Praying During The Pandemic

How can we pray at such a time as this? Consider the Old Testament man of God, Daniel.

Daniel’s life was changed forever by other people’s mistakes. When he was just a teenager, he was taken by force from his home in Israel. His life would be spent in a foreign land: Babylon.

You might say that Daniel just lived at the wrong time. God’s chosen people Israel had persisted in disobeying the Lord for generations. God warned them. They refused to listen. Finally, God disciplined Israel.

Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by a Babylonian army. All who survived were carried off into exile in Babylon. God’s people would not return to the Promised Land for seventy years. So, Daniel would live and die in Babylon.

Daniel was truly an extraordinary man. He could have hated the Babylonians. After all, they destroyed his home and kept him in exile. Instead, he served in the Babylonian government with distinction and integrity.

Daniel could have been bitter toward God. After all, God could have protected Daniel, couldn’t he? But Daniel showed no bitterness toward God. He was devoted to God and faithful to God’s word. He was a man of prayer, even when praying risked his life (Daniel 6)!

Daniel could have been angry at God’s people and refused to have anything to do with them. After all, their sin kept him from living in the Promised Land. But Daniel had no malice for sinful Israel. His love for God’s people is evident in his prayers.

One of Daniel’s prayers is recorded in the Bible (Daniel 9:1-19). He began by confessing the sins of Israel. Surprisingly, he included himself. “We have sinned and done wrong,” he said to God.

Daniel was willing to reckon himself among God’s people, even though they were sinful and he was faithful. He knew God loved his people and had a plan to bless them, despite their past disobedience and despite their current circumstances.

Daniel appealed to God for restoration of his people Israel. Because Jerusalem was God’s city, and the Temple was God’s sanctuary, and Israel was God’s people, Daniel pleaded with God to restore them.

Daniel wanted God’s name to be honored among the nations. If God’s city and temple were destroyed and his people were defeated, then the other nations of the world would assume the God of Israel was weak and defeated.

The world around us is like Babylon, increasingly pagan. The church is too often like ancient Israel, distracted by countless idols. God seems to be distant, angry, allowing disaster to sweep across the land. How can we pray?

We can pray like Daniel. We can remain united with God’s people, the church, despite their shortcomings. We can appeal to God’s mercy for his people, remembering his promises. God promised that his church will be built on the Rock of Jesus Christ and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it!

Daniel did not live at the wrong time. He was appointed by God to live faithfully in Babylon during the Exile. We are not living at the wrong time. God has called us to serve him now, in these circumstances. Let’s be faithful in our generation.

Brother Richard Foster

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Standing In The Gap

Ezekiel was chosen by God to speak his message to a people who were anxious about their future. Israel had ignored God and disobeyed him for so long that the Lord finally allowed disaster to visit them as punishment for their rebellion.

Ezekiel was with a group who had been expelled from their home, the Promised Land: Judah. They were deported to Babylon, unsure if their lives would ever return to normal.

God’s word came to the prophet, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30, NIV).

All had failed. The leaders of the people were unwise. The priests had led the people astray to idolatry. The prophets had lied to the people, telling them that they would enjoy peace and prosperity without interruption. The people followed along, content to be misled.

Government and religion, leaders and followers, rich and poor, every group was guilty of spiritual foolishness. God found nobody to “build up the wall” and “stand in the gap.”

The wall around an ancient city was vital for security. In war, the enemy tried to open a breach in the wall. If they were successful, brave warriors inside the city had to stand in the gap and resist the enemy, otherwise, the people in the city were doomed.

In this case, God is talking about more than military tactics. He said, “stand before me.” This is the language of prayer. To stand before God, in this context, means to appeal to him in prayer on behalf of others. The one who stands in the gap must know God well enough to stand before him. And this person must be willing to do so!

God looked for someone to stand before him “on behalf of the land.” The spiritual wall protecting the people of Israel had been breached by the enemy. In this case, it was their own foolishness that had allowed the dangerous rupture in their spiritual condition.

Ironically, God himself was ultimately the enemy. Babylon was merely his servant to bring punishment on Israel. He gave Babylon victory over Israel because of the stubbornness of his people.

In Ezekiel’s time, God found no one to stand in the gap. The results were devastating for Israel. Because the spiritual walls were breached, God allowed the physical walls of the city to be breached. More than that, the walls were completely broken down and the gates burned with fire. Jerusalem and the temple were utterly destroyed. All who survived were exiled to Babylon for 70 years.

