What Are We Doing?

God did not save us so that we can do whatever we want. God saved us so that we can do whatever he wants. When we were doing whatever we wanted, we were doomed. But God graciously called us to salvation so that we would escape the disaster of doing whatever we want.

Salvation is more than going to heaven when we die. To be saved is to be serving God now. God’s forgiveness is not a spiritual safety suit that protects us from disaster while we go on ignoring the Lord and his kingdom. Nobody should fool himself into thinking that he has a mansion on a hill in eternity while caring little or nothing for the Master’s work now.

Jesus was very plain and outspoken about the signs of salvation in a person’s life. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit,” he said, “nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). In other words, saved people act saved and those who do not act saved are lost.

Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but only the one doing the will of my Father in the heavens” (Matthew 7:21). Words without works are worthless.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “With Christ I am crucified, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live now in the flesh, by faith I live through the Son of God, the one loving me and giving himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). As followers of Jesus, we have left behind our old lives.

Baptism is a wonderful picture of this great spiritual truth. Jesus’ followers are buried with Christ through baptism, representing the death of our former way of life, when we did whatever we wanted. We are raised to live a new life, the life of doing what God wants, participating in his kingdom (see Romans 6).

By faith in Jesus, God gives us a new life that changes even more than our actions. God’s indwelling Spirit also changes our desires. As a result, followers of Jesus begin to want to do what God wants. The desire for the old things fades away in the lives of those who are really saved.

In the Psalms God promises, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Seeking and following God is a life-changing activity. Godly desires are born and nurtured in the hearts of God’s people. We no longer find true joy or satisfaction in the old ways of the world, but we discover a passion for obeying God and contributing to his great kingdom work.

When we are truly saved, we share in the resurrection of Jesus, not just because we will someday be raised to live in his Presence forever, but because we live in his resurrection power every day, doing things that are pleasing to God.

As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, let’s rejoice not just in the fact that Jesus was raised in the past and that we will be raised in the future. Let’s rejoice in the fact that we have been raised to walk in newness of life now. Because he lives, we can face today!

May the power of the Risen Christ keep on changing us,

Brother Richard Foster

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Our Promise for Eternity

Jesus went to many of the same places that we go to in life. He attended at least one wedding, went to many worship services, accepted dinner invitations, visited at friends’ homes, and also showed up at some funerals. Marvelous things often happened when Jesus went to these events. Water turned to wine at the wedding. Demons were cast out of people at worship services. Arrogant rulers were humbled at dinner parties. Physically ill folks were healed at friends’ houses.

Nobody could ever forget what happened when Jesus appeared at funerals. One time a little girl had died and the house was full of mourners wailing and crying (Mark 5). Her parents were devastated at the loss. Jesus went into the room where the dead girl’s body had been placed. He gently took her hand and spoke to her. “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” And she did.

Another time Jesus and his followers came to a town where they were having a funeral (Luke 7). A widow had lost her only son. A large crowd from town was with her, carrying his body out for burial. Jesus’ heart went out to the woman. “Don’t cry,” he told her. He touched the coffin and spoke, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” He sat up and began to talk, no longer dead.

Perhaps Jesus’ most dramatic and memorable funeral appearance was when Lazarus died (John 11). Lazarus and his sisters were friends of Jesus. When he arrived they had already buried Lazarus but his sisters and many of their friends were still mourning. The sisters, Mary and Martha, each told Jesus that if he had come sooner, their brother would be alive. After hearing this the second time, Jesus wept. But he went on to the tomb where they had buried Lazarus and after praying he cried out to the dead man, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did.

Jesus told Martha, Lazarus’ sister, that he is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). On another occasion he said that he had God’s power and authority to lay down his own life for God’s people and then to take it up again (John 10:17-18). He also said that a day is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out (John 5:28). Some will rise up to a resurrection of life, others to a resurrection of judgment.

Jesus is the resurrected Lord who is the source of resurrection power for all his people. This great truth is our promise for eternity. We can face living and dying with confidence because Jesus is our resurrection and our life. The proof is his own resurrection, the foundation of our faith. We remember Jesus’ resurrection power always, but we turn our hearts and minds toward his empty tomb in a special way each Easter. Let us prepare our hearts to do so once again.

May God’s Spirit fill us with the power and the joy of Christ’s resurrection,

Brother 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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Is the Bible Just Another Myth?

A high school student in our church was required to read a book in her English class that claims the Bible is merely a myth. Apparently we can still teach religion in the public schools but only if the lessons attempt to discredit the Bible and destroy people’s Christian faith.

