God Saved Us To Do Good Things

The Bible verse for Vacation Bible School this year is Ephesians 2:10: For we are his (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we might walk in them.

The “we” in this verse refers to Christians, followers of Jesus. Immediately before this verse, we read about how to become Christians: For by grace you are saved, by faith; and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works so nobody can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Christians are saved by grace, not by works. Grace is the wonderful gift of salvation offered by God. He sent his Son Jesus to give himself as an atoning sacrifice, to die for our sins. He did this so that we can be forgiven.

Since God offers us salvation as a gift, we are not required to earn it by doing good works or by being good people. Jesus earned our salvation for us. This is good news. We would be incapable of earning a place in heaven. Why? Because only one who is perfect deserves heaven and nobody is perfect except Jesus himself.

God’s gracious gift of salvation comes to us through faith. Faith is the step of trust we take to believe God’s promise about Jesus and to ask him to forgive our disobedience. Faith includes a commitment to be a follower of Jesus, confessing Jesus as Lord. The result is God’s priceless gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

So, what about all those verses in the Bible that talk about obeying God and doing good deeds? After God’s grace saves us by faith, God’s plan lays out a path for us to follow which includes good works. It is vital for us to note that Ephesians 2:8-9 comes before Ephesians 2:10. We don’t work to get saved. We get saved to work.

Verse 10 starts by saying that we are God’s workmanship. It’s his work that saved us. He sent Jesus to die for our sins. That’s why it then says we are created in Christ Jesus. Jesus is our Savior, the one who died so that we can be a new creation. God also sent his Spirit to speak to our hearts and to transform us into the image of Christ.

Now we see in verse 10 that we are saved to do good works. God wants us to avoid spending eternity in hell, but his salvation is more than a rescue from eternal punishment. God’s salvation enables us to do good things that he prepared beforehand. Since he prepared these works, we know he will be pleased by them.

God prepared us for the works and the works for us. To be saved by faith in Jesus and to do the good deeds God prepared for us is to experience the fullness of a life well-lived. Since God prepared these works for us to do, we know that they will be meaningful, eternally meaningful.

The last part of verse 10 says that we are to walk in them (“them” being the good works). The Bible describes our daily lives as a ‘walk.’ We ‘walk’ through this world step by step, day by day, decision by decision. Our ‘walk,’ our daily life, has a direction and a destination.

The works prepared by God for us to do become a pathway that leads to a full and fulfilling life. By walking in the pathway laid out for us by God, we enjoy rich experiences of his presence, power, and blessing along the way. And we know that he is our great destination, to stand in his presence, to see him face-to-face, and to worship him with abundant joy!

What marvelous things God has revealed to us in his word! How abundant the blessings that God stands ready to pour into our lives!

May God always bless us with good deeds to walk in,

Brother Richard

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Is Christianity Too Judgmental?

Is it really necessary to make such harsh judgmental statements?

The Bible includes many passages that make judgments against certain behaviors. In Romans 1, bad behavior is described as those who “have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.

“They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:29-31, NIV).

Wow! That sounds extremely judgmental. Can’t we ‘tone it down’ a bit? After all, who are we to judge someone else? In fact, didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not so that you will not be judged”?

Jesus did say those words in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1). He went on to illustrate this teaching by picturing one who judges others as someone trying to help others get sawdust out of their eyes, all the while having a beam of wood in his own!

Jesus concludes by saying that the one with the beam of wood in his eye should first take it out. Then he can see clearly to help his friend with the sawdust. So, Jesus is not prohibiting all judgments, just hypocritical judgments.

If we can’t act right, then we have no business telling others how to act. What would Jesus have us do? Jesus wants us to start acting right so we can help others do the same. But telling others how to act is considered rude by many people. Nobody wants to be accused of ‘judgmentalism,’ not in our culture!

Ironically, our world makes heroes out of some of the most judgmental and harsh people alive. A well-known teenaged girl travels the world wagging her finger in the faces of nations, governments, and international businesses, condemning them with stern words. Greta is considered a champion. Why? Because her issue, man-made climate change, is popular and many people agree with her.

So, even severe judgments can be popular if the issue is popular. The real question is not: Should we judge human behavior? The answer to that is obvious. We must judge human behavior and we do.

The real question is this: By what standard will we judge behavior? As Christians, we agree with God that some behavior is bad, and we agree with his standard of what is right and what is wrong. We know that people will disagree with us, but we choose God’s approval over the world’s acceptance.

