Tag Archives: Jesus

Wind, Fire and Tongues: God’s Spirit In Us

God’s Holy Spirit is his invisible, personal, powerful presence in the world today. The Holy Spirit is not a mysterious impersonal energy force that binds the universe together. God’s Spirit is like Jesus, a co-equal and eternal part of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God’s Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament as early as creation. Early in Genesis we read that God’s Spirit was hovering over the waters, then God spoke. Later, God’s Spirit empowered select individuals to prophesy and to lead his people. God promised that one day all his people, young and old, men and women, small and great, would be filled with his Spirit.

Jesus affirmed God’s Old Testament promise about the Holy Spirit. After his resurrection, he assured his followers that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, then he departed.

At the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were waiting in Jerusalem as the Lord had instructed. Suddenly there came a noise from heaven like a rushing violent wind. Something like tongues of fire appeared, separating and resting on each of them. They were all filled with the Spirit and began speaking in other tongues.

At Pentecost, God portrayed the powerful presence of his Spirit in three important ways: wind, fire, and tongues. Earlier, Jesus told Nicodemus that God’s Spirit is like the wind. We cannot see the wind, but we see its effects. God’s Holy Spirit is invisible, but we can see the lives changed by his presence.

Wind also reminds us that air is necessary for life. We must breathe the air or die. In the same way that our physical bodies must have air to live, our souls require the presence of God’s Spirit, the wind of God, to give us life. Without the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit, our spirits are dead.

In addition to wind, God’s Spirit was portrayed as fire. When God brought the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt, his presence led them at night, appearing like a pillar of fire. When the glory of the Lord settled on Mt. Sinai, at the presentation of the 10 Commandments, God’s glory appeared to the people as a consuming fire.

Our God is a consuming fire. The fire of his holy presence burns away all that is corrupt and sinful. God’s Spirit refines us, making us pure and holy as he is holy.

The final representation of God’s Spirit at Pentecost was tongues. In the Old Testament it was common for people to prophesy when God’s Spirit came on them, to speak the word of God boldly, giving the people supernatural revelations from heaven.

At Pentecost, Jesus’ followers miraculously spoke in languages from throughout the world, languages they never knew before. This amazed Jews who were in Jerusalem from various countries. They all heard Galilean followers of Jesus speaking in their various native languages.

Jesus’ followers at Pentecost spoke the mighty deeds of God boldly and openly. The tongue is an appropriate symbol for God’s Spirit because he enables God’s people to speak the wonderful things of God in a powerful manner.

God’s Holy Spirit is our wind, fire, and tongue. He gives us new life (eternal life), he refines us (makes us holy), and he enables us to speak boldly for the Lord (witnessing). What a blessing it is to have God’s Spirit in our lives!

May God’s Spirit always inspire and empower us,

Brother Richard

 

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Why Are We Baptists?

Why do we baptize? First, Jesus was baptized and we want to be like Jesus. In addition, Jesus commands his followers to baptize, and we want to obey Jesus. But what is the meaning of baptism?

After his resurrection, Jesus instructed his followers to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He commanded not merely any type of baptism, but a certain kind of baptism, a baptism that recognizes the Bible’s revelation of God as three in one. In other words, Christian baptism.

Baptism in the New Testament starts with John the Baptist. John’s listeners were familiar with the Old Testament laws about using water in certain rituals for spiritual cleansing, but John’s baptism went further.

John’s was a baptism of repentance. He called on people to turn away from disobedience against God. He baptized those who responded by immersing them in the Jordan River, signifying a comprehensive spiritual cleansing, a radical life change.

John insisted that his baptism was merely preparation for a greater baptism, one which would come through a greater messenger. “I baptize you with water for repentance,” John said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

When Jesus appeared, John recognized him as the one sent by God, the one John was preparing the people to receive. Like John, Jesus also preached repentance, calling on people to turn away from a lifestyle of disobeying God.

But Jesus went beyond John. Jesus provided forgiveness for disobedience by sacrificing himself on the cross as a sin offering. And Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven, sending God’s Holy Spirit to empower his followers with a new life that is pleasing to God and fruitful for his kingdom.

John’s words were fulfilled in the Early Church. Baptism in Jesus’ name is a sign of receiving God’s Holy Spirit, the invisible, personal, powerful presence of God. God’s Spirit is a fire that purifies the life of the believer, a lifelong process of being changed into the image of Christ.

The symbolic meaning of Christian baptism is elegantly and powerfully communicated in Romans 6: Believers are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. This demonstrates that Christian baptism is by immersion. It is a picture of death and resurrection, the old life of sin is buried and dead, the believer is raised to walk in a new life.