The book is a transcription of an interview with a man named Joe Campbell who asserted that all religions are myths and that all myths are essentially the same. Myths, of course, are fictional stories. So his book promotes the idea that the Bible is not an accurate historical record. According to him, those of us who take the Bible as a serious record about real people, places, and events are just being childish.

The writers of myths, the book says, are seeking to understand and express certain truths about the human experience. To do so, they create mythological accounts in which they personify natural forces. For instance, in the myths of ancient Israel’s neighbors, sea monsters often symbolized forces of cosmic evil.

In Babylonian mythology, Tiamat is the belligerent and monstrous ocean goddess. Another god, Marduk, defeats and kills her, then slits open her corpse lengthwise “like a shellfish.” From these two parts of her body, Marduk forms heaven and earth, and so forth.

But this is nothing like the Bible. Creation was not a battle between squabbling gods, or even between the one God and the forces of nature. God spoke into existence the sea, the land, the skies, and all the creatures dwelling in them and he supervises and maintains everything. Creation is not the carcass of some sea goddess, but the handiwork of the one and only God.

Comparisons between the Bible and mythology are only convincing if one uses very carefully selected portions of the Bible and certain myths. Surprisingly, Campbell’s book about mythology is honest enough to consistently point out the many differences between the Bible and mythology. But doesn’t that destroy his original premise that all myths are basically the same? He seems to be confused, or deceived.

Probably without realizing it, Campbell makes two important points that are true. First, ancient texts can be very relevant to modern people. Despite all the changes in science and technology, people remain essentially unchanged, still concerned about the same pressing issues and still seeking answers to the same fundamental questions.

The Bible is an ancient book that reveals God’s answers to the most important questions in our lives. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What went wrong? What is the solution? Where are we going? Since God is the Author of the Bible, not people, we can depend on the answers we discover in its pages.

Second, ancient and modern myths alike demonstrate people’s belief that there is something more than impersonal forces at work in the world around them. Instead of personifying the forces of nature they are searching for the intelligence they know is behind nature. When you pull back the curtain on eternity, people expect to find not principles, philosophies or forces. They expect to find a Person.

The search for a person behind nature should not surprise us. We are really searching for more than answers to questions. We are also searching for meaningful relationships. We want to love and to be loved. Why? Because we are hard-wired that way by our Maker, the personal God. He is love and he offers love, the greatest love of all through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

May the Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth continue revealing himself to us through his perfect Word,

Brother Richard Foster

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Phil Refused to Duck the Gay Bullying

How refreshing to find someone who is willing to stand up for God’s word on sexual morality despite a public backlash. Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson may have been a bit rough around the edges when he expressed his belief in God’s design for sex, but he was accurate in his assessment. Pre-marital, extra-marital, and same-sex relationships are all transgressions of God’s commands.

The pro-gay forces in our society have adopted a policy of shouting down and shutting out anyone who disagrees with their aberrant sexual ethic. Any public figure who dares to promote a Bible-based understanding of sexual purity is punished swiftly in the hopes of intimidating others who might join the dissent. Predictably, Mr. Robertson was quickly branded as not just a homophobe, but a racist. Why?

The politically active gay movement is heavily invested in the idea that homophobes and racists are essentially all one big ugly group. That group, they say, is holding back human progress in changing the rigid and outdated notions about acceptable human sexual behavior. So, those who criticize LGBTQIA (no kidding, look it up!) should expect that everything they have ever said will be scrutinized for any subtle hint that they are also a racists.

In 2013 we marked the fifty-year anniversary of the grand march on Washington, D.C. that was a high point in the struggle to secure civil rights for racial minority groups in America. In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a massive crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In his inspiring remarks he envisioned a time when all people would be judged by their character instead of their color.

In celebrating the anniversary of that optimistic moment, advocates for gay marriage continued their efforts to identify their cause with the moral high ground of racial equality. Gay sex, so they say, is the same as dark skin. To be denied the same legal and social benefits that marriage gives to heterosexual couples is the same thing as being forced to sit in the back of the bus, so the reasoning goes.

Linking arms with a movement that has already enjoyed well-deserved success is a shrewd political tactic. But their comparison between race and sexuality is severely undermined if people can actually choose their sexual orientation. Everyone knows that race is not a choice. So the strength of the comparison between race and sexuality is based squarely on the argument that sexuality is not a choice either. Any evidence that sexuality is a choice poses grave danger to the politics of gay activism.

