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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Why We Should Fast

Most Christians in America seem to have very little interest in fasting. In fact, they usually flee the subject as if it were a curse. Why should we concern ourselves with fasting?

First of all, fasting is one of God’s commands. God instructed his chosen people Israel to fast each year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26). This day was a solemn reminder that God is holy and sin cannot be trivialized. Fasting is an act of humility before God, recognizing our need for his forgiveness.

Second, the Bible gives us many positive examples of God’s people fasting. When Moses was in the presence of the LORD receiving the Ten Commandments, he went without eating bread or drinking water for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28). Apparently Moses was so enraptured with the proximity of God that he gave no thought to physical sustenance.

In the days of Samuel, God’s people were ensnared by idolatry. As a result, God allowed the Israelites to be oppressed by the Philistines. The people of God repented. They assembled before the LORD and confessed their sin and fasted. So God delivered them from their enemies. Fasting was an expression of their humble yearning for God’s powerful intervention.

Daniel, in exile with God’s people in Babylon, fasted and prayed to God. He interceded for the people, confessing their sin and crying out to God for his forgiveness and restoration to the Promised Land. While he prayed, God sent the angel Gabriel to give Daniel insight and understanding (Daniel 9). Fasting resulted in an amazing word from God.

God’s prophets in the Old Testament instructed the people on the proper way to fast. Isaiah told the people that fasting is not a substitute for obedience (Isaiah 58:1-14). Joel explained that fasting is an appropriate expression of repentance before God, one that God honors (Joel 2:12-13).

Jesus did not begin his public ministry without a time of fasting, forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2). He warned his followers not to fast in order to impress people, but to gain the reward that only God can give (Matthew 6:16-18).

Jesus pointed out that fasting is not always appropriate. When the Savior is present, joy and celebration are the customary responses (Matthew 9:14). True fasting is not a duty, but a voluntary response motivated by a sincere heart.
Finally, we should fast because Jesus expects his followers to fast (Matthew 9:15). After he returned to the Father, the Early Church engaged in fasting. They incorporated fasting into their public worship and as a result, the church heard from God’s Spirit (Acts 13:1-2). They also included fasting when it came time to make appointments to missions and church leadership (Acts 13:3-4; 14:23).

We fast as an expression of self-control that enables us to exert greater focus on experiencing God. By denying a legitimate physical need for a short period of time, we concentrate on hearing God’s voice.

Our fasting does not obligate God in any way. He remains sovereign. Fasting does, however, demonstrate our seriousness in seeking him out. Fasting also teaches us to control ourselves, exercising a fruit of the Spirit.

We may think that the grumblings of our hunger would easily drown out the voice of God, but that is not the case. With very little practice, our hunger becomes servant instead of master. And with a little faithfulness, our spiritual ears become fine-tuned to the voice of the Lord.

May God give us the desire to seek him out with all our heart,

Brother Richard

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What The Church Needs from Each of Us

In order to carry out her mission, God’s local church requires three things from her members: attendance, service and giving.

Regular attendance at church keeps us in fellowship with God and with one another. It is true that we can commune with God anytime and anywhere. But our Lord instructs us to honor him in a special way each Sabbath. To go fishing on the Lord’s Day and pretend that we are focused on him is an insult to the Savior.

When we worship regularly, we draw nearer to God and he draws nearer to us. As we honor him through our obedience, he honors us by revealing more of himself and his plan to us.

Our church family is on a spiritual journey. When we are away, we miss part of the story. When we are consistently present, God gives us insights that build upon one another. Sporadic attendance leaves gaps that deny us the full picture.

Regular church attendance also enables us to maintain stronger relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The familiarity we gain by regularly worshiping together enables us to encourage each other in our Christian walk.

Faithful service at church keeps us growing as a church family and as individual believers. Church is not a spectator sport. When we attend sports events, movies, and concerts, we expect gifted professionals to do all the work while we sit back and enjoy. Church is different.

Every follower of Jesus has the same indwelling presence of God. But each believer is given different spiritual gifts. These abilities are given by God for the growth of his church. In the Body of Christ, everyone is vital to the health of all the others.

As we serve faithfully in the local church, we grow stronger in our personal faith. Service in the church enables us to see God’s hand at work in a variety of circumstances. As a result, we move closer to the heart of God.

Steady giving keeps us grateful to God and invested in his Kingdom. When we pay for products and services in the world, we look for the most ‘bang for the buck.’ Tithes and offerings are different.

Giving to the church is based on our understanding that everything we have already belongs to God. What we give is an act of worship, acknowledging God as our Maker and Sustainer and reminding us that what remains in our hand is his blessing, not our due.

By consistently giving to God’s work in the local church we gain a sense of ownership and pride in the Lord’s work. Giving to God’s work is an expression of confidence that his Kingdom is worthy. It is of the highest value.