Finally, John, Jesus, and the Early Church all baptized only those who responded by faith to their message. Baptism is for believers. Baptizing those whom we hope will believe in the future creates a group mixed with believers and unbelievers. The Church consists of believers.

So Christian baptism is a symbolic act done by immersion to everyone who has exercised saving faith in God’s Son Jesus, which begins with repentance. It is a public act affirming that the person is a new creation, forgiven and reconciled to God the Father, sealed and empowered by the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

“Baptist” is a name that was given generations ago to those who dared to practice Christian baptism even though it was out of step with the institutional churches of the day. Baptists have endured and thrived because our faith and practice is built firmly on the immovable rock of God’s eternal truth.

May the fire of God’s Holy Spirit purify us for God’s service and God’s glory,

Brother Richard

 

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Jesus: Failure or Focused?

When Jesus was arrested and condemned to die, everyone seemed to be terribly confused. Peter was so confused that he denied even knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. Judas was so confused that he betrayed Jesus, with a kiss!

The Jewish religious leaders had so much hatred for Jesus that they were willing to lie, cheat and murder. They condemned Jesus then tried to convince the Roman governor, Pilate, that Jesus was a threat to Rome, hoping he would execute Jesus.

Pilate interviewed Jesus and concluded that he was no threat to the Empire. He knew that the religious leaders had turned Jesus over to him out of envy. They were jealous because Jesus was so popular with the people of Israel.

Pilate also got a note from his wife urging him to have nothing to do with “that righteous man” Jesus. Why? Because in a dream that very day she suffered much because of Jesus. Romans took dreams seriously.

So, from his interview of Jesus, from his knowledge of the Jewish religious leaders’ real motives, and from his wife’s dream and warning, Pilate was surrounded by evidence that Jesus was innocent. What would he do?

The governor had a custom to release one prisoner to the crowd during the feast. Pilate brought out a notorious prisoner named Barabbas and gave the crowd a choice between him and Jesus. Pilate hoped that they would choose Jesus over such a dangerous man. Then he could set Jesus free.

The crowd surprised Pilate by choosing Barabbas. They were persuaded by the religious leaders to insist that Jesus be crucified. They threatened to riot. So, in a pathetic attempt at absolving himself of responsibility, Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd and proclaimed himself innocent of Jesus’ blood.

Surprisingly, the crowd accepted responsibility for Jesus’ death, saying “His blood is on us and on our children!” Just days earlier, on Sunday, the crowds accompanied Jesus into the city with palm branches and praises, shouting, “Hosanna!” By Friday morning they were persuaded to shout, “Crucify him!”

The crowds were fickle and foolish. Pilate was worried about his political power. The religious leaders were worried about their personal honor. Politics, religion, and popular opinion all turned against Jesus.

If Jesus came for political power, he failed. If he came for religious honor, he failed. If he came for popularity with the people, it didn’t work. What was Jesus’ goal?

Barabbas was a man guilty of murder and insurrection, worthy of death. A Roman cross had his name on it. But Barabbas was unchained and released. A guilty and unworthy man walked away free.

Jesus, a man everyone knew was innocent, allowed himself to be taken and condemned. He died on a cross that had Barabbas’ name on it. Jesus came to die for the unworthy. Jesus came to die for sinners, for us.

If we chase political power, religious honor, or popularity, we have parted ways with Jesus. Jesus’ mission is to save lost sinners.

May God’s Holy Spirit keep us focused on our kingdom mission,

Brother Richard

 

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The Pope Made A Mistake With The Lord’s Prayer

The Pope says we should change the Lord’s Prayer.  Pope Francis is the world leader of the Roman Catholic Church. News reports say that he believes our English rendering of one phrase in the Lord’s prayer is wrong.

The phrase in question is this: “Lead us not into temptation.” Jesus taught his followers to ask God in prayer not to lead them into circumstances that would tempt them to sin (to disobey God).

The Pope takes issue with this because he believes a loving Father is never “pushing” his children into temptation (note: the prayer says “lead” not “push”). The Pope endorses the following rendering: “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

Apparently Pope Francis thinks that his version makes God sound more friendly. Did Jesus reveal an unfriendly God? Was Jesus having a bad day when taught the Lord’s Prayer? Should we listen to the Pope over Jesus?

First, the Pope’s suggestion finds zero support from the thousands of ancient Bible manuscripts. Matthew’s Gospel is clear and has been faithfully rendered for generations. The Pope has no linguistic leg to stand on. The word is “lead,” not “fall.” His view sounds more like a surrender to popular opinion than a scholarly treatment of the biblical text.

Second, the Pope’s suggestion is out of step with the rest of the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we find clear examples of God testing his people by leading them into temptation.

Job would be surprised by the Pope’s understanding of God. God allowed Satan to wreak havoc in his life. As a result, Job’s wife tempted him with this advice, “Curse God and die!” Job refused.

