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  • An Invitation to the Holy City

    Putting Our Faith to Work   

    Scripture: Revelation 22

    Point 1: The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is about life and the absence of darkness.  John chose, in his vision, to describe Heaven in the metaphor of a city – the City of God.  In this final vision we see a description of the theological characteristics of the city and the focus of the city is on life and the absence of darkness.  Now, remember the warning from C.S. Lewis about making literal the symbolism of the Apocalypse.  If you took the description of the Holy City in this reading literally, you might say, “Well, it just doesn’t make sense.”  John is saying, through symbolism, that the God of the universe is a healing God.  Saint Augustine said, “On Earth our destiny is to die, but in Heaven our destiny is to live forever.”  So it is very appropriate that the city is described as throbbing with life.  Because of the hope of that vision, the followers of Christ can say “no” to death (not physical death, but eternal death).  The reading continues “There shall no more be any accursed there.”  The Jerusalem Bible says, “The ban is lifted.”  The ban that would preclude the entry of humans into Heaven is lifted, sin has been forgiven.  Further, the throne of God and the Lamb will be there and, “His servants shall worship Him and see His face.  Night shall be no more.  They need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light and they shall reign forever and ever.”  We need a place where death and darkness are gone.  Our destination is the place where death is defeated and darkness disappears.

     

    Point 2:  The words of the Apocalypse are trustworthy and true.  (Verse 6)  At this point I want to say something about truth in faith.  There are two approaches to belief that the faith is true.  One is from assumptions about God and the other is from experience.  So we can talk about deductive faith and inductive faith.  Deductive faith begins with proclamations about God that come from spokespersons – the prophets and Jesus.  Then one moves from the proclamations about God to experience as humans.  If the proclamation says, “God is love,” we say that we believe there is a God and God is love and therefore we ought to live like this.  That is the way most of us start off.  Our families teach us about the Bible and so forth.  We start off with a deductive faith.  But there are many persons who cannot come to faith that way.  The second approach, inductive faith, comes from an examination of human experience – personal and as societies, and it moves from experience to God.  Out of experience, one comes to the idea of God.  Inductive faith begins with no presumption of the supernatural, but looking for what Peter Berger calls “signals of transcendence” in ordinary life.  The argument I use with people who are unable to have faith is inductive – why is it, that as far back as we can trace humans, they have worshiped?  Doesn’t that seem odd that, in every part of the world, as far back as we can trace, humans have worshiped?  Why is that the case?  The first real atheism was that of Ludwig von Feuerbach, who said God was a projection of human imagination and not real.  Berger says the joke is really on von Feuerbach.  For example, the purest activity of the human mind is mathematics.  Humans invented mathematics and constructed equations that look at whether the universe is expanding.  When those equations are tested by looking at the universe, the universe confirms the equations.  In other words, what came out of the human mind is real.  What Berger would say is that the reasons humans have always worshiped is not an imagination that projected out to God, but that there is an inductive stimulation to the idea of God which is universal.  Another example of faith induction is from Albert Schweitzer.  He cites in The Quest for the Historical Jesus, “If you will follow Him {Jesus} by the Sea of Galilee, you will learn, as an ineffable mystery, who He is.”  You see, Schweitzer says if you can’t believe in a god, but you want something else in your life, assume that the deductive faith is true and live it and, in the living of it, it will become true for you.  

     

    Point 3:  There is finality to the decisions made in life -- the end is entrance to Heaven or exclusion.   (Verses 10 to 15)  What the angel is saying should happen is that the Apocalypse should be scattered throughout the world and there are some people who will not hear it or obey it.  They will continue to do exactly what they are doing now, until they die.  And the righteous who hear will continue to be righteous.  How you live depends on whether you hear the message and, depending on how you live, the decisions you make in life determine ultimate fate -- whether you are in the Holy City or not.  If you have “washed your robes,” you not only have access to “the Tree of Life,” but you enter in the “open gates.”  And if you don’t, then you are excluded and the exclusion from God, whatever else it is, we call Hell.  

       It is hard to know what Jesus means when He says, “I am coming soon.”  At the time He lived, the universe was 13.7 billion years old – just what it is today. Only 2,000 years have passed.  What is clear is that the early church was wrong in assuming the world was about to end.  Nobody knows what the word “soon” means.  Jesus said, “Nobody but the Father knows” when the end would come.  It might be tomorrow or, in the scheme of cosmic time, a billion years would be “soon” relative to the age of the universe.  The one place where we know the Eschaton will come soon is our own lives.  Each of us has a personal Eschaton and, even if we live to be 100 years old, that is a short time.  So when Jesus said, “I am coming soon,” that certainly applies – that He is coming soon – for us.  

    It seems foolish not to think that our personal Eschaton is not too far off.  So, the Apocalypse is clear that decisions made in life have a finality to them.  You can’t change them after the Eschaton has come.  That should influence us in the way that we live.

    Point 4:  A living faith always leads to invitation to Christ and the Holy City.  

    (Verses 16 and 17)  God is an invitational God.  Therefore, those who love and serve God must have invitational lives.  Notice the sequence: “The Spirit says ‘come.’”  (That is God.)  “And the bride says ‘come.’”  (That is the Church.)  And anyone who hears the message, either of God or the Church, is also required to say “Everyone, come.”  Our church used to do lay renewals where we visited other churches over the weekend.  We did a lot of singing and one of the songs we always sang was called “Pass It On.”  Let me tell you the words, because they are symbolic of what we are discussing:

     

    It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

    And soon, all those around can warm up in its glowing.

    That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it.

    You spread His love to everyone.

    You want to pass it on.

     

    (and then the chorus)

     

    I’ll shout it from the mountain top.

    I want the world to know.

