Tell Your Story!

You have story to tell! As a follower of the Lord Jesus, you have become a permanent part of Jesus’ story. And Jesus’ story will always be a vital part of your life story.

Your story includes the great change that Jesus has made in your life when you were saved. More than that, your story includes the changes that God’s Spirit is making in your life now as he grows you toward spiritual maturity.

In a sense, your story and mine each begins when Jesus willingly gave his life as a sacrifice so that we can be forgiven. Jesus’ sacrifice almost 2,000 years ago opened a door to God’s blessing that we walked through when we confessed Christ as Lord.

Jesus’ story did not end with his death. God raised him up from the grave, alive again and alive forever. More than that, Jesus ascended to heaven and poured out his Spirit on his followers, on us.

God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in the hearts of all believers, empowering us to worship and serve the Maker of heaven and earth. God’s Spirit is changing us from glory to glory into the image of Christ.

So, Jesus died for your sin, rose up to be your Savior and Lord, and he is working in your life now to do wonderful things that will continue into eternity.

All believers have much in common. We have the same Savior and we were all saved by our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. But we are still unique.

The circumstances of each person’s salvation experience vary and so each of us has a unique experience. In addition, the details of what God is doing on a daily basis in each believer’s life are unique.

So your story affirms the great truths of Christianity, truth about Jesus Christ and his work of salvation. But your story also reveals a very personal account of how Christ’s salvation is unfolding in history.

Somebody needs to hear your story. They need to hear the ancient and unchanging truth about Jesus and his offer of salvation. They also need to see and hear a living example of how Jesus saves now.

When we open our spiritual eyes, we begin to see the opportunities that God places in our path to testify about his goodness. Someone nearby is reaching a point in life where he is ready to listen.

We need to be ready to speak, to testify about Jesus and his work in our lives. Sharing Christ with others is a sign that God’s Spirit is active in our lives. It is one way that we grow stronger in our faith.

Telling others about Jesus is an important part of discipleship. Remember, discipleship is not merely learning God’s word. True discipleship is doing what God’s word says.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). We bear witness to the world of what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives. As we do this, others are saved. What a great honor!

May the Spirit of God inspire us to proclaim his goodness among the nations,

Brother Richard Foster

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Walking With God In 2016

Following Jesus includes times of great joy and wonder. Imagine what Joseph felt as he watched the wise men present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, worshiping the baby Jesus!

That mountaintop moment with the wise men’s worship was soon a wonderful memory. And Joseph’s delight turned to anxiety when he had to flee the country in order to protect Jesus from the murderous King Herod.

As followers of Jesus, we will sometimes face circumstances that require us to flee. Scripture warns us to flee sexual immorality, flee idolatry, and to flee greed. Some things we do not hazard. But when we submit to God, Satan will flee from us!

When the paranoid King Herod realized that the wise men had slipped away without telling him Jesus’ whereabouts, he was enraged. He had all the baby boys in Bethlehem aged two years and younger slaughtered. How tragic for the families in that small town. . . .

Following Jesus does not mean that we will avoid all the sadness of this dark and broken world. We will experience times of mourning and times of questioning. But we do not mourn as the world mourns. We mourn without losing faith in God’s goodness.

Herod died. Joseph could safely bring Jesus and Mary back to Israel. But instead of returning to Bethlehem, God led the young family to Nazareth, a town of very little renown.

Why would God choose such a despised place for the upbringing of the Messiah, our Savior? God has a preference for using people, places and things that look small and unimportant in order to win great victories. In doing so, he focuses attention on his mighty power.

There may be seasons when we feel weak and small. At times we may think ourselves to be incapable of doing much at all. But our Lord Jesus assumed humble beginnings, despised and rejected by men, yet he won the victory.

From Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth, Joseph was directed by God’s angel. We too may flee, mourn and feel small. But when we follow God’s Spirit, he will direct us so that we can share in his inevitable triumph.

May God’s Holy Spirit inspire and enable us to follow him faithfully this year,

Brother Richard Foster

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Can We Talk Religion?