A mom with a four-year-old daughter posted her story on social media. Her sister accused her of being judgmental. Why? Because mom would not allow her sister to babysit the young daughter in her apartment.

Why not let the sister babysit at her house? Because the sister lived in a community where everyone believed in and practiced polyamory (multiple sexual partners or group sex). The sister may be insulted, but mom made a wise judgment.

We must refuse to engage in bad behavior; and we must refuse to approve of bad behavior. The choice is not simply a difference of opinion. Bad behavior is not only a matter of what is risky or unhealthy. Bad behavior separates us from God and his love.

We make wise judgments because we value our relationship with God. We make wise judgments because we want everyone to be right with God and to enjoy his blessings to the fullest.

It is certainly true that some Christians can be unloving and unnecessarily harsh. But the Christian message is firmly rooted in the words and actions of Jesus. We can trust Jesus’ discernment about good and evil. We can trust his judgments.

May God’s Spirit enable us to speak the truth in love,

Brother Richard Foster

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The Great Signpost To The Other Side Of Death

Skepticism has reduced Christianity to an empty shell for some people. One writer described the unbelieving ‘liberal’ version of Christianity in words like these: A God without wrath brings people without sin into a kingdom without judgment by a Jesus without a cross.

Just one problem: A tomb without a body means a Savior with great power and a life after death. Jesus’ resurrection is a striking reminder that the Bible promises more to our existence than what we see in this world or what we experience in this age.

The Bible assures us that everyone is appointed to die once then to face judgment (see Hebrews 9:27). Many in our skeptical world want to believe that God’s final judgment is a myth, yet people have a surprisingly strong desire for justice.

Justice requires judgment. The ultimate justice requires the ultimate judgment. And the ultimate judgment requires the ultimate Judge: God himself.

Is this world our only chance for justice? If so, we are apparently doomed to tragic disappointment. Justice now is certainly worthy of our best efforts, but it is also important enough for us to be realistic and admit that this broken world always falls short of justice for all peoples, justice in all things, and justice at all times.

Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry placed much emphasis on the final judgment. Of the 39 or so parables of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, 18 of them focus on final judgment. About half. Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins, 5 foolish and 5 wise, is about final judgment. It points out that some will be ready, but not all.

The separation of the sheep from the goats is about the final judgment. It points out that judgment will be focused on how we acted in this life, especially with regard to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, the church.

His parable about the wedding celebration is about the final judgment. One who came in without the proper garment was cast out into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal condemnation.

The parable of the talents is about final judgment. The Lord tells each of his servants, “Well done my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little. Take charge of much!” Words that every follower of Jesus should long to hear.

God is able to make perfect judgments. He uses the perfect standard: his own personal holiness. He is not corrupted. Nobody can bribe him because everything is already his. Nobody can force him to act. He has all power. Nobody can deceive God. He knows all the truth.

The final judgment will not be an inquiry to determine the facts. There will be no depositions or investigations. The facts will be fully known. One of the challenges of justice and judgment in this world is that we don’t know all the facts, especially the secrets of the people involved. Sometimes the guilty go free. Sometimes the innocent are condemned.

On God’s judgment day, even the secrets will be revealed. In fact, all the secrets will be revealed. My secrets and yours. Once we know all the facts, even the secrets, we will know that God’s judgments are right, just, and true.

If we are concerned that God is too harsh (or too lenient), we needn’t be. We can trust him to do what is right. We can be certain now that when judgment day comes and all things are finally revealed, God’s judgments will be vindicated.

Judgment day will also reveal God’s grace and mercy. Once we know the full story of evil, we will appreciate the full value of God’s grace. What we know about God’s grace is truly great now, but it is nothing compared to what our understanding will be then. For all eternity, believers will praise God for his marvelous grace, astounded by his love, inspired to worship and enjoy him and his blessings.

The resurrection of Jesus is the great historical marker of God’s justice and mercy. According to his justice, God provided judgment for sin through faith in Christ Jesus. According to his mercy, he offers forgiveness and eternal life through trust in Jesus Christ. The choice is ours. Trust God and his ways, or trust ourselves and follow our own ways, hoping that the Bible gets it wrong.

The resurrection of Jesus is a clear signpost that more awaits us on the other side of physical death. A day of weeping and gnashing of teeth for some. A day of rejoicing and celebration for others. Choose life. Follow Jesus.

