God, touched by the power of God’s Spirit when we gather for worship as the people of God.  We are living stones growing into a holy temple for the Lord.  And we have the Word of God, living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.

Our heritage as God’s people is deep, rich, and inspiring.  The full counsel of God, Old Testament and New, instructs us in living the victorious Christian life now, as we eagerly await the wedding supper of the Lamb in eternity.  No wonder the Psalmist wrote that God’s Word is sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103).  Do not miss a single word!

May the eternal and powerful Word of Christ dwell richly within your heart always,

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

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Jesus found himself surrounded by hostility even in his own home.  His brothers did not believe in him.  Apparently they were embarrassed by Jesus.  They prodded him to leave home in Galilee and go to the big city, to Jerusalem, so that he could impress the world with his miracles and teaching.

Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Jesus.   Like Jesus’ brothers, the religious leaders did not believe in him.  He was a threat to their positions of power and privilege.  They were looking for a way to eliminate Jesus before he could build up a big following among the people.  These were the very men who would eventually scheme to have him crucified.

And the people!  The people were hopelessly divided in their opinions about Jesus.  Those who were sympathetic toward Jesus stayed silent out of fear.  They knew that the leaders were against Jesus and they did not want to endanger themselves.  As a result, Jesus had very few, if any, who would help him or come to his defense.

It would have been easier for Jesus to lay low and keep quiet.  He could avoid the conflict and keep himself safe from harm.  Jesus did not act foolishly, but neither did he back down.  He went to Jerusalem and he courageously and publicly continued to speak the truth.  He obeyed God and great things happened.

It would be easier for us to lay low and keep quiet in a world that is increasingly hostile toward Bible-believing followers of Jesus Christ.   But we should do as Jesus did.  We should not unnecessarily seek out conflict, but neither should we back down out of fear.

Like Jesus, we can trust God and courageously fulfill our mission in this age: to make disciples of all nations and to grow toward spiritual maturity.  Let’s reaffirm our commitment to unapologetically serve the Lord.  Let’s obey our Lord and we will see great things happen.

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

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Faith: Finding Faith, Growing in Faith and Saving Faith

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (10:17, NIV).  This verse is speaking to all those who are followers of Jesus Christ.  It reminds us of our task and our method.

According to Romans 10:17, our goal is “faith.”  We serve together in order to help people find faith.  And for those who already have faith, we help them to grow in faith.  As we help others, we grow in our own faith, too.  God’s Spirit knits our souls together with him and with one another into a thriving community of faith that serves his Kingdom and enjoys his blessings.

The faith of Romans 10:17 is not just any faith, but faith that comes “through the word of Christ.”  The Bible tells us that some faith is in vain.  Faith in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ is not saving faith.  Other faiths may be comforting faiths, or satisfying faiths, or popular faiths, or even impressive faiths.  But only faith in Christ is saving faith.

Faith comes from “hearing the message.”  We need not worry about finding a message; we have one already.  Jesus sacrificed himself as a sin offering so that all who place their faith in him will be completely forgiven and eternally blessed by God.

Faith comes from “hearing the message.”  The message is the word of Christ.  As followers of Jesus we have the great opportunity and challenge to tell the Good News about Jesus Christ.  We participate in God’s Kingdom work by making sure that every child and every adult possible hears and understands the great message of saving faith through Jesus Christ.

Every local church exists in order to help people find faith and to grow in faith.  As people are saved and strengthened in faith, the Body of Christ is built up.  And as we carry out our God-given mission we bring glory to God the Father who saves us through his Son Christ Jesus.

May the Lord empower us to grow strong in the faith,

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

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Growing Up

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he addressed them as brothers because they were fellow believers, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He expressed real affection for them.  Nevertheless, he also conveyed some frustration and disappointment over their lack of spiritual growth.

Paul wrote, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet able.  But now you are still not able”(1 Corinthians 3:2).  Paul was comparing spiritual life with physical life.  He said that the believers in Corinth were infants in Christ.  In other words, they were not growing up spiritually as they should.

Peter encouraged followers of Jesus to crave pure spiritual milk, like newborn babies, so that they could grow up in their salvation (1 Peter 2:2).  Milk is good for babies.  Healthy adults require more than milk.  New believers are satisfied with the basics of faith.  But healthy Christians grow and require an expanded spiritual diet.

The writer of Hebrews also compared spiritual growth with physical growth, noting the necessary change in diet.  He was frustrated with the believers to whom he wrote because they should have been teaching others about God’s truth but they still needed someone to teach them the basics (Hebrews 5:12-14).  Baby Christians, he said, were those who still struggle to distinguish good from evil.

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and encouraged them to grow spiritually so that they would no longer be infants, tossed around by false teaching and deception (Ephesians 4:14). He explained that Christ is the measure of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13, 15).  The Christian life is a life of being transformed into the likeness of our Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The leaders of the Early Church expected followers of Jesus to grow in faith, building on the basics of salvation and moving ever closer to spiritual maturity, living like Jesus. Spiritual growth requires greater understanding of God’s Word and greater passion for God’s glory.  Growing spiritually requires health and vitality that comes from God’s indwelling Spirit.

Of course, to grow toward maturity in Christ one must first be in Christ.  In other words, to grow spiritually a person must first be saved. New birth is the first step in spiritual growth just as birth is primary in physical growth.  If a newborn fails to grow then everyone agrees that something is wrong.  The same is true of Christians.  When a follower of Christ fails to grow spiritually then something is wrong.

Our task as a church family is to help lost people get saved and to help saved people get strong.  We are in the business of growing spiritually mature Christians.  Paul told the believers in Corinth that there is a message of wisdom for the mature. We want to help as many people as we can to enjoy the message of wisdom that is for the mature.

What a joy it is for me to see brothers and sisters who are spiritually healthy, growing in Christ and being transformed from glory to glory into his image.  But like Paul, I also see those who are struggling to move beyond the basics.  Let us continue to labor together in the Lord’s power and wisdom until we all become mature, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV).

May the Lord bind us together and strengthen us in His great power and wisdom,

Brother Richard Foster

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