Can we have an honest discussion about religion? No. Not if those who speak the truth are indiscriminately labeled as bigots.

To discuss religion in the U.S. is to discuss Christianity and Islam. To discuss Islam is to discuss the problem of radicalization. But honest discourse is shouted down by predictable accusations of “hate speech.”

But to point out that Islam has a problem with violence is not hatred for all Muslims. To deny that Islam has a problem with violence is to ignore the facts and to stick one’s head in the quicksand of political correctness.

It is time to stop showing graphs that compare radical Islamic murder in the U.S. with other murder, but begin the count on the day after 9/11! The agenda of such cherry-picking of the stats is plain for all to see: to rewrite history in order to exonerate Islam.

Why the strained effort to elevate Islam and to denigrate Christianity (i.e., defining Christianity by the acts of 1,000-year-dead crusaders)? It’s the new definition of Equality.

The New Equality is not simply advocating for fair treatment between the races, between men and women, between the rich and poor, or between different creeds and religions. The New Equality is systematically dismantling established ideas of what is morally right and wrong.

The New Equality claims to be acting out of heartfelt sympathy for the exploited and the underdog. But the real goal is to establish a new foundation for defining right and wrong.

The long-time foundation for right and wrong is God. Different cultures and religions have diverse views about God, but still he is the authority, the basis for beliefs, values, laws, governments and societies.

But God and religion are no longer valid in the world of the New Equality. Things are simple with this new perspective. Erase all differences. Remove all pride of accomplishment or confidence in righteousness and you eradicate all hatred and violence, right? Soon everyone will be well-fed and satisfied, right? Wrong.

In the New Equality, nobody can claim to be right. All religions must accept absolute sameness. If a certain group claims to be right or to know the truth, then they are accusing someone else of being wrong, and that might hurt someone’s feelings.

Feelings are now more important than truth. Or, put another way, feelings have become truth. Not so long ago we were told, “If it feels good, do it!” Now we are faced with another step back: “If it feels good, it must be right!”

All this moral confusion is a result of denying humanity’s ability to know the truth. In an increasingly secular culture, we are asked to believe that nobody can really know ultimate truth, and so it is impolitic to make such a claim.

And yet certain claims stubbornly refuse to exit the stage of history. The words of Jesus still ring out: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – nobody comes to the Father but by me.” “I am the Light of the world – whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Think of all the kingdoms, movements and philosophies that have come and gone in the past 2,000 years. But Jesus’ words continue to speak truth and hope to hearts around the world.

Just before he slipped away into the pages of history, Pilate asked a famous question, “What is truth?” When he uttered those words he was literally looking truth in the face, but he turned and walked away and washed his hands of Jesus.

The New Equality perpetuates the attitude of Pilate, insisting that truth is illusory. Deciding beforehand that we cannot find the truth really limits the discussion.

An honest dialogue admits to the possibility of real answers, of one position being right and another being wrong. Can we talk religion?

May God’s Spirit open your heart to his truth,

Richard Foster

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Who Speaks for Christianity?

Listening to chatter in the media one gets the message loud and clear that ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, and a host of other violent Muslim organizations do not represent the true teachings of Islam.

On the other hand, Christianity is represented by crusaders who have been dead and buried for a thousand years, or a rogue demented shooter who attacks a Planned Parenthood outlet, so we are told.

Can we find a more objective and accurate measure for “true Islam” and “true Christianity”? Yes, we can. Jesus and Muhammad.

Muhammad was a raider who used the sword to advance his agenda. He killed and beheaded some 700 Jewish men in one episode, taking their wives and daughters as the spoils of war. He taught his followers to kill the infidel, or at least subject them to second-class status.

Jesus was a teacher who insisted that his followers put away their swords, even though his own life was at stake. He taught his followers to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. He left this example for his followers: he gave his own life so that unbelievers can be saved.

To be a radical Muslim is to spill the blood of those who disagree with you. To be a radical Christian is to seal your testimony with your own blood, sacrificially giving your life so that others might live, in order to persuade many to be saved.