Our tithes and offerings finance the ministries of the local church, reaching lost souls with the gospel and strengthening saved spirits with the Word. God is giving us the opportunity to store up treasure in heaven, an investment that cannot be lost or stolen.

God is carrying out his Kingdom work in this age through his church. He has promised that his church will be victorious. Not even the gates of hell will be able to stand against her. We share in God’s triumph through his church by regularly attending, faithfully serving, and steadily giving.

May God’s Holy Spirit inspire and empower us to support his church and share his victory,

Brother Richard

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Atticus Finch and the Search for an Unchanging Standard of Justice

Atticus Finch is a hero.  Or is he?  For decades the character from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been a larger-than-life icon of racial justice.  That image was deeply imprinted on an entire generation when Gregory Peck brought Atticus to the big screen in the 1962 movie.

But now another book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman, reveals a saint that is more ‘complex.’  Atticus, it turns out, was a segregationist who attended Ku Klux Klan meetings.  How will a generation who bowed at the altar of a committed prophet for racial justice deal with his fall from grace?

First of all, let’s not forget that Atticus was never a real person.  The saintly version of the fictional Atticus Finch was probably too good to be true all along.  Real people are not that morally tidy.  The real heroes of civil rights struggles were often more ‘complex,’ as were the segregationists they opposed.

Our struggle for moral clarity in an often confusing and dark world creates a desire in our hearts for strong transparent examples whom we can look to as faithful models.  Like Atticus, however, many of our heroes eventually disappoint us.

Some people will surely be disappointed in the new version of Atticus, wishing to hold on to the morally pristine man that Gregory Peck portrayed.  Others may be willing to embrace the new version of Finch.  They may see the revised character as a reminder that real life is not always so easy to categorize into neat little packages of good and evil.

Whatever happens to Finch’s popularity, we are likely to go on searching for a hero worthy of our admiration and imitation.  Knowing that life is complex does not discourage us from yearning for someone who can present a compelling moral vision and back it up with a consistent inspiring life.

Can we find a great model worthy of following?  One who is more than imagination, someone who lived in our world but did so with victory?  Can we find someone whose message was consistently true and loving, never compromising or accommodating, despite the personal cost?

Years ago, a 30-year-old carpenter laid down his tools and turned to a life of preaching.  That he was no ordinary preacher was evident from the beginning.  His words came with stunning power.  He spoke with authority like no other.

It didn’t take long for this carpenter-turned-itinerant-preacher to make enemies.  Those who hated him made him face the ultimate test: give up his message or give up his life.  He refused to back down or to run away.  He was willing to risk it all.  He was betrayed by a friend, denounced by his people and destroyed by the authorities, or so it seemed.

For two millennia Jesus’ message has outlasted all others.  Many attempts have been made to alter or cast doubt on his life story and his divine message.  But his life is more than fiction and his word is more than inspiration.  In addition, Jesus died for more than his beliefs, he sacrificed himself for his followers.

Jesus is more than a great moral model.  We should do more than imitate him.  Jesus is God’s resurrected Lord and Savior.  We should bow down to him.  Praise God there is one who is always faithful, one whom we can always trust.  Jesus is still Lord.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Camden, July 2015

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Thinking about Gay Marriage on Independence Day

The Supreme Court of the United States of America legalized same-sex marriage. Will freedom be denied those of us who believe that same-sex relationships are sinful? What about the spiritual future of our culture? Can we get a word from our Lord about how we should respond?

In 1 Peter 3 we read that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears on their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those doing evil.” This is a quote from Psalm 34, which was written some 1,000 years earlier. Peter applies an ancient and established truth to current circumstances. The passage of time had not diminished the Bible’s truth.

This is a much-needed affirmation about the Bible and about the God of the Bible. Our circumstances will change, but God’s word and his character do not change. His holiness and righteousness, his love and mercy, they are established and they will never alter.

Leviticus 18 has not changed. Romans 1 has not changed. God’s design for human sexuality, for marriage and for family has not changed. God’s design for marriage is still one man and one woman committed to one another for life, raising their children together and enjoying their grandchildren. And more than that, Christian marriage is still meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church. None of this has changed. Nobody, not even the Supreme Court of the United States of America can change these fixed realities.

But our country’s definition of marriage has changed. It has moved sharply away from God’s design. Will those who believe in God’s design for marriage be penalized in this rapidly changing moral storm?

The text from 1 Peter 3 continues: “Who will do you harm if you are zealous for good? But if you suffer because of righteousness, you are blessed.” Jesus agrees with the notion of suffering for doing what is right. In Matthew 5 he says, “Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” But do American Christians actually believe that suffering is a blessing? In other countries, China for instance, Christians understand these frequent Scriptural statements about suffering for the truth. Because of our religious freedom, this aspect of the faith is unfamiliar territory in the U.S.

