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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Praying During The Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brother Richard Foster

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Standing In The Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brother Richard Foster

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Got The Coronavirus Blues

How quickly things can change!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God’s Spirit lift you up!

Brother Richard Foster

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