Thanks to God for a Great Local Church Family

Dear Church Family,

Thank you, Church, for your many expressions of love and concern for Karen and me during a difficult time. You are a blessing!

On Friday, February 12, Karen and I were in the Camden ER. She was being admitted for a minor procedure related to her paralysis. They tested her for COVID. We did not learn until Sunday afternoon that she was positive.

Karen had the procedure Monday and was released. I brought her home and she is recovering. Her symptoms from COVID have been very mild, praise the Lord!

Meanwhile, on Sunday February 14, I woke up with a fever. I was tested for COVID Tuesday the 16th and subsequently informed that I, too, was positive. Unfortunately, my symptoms have not been as minor.

Our circumstances have tempted us to despair at times, but we have been encouraged by God’s presence and by you.

The meals and supplies you bring are a big help for us. The contacts you make give us a sense of connection that is valuable beyond measure. Each time I have cried out to God for help, one of you has appeared. You are angels from the Lord for us.

At times like these, the words of the Psalmist resonate in my soul:

To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah
I lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the LORD sustains me. (Psalm 3:4-5, NIV)

We look forward to worshiping, serving, and fellowshipping with you again soon.

May God keep us together and enable us to grow and to serve him faithfully,

Brother Richard

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Why Bother with Church During COVID?

With the risk, uncertainty, and aggravation we face from COVID, why bother trying to have church meetings? Valid question! And there are good reasons.

In the book of Acts, we read about the earliest days of the Church. Chapter 2 says that every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts (2:46).

From the earliest days of Christianity, followers of Jesus have gathered regularly. After almost two thousand years of Christianity, we can see that no matter what culture, nation, ethnicity, geographic location, political affiliation, believers have met regularly. Why?

As we read about the Early Church in the book of Acts, we see that they met together for five reasons. These five purposes have remained the focus of local churches for many generations.

First, Christians meet together to worship. Worship is singing and saying things that honor God. We worship God because we love him, and because he loved us first.

The premier act of Christian worship is the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the upper room with his disciples just hours before he went to the cross. Since that night, Christians have gathered regularly and shared the bread and cup as reminders of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sin, and as an act of worship.

The second purpose for Christians meeting together is discipleship. Discipleship is learning to be more like Jesus. Jesus’ instruction for all believers is to make disciples, teaching them to keep (obey)all that he commanded. Discipleship is more than gaining knowledge. It is applying truth. The goal of discipleship is transformation, lives transformed into the image of Christ.

Living a godly life in an ungodly world is filled with difficulties. We need encouragement and accountability from one another to succeed. So, we meet together regularly. Small groups like Sunday school are ideal for discipleship.

Third, Christians meet together for witnessing. Jesus’ instruction for all believers to make disciples starts with baptizing them. Baptism marks conversion. Conversions come from witnessing, telling others about Jesus, what he has done for us and what he will do for them. We meet to learn how to witness and to organize our witnessing activities.

We also witness to the community by gathering regularly for worship, fellowship and discipleship. When people see us faithfully meeting together, they know that we take our Christianity seriously.

Fourth, churches meet to do ministry. We help others in the name of Jesus. We show God’s love in practical ways. Jesus spoke to his disciples about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, checking on the sick, and visiting those in prison.

Finally, the fifth reason Christians meet together regularly is for fellowship. Those who have saving faith in Jesus share a common spiritual family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We share our lives with one another, which requires us to spend time together in person.

Jesus promised that his Church will survive even the gates of Hades. Since the beginning, churches have endured many intense hardships and persecutions. Be encouraged. Jesus’ Church will survive COVID.

May God keep us together and enable us to grow and to serve,

Brother Richard

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Is Christianity So Simple We Are Missing It?

Naaman got a surprise.

Naaman was a great man. He was the commander of the military in Aram. But Naaman had leprosy, a dreaded skin disease in the ancient world.

His surprise started with a young Jewish girl. She was taken captive in the battles between Aram and Israel and brought into Naaman’s home to serve his wife.

The girl told Naaman’s wife that a prophet in Israel had the power to heal Naaman. Her testimony convinced the great military leader to take a large sum of money and go seek a meeting with this prophet.

Naaman went and found the prophet in Israel. His name was Elisha. Naaman expected the prophet to come out and say an impressive prayer, calling on the power of heaven to heal his body, making mysterious motions with his hands, and so forth.