1 Peter 3 continues: “Don’t fear what they fear, nor be upset.” Fear is not the answer. Fear is never to be our master. God has not abandoned his people or his plan. He can still be trusted. Some may fall away, but those who believe will discover the anointing of God’s power enabling them to represent him faithfully regardless the cost.

So what should we do? Next, 1 Peter says, “Set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always be ready with an answer to everyone who asks you for a word about the hope which is in you.” Notice that it does not say that we should always be ready to defend our right to speak, but we should be ready to speak.

Christians in America have sometimes been quicker to defend a right than to exercise it. Tell believers that they cannot pray and they will line up for battle, rightly so. But do those same believers take the time to attend a prayer meeting? Instead of fighting for the right to speak, we must speak what we know is right.

But what about religious freedom? Is legal same-sex marriage not a threat to our religious freedom? Should we not fight for our religious freedom? It has become popular to call religious freedom our first freedom. But is this really true? Religious freedom is a great heritage, a right for which many fought and bled and died. Our first freedom as believers, however, is our freedom in Christ, not political liberty but spiritual freedom.

A person can be politically free and spiritually bound. It is also true that one can be politically bound and spiritually free. Given the choice, we would embrace both freedoms simultaneously. Forced to choose, we relinquish our political liberty in order to remain faithful to our Lord.

The kingdom of God has advanced for millennia, often without the benefit of religious freedom. In fact, sometimes religious persecution has spread the fire of the faith more effectively than religious freedom, which sadly seems to produce spiritual complacency.

We are instructed by 1 Peter 3 to be ready to give a word about our hope. What is our great hope? It is not freedom of religion, nor is it freedom of speech. Our great hope is not the Constitution of the U.S.A. Religious leaders who tell followers of Jesus that they should put their hope in freedom of speech, freedom of religion or the Constitution are at best confused and at worst false teachers.

The Bible tells us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, not our political freedoms or our political documents, as helpful and brilliant as these things may be. Our struggle is not a battle for religious freedom but a battle for spiritual truth. What should we do? We must set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and be prepared to speak about him, nothing less.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist in Camden, AR, July 3, 2015

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God Is At Work in Your Suffering

Joseph was favored by his father, Jacob.  Jacob gave Joseph a special coat, a coat of many colors.  Joseph’s older brothers were jealous.

Joseph was favored by God.  God gave dreams to the 17-year-old Joseph, dreams that predicted his family would someday bow down to him.  His brothers could not say a kind word to Joseph.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers.  They kidnapped him and sold him into slavery.  He found himself in bondage in a foreign land, in Egypt.

Then things got worse.  Joseph was falsely accused and unjustly condemned.  He went from slavery to prison.

After 13 years of captivity, Joseph was suddenly freed and elevated to a position of great political power in Egypt.  Only God could have engineered such a stunning reversal.

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave Joseph a wife.  Soon he had 2 sons.  He was ready to move on and to forget the past, to forget his brothers and his father.  But God had another plan.

Joseph was near 40-years-old when his brothers came to Egypt.  They came to buy grain because of the severe famine.  After hiding his identity and testing them to see if they had changed, Joseph reconciled with his brothers.

Joseph’s brothers were apprehensive to say the least.  After all, they had betrayed Joseph.  He now had the power to exact revenge.  They were at his mercy.

But Joseph made an astonishing assertion: God was ultimately responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt.  True, his brothers were guilty of a heinous crime against him.  But God used Joseph’s suffering for their salvation.  Joseph was now in a position to save his brothers and his entire family from starvation.

Does God really use evil to accomplish good?  Since God is all-powerful and all-good, we must conclude that he allows evil to exist.  And since God is all-good, we can rightly deduce that he will use evil to bring about a greater good.

When betrayed by his own brothers and sold into servitude, Joseph was not yet ready to consider the idea that his suffering would save his brothers.  His brothers!  They who sold him like a piece of property.

Thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, Joseph was not ready to hear that his pain would serve a greater good.  Even after he was released from prison, elevated to power and blessed with his own family, he only wanted to forget the past.  He was not ready to think that God was using his pain to save others.

Only after decades of life was Joseph ready to see and accept God’s plan to use his sorrow in order to save many.  God’s mysterious ways are often better understood in retrospect.

Much of what Jesus did made no sense to his disciples at the time.  Later, with the help of God’s Spirit, they were able to see that God used a terrible loss to bring about a great victory.

The death of God’s sinless and perfect Son, Jesus, was the most heinous and deplorable crime of this age.  Yet God used Jesus’ sacrificial suffering to achieve eternal salvation for all his people, elevating him to the ultimate victory through his resurrection and ascension.

As sons and daughters of the God of Joseph and faithful followers of his Son Jesus, we too can be certain that whatever suffering God allows in our lives will surely contribute to eternal victory.  Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

May the Lord give us eyes to see and hearts to agree with his great plan,

Brother Richard Foster

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