Peaceful Muslims are actually reflecting the life and values of Jesus more than those of Muhammad, at least with respect to violence. Murderous Christians are actually reflecting the life and values of Muhammad more than those of Jesus, at least when it comes to wielding the sword.

Jesus surprised his followers with his definition of greatness: “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. And whoever wants to be first among you will serve all.”

Jesus got down on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet. He got up on his cross and died for his disciples’ salvation. He stood up and walked away from his tomb to be his disciples’ Lord.

Jesus speaks for Christianity.

May the Spirit of Christ speak to your heart,

Richard Foster

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What About the Syrian Refugees?

My knee-jerk reaction to the idea of bringing thousands of Syrian refugees into the U.S. was “Don’t do it!” Muslim immigration in Europe seems to have caused an alarming increase in terrorist attacks, shedding innocent blood and threatening personal freedoms.

How many of our soldiers have fought, bled and died in order to secure and protect the precious liberties we enjoy in America? Is it not an insult to their sacrifice if we throw away our freedom and security by foolishly welcoming potential terrorists into our communities?

After the attacks in Paris on November 13, which claimed the lives of 130 and injured many others, the debate about immigration quickly moved to front and center. Some insisted that we should bring in thousands of Syrian refugees who are fleeing the death and destruction spread by ISIS, a radical Muslim group murdering thousands and pillaging an entire region.

The Bible is being cited as support for the idea of helping refugees by bringing them to America. God instructed his people not merely to be compassionate toward aliens, but to love them (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Therefore, since our society claims a Christian heritage, we should follow the admonition of the Bible. (Never mind the fact that we have been lectured to stop thinking of our country as a Christian nation.)

I welcome the opportunity to apply God’s Word to our current lives, including the immigration question. But let’s listen to the full counsel of God’s Word.

The Bible shows us that the Lord Jesus himself reached out to the marginalized and oppressed. His compassion is famous. But he had more in mind than alleviating suffering. Jesus was concerned about saving souls in addition to healing bodies.

I wonder if those who are quoting the Bible to support immigration will agree that conversion to Christianity should be an important goal when offering assistance to refugees.

If the Bible has the authority to urge us on toward compassion for immigrants, then it also has the authority to demand that spiritual goals be included. One cannot duck and cover behind “separation of church and state” when the Bible’s commands are unwelcome, but then turn and appeal to Scripture when it happens to support one’s political agenda.

In addition, Jesus did not endanger the lives of his fellow citizens in order to help others. The Bible places responsibility for keeping law and order and providing security in the hands of the state (Romans 13:1-6).

If the state adopts policies that endanger the lives of her citizens, then she is not fulfilling her biblical duty. We have a right to insist that our leaders take strong precautions against bringing terrorists into our neighborhoods.

Christian love compels us to work hard and find ways to help the Syrian refugees, but not by risking our neighbors’ children and grandchildren. It is not too much to ask that we help refugees, nor is it too much to insist that it be done wisely.

May the God of all compassion give us love for our neighbor,

Brother Richard Foster

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Following Jesus Leads Where?

Jesus said, “Follow me!” When we do, where will he lead us?

Jesus’ custom was to attend worship on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). When we follow Jesus, we will have the same custom. We will gather with fellow believers on the Lord’s Day for worship: to sing God’s praises, to hear God’s Word, to give God offerings, and to fellowship with God’s people.

Once, when Jesus attended worship in his hometown, they asked him to read the Scripture and give a sermon. His message upset them. They were so enraged that they dragged him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:17-30).

Some folks complain about how poorly they are treated at church. Jesus attended with people who wanted to kill him! When we follow Jesus, we will have the habit of worshiping with others on a regular basis, despite the shortcomings of some who attend.

Jesus also had a habit of withdrawing to lonely places in order to pray (Luke 5:16). When we follow Jesus, we will be a people of frequent intentional prayer.