    The Lord of Love has come to me.

    I want to pass it on.

     

       Now, the Christian faith, properly understood, is balanced.  It consists of “little m” mercies and “big M” mercies.  The Christian Church is about mercies.  Our faith would be worthless if we did not practice “little m” mercies: giving a glass of cool water, a lunch, a scholarship to a student, or visiting the sick.  Our faith would be dead.  But these are “little m” mercies because they are transient. The water may last an hour, the meal a day, the scholarship several years, but they are transient.  The “great M” mercies are what the Apocalypse is all about.  They are about the forgiveness of sin, salvation, teaching about the Savior, talking about the demands God makes of us.  They are not transient.  They are “big M” mercies and that’s what is being talked about here in this chapter.  John ends the Apocalypse on an evangelistic demand.  He wants to invite everyone to Heaven.  Just as a personal statement, I could not live without Christ.  How then, could I refuse to pass it on?  How could one, having been filled with the love of God, not share it?  It is impossible, it just can’t be done.  The other thing is that, when you are a part of giving an invitation that someone responds to – when one can be just a little bit of a link to someone coming to the City, there is a feeling of great joy and reward.  Those who are long-time members of this class know that, every Sunday, I am teaching for decision.  We are talking about decisions that can change the world as well as an individual life.  

     

    Point 5:  The first word of our need and the last word of the Bible are the same – “Grace.”  (Verses 20 and 21)  John comes to the end, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.  Amen.’  Come Lord Jesus.”  From the moment that we become able to think, we are in need of grace – God’s unmerited love.  We need it throughout our lives.   It is the final message of the Bible and we need to know that.  Then this, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”  It is wonderful to me that the final word is grace.  In closing, one of my favorite passages is Reynolds Price’s ending of his book The Three Gospels.  He talks about the disciples at the time that Jesus had gone.  Here is what he wrote, 

     

    “It would only be slowly that they would come to see how, in the time they shared His life, His hard ordeal and calm return {from death} had ended things as they had been from the start.  He had reconciled God to them and their kind – all human creatures to the end of time.  And whatever they lacked in that final dawn, they gave the rest of their lives to His other task – to make all people know that God is at hand with His flaming love – comprehensible through Christ, at last.  They never lost hope to see Him come again on clouds in the Father’s power to claim them.  One of their cries, in their own language, was ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Lord, come now.’  In other lives their cry has lasted over two thousand years.  It is the experience of Christians through the centuries that when we say, ‘Maranatha – come Lord Jesus’ He never says ‘no.’”

     

    So, perhaps the most important thing John says in this final chapter is that – that God’s flaming love is known to the world through the Christ.

      

     

  • Be urgently strong, constantly living for God

    Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:2-3; 4:1-8

    1.  Christians are to be strong, not weak. 

    The capacity for strength comes from grace. Soldier analogy Christians have to be strong in tough times and corporately in spiritual battle. Should train youth to be strong in the faith. Christ is with us in the struggle. No respect for wimpy servants. Tough in sense of being able to face problems.

    2.  Christians are for all seasons. Charged to be evangelists.

    Charged but not alone. God is watching to see how or if we accept the charge, Preach the Word. Be steady, do the work of an evangelist. Be urgent, don’t put things off in favorable or unfavorable times. Be constant. Christ saves sinners. Gospel says death is not defeat but victory. Highest hope of Christians. Speaking and living for God. Invitation to start a new life.

    3.  There are some in the Church and out who have itchy ears. Prefer myth to truth.

    Jeremiah said prophets prophesy falsely, priest teach their own myths. Societal sin today is greed, out of control desire to be rich. God followers teach truth, they punch holes in myths. Jesus is the antidote to itchy ears. Truth is in our actions and what we proclaim.

    4.  Paul is the model of the true Cross follower.  He finishes the race.

    The gift of faith is to everyone who lives and loves the fact that Christ appeared. We belong to a great world-wide society that loves God and loves His creations. Called to service and truth.

     

  • Call of Christ is about life. It is also about death.

    Scripture: Luke 1:46-55

    1.  Grace is prevenient in every commitment to God. 

    God seeks relationship with humans and gives a yes or no choice.  Christmas starts briskly focused in history.  “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the days of Ceasar Augustus.”  Mary first commitment. Call comes then relationship.  Might be a sermon, book, illness, but grace always comes before human steps out. One call or multiple calls. John E. Mitchell “If you can’t be anything else you can be a fool for God.”

    2.  The Magificant contains the core Gospel.

    Quite remarkable how sophisticated it is “My soul rejoices...He who is mighty has done great things...The whole universe will call me blessed.”  Then shifts to Gospel. “And His mercy is on those who hear His call.” Salvation. Baby not born yet, but she speaks in future past tense. “He has done this...”

    3.  Mary a model of faith but not immaculately conceived or bodily assumed.

    She was at beginning and end. “A sword will pierce your heart.”  Hard to see a child die. Nothing in the Bible for Doctrine of Mary.  She was not equal with Jesus, just his human mother.  Honor her for her witness and accepting God’s call.

    4.  The call of Christ is about life.  It is also about death.

    We also are called to declare mercy and justice. Life after death. Gift of relationship with God is peace at end. We need to increase invitation to friends and family. Come see what Christians really do. Must share great gifts of the Gospel.

     

     

     

  • Christians called to love believers and strangers

    Scripture: Hebrews 13:1-16; 20, 21

    1.  Christians called to love two targets: believers and strangers.

    Summary of how to live and die. Love is the primary command. Love merges the Church into one effective body. Hospitality to strangers important due to needs or might even be meeting Jesus!

    2.  Remember those who are in prisons.

    We should ministering to those behind prison walls, but many are prisoners of self -- without love, hope or peace.