Like Ezekiel, we live at a time when people are anxious about the future, wondering if and when things might return to ‘normal.’ But was our normal state one of spiritual health? The questions we face and answers we seek go deeper than medical and economic issues. The power and wisdom we desperately need are more than political and scientific. The core issue is spiritual.

God is looking for someone to stand in the gap. He is looking for those who know him well enough to approach his throne of grace with confidence, seeking mercy and finding grace to help us in our time of need.

May our Lord find many who are able and willing to stand in the gap for the people! May we be those who stand before the Lord on behalf of the land, appealing to God for his great grace.

Brother Richard Foster

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Got The Coronavirus Blues

How quickly things can change!

Experts are predicting overwhelming numbers of sick people. The economy is reeling like it got hit by a proverbial bus. The coronavirus has us wondering what will happen next. The uncertainty can be unsettling, sparking anxiety and fear.

Jeremiah faced dark and depressing circumstances in his day. His people were defeated by their enemies, most of them either killed or carried away into exile. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed. Its temple, the place for worshiping God, was torn down and unusable.

While pondering this terrible news, Jeremiah wrote some sorrowful words. In the Old Testament book of Lamentations, we read Jeremiah’s solemn reflections on his dreadful situation. His opening words: “How deserted lies the city!” they remind us of some of the deserted cities we see now on the news.

The weeping prophet, as Jeremiah was called, did not sugar-coat the situation. Things were very bad for him and those who had survived destruction and exile. He was honest in his assessment of the damage. Things looked hopeless.

But Jeremiah was able to find a sense of hope and confidence in all the darkness and depression. In the middle of his gloomy laments, he writes:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:21-23, ESV)

Jeremiah knew God’s promise to bring his people back to the Promised Land, to rebuild and carry on. He believed that God’s promise would be fulfilled. What God starts, he finishes.

Our current problems are not nearly as dire as Jeremiah’s were when he wrote the book of Lamentations. Nevertheless, our struggles can feel overly burdensome at times.

Like Jeremiah, we can call to mind and have hope. In fact, we have much more to call to mind than Jeremiah did.

We can call to mind Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for our forgiveness. We can call to mind the power of God raising Jesus from the dead. We know that Jesus ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of the throne of God in majesty, interceding for us. We understand that Jesus is preparing a place for us so that we can be with him forever. Jesus is coming back for all those who belong to him.

Jesus is our assurance that God’s love never ceases, that his mercies never come to an end. Every morning we can be sure that our God is faithful, and his faithfulness is truly great!

So, our problems are smaller than Jeremiah’s and our revelation is greater. Let’s call to mind the goodness of our God and have hope!

May God’s Spirit lift you up!

Brother Richard Foster

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Is All Our Data Doomed?

How can we preserve the things most precious to us?

When I was growing up everyone had photo albums. Remember those little triangle-shaped stickers on the corners of all the pictures? Sometimes they would come loose and the pictures would fall out.

Then my dad bought a slide projector. He started making slides instead of pictures. The projector had a sort of wheel on the top. You had to carefully insert all the slides into the wheel and place it on the machine so you could view them. The machine often jammed up.

Then came digital cameras, which are in our smart phones now. We have a lot more pictures and videos nowadays! No more little stickers on photo albums. No more boxes of slides and slide machines with the little electric fan in it that made the room smell funny.

People started burning their pictures and videos onto CDs. I read somewhere that the data on a CD can last up to 100 years before it begins to decay. That’s a lot longer than some of the VCR tapes we used for recording our son Andy’s birthday parties and other family events.

Karen and I didn’t want to lose those memories. We decided to have those VCR tapes transferred to digital format and copied to CDs or thumb drives. So we sent them off in the mail and paid the price. But how long before the operating systems and software evolve so that the files no longer open?

Now my phone keeps trying to put my pictures and videos in “the cloud” (whatever that is). I’ll be honest. I don’t trust the cloud. Everything keeps changing. How long will the cloud be there? What happens when the cloud clears up?

As someone who writes and records articles, books, and songs, I take a special interest in how we store and protect our data. Why? I want my creations to last. I want to have all my ‘stuff’ for a long time. Rapid changes in storage and retrieval systems are unsettling. They threaten my ‘stuff.’