Peter would be surprised by the Pope. Jesus told him, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.” What did Jesus do? He said that he would pray for Peter, not that the temptation would be removed, but that Peter’s faith would not fail.

Jesus would be surprised by the Pope. The Bible tells us that God’s Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness. Why? To be tempted by the devil!

True, in the book of James we read that God cannot be tempted by evil and he never tempts anyone to do evil. Is this a mixed message? No. A clear distinction exists between temptations meant to cause defeat and tests meant to encourage growth.

Testing is a teaching tool meant to identify strengths and weaknesses. God sometimes tests his people by leading us into temptations. His desire is to reveal our weak spots and inspire us to trust his word and to walk in his ways.

Satan is the Tempter. He tempts us to destroy us. God’s plan for us is not doubt and destruction, but faith and deliverance. God trains us to walk in the power and wisdom of his Spirit.

The Pope’s suggestion misrepresents God. Wrong expectations about God are dangerous. If we believe that God will never lead us into temptation, we may have a crisis of faith when he does.

Better to accept the Bible’s clear testimony about God’s ways and live accordingly. In other words, let’s build our lives on God’s truth, not on popular opinion.

May the Spirit of God not lead us into temptation,

Brother Richard Foster

 

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Teaching Kids About God

In Psalm 78 the people of God say, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord . . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (NIV).

The Bible addresses this subject frequently. God instructs his people to tell their children about him. God’s work of redemption is multi-generational. Stretching from Genesis to Revelation, God’s plan spans this entire age.

This is our generation. We are a link in the chain of God’s work that reaches back to Jesus and even further to the patriarchs of faith, a chain that will be forged into the future until the day Jesus returns. Those who came before us taught us about God. Now it is our turn.

We teach children about God.

Teaching children about God can be intimidating. God is a big subject. So the Lord has given us a method for teaching kids about him which is tried and true: Bible stories. The Bible is filled with accounts of God working in various people’s lives.

By telling kids the stories in the Bible we transmit great theological truths to them. As they grow and reflect on the accounts in Scripture, God’s Spirit will continue revealing himself to them. Every Bible story is a theological package filled with eternal truth. Telling Bible stories and hearing them is a theological journey that unfolds over a lifetime.

What a joy it is to be the first one to tell children about Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Moses and the Ten Commandments, David and Goliath, Daniel and the lions’ den, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Jesus’s death and resurrection, and so much more.

We teach children about God by telling them Bible stories.

Psalm 78 goes on to say, “Then they would put their trust in God” (NIV). The goal of telling kids about God is not just to inform them. The goal is to inspire trust in them, to encourage them to exercise saving faith in the Lord.

As New Testament believers, we understand that trust in God means faith in Jesus Christ. We want children to become followers of Jesus, filled with God’s Spirit and fulfilling God’s call on their lives, which includes telling kids about God when they become adults.

We teach children about God so that they will trust and obey Jesus.

May God’s Spirit inspire us to be faithful in our generation,

Brother Richard Foster

See also What Happens When We Fail to Tell Our Children Bible Stories?

 

 

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Ready For Jesus To Return?

Jesus is coming back! What a day that will be! But are we ready? Jesus warned his disciples to be ready for his return.

What does it take to be ready for Jesus’ Second Coming? The Lord told a parable to illustrate. A man went on a long journey. He entrusted his possessions to his servants, five talents to one, two talents to another, and a single talent to another.

After a long time, the man returned and settled accounts with his servants. The first two servants had put their master’s talents to work and doubled them. They were commended by the master.

The parable is a picture of Jesus’ Second Coming, also known as the Day of the Lord, or Judgment Day. For believers it will not be a day of condemnation. It will be a day of reward. Faithful servants will hear the most wonderful words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

This parable raises an important question. What do the talents represent? Our English word talent comes from this parable. It means natural abilities. We say that someone has a talent for music, or baseball, or art, and so forth.

Our natural abilities certainly do come from God and God wants us to be good stewards of everything he gives us including our natural abilities, but is that all Jesus is saying in this parable? Just go out and be the best musician or baseball player or artist that you can be?

We must remember that Jesus’ parable is about the kingdom of God. Whatever the talents represent, they must benefit God’s kingdom, his benevolent rule over his people. That sounds bigger than music or baseball or art, bigger than our natural abilities.

Students of the Bible have suggested many possibilities for the talents. Perhaps they represent God’s forgiveness, God’s Spirit, God’s word, spiritual gifts, or something else. All of these things are given to us by God and can be put to use in ways that benefit God’s kingdom. But can we be more specific?