    3.  Honor marriage.

    God instituted at the very beginning so deserves respect. Important to stability of community. Children need protection. Divorce is always costly emotionally, financially, and socially.

    4. Do not love money and be content with what you have.

    Christ will never forsake you, so nothing to fear. Money cannot save it is transient. Greed is a great problem. Church and those blessed with goods fill the gap for others.

    5. Remember those who taught you and that Christ is unchangeable.

    Bible must be passed on. Christ allows us to spread our wings and fly. What we think may change but Christ never does. Forever on the cross, forever Savior, instrument of grace, companion on the way, receives us unto Himself.

    6. Our primary duty is “outside the camp”.

    Christ was sacrificed outside the gate we should join Him there. In camp is worship, hope, and preparation to go out into world. There we express our faith and witness through word and deed. With Christ a triumph life is achieved.

     

     

     

     

  • Commitment: If we trust, there are no limits to what God will do

    Scripture: Luke 1:39-45; 76-79

    1.  Usual first step in commitment is belief without proof, definition of faith. 

    Angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias, “don’t be afraid, Elizabeth will bear you a son...call his name John.” He is struck speechless due to unbelief. If we will only trust there are no limits to what God will do. Sometimes certainty comes only after a long journey. Those with a heart for God know His demands: love, justice and mercy. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed” not what or why, but WHOM!

    2.  While commitment has to be personal, it is strengthened when shared.

    His name is John. Gabriel had told Mary about Elizabeth and she went to share her joy. When she arrived, Elizabeth’s child leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Blessed are you among women...why has it been given to me to see the mother of the Lord.” Joy now, sorrow later. Never know what a commitment to Christ will cost us. One of the rewards on faith journey is the Church’s support, enhances strengths and shares burdens.

    3.  When commitment has been made it is expected to be shared.

    God expects action from us. Zacharias, a priest said, the dayspring of on high has visited us...bringing light to those in darkness. Pride is what destroys us, it is a cancer that eats up common sense. We move from a call...to belief...to certainty in Christ...who transforms us to serve Him in the world.

     

  • Deo Valente: “Over to you Lord"

    Scripture: James 4

    1.  Passionate lusts lead to internal and external conflicts. May kill literally and spiritually.

    Societies and individuals want what they do not have. Some willing to kill to get their way. Coveting addressed early in the Bible. Wars come when nations covet. Individual passions create fights deep within us and can lead to spiritual death.

    2.  The ultimate battle is between love for the world or love for God.

    “Adulterers do you not know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.” God will not tolerate unfaithfulness. Lusting passions have no power in the face of crisis or pain. Love for the world is doom, God is our help in crisis.

    3.  The solution to spiritual warfare is to return to God’s grace.

    “Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Loving the world and God is double-mindedness, need to repent. Everything in Scripture says, “God yearns jealously for us.” Don’t be defeated by evil. God is zealous for us to mature. 

    4.  Need to relearn two words from ancient church: Deo Valente: God willing.

    If the Lord wills we shall. Arrogant to assume we are in control. Life is a mist...short. Nothing wrong in wanting to live a long life. We should give thanks for yesterday and hope for tomorrow. Saying  I will live my mist fully for God -- Deo Valente. “Over to you Lord,” Reynolds Price said. 

     

     

     

  • Does God Exist: 1999 Brown Lecture Series

      

    Does God Exist?

     

    This lecture concerns the first of four serious questions.

     

    Dr. Foster defines serious questions as having three characteristics: 

      First, they are momentous questions, in some cases life or death questions. 

      Second they are questions which cannot be ignored by any thinking person.

       Third, the questions have live options as answers – either answer could be true. 

     

     

    I. First, a review of the development of atheism - the view that God does not exist:

         A.   No one has ever seen God.

         B.  The church was despised for evil acts in the name of God from the crusades to inquisition.

         C. 19th century confidence the human mind could solve all problems – God was not necessary.

     

         Three major types of atheism:    (all originating in the 1800s)

    1. Anthropological atheism: Ludwig Feuerbach – God is simply a projection of human thought.  The human species is the supreme being.
    2. Nihilistic atheism: Friedrich Nietzsche – God has become unbelievable and is thus dead.  Human rationality has replaced Him.
    3. Scientific atheism:  Sir Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin – science makes it clear that the biblical creation story must be consigned to myth.  Scientific atheists believe no creator is needed and human freedom does not exist.  Predestination is written in our genes.

     

    II. Evidence that God does exist:

    1. The anthropologic argument for faith that God exists:
      Anthropologic as well as archeological evidence makes clear that humans as a species have always worshiped.  The universal presence of the idea of God and the worship of God, no matter the nature of that worship, is extremely powerful evidence that God is reality.

    2. How science might hint that God exists:As science has become more sophisticated, there is becoming more of a dialogue between science and religion.  The more science discovers, the more complicated life is found to be – and the more mysterious.  If the “big bang” description of the universe came from the Bible, rather than from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it would be treated as a preposterous myth.  The universe is simply too complicated to have just happened.  

    3. There is Something or Someone behind it all. 
      God’s revelation about Himself and His demands:
      In the end, humans experience God through revelation - - God’s own unveiling of Himself.  The three categories of revelation are (1) nature, (2) human history and human testimony, and (3) the written texts – the Bible.  The logos doctrine of John 1 says the Power that created the world enlightens every human who comes into the world.  

    So the answer comes to all - listen for the voice.  The voice that says: I am the Lord, your God.  Come to me, from whom you came.  I will be with you.  I will love you.  And I will keep you in life and in death.                                 

     

    Does God exist?   Yes.