When Jesus slipped away for prayer, large crowds came looking for him. They wanted to hear him speak and to be healed by him (Luke 5:15). They were interested in what he could do for them.

Things are no different today. We are tempted to see prayer as wasted time, or at least as a low priority. After all, we have so much to do! It’s easy to push prayer into the background.

Jesus was busy, too, but he put prayer at the top of his list. When we follow Jesus, we will take prayer seriously.

Jesus appointed his followers and sent them out (Luke 10:1). Their task was to prepare others to meet Jesus. When we follow Jesus, he will send us out to tell others about him, too.

Jesus told his followers that he was sending them out like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3). He knows how difficult this task can be. But Jesus also said that there is an abundant harvest waiting for those who go before him (Luke 10:2).

Harvest is a time of great joy and celebration. In fact, harvest is used in the Bible to picture the end of this age. For those who have worked in the Lord’s field, the Day of Judgment will be one of rejoicing and enjoying the fruit of their labor.

This reminds us of the greatest place that we will go when we follow Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus led his followers to the vicinity of Bethany. While blessing them, he was taken up to heaven (Luke 24:50-51).

Jesus promised his followers that he was going ahead of them to prepare a place. He promised to come back and take them, and us, to be with him (John 14:2-3). When we follow Jesus, we have a marvelous destination: heaven.

As followers of Jesus, we attend church regularly, we intentionally and frequently spend time in prayer, we tell others about Jesus, and we look forward to the day when our Lord will return to take us home.

May we be faithful to follow our Lord Jesus in all things,

Brother Richard

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How Do We Know That God Is In Our Lives?

What is normal for a Spirit-filled Christian? What should we expect from a life of walking in step with God’s Holy Spirit?

If our expectations are wrong, then we may find ourselves confused or disillusioned. If we know what to expect, then we will not be disappointed because God is always faithful.

What was normal for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

Abraham had three mysterious visitors one day. It turns out that they were angels sent from the Lord. The Bible never mentions angelic visitors to Abraham’s son, Isaac. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, wrestled with a man all night and then realized that he had come face to face with God.

Did Isaac do something wrong that God did not send three angels to visit him? Did Abraham fail somehow so that God did not wrestle with him all night?

God changed Abraham’s name and he changed Jacob’s, but not Isaac’s. God warned Isaac not to go into Egypt during a famine, but told Jacob that he should go to Egypt because of a famine. Did God contradict himself? Which one is normal?

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not share the exact same experiences with God. What they did share was a set of promises that God originally gave to Abraham. Those promises were passed down to Isaac, then to Jacob, and then to their descendants, the Israelites.

What about New Testament believers? What is normal for the people of God in the church age?

So-called “Pentecostal” teachers have challenged Christians to believe that only those who have spoken in tongues are initiated into the empowering Presence of God’s Holy Spirit. They point to the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, telling us that every believer should expect to undergo such an experience.

But the account in Acts 2 speaks of a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire resting over the believers (vv. 1-4). Pentecostal teachers insist on speaking in tongues but not audible wind or visible fire. On what basis do they choose speaking but reject hearing and seeing?

More than that, the tongues spoken on the Day of Pentecost were foreign languages. God miraculously enabled that small band of believers to speak so that out-of-towners could hear about his mighty works in their heart languages (vv. 5-11).

Should we believe that no one has God’s indwelling Spirit until they have miraculously spoken a foreign language? Is that what the New Testament teaches?

A quick reading of the Book of Acts shows that some converts spoke in tongues but others didn’t. Which is normal? What should we expect today?

To complicate matters more, Pentecostals often teach that new believers should expect to receive God’s Spirit at a time after they have been saved, separating a special “baptism in the Spirit” from confessing Jesus as Lord. Are they right?

When Phillip preached the gospel in Samaria, the new believers did not receive God’s Spirit until Peter came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them. This experience seems to support what Pentecostal teachers assert, that God gives his Spirit sometime after salvation.

But when Peter was preaching to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit fell upon those listening while he was still speaking, no delay. Which is normal? What should we expect?