Instead of putting on a ‘show,’ the Prophet Elisha merely sent the great military man a simple message. Naaman was to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River. This would bring the healing that he desired.

The great Naaman was offended by the Prophet Elisha’s message. The prophet’s advice was too simple. The military man turned to leave in a huff.

Fortunately for Naaman, he had some smart servants. They asked, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?” Why not do the simple thing he asks?

Naaman saw the wisdom in their advice. He went and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the prophet had instructed. When he did, his flesh was restored. He was healed!

By requiring such a simple act of obedience from Naaman, Elisha focused attention on God’s miraculous power for healing the great military man. God got the credit, not Naaman, not even Elisha.

We live in a nation that is seen by all the world as great and powerful, but our land is afflicted with a deadly spiritual illness. Darkness is closing in. The light of truth is resisted and rejected.

We have heard that there is a God in heaven who can heal our country, heal the people and the communities and the families. He can bring truth and love and wholeness despite the terrible conditions we see all around.

We have gone and met with God, asking him to display his healing power in our land. But his prescription sounds too simple.

If God asked us to start a political party or a social movement and take back the White House, the Congress, the Courts, we would have understood. If God asked us to organize and be active to protect the textbooks in our schools and restore the definition of marriage in our states, we would have understood.

The list of things that need attention is so long! It is overwhelming to consider. Where should we start? What is our priority? What has the Lord asked us to do?

Our Prophet, Priest, and King Jesus has instructed us to open our mouths and be a witness about him and his great salvation. The last words Jesus said to his disciples before returning to the Father in heaven: You will be my witnesses!

It sounds too simple. Tell people about Jesus? How can that make things better?

Instead of trying to convince my readers that the Lord knows what he is doing, I will simply make a suggestion: Let’s try it God’s way.

May God give us the heart to share Jesus,

Brother Richard

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Cancel Christmas 2020?

Are you looking forward to Christmas this year? Every year has its challenges. This year is no exception!

Mary had great expectations for her life as the time for the first Christmas drew nearer. She was a young bride-to-be with her whole life ahead of her. Then things changed. She was pregnant before the wedding and it was not her fiancé’s child.

Things got complicated. Joseph was devastated. He planned to cancel the wedding and their marriage. Their life together that Mary had dreamed about would apparently be cancelled.

But Mary knew that her baby was God’s handiwork. She decided to get away for a while. She went and visited her relative, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was carrying her first child, a son who would grow up to be John the Baptist. Her pregnancy was also a miracle. The two women enjoyed a wonderful time of rejoicing together about God’s work. Despite any difficulties, they were confident about God’s plan for their lives.

Mary worshiped. Her words sound like a chapter from the book of Psalms. They are recorded in Luke’s Gospel (1:46-55). Mary’s hymn of praise begins with a personal cry of rejoicing: “My soul magnifies the Lord! My spirit exults in God my Savior!”

Next, she gives a reason for her worship of God: “Because he looked upon the humble state of his servant. For look! from now on all generations will call me blessed! Because he did great things for me, the Mighty One!”

Mary was surprised that God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. She saw Jesus as a tremendous blessing for which she was totally unworthy. Do we? We can learn from Mary’s humility. Her humble attitude fueled a great appreciation for God’s gift of Jesus.

In Mary’s worship, she remembered the promises God made to his chosen people. “He has helped Israel, his servant, remembering to be merciful, just as he said to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary saw Jesus as proof that God fulfills his promises. When Mary visited Elizabeth, Jesus’ work of salvation was still in the future, but it was in the near future. The fact that Jesus would soon appear was enough to inspire Mary. Her heart was full of trust in the Lord who chose her to carry this baby.

Despite the unexpected changes and intimidating challenges, Mary rejoiced as the time for the first Christmas drew near. She knew that God was doing marvelous things that were far bigger than her personal struggles. No hardship could erase her joy.

Despite the unexpected changes and challenges of 2020, we can rejoice at the birth of Jesus. Unlike Mary, we can look back over nearly two thousand years of history and see the unmistakable evidence that Christmas changes the world.

God is always advancing his wonderful plan for our eternal blessing in the unfolding details of human history, whether those details are good or not-so-good. We can always rejoice at Christmas!

May God’s Spirit fill us with joy and peace this Christmas,

Brother Richard

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Don’t Discuss Religion, Politics . . . or Science?