     

  • Evangelism Requires Wisdom and Flexibility

    Putting Our Faith to Work

    Scripture: Acts 17

    Dr. Dan Foster:    I consider Acts 17 one of the great chapters of The New Testament because of its emphasis on evangelism.  This chapter is very instructive for those of us who have to consider evangelism consistently.  

    Point one: Paul is the single most important person in bringing Jesus to the world.  Robin Griffin James, in The Gospel According to Saint Paul, subtitles his book “The Creative Genius Who Brought Jesus to the World.”  Paul took three long missionary journeys.  It is highly likely that, if Paul had not taken these very long journeys, the Christian faith would have been limited to Jerusalem and Israel.  The Christian faith would have been very small and probably not lasting.  So Paul is the primary evangelist of the early church.

      It is clear that evangelism is part of the charge to all Christians.  When Jesus sent out the non-ordained disciples, he told them they were to pronounce to all the villages where they went: 

    (1) That the kingdom of God is near (that is the evangelistic function, the evangelism of words).   (2) That they were to heal the sick (that is the ministry of love and mercy to all sicknesses – spiritual or physical).  So, evangelism and works of mercy and love are the unchangeable hallmarks of the Christian faith.  When there is a defect in one or the other, in the Church or in individual lives, then the defect has to be corrected.  If there is a defect in either the proclamation of the word or the evangelism of mercy, it is a death signal to individual churches and to the Church universal.  

      Paul’s evangelism was primarily an evangelism of the word because that is what his charge was.  You could also say he had an evangelism of the body.  He was lashed, he was jailed, he was starved and shipwrecked.  He had an evangelism of cost.  Anybody who looks at the life of Paul and then looks at one’s own life is hugely embarrassed at how little willing we are to pay the cost of evangelism relative to the great evangelist Paul.  But, primarily his was an evangelism of word.  

      I want to talk about the two episodes of evangelism of the word that are contained in this chapter and they are different.  One of the things I am going to say at the end is that we have to use wisdom about the techniques that we use in evangelism.  Point two: The evangelism to the Jews involved bringing a profound addendum to the First Covenant – the addendum of Jesus as the Christ.  Now, Paul’s modus operandi was always to go to the synagogue in the towns he visited.  That was the case here in Thessalonica.  The Jews in the synod are already in an act of faith.  They are in a First Covenant.   There does not have to be any explanation about the fact that there is a Bible, for example, or that there is scripture.  Paul goes to the synagogue and  he wants to expand and modify and complete the faith that is already there.  Luke says that Paul argued in Thessalonica from the scripture, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead and saying that Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”  Now, when one looks at Paul’s letters and sermons, there are two central themes: One is the cross and the other is the new creature in Christ – the new being.  So it is highly likely that when he talks about Jesus suffering here, he was addressing the issues of the cross in his sermon.  Theodore Ferris said something vey interesting about the cross.  He said, first, that “the cross does something for us.  What the cross does is bring the grace that allows the forgiveness for our sins.”  It is the mechanism of redemption of our sins.  Ferris says, “The cross also does something to us and what it does is to call us to serve God, at cost, in gratitude for the fact that He has made us free and made it possible for us to live, in God’s terms, a very great life.”  Thirdly, Ferris says, “The cross does something through us.  Because of the cross and the people who follow, the cross has prompted the building of universities and hospitals, the establishment of thousands of charities, the administrations of millions and millions of acts of mercy and millions and millions of salvations.”  It is through the people of the cross that many things have happened.  So in this particular form of evangelism, which is a common evangelism that would occur in a country that knows something about Biblical faith, then the evangelism is usually to improve, to modify and to complete the faith.  That is what Paul was trying to do with the Jews.  We will see later his very great concern about why the Jews rejected the cross and Christ.  

      I want to say one other thing before leaving this event.  When Paul’s Christian converts were hauled before the city council of Thessalonica, the council said, “These Christians are the people who are turning the world upside down.  Moreover, they are against Caesar because they are saying Jesus is king.”  What I want to say is that it is a good thing, at least now and again, for the Church and for individual churches to upset the communities where they are and to turn things upside down.  Most churches are sort of anonymous.  But sometimes we are called on to upset things.

    Point three:  Evangelism differs, depending on the setting.  It is different in this synagogue than it is before the Areopagus in Athens.  True evangelists have to be flexible and wise about their evangelism.  In the synagogue there already existed faith and it only needed modification.  In Berea the Jews were nobler than those in Thessalonica, “For they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if they were so.”  They were open to having a modification of the First Covenant faith and they checked it out in the Bible.  So they were people who were already in faith and presumably, because they were open to the word, had their faith grow.  They didn’t have to learn a new language.  They didn’t have to have the Bible defined.  But that was not true in Athens.  At the time Paul was there, Athens was the seat of cultural and intellectual greatness in the world.  There were two dominant philosophies in the city.  These were the philosophical schools of Epicurean and stoic philosophies.  These are not religions.  The Epicurean view is a devotion to pleasure and tranquility, free of pain and superstitious fears and anxiety about death.  Stoicism focused on living harmoniously with nature, man’s natural rational thought and man’s self-sufficiency.  Paul realized this was a tough audience because it is one thing to speak about faith to people who have a need for faith and have a partial faith and it is another thing to speak to intellectuals who have no need for God.  Evangelism works most effectively when somebody is searching, has a need.  Paul recognized that he could not turn to prophecy or scripture.  He could not quote from a book they had never heard of – the Bible.  So, while in the synagogue he spoke to specific theology; in Athens he decided to speak from the standpoint of general theology.  He also decided he was going to make friends with them.  With resistant people it is good to not attack, but to try to frame some sense that we are together about something.  One can say to somebody who is hostile, “Well, you know, everyone has some kind of a faith.  I have one, you have one; maybe we can chat about faith.  Did you ever get a sense when you were looking at the stars that there might be something else out there?”  Perhaps their faith is science or maybe it is money, but you want to try to identify with the person to whom you want to bring the evangelism of the word.  That is what Paul did.  He said, “I perceive that you are very religious because I saw all the idols and then I saw an inscription to the god you call ‘unknown.’  I want to tell you about this God that you call unknown and I am going to proclaim to you what He is like.”  He then told them eleven things about God:

    1. God created the Earth and everything in it.  He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
    2. God does not live in shrines or temples built by humans.
    3. He does not need anything from human hands.
    4. He is the source of human life, giving humans breath and everything else.
    5. He not only created all human life, He placed them around the world, and allotted periods and boundaries of their habitation.
    6. He induced in humans the desire to seek God and hoped that they might find Him.
    7. He is not far away, for in Him we live and move and have our being.
    8. We are God’s offspring.
    9. The Deity is not like gold, or silver, or stone or art.   (God is not reflected by idols.)
    10. The times of ignorance, God overlooked; (If a person lives their whole life ignorant of the revelations of God, God overlooks that.  One is forgiven for ignorance.)                                                                                                                  but now calls everyone, everywhere to repent. 
    11. He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man He has appointed and given assurance by raising him from the dead.  

      Paul gave a great sermon to the rulers and intellectuals of Athens, but it wasn’t very successful.  When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, some said they would like to hear more about this, and there were a few believers.  The Athens sermon has received wide criticism from commentators, particularly from fundamentalists.  Their argument is that Paul was too careful not to offend the intellectuals, that he didn’t have the courage to bring the whole Gospel.  He spoke about being in God, but not about being in Christ.  He appealed to Greek poets, but not to Biblical grace and redemption.  He talked about world history, but not about salvation history.  He mentioned resurrection, but not the cross.  Then, the argument is that most intellectuals are not going to be persuaded by reason; that usually conversion occurs with an emotional response to something one has seen or heard.  So what critics say is that Paul should have just preached the Gospel bluntly.  That is an approach we see today in fundamental evangelism – you know, “If you die tonight, will you go to hell?”  I don’t agree with this assessment because all conversions occur, not because of the messenger, but because of the presence of God to an open heart.  So, if there is a failure, it is because of a failure of the person who has heard the message not to open their heart.  Paul shouldn’t be blamed for this.  I have a lot of experience with witness to intellectuals and I have never seen one that was convinced by Biblical proof-text.  So you must take a different approach.  Conversion is not always instantaneous or quick.  I have had witnesses to intellectuals going on for years.  Now, that does not mean that you never need to be blunt or hurried.  I have also had a number of occasions where there was not time for anything except the briefest Gospel.  There are lots of rapid conversions in events like Billy Graham crusades, but that is where the general knowledge of the Bible is already known – it is the synagogue model.  You have to choose wisely how to approach people in different situations.

       In summary, Acts 17 is a great chapter for three reasons:

    It emphasizes to all of us that we are called to be evangelists, hopefully, evangelists of both word and deed.  You don’t have to eloquent to be an evangelist of the word, just be trustworthy.  If you are too shy to talk, then focus on the ministries of mercy and let those be a description of your evangelism.  Without evangelism of the word, the Church dies.  

    It emphasizes wisdom in evangelism.  I love the comparison of the synagogue model to the Athens model.  What that says is that Christians should be wise as they seek to be evangelists.  

    Then, if someone asks, “What is the God like that you worship?” A terrific thing to share is Paul’s description of the God who is unknown – those eleven points cover almost all serious theology except for the more specific addition of Jesus as the Christ.

    Here is a paragraph from Plato which is applicable in all sorts of places.  I have used it in talking to young physicians about the need to always be a life student:  

    “Some things I have said, of which I am not altogether confident.  But that we shall 

    be better, and braver, and less helpless if we think we ought to inquire than we should 

    have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowledge and no use of seeking  to know what we do not know.  That is a theme I am ready to fight in word 

    and deed to the utmost of my power.”  

    Plato understood that humans, at the highest level, want to know,  they want to inquire.  That is why we come to church school.  We are continually inquiring about a deeper knowledge and understanding of the faith.  Plato says if you  think there is nothing new to learn, he is going to fight you on that. Plato would have loved the few in Athens that said they wanted to hear more about Paul’s message.   

    Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, we thank you for Luke’s story of the missionary journey.  Implant it in our hearts in such a way that we will wish to take our place at the end of the long line of those who are evangelistic in the best sense – evangelistic in proclaiming the word of the Gospel and salvation, and evangelistic in practicing mercy and love as a tool of evangelism as well.  Help us to recognize, Father, that anything in love that we do is a tool of evangelism and help us to do the things that we do best.  We ask you to bless our church and the Church universal, to be with us as we seek to be faithful in all that we do.  In Christ’s name we ask this prayer.  Amen. 

  • Faith is not steady...requires leaps in being.

    Scripture: Acts 6

    1.  The church is a body with different duties and multiple responsibilities. 

    Early church is growing, some widows neglected, Apostles busy with preaching and evangelism so have disciples elect 7 wise and Spirit-filled to take on daily duties. Greek diakonia - distribution of food and diakoneo - waiting on tables. Today deacons, younger leaders with daily responsibilities who then move to session/governing body. Church a Spiritual matrix holding all members.  Different gifts and duties, but all important functions for God.

    2.  Stephen is the model of the solitary believer in the church.

    Single believers set themselves apart from unbelievers, say I commit myself to this Christ. In early church confessions were often prelude to martydom. Stephen was full of grace and power, but died for faith. Said Lord receive my spirit and forgive those who kill me.  Most of us just called to give time and money. Best congregations live “I believe” lives joyfully taking on God’s duties.