May the resurrected and exalted Jesus Christ be Lord of your life both now and forever,

Brother Richard

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Praay With All Kinds Of Praayer

The Bible urges us to pray with all kinds of prayers (Ephesians 6:18). What are the kinds of prayer we should be using? A careful search of Scripture reveals at least five general categories of prayer:

Praise God. Praise God for who he is. He is holy. He is all-powerful. He is infinite and unchanging. He is faithful and righteous. God is love!

Praise God for what he does. He creates. He is the Maker of all things. God spoke into existence the heavens and the earth. The Lord made the earth rich in beauty and resources for our benefit.

God made us. He is the giver of all life. He gives us life. We praise him for our lives and for the provisions he makes to meet our daily physical needs. We are blessed by his abundance.

God saved us. He saved us from sin and condemnation. He sent Jesus to die for our sins and raised him up to be our Lord and our Shepherd. God sent his Spirit to dwell in our hearts and to transform us into the image of Christ, empowering us to live holy lives and enjoy God’s blessings to the fullest.

Praise and worship are an inspiring part of prayer.

Repent of Sins. If we deny that we are sinners, we make God out to be a liar. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Our goal is to experience victory over sin, but when we stumble and fall, we have an Advocate at the throne of our Father: Jesus Christ the Righteous one. He gave himself as our atoning sacrifice. He was raised up and exalted to God’s right hand in majesty. Now he always intercedes for us.

Confession and repentance are necessary for approaching God in prayer.

Ask Favors from God. Ask and it will be given to us. Seek and we will find. Knock and it will be opened to us. For everyone who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. To the one knocking it will be opened.

God is our loving Father, Abba, who knows how to give good gifts to his sons and daughters. God desires to give his greatest gift of all: himself. Will he not give the Holy Spirit to those who are asking?

We can approach God’s throne of grace and mercy with confidence, believing that he will always do what is best.

Petitions and intercessions are heard and answered by God.

Ask Questions and make complaints. We can ask God our questions. In doing so, we must remember two things. First, never forget all the answers he has already provided. We should not let a mystery overshadow the many important revelations God has given us.

Second, we must trust God to know what we need to know. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may obey him.

In addition to our questions, the Lord will also hear our complaints. Obeying God in a world filled with rebellion and disobedience can be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes depressing. God knows our hearts already. We can pour out our most intimate thoughts and emotions to him.

Questions and complaints are welcomed by God in prayer.

Yield to God. We spend much time in prayer asking God to help us with our needs, to forgive us for our sins, to answer our questions, and to listen to our complaints. We can also bring something to give him: our commitments.

We can promise God to worship him and to walk in his ways, to obey him and to serve him. The Lord makes commitments and promises to us. We can make commitments and promises to him, agreeing in prayer to honor him in our hearts and in our households, through our worship and while we work.

Covenants and commitments can be made with the Lord both publicly and privately, both by individuals and by groups.

The various categories of prayer are not like the major parts of a car. A car needs an engine, a transmission, a body and suspension, an interior with seats and all the necessary controls for operating it on the street. If any of these things are missing, the car could be dangerous, or not function at all.

The different types of prayer are more like assorted colors of paint on the artist’s palette. The colors serve the painter. One picture may be dark with gray, black, and red. Another painting is bright with vivid yellow, green, and white. Our circumstances and mood will determine which types of prayer we use on any given day. Different prayers will use different categories, serving the one who has come to speak with the Lord.

We should be comfortable with all types of prayer. When the mood is right or the circumstance appropriate, we should be capable of praising, confessing, asking, or yielding. If we learn to use all the categories of prayer, we will enjoy a deeper and more satisfying dialogue with our Maker and Savior.

Bowing on our knees or standing with hands raised, joining together with other believers or alone in our prayer closet, speaking out loud or silently in our hearts, in public or in private, in sorrow and in joy, in the morning and in the evening, in the Lord’s house and in the world, we pray without ceasing. We pray believing. We pray in the Spirit with all types of prayer!

May God inspire us to commune often with him in prayer,

Brother Richard

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Enrich Your Prayer

“Lord, teach us to pray!” The question came from one of Jesus’ disciples. Not that they knew nothing at all about prayer. But they had been listening to Jesus pray. His prayers inspired them. They wanted more from prayer.

Jesus could have told his disciples that they had no need to learn about prayer. He could have told them that their prayers were good enough. But he did not.