They say you should avoid discussing religion and politics. Why? Because people have strong convictions about these subjects. They can get ‘cranky’ if their convictions are questioned or challenged. You could lose a friend.

Now the subject of science may be taking its place alongside religion and politics. People have strong convictions about science. They have arrived at certain conclusions about how to understand the data which science presents. As with religion and politics, people may get irritable if their interpretations are questioned.

Science is viewed by many as an immovable edifice of truth. Once an idea is embraced by the scientific community, everyone is supposed to bow down and submit, or at least be quiet and not ask questions.

Current events are demonstrating that science may be more like religion than we thought. It turns out that science is subject to political views and ideologies. Data that supports a political ideology is amplified. Data that challenges the ideology is conveniently filed away for further study.

As the current worldwide pandemic unfolds, we can see in real time two irrefutable facts. First, science takes time to get it right. Second, politicians use science to advance their worldview through public policy. And number two happens faster than number one.

True science is careful and methodical. As a result, it sometimes moves too slow to help with pressing public policy issues. Sometimes we must decide now. Incomplete science can create wrong or even harmful public policy decisions.

At the beginning of the current pandemic, ‘scientific’ conclusions and predictions were used to create support for certain public policy decisions/reactions. Some leaders insisted that science would show us “the way.” We could simply follow science and good things were guaranteed to happen.

Some of those early scientific predictions were wildly inaccurate. Why? The science was incomplete. Moreover, converting scientific data into public policy is not a simple formula. Economic shutdowns had terrible unintended consequences that science said nothing about.

This is why we vote for leaders, not scientists. If science were as simple and clear as some people claim, we could send the government home and make policy based on a printout from the lab. That won’t work. We need leaders who understand more than science because we need more than science to live healthy successful lives.

Perhaps one lesson we learn from the pandemic will be about science. Maybe we will learn to adopt a more realistic view of science’s proper place in human experience.

Science has been increasingly elevated to a godlike status by many people. Science gets the final word. Challenging scientific consensus is the new blasphemy. But science is used both for great good and for terrible evil. The common denominator is humanity.

Knowing science is not enough, even when the science is accurate (and especially when it is not!). We must understand humanity. Effective leaders must know people. Knowing people requires more than chemistry and biology.

Science cannot replace our need for politics. Neither can science replace our need for religion. The popular notion that science and religion are in a ‘winner-take-all’ battle is misleading. True science and religion have long co-existed. More than that, science and religion have often worked together. They will continue to do so.

God has blessed us with a physical world that makes sense and with minds to make sense of it. God and his word are a vital part of the human experience. We need not fear speaking the truth with love. Let’s not be afraid to tell the good news!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us,

Brother Richard

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Responding To The Riots And Protests

How should Christians respond to the disturbing and violent protests and riots in the streets of our cities?

As God’s people, we always begin with prayer. In this case, we have plenty to pray for. People are getting hurt, sometimes killed. We must pray for God’s healing to those who are injured and for God’s comfort to those who have lost loved ones.

We should also pray for a stop to the violence, that God’s Spirit will intervene and bring peace to our troubled nation. We can ask God to change people’s hearts because he has the power to do so.

We should ask God to give us understanding, which leads us to our second response. We must discern. In other words, we must make sound judgments. The issues are political, moral, and spiritual. They require choices. Ours should be godly choices.

Discernment begins with information. We should be informed. This requires listening, reading, and thinking. More than merely considering the various human perspectives, we must understand God’s perspective on the issues. This comes from prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with mature believers.

When these hot-button subjects come up in our daily lives, we must use our discernment. First, we discern when to speak and when to be silent. Sometimes we say too much, other times we are too silent. God’s Spirit helps us to achieve the right balance.

In addition to knowing about the issues, we should know the people we interact with. Our conversation should reflect the circumstance. Speaking to an aggressive partisan whose heart and mind are closed requires a different approach from speaking to a confused seeker who is honestly searching for answers.

When we speak, we speak the truth in love. God’s truth is more powerful than our opinions. When we speak in accordance with God’s word, we are on solid ground and our words will have a ring of spiritual authority. All else is fleeting.

Truth can be spoken with anger and hatred. We must speak the truth in love. Biblical love is more than emotion. In the moment, we may not feel positive emotions toward the other person(s), but we can act in love by seasoning our speech with grace.

Finally, our goal in speaking must ultimately be to win the soul, not the argument. Political conflicts tend to have a great sense of urgency because they effect our lives now. But we must also remember the eternal context.