    3.  Ideally the faith should not be steady state. There should be “leaps” in being.

    “Leaps in being” reactions that move in and out of steady state. Ruptures occur when Christ interferes in our lives. Change is sanctification, moving forward growing into maturity and faith...more Christ-like. Need to take leaps like Abraham, Apostles, Paul and Stephen. Start waiting tables then move to giving more.  Jesus model life - carpenter, taught locally, healed, described Father, died on cross and became Savior of the world. We all are called to be like Christ.

     

  • family & community

    Family & Community videos from organizations, professionals and individuals for churches, religious instruction and online bible study.

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  • Focus on divine, not human things

    Scripture: Matthew 16:13-23

    1.  A crucial question in and outside the church is who we think Jesus is.

    Son of man is His favorite title, used over 80 times in scripture. His name is inescapable. Thought to be a prophet. Peter was right “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus made sense out of the madness of an evil world. 

    2.  One cannot make full confession that Jesus is the Christ without divine revelation.

    Faith requires a flash of revelation, won’t come through reason alone. Procedure of intellect, emotion and consideration. The Spirit can witness in sermons or lessons, acts of mercy, joy or dripping tears.

    3.  The protestant view is that Peter’s confession is the foundation of the church.  Catholics believe that Peter as pope is the foundation.

    View only in Matthew, not Luke or Mark. James was the head of the early church and foundation of was Jesus, not Peter. Jesus demands a yes or no decision from each of us.

    4. The final role for the church is to defeat evil and the powers of death.

    “Going to build my church and the powers of evil and death will not prevail.” High calling for us evil and death fighters. Christ promises success.

    5. The duty of Christians is to focus on divine things, not human things.

    The Son of God is the source of grace, the ground of hope and worthy of prayer, adoration and confession. Follow him!

     

  • Foster Open Ring Class

  • Hope in Three Parts: God, Christ and the kingdom

    Scripture: Daniel 7:1-3; 9-18

    Hope 1: There is an Ancient of Days, the God who is God.

    Secular world is very interested in end times.  What is it like after the end of the world? Night is the time when hope is most needed. Four beasts devour humans, destructive evil are “four kings who will rise out of the earth.” Internal or external, evil is the problem and God is the solution. Calm figure of the Ancient of Days, sitting in purity and control, judges creation and creatures. God is not intimidated by beasts or humans. He alone is the answer.

    Hope 2: There is a Messiah, Savior, the Christ

    Son is given dominion and glory so that everyone in the world will worship Him and his kingdom. Revelatory event written even though writer did not understand what he was writing. In the Christ event we see a crucial element -- love, along with power, judging and intervening. Jesus gives us the power to conquer our own beasts. He makes it possible to defeat difficult sins and forgives them. Son of God fulfills and clarifies Daniels vision.

    Hope 3: The saints have an eternal destination, the kingdom of God.

    Saints will out last all enemies of God and possess kingdom forever.  About heaven or destination. Hope we must cling to desperately.  Have to be ready. Losses are not permanent.  Christians are the true revolutionaries, working for justice and truth, who expect a better world.  Hope for no more mourning, crying and pain. We say I have come home.  I have found what I was looking for all my life.  Heaven is not the end of our story but the first chapter and every other one is better than the one before.

     

  • How Do We Explain Evil: 1999 Brown Lecture Series | First Presbyterian Church Dallas, TX

    How Do We Explain Suffering and Evil?

    How does one explain suffering and evil?  

    It is a perennial, universal question, the answer to which is cloaked in mystery.  Start with the premise that human suffering is poignant, but not a philosophically serious problem if there is no God.  If the Universe came into existence on its own and if life arose in a primordial pool of RNA, then life is what life is.  Humans act as they act in accord with the genes that nature gave them.  Some humans are good and some are bad, some are kind and some are cruel, but there is no moral issue, just as there is no moral issue when a wolf kills a deer or a hawk kills a squirrel.

    The problem becomes much more serious if one believes that there is a God behind the Universe.  The problem is best characterized as a trilemma, a set of three propositions which are internally inconsistent.  Here is the set:

    God is omnipotent (and omniscient).

    God is wholly good.

    Evil exists.

    David Hume phrased the issue succinctly:  Is He (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then He is impotent.  Is He able, but not willing?  Then He is malevolent.  Is He both able and willing?  Whence then is evil?

    Before going on, it is helpful to remember that there are two sources of suffering.  First, there are natural causes like hurricanes, earthquakes, and disease.  Second, there are human sources like war genocide, torture, crime.  Quantitatively the latter is much greater than the former.  It is probably wise to consider natural suffering as tragedy but not evil.  It is the suffering induced by human behavior that warrants a judgment of evil.  A famous statement by Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov illustrates this:  “People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.  The tiger only tears and claws.  He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do so.”

    Returning to the trilemma, I will try to present the argument that there is no inconsistency in the three foundation propositions – using what Alvin Plantinga has called “The free will defense.”  What it will say first is that the greatest gift of God to humans is freedom…freedom of free will.  Humans alone, of all the animals, can choose against instinctual desires.  Second, moral good in the universe requires the choice for good as opposed to the choice for evil.  That follows from freedom.  There can be no moral good unless there is the possibility for moral evil.  Finally the argument will say that the great virtues of humans – the things that make humans great – can only occur in the face of evil. 

    In his book God, Freedom and Evil, Plantinga has the best modern summary of the free will defense:  “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.  Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right.  For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what if right freely.    To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil.  The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness – for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”

    To reiterate – there is natural suffering in the world which is due to the rules of the natural universe, and there is moral evil leading to suffering which is due to humans acting evilly.  This moral evil is, of course what the Bible calls sin.