Jesus could have told his disciples that they were unable to improve their prayers. He could have said that his proficiency at prayer was beyond them, that it would be futile for them to aspire to praying like him. But he did not.

Jesus apparently believed that his disciples could do better at prayer. So he instructed them. He taught them a model prayer that we often refer to as The Lord’s Prayer.

Many Christians have memorized the Lord’s Prayer and they recite it individually as a personal expression of communion with God. Believers also recite the Lord’s Prayer together in public worship settings. Using a common prayer enables a congregation to join their hearts in unison as they approach God’s throne of grace and mercy.

Others are uncomfortable with the idea of reciting a prayer from memory. Using someone else’s words can feel artificial and contrived. They prefer prayer that is impromptu, prayer that expresses their thoughts and feelings in their own words.

Did Jesus expect his followers to memorize and recite his prayer? Matthew and Luke each recorded Jesus’ prayer (in Matthew 6 and Luke 11). The two versions are very similar but not identical. This indicates that Jesus expected his disciples to use the prayer as a template.

For instance, the Lord’s Prayer, which should probably be called the Model Prayer, can be divided into two main sections: (1) focus on God’s kingdom and (2) focus on our needs. This basic pattern can give some organization and direction to the content of our prayers. The basic pattern can be useful but need not confine or limit our expressions of thoughts and feelings when we talk to God.

The content of our prayers can come from at least three sources. First, we can use great prayers recorded in the Bible as templates or models without reciting them word-for-word. The patterns found in these prayers can give shape and direction to our prayers, providing frameworks for new content that is personalized to our circumstances and concerns.

Second, we can memorize and recite existing prayers. Doing so is a great way for Christians to share the experience of prayer and to learn from the prayers of other believers.

Third, we can pray without reciting existing prayers and without following any established pattern or outline. Freestyle prayer is certainly a valid approach to prayer. Many of the prayers in the Psalms are apparently impromptu (which is ironic since they are written!).

Finally, we can use hybrid prayers that combine recitation of memorized prayers, patterns modeled by prayers in the Bible, and freestyle prayer that depends on the words of the one praying. By employing all three approaches in combination, the possibilities are endless.

Jesus’ disciples were ready and willing to learn from the Lord about how to improve their prayers. As a result, they learned from the Master about how to talk to God.

We, too, can get better at praying. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we can be inspired by the prayers of our Lord which we read in the Bible.  His prayers create a desire within us to improve our ability to communicate openly and effectively with God.

Prayer is fundamental to our spiritual life. Prayer is our lifeline to the Lord. As we learn from our Savior how to get better at communing with God, we grow stronger spiritually both as individual followers of Jesus and as a church family.

Enrich your prayer.

May God inspire us and enable us to enjoy his presence to the fullest,

Brother Richard

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Christmas and Time: Numbering Our Days

Are we losing our eternal perspective?

Current events have certainly challenged our perspectives and viewpoints on many things. How can we get our bearings and find our way forward with any confidence?

In Psalm 90, Moses begins his worship by acknowledging God’s eternal nature. “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (Psalm 90:2, 4, NIV).

In contrast to the Lord’s eternal nature, Moses notes our brief existence in this world. “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered” (Psalm 90:5-6).

Then, Moses appeals to the Lord: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). What does he mean by the words number our days aright?

Moses is asking the Lord for more than the ability to count the number of days which we have already lived, or to estimate the number of days that we may expect to live before passing away. His thoughts are on quality more than quantity. How will we spend the days God gives us? What will they be worth?

The New Testament also speaks about our days in this life. In Ephesians 5 we are instructed to “redeem the time,” which means to make the most of our days. How do we do that? Why should we do that?

The goal, according to Moses’ statement in Psalm 90:12, is that we may gain a heart of wisdom. The Bible tells us that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. In other words, we cannot gain wisdom without first acknowledging and respecting our Maker and Redeemer, Almighty God.

True wisdom is more than knowing things or gaining information. True wisdom is knowing how to live according to God’s will, knowing how to live to please God. A life that pleases God is a life that bears fruit for eternity. A life that pleases God is a life that enjoys the fulness of God’s blessings.

Christmas is an opportune time to focus our attention on eternal realities. Christmas reminds us that God himself stepped into history, joining us in this world of limits and choices. In a mere thirty-three years, Jesus lived the most momentous human life in all human history.