The gay agenda also accuses the cultural majority of forcing people into adopting gender roles that are a mismatch for their true sexual orientation. In other words, the group in power bullies everyone into conforming to their notion of acceptable gender behavior. This social pressure is aimed at gays and so they are victims who live in constant fear, hiding their sexual orientation. But is that true?

People who publicly announce their gay or lesbian orientation are consistently affirmed and celebrated in the pop culture of today. The news media falls all over itself to provide a venue for those who are said to be courageous enough to take such a valiant step and “come out.” Elected officials and judicial types rush to be first in line at challenging the heterosexual status quo, claiming the coveted status of champion or defender of civil rights.

On the other hand, those who share their faith in Christ or belief in God’s design for sex often risk ridicule and rejection. Christians are being told that their public expressions of religious faith are unconstitutional. Any faith that embraces Judeo-Christian sexual values is shouted down and accused of being hate-filled.

So it seems that the gay is urged to come out and the Christian is urged to go in. Anyone seeking popularity and support in our society is apt to find it quicker by announcing that their sexual behavior is abnormal. Announcing faith in Jesus Christ, on the other hand, seems to assure that one will be scorned and scoffed at.

Gay and lesbian people started with seemingly reasonable appeals to fairness. A large number of kind-hearted and somewhat morally ambiguous Americans have responded to these appeals by making ill-advised changes to the laws which provide structure and boundaries for human sexuality in our culture. But as their influence has grown, gay groups have become more insistent that anyone who dares question their unfounded claims about sexual orientation be silenced, shamed, and punished.

The gay movement is quickly becoming a rigid and intolerant political juggernaut. Should students in graduate schools be banished from counseling programs simply because they question the new dogma about human sexuality? Where will the forum for critical thinking be if not in academia? Should Christian photographers be punished for declining to celebrate unions which go against their core convictions, even when other photographers are readily available? Where will people of faith be free to exercise their religious beliefs if not in their daily lives?

Should organizations that believe in the Bible’s definition of marriage be labeled as hate groups for simply expressing their beliefs in non-violent ways? Where will the forum for public debate be? Should girls in elementary schools be forced to share their bathroom space with boys who claim to be girls trapped in boys’ bodies? Where has common sense gone?

Recently a law was enacted in New Jersey that would forbid counselors from helping young people who are confused about their sexuality and are seeking to avoid a gay or lesbian lifestyle. If people are born gay or lesbian, then some must also be born “straight” as well. And if people are sometimes forced by society to act straight when they are actually gay or lesbian, then society, or powerful political groups within society (gay groups), can just as surely put pressure on people to act gay or lesbian when they are really straight. Where will they get help?

The gay movement has enjoyed a quick and surprising rise to social acceptance and political influence. Nevertheless, a new group is already emerging that presents a problem for them. The new group is former gays. This group is a potential embarrassment to the gay agenda for at least two reasons.

First, ex-gays are living proof that at least some people may be able to choose and/or change their sexual orientation and that some people who have experienced the gay and lesbian lifestyle have rejected it. Second, ex-gays represent a new suppressed group that calls into question the original promise of the gay agenda that they were seeking fairness and equality for everyone. Does fairness and equality stop with them?

Now that gay activism has started to gain power, we see signs that they are apparently willing to deny people certain freedoms in order to protect their newfound privilege and influence. Maybe we are seeing the new face of bigotry in America. Is it time to speak truth to power, the power of a bullying gay agenda?

Will ex-gays enjoy the attention of all the civil rights activists? Will there be marches and speeches and songs for them? Will journalists give them a public voice and judges give them special legal protection? Will Hollywood write sitcoms that present them in a positive and attractive light?

In the recent skirmish between the ‘gay’ and the ‘straight,’ the ‘Duck Commander’ respectfully refused to give in to the pressure that has silenced so many others. When he stood firm many Americans came to his aid, offering public support for his position. This is inspiring for those of us who believe that our society has turned down a dark and dangerous path, one that threatens not just marriage and family, but the spiritual fabric of our culture.

Much is at stake, including truth, freedom, and healthy relationships. Sexual behavior and race are not the same. One is a choice and the other is not. Race is something you are and sex is something you do. Telling the truth is not hate speech. Yes, truth can be expressed in a hateful manner sometimes, but truth itself is an expression of love. And even when mistakes are made and truth is communicated in less-than-loving ways, still the truth is unchanging.

The battle to define what is right and wrong in sexual matters is far from over. In order to overcome, we must keep in mind the true nature of the struggle. Remember, “our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world-powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God so that you all will be able to stand in the evil day, and after preparing everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:12-13).