Instead of asking what God gives us, let’s ask what we give back to God. In Jesus’ parable, the servants present talents to their master when he returns to settle accounts with them. What will the Lord expect us to present to him when he settles accounts with us? Certainly we will not give our natural abilities back to God. Nor will we give back to him spiritual gifts, forgiveness, grace, or any of these things.

There is one thing that we can present to God which is of greatest value to him. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, he asked, “What is the crown in which I will glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus when he comes?” The answer? The people in the church, the Thessalonian believers.

When Jesus comes and settles accounts with us, we will not present him with songs or sermons, buildings or bank accounts, professional degrees or career successes. All these things will be left behind in this world. What we take with us and present to God will be the lives of people we have influenced with God’s truth, people we have introduced to Jesus and built up in Christ.

The last servant in Jesus’ parable received a single talent from the master. This servant buried his master’s talent in the ground and had nothing more to present when the time came for settling accounts. He thought the master was a hard man, unfair, and frightening. The third servant was unwilling to serve the master.

This unproductive servant was expelled from the presence of the master, thrown into outer darkness (representing hell). The productive servants were invited by their master to continue serving him. In fact, they were entrusted with even greater opportunities for service (representing heaven).

Fruitful service for Jesus now is a sign that we belong to him. It is a sign that we are bound for heaven, where we will enjoy even more fruitful labor for the Lord.

A lack of desire to serve Jesus now in this life is a warning that one is not right with God. Nobody should think that they are bound for eternal joyful service in heaven if they refuse to participate in heaven’s gospel work here and now.

Serving the Master’s kingdom interests is not the price we pay for a home in heaven. We cannot afford heaven, cannot earn heaven, and do not deserve God’s eternal blessings. Jesus paid the price for us to be forgiven and to be heirs of God’s kingdom. His grace awaits our response. We can accept by faith or reject by cold indifference (or hot rebellion).

Fruitful labor for God is the one sure sign that we already belong to the Master. And the Master has given his sons and daughters ‘talents’ which will multiply when faithfully put to work. The increase in souls saved by Jesus and strengthened in Christ will be our presentation to the Lord when he returns.

God has blessed us all with at least one life, our own. Our one life can be used to influence people and bring them to saving faith in Christ, teaching them to walk in the wisdom and power of God’s Spirit. Most of us have contact with many lives, many opportunities to share the gospel, to speak the truth in love, to build up the body of Christ.

Let’s be fruitful for our Lord! Let’s be ready for Jesus to return!

May God’s Spirit enable us to bear fruit that will last,

Brother Richard Foster

 

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Using The Gospel Tool

I always enjoy watching professionals work. The experienced and accomplished craftsman is poetry in motion. And my appreciation for their fine-tuned abilities is amplified when I try to use the same tools!

Most tools take time and effort to master. The right tool in the right hands is sweet harmony. As Christians laboring to carry out God’s mission in this age, we must be accomplished at using the right tools. Our primary tool is the gospel. We must work to be experts at using the gospel.

The final mention of the gospel in the New Testament is in the Book of Revelation (14:6). The Apostle John sees an angel flying in the sky and proclaiming the eternal gospel to those on earth, to every nation, tribe, tongue and people. In other words, this is the one true gospel for all peoples, everywhere and always.

The words spoken by this angel may come as a surprise. In a loud voice he says, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship the one who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and the springs of waters.”

When we hear the term “gospel,” we expect the story of Jesus’ death on the cross to forgive our sins and his resurrection from the grave to be our Lord. The angel’s eternal gospel sounds different. It consists of three commands: Fear God, give him glory, and worship him.

Is this a different gospel? No. The Bible assures us that there is only one gospel. But we should distinguish between the gospel and the plan of salvation. The plan of salvation is for God to give eternal life to all who exercise saving faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The gospel (the word means “good news”) is something bigger than the plan of salvation. When Jesus began preaching, his subject was the good news of God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is every person submitted to God’s rule in their lives. It is true that God rules over everyone, even those who oppose him. But anyone who persists in rejecting him will not enter and enjoy the blessings of his eternal kingdom.

Is the angel’s call for actions other than faith a call to “works salvation”? In other words, if we must do these things to get saved, then salvation is not truly from faith alone, right? But the angel is not denying that salvation is by faith. The angel with the eternal gospel is reminding us of the rest of the story. Once saved, we live saved.

So the plan of salvation is saving faith in Jesus, which is the entryway into God’s kingdom. Once in, what do we do? We fear God, give him glory, and worship him. Anyone who does not want to fear God, give him glory, and worship him does not want to be saved.

To proclaim the plan of salvation without explaining the purposes of salvation would be misleading. Our mission is to share the good news about being saved and living saved. God saves us completely so that we can serve him joyfully.

May God’s Spirit enable us to be faithful in proclaiming his gospel,

Brother Richard Foster

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