Through his life and teaching, Jesus revealed more about God and his ways than Moses or anyone else before or since. Jesus modeled a life that made the most of his days. Jesus taught us how to make the most of our days. Jesus calls us to come and follow him, to discover and experience God’s will for our lives.

As we gather for Christmas, we can step aside from the business of daily life and refocus on the eternal matters of life. We can slow down, allowing God’s Spirit to give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to embrace an eternal perspective on the days our Lord gives us.

May God’s Holy Spirit teach us to number our days aright and gain wisdom,

Brother Richard

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Enrich Your Prayer Life: Use All 5 Categories of Prayer

Giving thanks is an important part of prayer. We should express gratitude to God for the personal blessings he has given us. More than that, we should thank God for the promises he has made to bless us in the days ahead, including his promises for us in eternity. Gratitude for future blessings is an expression of praise.

Thanksgiving is one way of praising God. In addition to praising God for what he has done, we should praise God for who he is. We should also praise God for his attributes, his character. We can praise him because he is holy, because he is powerful, and because he is love.

By his power, he made the universe. He made us. He is worthy of our praise for giving us life and for giving us an incredible world in which to live.

By his love, God has given us salvation. We should praise God for sending his Son Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

Our sin reminds us of another category of prayer.

Confession and repentance are vital parts of our prayers. When we confess our sin, we affirm God’s holiness and righteousness. If we refuse to confess our sin, then we are defying God by rejecting his standard of goodness, his commands.

Repentance is also necessary. Not only do we agree with God’s standard of righteousness, including our agreement that we have fallen short, but we commit ourselves to turning away from sin and turning toward God. By following God and submitting to his Spirit, we learn to live in a manner that is not only in compliance with his standards, but in a manner that is pleasing to our heavenly Father.

After acknowledging God through worship and reconciling with God through repentance, we can move on to the next category of prayer: petitions and intercessions. Petitions are requests that we make to God for ourselves. God invites us to bring our requests to him in prayer. We should be transparent with God about the desires of our heart.

Intercession is like petition. We intercede by asking God to do something for someone other than ourselves. The other person may be someone we love deeply or someone we have never met. As followers of Jesus, we even intercede for our enemies and those who persecute us.

When we approach God with our petitions and intercessions, we must remember that God is not a cosmic vending machine. We don’t just ‘pull the lever’ of prayer and get anything and everything we want. Our wise and loving Father in heaven hears our requests and responds as he should. He sometimes says yes. Other times he says no, or not now, or yes, but. . . .

The fourth category of prayer may be a surprise to some people: questions and complaints. We can ask God questions in prayer. Most of us are full of questions about spiritual realities. God’s answers may come to us as we read the Bible, listen to Bible preaching and teaching, or through other avenues, but we can learn to recognize his responses to our questions.

Saints from Bible times onward have lodged their complaints with God. He is willing to hear them. The secret to complaining in prayer is to avoid disrespect. We can bring our frustration, disappointment, and impatience to God without slandering him.

The fifth category of prayer is covenants and commitments. Covenant is a word from Scripture that speaks of agreements between two parties. God has made certain commitments to us. We should make commitments to him. Prayer is an appropriate place to do so. We commune with God in prayer not just to get things, but also to give something.

The five categories of prayer are not rules to follow, but tools to handle. Having fewer tools makes the job more difficult. The more tools we have, the more details and the more beauty we can create in our prayers. Learn to use all five categories of prayer and your prayers will be enriched!

May God always hear and answer our prayers,

Brother Richard

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Retreat From The Faith or Contend For It?

Some good friends invited me to attend a conference in Orlando, Florida in September. I agreed and went. I’m glad I did.

The conference was a meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Many if not most of the attendees at the conference were licensed professionals with advanced degrees and real-life experience in helping people.

These counselors believe the science of psychology and psychiatry can be useful in guiding people to healing. They have taken the time and made the effort to acquire advanced skills so they can be effective in assisting those who have experienced traumas in life or who struggle with other personal battles.

But there is more. Note the name of this group: American Association of Christian Counselors. They believe that God’s word is the ultimate measure of truth; and they believe that God’s grace in Christ Jesus is the ultimate healing for humanity. While they value scientific understanding and insights, they measure all conclusions by God’s revealed truth in the Bible.

At the conference, the leaders of these Christian Counselors sounded a note of warning. Hostile forces in the academic and professional world of counseling are threatening to silence the voice of Christianity in psychology, psychiatry, mental health, and related disciplines. How? They are threatening to deny accreditation and certification to anyone with biblical convictions, especially about marriage and human sexuality.