    For some, however, even the suffering of the life cycle between birth and death, natural suffering, calls God into question.  “Why me, God?”  The why of suffering becomes particularly insistent if something like premature death happens to a “good” person while the wicked seem to live and prosper.  While some judge God unfair because of suffering caused by nature, most of us are readily willing to call that tragedy and are not willing to call it injustice or evil on God’s part.

    Going beyond the narrow free will defense Thomas Aquinas said, “The universe would lack many good things if all evils were excluded.  There would not be the endurance of the martyrs if there were no persecution by tyrants.”  What follows – it sounds very radical but I believe it to be true – is that the existence of evil is a necessary condition for many moral goods.  The highest human virtues are expressed only if evil is experienced directly or indirectly and is accurately interpreted as evil.  There would be no need for these virtues if all were good.  If there is nothing to fear and nothing that can destroy, braveness is irrelevant.

    The fact that the highest human virtues are only possible in the face of suffering and evil is why great minds in history have thought that God did not create a world of all good.  Because it would be devoid of greatness as God sees greatness.  We would thus answer the trilemma by expanding the conclusions from three to six as follows:

    God is omnipotent

    God is wholly good.

    Natural suffering necessarily follows from the equations of the universe.

    Moral evil exists because humans were gifted with free will whereby they can and do act evilly, even as they can and do perform good.

    The greatest human virtues would not exist if suffering and evil were not real in the experience of humans.

    Therefore God is just and good in allowing evil in the world He created.

    Evil and suffering in the world may cause one to reject the possibility of faith in God.  Equally true is the fact that the experience of evil or suffering in one’s own life or an enhanced sensitivity to the effect of evil in the world upon others may cause a believer in God to undergo a crisis of faith.  On the other hand – and perhaps more frequently – suffering and distress may drive one to God for strength and understanding and hope.

    For Christians, there is a final proof that this real world is the world that the omnipotent God chose rightly to create.  That proof is that He participated in the suffering in the incarnate Christ, who with unlimited love and shining courage endured evil to the point of death on behalf of every sufferer and every sinner.  One can say that in the absence of evil – in a world where only good existed as some have felt the world should be – we would never know the full extent of God’s love.  Indeed in the absence of evil there would have been no need for a Savior, no need for incarnation, and no true knowledge of the essence of God.  A great hope flows from the suffering and death of Jesus.  When Jesus died He felt utterly alone, abandoned even by God.  “Why hast thou forsaken me?” He cried.  But that God, invisible in the shattering moment of the vicarious atonement even to the Son, was there all along.  This was manifest concretely in the triumph of the Resurrection.  The lesson from that, the premier event of all of history, is that God does not protect us from suffering but He always protects us in suffering.

     

    Daniel Foster, M. D.

    Brown Lecture #5 1999      www.openringclass.org/

     

  • It's a mistake to think temporal power is better than eternal power.

    Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

    1.  There is a huge difference between transient power and eternal power. 

    A decree from transient power Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man in the world. At the same time a baby was being born in a manger. Today Caesar is a footnote while baby is called King by millions. Mistake to think temporal power is better than eternal power. Baby wins.

    2.  God used shepherds to break the anonymity of the Child to the world.

    Parable about how God thinks and calls us. Angel appeared to shepherds, I bring you good news, the Savior is born. Working class people get message first. God gives joyful news of Salvation. God always gives directions to Christ. You don’t have to guess. Christians are map givers while sermons and deeds are map signs. Once you get the directions you have to go. If you don’t you miss the blessing. Angels cheered God!

    3.  The crowded inn is a parable for the human soul.

    We have finite space in our lifetime. Christ appears with a special call and there are no vacancies. We need to examine our rooms: family, job, charities, or pleasures. Good thing to save a guest room for God. Be ready when a special request comes.

    4.  After ecstasy with God you have to go back home -- different.

    Standing outside you get a different view of God and self  Sing great hymns, ecstatic events of worship at Church, but you have to go back to work on Monday. Shepherds went back to the fields. 

     

     

  • Jesus spoke with authority & authenticity. We can too!

    Scripture: Luke 4:31-37; 20:1-8

    1.  All recognized that Jesus spoke with authority and authenticity.

    Jesus was always teaching. Officer of Pharisees “no man ever spoke like this man.” He did not claim delegated authority. The prophets always began “The Lord said...” Jesus said “I say to you...All the people where spellbound (hung on) by His words.”  We should attempt to be authentic and authoritative.

    2.  Jesus is in the business of removing demons, evil spirits.

    All people have demons or sin and Jesus is in the business of removing sin. Rescue only happens if one wants to be delivered. Christ can cure you of all demons or sins.  Once you make the leap you must accept the gifts. Arrogant and render Christ’s death on the cross useless if we can’t accept forgiveness.

    3.  A good technique for witnessing is asking questions.

    Jesus was wise He ask questions instead of arguing or browbeat someone. We can do the same. “Are you happy with your life?” Are you ever afraid?” I am and share your personal feelings or experience.

    4. Followers of Christ are to cast out demons.

    If He is in the business of saving humans, we should be to. Paul Tillich said, “Rejoice that you have been called to the vocation of redeeming and rescuing humans from sin and helping renew relationship with God.” Rejoice that your sins are forgiven and pray to be a hopeful beacon of rescue for others.

     

  • Jesus uses ordinary events to teach lessons

    Scripture: John 13: 1-20

    Buddy Jordan taught in Dr Foster’s absence.

    Last Supper

    1. Jesus’ love knows no limits and His central aim is for us to understand so we can believe.

    He gave many signs but still no total belief. Knowing He was going to God He could have been arrogant or proud but chose to love. 