It is possible to win political arguments and battles that are here today and gone tomorrow, and yet lose souls for eternity. At times, we may even lose the political struggle yet win souls. Which will we prioritize?

God’s word reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. People are the objects of God’s redemption, people of all political persuasions! Jesus died on the cross for people, not politics.

Yes, Jesus will reign with truth and righteousness as King of kings and Lord of lords in his eternal kingdom. Every political foe will be defeated. We get impatient for that great victory. So did Jesus’ disciples. They asked him, “When?!” He told them not to worry about the when, but to get busy with the what. The what is winning souls for Christ.

We are ambassadors for Christ. We represent him. Our response to the things in this world, including the riots and protests, reflects on our Lord. We speak for Jesus. Let’s do it well!

May God’s Holy Spirit give us the words to speak,

Brother Richard

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Ten Answered Questions in the Book of Revelation

Thank you for reading my blog! Please check out my book, Ten Answered Questions in the Book of Revelation, now available on Amazon as a Kindle eBook.

In my book you will find a fresh approach to the Revelation, the ancient apocalyptic word that addresses today’s world through God’s eyes. While many other students of the Revelation have become hopelessly entangled in endless disagreements about complicated timetables and confusing charts, I offer an approach to reading John’s apocalyptic vision that frees God’s word to speak unhindered.

Find it here:  Ten Answered Questions in the Book of Revelation

Thank you for your support!

Brother Richard

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Is Jesus’ Cross Worth Very Much?

Mr. Patel of California made sure that Adrian Mercado got a special memorial.

Adrian is not a family member of Mr. Patel’s or even a friend or an acquaintance. They were complete strangers. Why should he care if Adrian is honored?

Mr. Patel had a serious problem. His kidneys were failing. He was on dialysis and his health was declining rapidly. His only hope was to get a kidney transplant, but 22,000 other people were on the waiting lists in California for transplants. Time was running out.

Then Adrian Mercado, age 33, died. Adrian was an organ donor. Adrian’s kidney went to Mr. Patel, literally giving him new life.

Mr. Patel now has a great appreciation for Adrian and his gift because he knows how desperate his own situation was. Because he knows how dire and dangerous his circumstances really were, Mr. Patel places a huge price tag on what Adrian did for him.

Mr. Patel’s deep personal understanding of how serious his problem really was gives him an abounding appreciation for the precious solution, especially considering the great cost to Adrian.

Jesus voluntarily went to a Roman cross and gave his life as an atoning sacrifice, tortured and beaten, bleeding and dying. He endured not only the physical pain, but also the humiliation and shame of his enemies mocking and taunting him publicly. Moreover, he paid the price for sin, bearing that heavy burden on behalf of God’s people.

If we do not believe that sin and death are great threats to ourselves, then Jesus’ sacrifice is not only meaningless, it is utter foolishness. Why sacrifice himself in such an awful way for no good reason?

The Bible assures us that sin is a terrible problem with eternal consequences, and Jesus’ sacrifice is a powerful solution more than equal to the challenge. In the book of Romans (5:20) we read that where sin increases, God’s grace increases even more. God’s grace is greater than our sin.

But if our sin is miniscule, then God’s grace seems tiny. As sin is redefined and trivialized by our culture, Jesus’ sacrifice is apparently robbed of its eternal value. The result is not only apathy toward the church and the gospel, but open hostility.

When we realize, however, what a terrible threat sin and death are, then we begin to appreciate Jesus and his crucifixion. He became a curse to remove the curse from us. The more we appreciate our great need, the more we appreciate God’s great grace in Christ Jesus.

Our appreciation for God’s grace is measured by our devotion to Jesus Christ and his gospel. We know that his sacrifice is precious beyond measure. We want to honor him through our worship of God and service to his kingdom.

We don’t worship and serve the Lord because it endears us to society or because it makes us feel good about ourselves. We worship and serve the Lord because his great grace in our lives moves us to honor him to the fullest degree.

May God always inspire and empower us to bring glory to his Name,

Brother Richard

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Was Jesus Too Late?

The Bible tells us that God sent Jesus to die for the ungodly at just the right time (Romans 5:6). What does it mean, at just the right time?

God could have sent Jesus earlier. In fact, why not send Jesus earlier? Why allow all those generations of rebellion, violence, and destruction? Perhaps we could have avoided much of the heartache in human history if God had sent Jesus sooner.