Years ago, I noticed that academic institutions were coercing Christians into renouncing the truth revealed in God’s word. In some instances, they were told to change their beliefs or change their profession. They were denied the opportunity to follow their calling, to counsel people in need. Their degrees and certifications were being held hostage.

Unfortunately, attempts to silence Christianity in counseling are only part of the story. Our culture is changing its mind about religious freedom and freedom of speech in general. Any dissent from the dominant political doctrine is now being painted as hateful, violent, and worthy of being cancelled, that is, silenced.

Jude was a Christian. He was also a half-brother of Jesus. He wrote the short letter in our New Testament which bears his name. His message to his original readers was short and simple: Contend for the faith that was once-for-all entrusted to the saints!

Notice he writes the faith. He is calling on God’s people to do more than defend their personal beliefs, more than a generic ‘faith.’ The Christian faith is revealed in the Old and New Testaments. It is God’s revelation that the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ is his Son and our Savior. For this truth, we contend.

Why must we contend for the faith? Because the faith is under fire. False teachers from inside the church, hostile unbelievers from outside the church, forces that are committed to erasing God from public policy and discourse are active on all sides.

How do we contend for the faith? First, we must learn the faith. How can we contend for the faith if we don’t know what it is? The faith is not a matter of personal opinion, general consensus, or clever fabrication. The faith is a revelation from God recorded in the Bible.

Second, we must live the faith. Christianity is not merely a mindset; it is a lifestyle. Knowing about Jesus is insufficient. The faith tells us that we can know Jesus personally and walk with him daily through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.

Third, we must proclaim the faith. Jesus has given us a mandate to make disciples of all peoples. Living the faith means sharing the faith. Someone told us about Jesus. Now we must tell others.

Once we know the faith, apply the faith, and share the faith, we will be faced with hostility from the enemies of the faith. These encounters require us to defend the faith. Defense of Christianity must not be surly or harsh, but it must be confident and unwavering. We speak the truth in love.

Jude calls this defense of the faith contending for the faith. Those of us who recoil at conflict may think we can simply remain silent. But each of us will eventually be forced to choose. Christianity is personal but it is not private.

Will we retreat or will we contend for the faith?

May God’s Holy Spirit give us the inspiration and the victory,

Brother Richard

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Spiritual But Not Religious?

Some people say they are spiritual, but not religious. That resonates well in a culture that views the word “religion” as something negative. They always note the failures of churches but rarely notice the successes.

Others say they are spiritual, but not affiliated. That works for people who don’t want to participate in efforts requiring cooperation. They have apparently concluded that commitment and devotion to groups is too much trouble. Any kind of membership is best avoided, supposedly.

Religion and affiliation imply organization, institution, policies, and politics. These things come into play when groups of people work together toward a common goal.

It’s true, working with a group can be challenging. Sometimes group efforts generate disagreements and conflicts. Then the negative aspects of politics surface. Power struggles and ideological divisions can be maddening. The results can be frustrating, causing more harm than good.

Why can’t we avoid the risk of organizations and institutions and simply pursue our individual personal spiritual lives on our own terms, at our own speed, to enrich ourselves? What does the Bible say?

When reaching out to believers in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Just as we have many members in our one body, and all the members do not have the same function, in the same way we are many members in the one body of Christ, and all the members belong to one another. (Romans 12:4-5)

The various parts of the human body need one another to function and grow. In the same way, followers of Jesus need one another to serve God and grow spiritually.

God has distributed different spiritual gifts to each believer. These special skills are vital for the health of the group, the church. No individual believer has all the spiritual gifts that he or she needs to serve God well and to grow toward maturity in Christ. Every believer needs other believers to succeed at being spiritual.

The community aspect of Christian life is also emphasized in Ephesians 2. There, we read about something that I like to call the KOG, FOG, TOG.

KOG stands for the kingdom of God. Every believer is a citizen in God’s kingdom. Citizens need one another. Without patriotic cooperation, a nation is weak, ineffective, and vulnerable to its enemies. Working together, citizens are strong, secure, and productive.

FOG stands for the family of God. Every believer is a brother or sister in God’s family. Families may squabble at times, but they love one another and care for one another. God is our Father in heaven. His amazing love binds us together, enabling us to share our joys and sorrows.