    2. Love is service.

    Was slave’s position to wash the feet. Jesus shows true service in an ordinary event. The foot washing represents washing for repentance for recurring sin (our initial baptism was cleansing once for all).

    3. Jesus uses evil acts to open his followers’ eyes. 

    Foretelling of betrayal may have been the hardest thing up till this point for them to believe. Jesus wanted to ensure the disciples’ eventual belief so he uses this foreknowledge so they will look back some day and know. Jesus could have been bitter but chose love.

    4. Jesus wants us to be armed with fidelity when we go out into world to bring others into the flock. 

    We stand for him so Jesus wants us to know for an absolute certainty that He is who He says He is (using the foreknowledge of betrayal and foot washing). Jesus uses ordinary events (sharing bread and foot washing at a meal) to teach extraordinary lessons.

  • Jesus, Peter, the Church, Salvation & Discipleship

     

    The sine qua non of the Christian faith is that Jesus is the Christ.

    Matthew 16:13-28

    Scripture read carefully interprets itself.  The Spirit reveals outward Word through inner confirmation.  Peter's confession that "Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God" is in all three gospels.  Peter did not come by that answer through reason but revelation by the Holy Spirit.  Doesn't mean we can't think about God's Word or ask questions.  It would be silly not to continue to seek once we have discovered the greatest truth in the world. Seeking (study) leads to answers. Central truth that Jesus is the anointed one.

     

    2. The "firsts" of Peter is his confession (revelation) not his authority.

    Two high views of Peter: traditional disciple with timeless insight or the first papal leader as Catholics believe.  Peter was the first called by Jesus although his brother Andrew brought him to Christ. Bible is clear that James was the head of the Church at Jerusalem and had command function over John, Paul and Peter or sent them out to witness. Great figure in Christian history but not any higher than others.

     

    3. The church is the instrument of Christ's salvation. It holds the keys to heaven. 

    Church has defensive power, but all the translations are looking for a way to describe terribleness of being with out God. Hades, hell, death, Sheol, watery abyss, etc. Translate as death because of mans fear of death. The Church properly understood is protected from darkness, sin and death. Clear that they keys to heaven are in Christ's hands.  He frees believers from these fears. When Church is faithful in proclamation; it opens doors to seeker. If Church is fake, seekers turn away. Be faithful to God in all that you do.

     

    4. Salvation cost Jesus his earthly life after great suffering on the cross. 

    Jesus immediately (in all three Gospels) begins to show the disciples what he will suffer. Can't fast with the bridegroom here. No sign except story of Jonah three days in belly of fish.  Peter goes from Rock to stumbling block.  Typical problem of Church, our ideas are better than God's. We must seek to do God's will through prayer then action.

     

    5. Discipleship is about two crosses and two lives. 

    All Gospel teachings are followed with demands.  "What will one give for one's life?" Earthly life and eternal life second dependent on the first. Two crosses belief in first and taking action in the second. Jesus expects us to have a cross life showing mercy and love at cost. We have the chance to become players in salvation history.  Kingdom of God is close when we serve Him.

     

     

  • Live in Christ’s light and discover what God wants for you

    Scripture: Ephesians 1:1-14

    Special thanks to Mike Foster for teaching the lesson.

    I.  Mystery of Salvation.

    Paul talks about how we are suppose to live. Early in the Church there is still hostility between Jews and Gentiles and followers of different disciples.  

    II.  Exhortation.

    Paul wants them (and us) to know how to live.

    A. Unity of the Spirit.

    One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, Father of all, over all and connected through the Holy Spirit. We come to unity through Christ. When we put our diverse gifts together we can accomplish anything.

    B. New life in Christ. 

    We must give up our old life. No more lies, speak truth, never let sun set on anger, guard against false talk, do good to listeners, avoid spitefulness, be friends, be kind, forgive one another...try to imitate God.  

    C. Morals of the home (relationships).

    Husbands love your wives, sacrifice to make her holy, the two become one body, joined together. When divorce occurs it tears the two apart and the terrible pain of it makes people act badly. They must get through the pain to the other side before things get better.

    D. Spiritual war (against sin).

    Paul recognizes internal struggle. If there are times when you feel bad, sad, guilty, that is not weakness, but sign of a true Christian...God in you. We are blessed by God. Saints with gifts try to live life in Christ’s light and discover what God wants for them. Love sacrificially. Rely on God to protect and depend on the Holy Spirit for support.

  • Living begins with joy and ends in peace

    Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11; 4:4-9

    1.  Self effacement, humility, is required of Christians. 

    Having the same mind in full accord means doing nothing in selfishness. Christians should be modest people working together to further God’s kingdom. Paul doesn’t want us to get caught up in petty arguments or pride, it interferes with God’s business.

    2.  The mind of the Christian as far as possible should be the mind of Christ.

    Paul turns to the model -- Jesus. Kenosis who empty Himself to become human. Dedicate your mind to God.  Take on the form of a servant like Christ.  “Became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” one day.  Can ignore Christ in life but not in death. Don’t mess with Christ!  

    3.  The operative life style of Christian begins with joy and ends in peace.

    “Rejoice in the Lord always, again rejoice,” Paul declared from jail. He speaks to joyful faith in difficult times. We rejoice because we know God, let our gentleness be known to everyone. Lord is near, have no anxiety. Sometimes it is hard. When we are anxious we should pray with thanksgiving. Peace with God keeps heart and mind.

    4.  There are merit badges in the Christian walk.

    Be true, just, honorable, lovely, pure like Christ, graceful and elegant. If lovely, not ugly, someone might think we are a Christian! From Melville’s Moby Dick “be a patriot to heaven and eternal delight will be his who says I have striven to be thine.”