Imagine God sending Jesus to die on a cross for Adam and Eve just after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden for their disobedience. They needed Jesus’ atoning sacrifice to make them right with God. Why wait?

But Adam and Eve had no basis for appreciating Jesus’ sacrifice. If they had walked out of the Garden of Eden and seen Jesus nailed to a cross, bleeding and dying, it would have been a bizarre sight devoid of any meaning for them.

So God waited for the right time. He waited for many generations. During that time, God was preparing humanity for the great act of salvation that only Jesus could accomplish. What preparations did God make?

God began by speaking promises to Abraham about future blessings for all peoples through his descendant. For hundreds of years after that, God sent prophets who gradually added details about Abraham’s descendant who would one day come and bring salvation for all God’s people.

God gave Abraham’s descendants, Israel, the law through Moses at Mt. Sinai. God’s law taught the people about holiness and sin. The law included the sacrificial system, showing his people that sin requires a blood sacrifice to bring forgiveness and restoration to God.

The people of Israel sacrificed the Passover lamb for generations. Then Jesus came, the final and perfect Passover lamb. They had generations of experience to help them think about Jesus’ atoning sacrifice at Calvary. They were prepared by God to understand and accept his substitutionary death.

So, if waiting has important benefits, why not wait longer? In fact, why not wait until the end of this age? Think of the great multitude who could attend and watch Jesus defeat sin, the devil, and death by his atoning sacrifice on the cross. Video of the event would go viral!

But there would be no church age. We would not experience the power of Pentecost. We would miss that thrilling moment when God fulfilled his Old Testament promise by pouring out his Holy Spirit on the church, and subsequently on each believer.

God’s people would miss the chance to experience the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to be victorious against all enemies. We would not have the joy of sharing in God’s great harvest by proclaiming his gospel to the nations.

There would be no New Testament, God’s word which was given to us after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We would never know the joy of reading and studying the Gospels and the letters to the churches.

The generations that lived before Jesus looked forward to God’s salvation. Now we look back on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. We live in a sweet spot in history. We enjoy the benefit of all the prophecies looking forward to Jesus and all the writing, reflection, and illumination that have accrued since Jesus died and rose again.

God’s way is perfect after all. God’s timing, as always, is right. Jesus died for the ungodly at just the right time!

May God’s Holy Spirit fill our hearts with joy when we consider his great plan for our salvation,

Brother Richard

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No Righteousness, No Justice

Social justice is a hot topic in today’s current events. Angry groups are in the streets demanding changes to our society’s public institutions and policies. They threaten violence and instability until their demands are satisfied.

Social justice has been an important subject in the Bible for many generations. God denounced social injustice through his prophets in the Old Testament. Amos is a good example. He lived at a time of relative prosperity in Israel. Despite their economic and political blessings, the people of God oppressed the poor and ignored the Lord. Their courts were corrupted. Their economy was rigged. Their worship was idolatrous.

“Let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream,” Amos wrote (5:24, NIV). Through his prophet, the Lord insisted that the nation change course and live up to their calling, live up to his standards of justice and righteousness.

Notice the words “justice” and “righteousness.” Amos and the other prophets consistently presented more than a one-sided equation when promoting solutions to social injustices. Social justice cannot hang in midair. It requires a sure footing. Social justice requires spiritual righteousness. In order to be right with one another, we must be right with God.

The Bible includes a powerful expression of social justice that is still repeated today: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But when God gave his law to his people through his servant Moses, he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18, NIV). Those last four words are vital.

Loving one’s neighbor is not merely an abstract legal or social principle. It’s not just a good idea. It is God’s word. It carries the ultimate authority. Disobedience to God’s word comes with dire results, not just in society, but in eternity.

Jesus drew a close connection between these two important dynamics in human life. He insisted that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and we must love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:37-39).

Don’t miss the addition of the word “love.” Secular appeals for justice aim no higher than tolerance and equality. Spiritual maturity includes tolerance but does more than simply endure those who are different.

Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. God’s grace challenges us to go beyond what people deserve and to bless when blessings are unearned.

Godly solutions to injustice recognize the vital connection between the spiritual and physical realities of humanity. To be right with one another, we must be right with God.

Godly solutions to injustice go beyond tolerance and equality. We must find ways to reflect the grace of God. We must find ways to express the love of God. While aiming at God’s love and grace, we will be much more likely to hit justice.

Brother Richard Foster

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