TOG stands for the temple of God. Scripture tells us that believers are living stones in God’s temple, the place where he dwells through the presence of his Spirit. Only when they are carefully joined together do stones become a beautiful cathedral or sanctuary for meeting God and standing in his presence.

Each Christian is sealed with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart. The presence of God in each believer draws Christians together into community. If someone has no desire for fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a danger sign that the Holy Spirit may be absent from that person.

These pictures of the Christian life all speak of unity in diversity. One body with different parts. One kingdom with different citizens. One family with different members. One temple with different stones.

More than unity in diversity, these depictions of the Christian church speak of mutuality. Believers have a mutual relationship with one another. The New Testament assures us that every believer is endowed by God’s Spirit with spiritual gifts. Every believer has an important contribution to make to the church, the body of Christ.

Group efforts can be challenging, but they are often extremely rewarding. If any group is worthy of our effort, it is the church.

I love Jesus. Jesus loves the church. So, I love the church.

Jesus doesn’t love the church because she earned his love or because she deserves his love. Jesus loves the church by the grace of God. We, too, should love the church by the grace of God.

May the Lord our God bind us together in Christian love,

Brother Richard Foster

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Following Jesus Is More Than Personal

Jesus said to Peter, “Come, follow me!” This was a very personal decision for the fisherman. Peter had to decide if he was willing to leave his established life and trust Jesus with his future. Peter took ‘the plunge.’ He became a disciple of Jesus. He soon developed a very close personal relationship with the carpenter-turned-preacher from Nazareth.

Jesus still urges us today, “Come, follow me!” He is currently in heaven at the right hand of God, but God’s Holy Spirit, also known in the Bible as the Spirit of Christ, speaks to our hearts now just as clearly and forcefully as Jesus spoke to Peter almost two thousand years ago.

Like Peter, we must decide if we can trust Jesus enough to leave our current way of life behind and trust him with our future and our eternity. When we do, we find an enriching and empowering personal relationship with Christ through the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit in our hearts.

But Peter learned that he was getting more than just a personal relationship with Jesus.

Peter also learned that following Jesus was a group project. He and Jesus did not leave the crowds behind and have a best-friends-forever bond, keeping everyone else at ‘arm’s length.’ Following Jesus meant being close to the others who were following Jesus, like James, John, Andrew, Matthew, and many more.

In one of his most important sayings in the New Testament, Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Students of God’s word dispute the exact meaning of this statement but clearly Peter was being included in Jesus’ Church in some vital way. By following Jesus, Peter became an essential part of Jesus’ Church.

Like Peter, we become an important part of Jesus’ Church when we become followers of Jesus. Jesus is the ‘head,’ and his Church is the ‘body.’ It is impossible to be connected to the ‘head,’ without being part of the ‘body,’ which is composed of other believers. This fact does not cancel our personal relationship with Jesus, it enhances it.

Peter was a Jew, but his decision to follow Jesus required him to rethink his perspective on his Jewish roots in some profound ways. In a vision from heaven, God himself insisted that Peter kill and eat food that was prohibited by the Old Testament dietary laws (see Acts 10). The vision forced Peter to redefine his understanding of being a Jew.

By accepting Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises and prophecies, Peter found himself out-of-step with most of the Jewish community in the first century. Peter and other Jewish Christians were shunned and persecuted for accepting Jesus as the ultimate fruit of the Jewish root and tree.

We, too, may find ourselves shunned (canceled?) by our culture when we decide to follow Jesus. But there is more.

Those of us who are Gentile believers also have a new relationship with the patriarchs, promises, and prophecies of the Old Testament. The Bible tells us that we were once separate and without hope, but through faith in Jesus we have been brought near (Ephesians 2), grafted in (Romans 11), and made a part of God’s people. In Christ, we also trace our spiritual roots back to Abraham (Galatians 3).

As followers of Jesus, we are now citizens of his kingdom, members of his family, and living stones in his temple, the Church. We are essential parts of the body of Christ. Together with all other believers, Jew or Gentile, we are the Bride of Christ.

We enjoy a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus. We have a family relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ’s Church. We share the same ancient roots through our common forefathers in faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have the same promises from God of a place in his victorious eternal kingdom.

As we follow our Lord Jesus, let us always seek to know him better, to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord often, and to understand and appreciate fully our rich Old Testament heritage.

May our Lord give us eyes to see and a heart to respond to him and his truth in all things,

Brother Richard Foster

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