Narratives about how God worked in the lives of his people may or may not present us with “normal” Christian experiences. James was killed by the sword (Acts 12:2). His brother, John, lived to be an old man. Which experience is normal?

Using the Bible’s narratives to define a normal Christian experience is a flawed approach. The interpreter must arbitrarily choose some experiences and ignore others. But this does not mean that “anything goes.” An experience is not from God simply because someone sincerely believes it to be so.

To answer the question about what we should expect in Christian life we must listen to the words of teaching in the Bible. As God’s promises united the various experiences of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Old Testament, God’s promises bind together the variety of experiences in the church age.

In the Book of Ephesians, believers are instructed to be filled with God’s Spirit (5:18). The text goes on to tell us what we should expect from the Spirit-filled life (5:19-6:20).

Spirit-filled believers have relationships with other believers which result in building one another up. Spirit-filled believers have a heart of gratitude toward God that fuels passionate worship.

Spirit-filled wives submit to their husbands. Spirit-filled husbands sacrifice for their wives. Spirit-filled children obey their parents. Spirit-filled fathers do not exasperate their children.

Spirit-filled workers labor for their managers as if they were working for the Lord. Spirit-filled managers treat workers with honor and respect.

Being Spirit-filled means being equipped with the full armor of God in order to stand against the devil’s schemes, praying in the power of God’s Spirit for God’s truth to be proclaimed in all the world.

If we cannot get along with fellow believers, don’t want to worship, don’t submit to our husbands, don’t sacrifice for our wives, don’t obey our parents, discourage our children, despise our bosses, mistreat our workers, ignore the battle against evil, and care not for sharing God’s truth, then we have quenched God’s Spirit in our lives and we are grieving God’s Spirit.

In the Book of Galatians, believers are instructed to be in step with God’s Spirit. When we are, God’s Spirit works to set us free from selfish pursuits so that we can serve one another in love (5:13-16).

If we are more interested in serving ourselves than others then we are not in step with God’s Spirit. If we are in bondage to pornography, sexual immorality, alcohol, drugs, anger, or any such things, then we are out of step with God’s Spirit (5:17-21).

When we walk by the Spirit we have power over sin. Liberated from selfish desires, we have freedom to love others as Christ loves us. We bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22-23).

So, if the narratives in the Bible do not teach us what to expect from God, then why are they included? The narratives are included in Scripture in order to show us how God has faithfully interacted with his people in the past.

We need to know that God fulfilled his promise to Israel and brought them out of the land of Egypt and into the Promised Land. But not every generation of Israelites needed to be saved from Egypt. The Exodus was vital, but not necessarily repeatable. Subsequent generations did not pass through the Red Sea on dry ground, but they did serve the same Lord.

We need to know that Jesus went into Jerusalem for Passover and became the ultimate and final Passover Lamb. We need to know that a small group of believers saw the resurrected Jesus ascend and a cloud hid him from their sight. Not every generation of believers will see Jesus ascend, but one generation will see him return.

Narratives in the Bible show us what God is capable of doing and inclined to do. They remind us that our Lord will often do something new and refreshing, something unexpected and exciting, but always something in accordance with his character and his revealed word.

Teaching in the Bible tells us what God promises to do in our lives, what we can and should expect. Narratives illustrate the teaching and the teaching explains the narratives. We need the teaching in the Book of Romans to understand the narrative record of Jesus’ acts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Bible makes another great promise about what we can expect. According to Scripture, God gives us an internal witness in order to confirm that his Spirit dwells in our hearts (Romans 8:15-16). God’s Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are his children; and by his Spirit we cry out to him, “Abba, Father.” This internal witness combines with the above-mentioned visible results of God’s presence to form a strong testimony.

As Spirit-filled believers we can expect victory over sin, triumph over evil, freedom to love like Jesus, and a personal experience of God’s presence that gives us confidence and peace in every circumstance.

May God’s empowering Presence enable us to bear the fruit of the Spirit always,

Brother Richard

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