The key idea is to stand. When we stand in the right place and refuse to give ground, then we will help others to find victory. The right place to stand is the solid rock of God’s unchanging truth. Know the Bible, live the Bible, and defend the Bible. Standing on God’s Word by the power of God’s Spirit and through the grace we have experienced in God’s Son, we will share in the inevitable triumph of God’s Kingdom.

–Richard Foster, Grace Baptist, December 2013

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What More Does God Want?

When he had lived 75 years, Abraham was called by God to leave behind all that was familiar to him: home, work, culture, and career. The Lord challenged him to move hundreds of miles and to live as a sojourner in a foreign country. Abraham followed God’s leadership.

God promised to make Abraham into a great nation, but he and his wife Sarah had no children. Years passed and the couple entered their senior years, but God insisted that they would have a son. Abraham believed God’s promise.

God commanded Abraham to be circumcised and to circumcise all the males in his household. This was a sign that he believed God’s promises and entrusted his future into God’s hands. Abraham accepted God’s mark of ownership.

Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years, until she was beyond child-bearing years and he was 100. Finally, God’s promise was fulfilled. They had a son and named him Isaac, which means laughter. Sarah laughed with joy. At last, things seemed to be coming together. Abraham celebrated God’s blessing.

Then God challenged Abraham again. The Lord tested him. He commanded Abraham to take his son, whom he loved, and to sacrifice him on a certain mountain. Isaac, who represented the future of God’s promises to Abraham, would be gone.

How many times did Abraham have to prove his faith to God? After all, he had left his home to live as a stranger in a strange land. He had believed God’s promises and adopted the sign of circumcision. And he had waited for a quarter of a century for his son to be born. What more did God want?

The Lord wanted Abraham’s faith to keep growing. No matter how many years he lived in this world, God kept urging Abraham to reach new heights in his walk with the Lord. God wanted him to have a vital and living faith, content but not complacent, confident but not presumptive.

As he had in the past, Abraham obeyed God. And on that mountain, God provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac. Abraham gave up his son for the Lord’s sake and as a result he got Isaac back, along with an even stronger and more mature faith. Abraham passed the test.

Only our Lord knows what he has in store for us in 2014. Surely we will enjoy many great times of joy and blessing as God continues to fulfill his promises to us. We may face a test along the way. If we do, we can be certain that the Lord will provide.

May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to soar to new heights and discover greater depth in the faith this year,

Brother Richard Foster

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Why Christmas Music is so Important

Christmas would still be wonderful without the music, but the songs we hear and sing each year as we celebrate Jesus’ birth really accent the joy of Christmastime.

The Bible urges us to see that the word of Christ dwells richly within us (Colossians 3:16). With all wisdom, it says, we are to teach and instruct ourselves by using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Music is a powerful tool for communicating spiritual truth. Music is not only helpful in learning Christian truth, it is commanded!

This should not be a surprise. In the pages of the New Testament careful students of God’s word have detected the presence of songs from the Early Church. In one place, lyrics from ancient Christian worship express the sweeping magnitude of Christ stepping down from glory to die on a Roman cross only to be exalted again to the highest place (Philippians 2:5-11).

Another apparent worship song appears in the first letter to Timothy:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
  He appeared in a body,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
    was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
    was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory (1 Timothy 3:16, NIV).

The ancient musical terms in Colossians refer to musical styles long forgotten, but one thing is clear: all types of music should be used in Christian teaching. Psalm 33 exhorts us to sing to the Lord a new song (v. 3). The mixture of both established and innovative songs is part of the wonder, reminding us that the one message of all Christmas songs is the real focus, not a particular style of chords, rhythms, and melodies.

The older Christmas carols that we still sing have stood the test of time. They are the cream of the crop, musically, lyrically, and theologically, expressing both the feelings and the thoughts of that silent night in Bethlehem with almost supernatural precision.

New songs that are well-written and performed infuse a fresh sense of wonder into the ancient story about the manger and swaddling clothes, shepherds and angels. The old hymns and the new choruses combine to tell the one profound account of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

The instruction in Colossians concludes by calling on us to sing with our hearts to God. Some of us may struggle to get the rhythm just right or hit the proper pitch as we sing the songs of Christmas. But the Bible does not mention anything about great musical performances; rather, it asks for something that comes from inside.

Sing the wonderful music of Christmas. Enjoy your favorites. Learn a new song. And may the word of Christ dwell richly within you. Merry Christmas!

Brother Richard

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