These modern information systems offer powerful and convenient ways to save things, but they have one important thing in common with the older systems. They all eventually will degrade and decay and pass away. I have been forced to accept the fact that my ‘stuff’ will simply not last. Someday it will all fade away.

The Bible tells us that a day is coming when this whole creation will wear out like a garment. It will be discarded. The sky will be rolled up like a scroll. All the starry host will fall like withered leaves from a vine (Isaiah 34:4).

In the Apocalypse, the Apostle John saw a new heaven and a new earth because the old heaven and earth had passed away. Everything in this creation will pass away. No matter how advanced our information storage devices become or how impressive our work may be, it will all be gone someday.

Any exceptions? The word of God will last. And the souls of people will survive. If I want to write something that will last into eternity, then I should write God’s word on souls, the souls of others and my own.

When I share the gospel and lead someone to saving faith in Christ, I am writing a message on a media that will last forever. That work will never be lost. When I help others grow in Christ, I am writing on their souls something that will last into eternity.

Let’s work for something worthy.

May God’s love inspire us to bear fruit for eternity,

Brother Richard Foster

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World-Class Faith

Some people believe that faith is a very personal and private matter. In fact, they refuse to discuss it. If you try and speak with them about their faith, they get offended.

Other people see faith as a very public thing, even political. They are open and perhaps even aggressive at times. If anyone suggests that their faith is too pushy or partisan, they get offended.

Obviously there are different ideas about how to properly understand and practice faith. What does the Bible say?

Near the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he commends their faith because it is reported in the whole world. Political or not, their faith was very public and the apostle approved.

In Paul’s introduction to the Roman letter he reminded them that they were called to be saints. The word “saint” means holy. All Christians are called to live holy lives. God tells his people, “Be holy, because I am holy.”

This world is far from being holy. It is broken and sinful. Anyone who sets out to live a holy life will be pushing against the rushing tide of culture and society. It is impossible to live a life that is faithful to the gospel and remain invisible to the world.

After commending their public faith, Paul proceeded to write about his desire to visit the Roman believers. He wanted to share a spiritual gift with them so they would be strengthened in their faith. He also wanted to be encouraged by their faith.

Paul recognized that both he and the Roman believers would be stronger through Christian fellowship. He was humble enough to admit his need for their encouragement and caring enough to share his spiritual gift and encouragement with them.

A public faith will be opposed and can get battered severely in this unbelieving world. To maintain a strong public witness requires strengthening and nurturing from fellow believers, from participation in a local church. Biblical faith is practiced in fellowship, in church.

After stating his intention to visit the Romans, Paul testified that he was a debtor to all peoples, all nations. He was obligated to preach the gospel, to share the good news about God’s saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul was motivated by a strong sense of personal obligation, a sense of duty. His duty was expressed by proclaiming the gospel to all peoples, but ultimately the duty was an obligation to God himself. Paul felt obligated to God because God saved him despite his terrible disobedience.

What about love? Would it not be better if love inspired Paul instead of duty? Paul clearly loved God and he loved others. His passion and work are reminders that we should not think of love and duty as disconnected, as if they cannot work in harmony.

True love inspires great acts of duty. We feel a strong sense of obligation toward those whom we love, without any resentment. Jesus’ sacrifice awakens in believers an obligation born out of the deepest affection. Paul’s faith was intensely personal, between himself and God.

Our personal passion for God inspires us to seek out fellow believers and stay in fellowship with them, encouraging one another and living openly for God. As we do, the world notices. True faith is sparked by a personal passion for God, nurtured in fellowship with the local church, and noticed by the world.

May God’s love inspire us to live a world-class faith,

Brother Richard Foster

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Our Master, Calling and Mission

With the opening words of his letter to Christians in Rome, the great missionary apostle identified himself to his readers. First, his Roman name: Paul.

Earlier in the book of Acts Paul is called Saul, his Hebrew name. When sharing his personal testimony, Paul always referred to himself as Saul. Otherwise, he used the name Paul. This gives the impression that his name changed when he was converted to Christianity, a dramatic transformation that took place while he was on the road to Damascus.

Paul was transformed from being a deadly enemy of the church to being a follower of Christ and a passionate preacher of the gospel. The change was so complete, that a different personal name would seem appropriate.

The next word in his letter to the Roman church is doulos. Some English Bibles translate this word as “slave,” others as “servant,” still others as “bondservant.” The word “slave” carries harsh negative connotations in English. On the other hand, “servant” is probably not strong enough to describe the relationship Paul had in mind.

Paul was not shy about using the word doulos, “slave,” because of the next name in his introduction. He was a “slave” of a very special Master: Christ Jesus, his Savior. In other places, Paul insisted that Jesus set him free, but he gladly considered himself to be obligated to wait on his Lord like a slave waits on his master.

Next Paul described himself as “called.” To live with a sense of calling and purpose is truly a great blessing. To be called is to have a clear awareness of direction and meaning in life that brings great confidence in facing life’s various circumstances.

As a slave of Christ Jesus, Paul’s calling came from Jesus. After his resurrection Jesus told his disciples that all authority in heaven and earth is given to him. To be called by Jesus is to have a purpose in life that comes from the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Next, Paul listed the word “apostle.” The word was used for ambassadors, delegates, and messengers. Paul’s calling in life was to be sent by Jesus as his representative.

Paul further described the word “apostle” by adding that he was set apart to the gospel of God. So he was called to go and represent the gospel, or good news, of God. He represented God and his good news by proclaiming the gospel to the nations. This was his life’s mission.

After noting his master, calling, and mission, the apostle proceeded to define the gospel of God. The gospel he was called to represent was the grace of God offered to all the nations through faith in God’s resurrected Son Jesus Christ.

What a great blessing it was for the Apostle Paul to have such a clear sense of his identity and purpose in this world! Paul knew where he stood in the context of both time and eternity, in the eyes of God and the eyes of people.

The beginning of a new year tends to be a marker in our lives. It seems like a fresh start. What better time to clarify our identity and purpose? Who are we in God’s eyes and in the eyes of others? What has our Lord called us to accomplish in this world?

Let’s reaffirm our identity in Christ and our calling from the Lord as we prepare to make the most of every opportunity in 2020. Let’s honor our Lord by fulfilling our calling and completing our mission!

May God’s Spirit inspire us to know and to fulfill our call from our Lord Christ Jesus,

Brother Richard Foster

 

 

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The Power And Presence of God In Us

The life of Jesus is an astounding move by God to enter history and share the joys and sorrows of humanity in the most personal manner possible. Jesus forged a path to total and eternal victory and freedom through his life, death and resurrection.

God’s next move is also stunning. He sent his Spirit, his personal presence, to live in the ‘heart’ of every follower of Jesus. Whether leader or laborer, man or woman, young or old, God is with his people always through his indwelling Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians is comprehensive. God’s Spirit begins before people are saved by enabling each one to understand the deadly outcome of disobeying God (sin) and the amazing salvation available through God’s grace. Jesus told his followers about this work of the Holy Spirit. He said that the Counselor (God’s Spirit) will convict people of sin (John 16:8-9).

The Holy Spirit is intimately involved in salvation by faith in Jesus, the “new birth.” When a man named Nicodemus questioned Jesus, the Lord assured him that he could only enter God’s kingdom by being born again. When Nicodemus hesitated, Jesus assured him that the Spirit is like the wind, invisible yet working to bring new life in God’s people (John 3:1-16).

The moment a person exercises saving faith in Jesus Christ, that new believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). God’s Spirit takes up residence in the Christian’s life (1 Corinthians 6:19). The presence of God’s Spirit in a life is a seal of God’s ownership and a ‘down payment’ on the eternal inheritance that awaits all God’s sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:13-14).

The New Testament contains four commands related to the Holy Spirit. First, believers are charged to be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another with songs, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus to God the Father, and submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord (Ephesians 5:18-21).

Second, followers of Jesus are instructed to walk by the Spirit, so that we do not fulfill the desire of the ‘flesh’ (our broken human nature that urges us to rebel against God). If we are led by the Spirit then we are no longer trying to please God by following rules and regulations, which is futile. Since we live by the Spirit, we keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25).

Finally, Christians are given two warnings about the Holy Spirit. Believers are not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We must not ever use unwholesome, angry, and abusive speech. Instead, we are to use our words to build up one another according to the needs at hand, forgiving one another as God, in Christ, forgave each of us (Ephesians 4:29-32).

The other warning is not to quench the Spirit, or not to put out the Spirit’s fire. Joyful living, constant prayer, giving thanks in all circumstances, receiving God’s prophetic word, these things fuel the refining and empowering fire of God’s presence in our ‘hearts.’

May God’s Spirit fill us and empower us to live in victory,

Brother Richard

 

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