Tag Archives: Bible

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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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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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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A New Christian Cult?

Some proponents of the LGBT movement insist that it is compatible with Christianity. Is that true? Christianity is defined by the Bible. Does the Bible allow for a new or evolving Christian sexual ethic?

Early in the Bible God established his design for human sexuality. Immediately following the account of God presenting Eve to Adam in Genesis 2, God’s word says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh.”

More than a thousand years later Jesus was questioned about marriage and divorce by the Jewish religious leaders. In his response, in Matthew 19, he affirmed God’s original design for marriage. Jesus asked the religious leaders, “Have you not read? ‘In the beginning he created them male and female,’ and ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh’?” The joining of male and female is fundamental to God’s creation.

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God they were cut off from God’s presence and blessing. They began to suffer under the curse that comes from rebellion against God’s word. In the generations that followed, disobedience to God became a sad but predictable trait of humanity.

God was not finished with humanity. In Moses’ day the Lord established a covenant with the Hebrew people, his chosen nation (Israel). That covenant included a body of law that is summarized in the Ten Commandments. The details of God’s law forbade sexual relationships that departed from his established design, which was revealed early in Scripture and subsequently affirmed by Jesus.

The prohibited sexual relationships in God’s law included premarital sex, adultery, incest, bestiality, and same-sex relationships (Leviticus 18). Only the original design for marriage and family was endorsed: One man and one woman freely committed to one another for a lifetime. The prohibitions from Leviticus are affirmed by the New Testament. Regarding same-sex relationships, the letter to the Romans affirms God’s prohibition (chapter 1). We are warned that those who persist in participating and promoting such sinful behavior will be “given over.”

Jesus acknowledged that his appearance and ministry fulfilled certain aspects of the Old Testament law, thus relieving God’s people of their need to observe them. For instance, in an argument with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus proclaimed all foods clean (Mark 7). Prior to this, certain foods were considered ritually unclean by the Mosaic Law.

Jesus never advanced any deviation or alteration in God’s design for human sexuality. Indeed, he never acknowledged any change in God’s prohibitions against murder, adultery, lying, and many other commandments. In other words, Jesus himself revealed certain changes in the relationship of God’s people to Mosaic legislation, but not regarding human sexuality. There is no positive statement about same-sex relationships anywhere in Scripture.

Any attempt to use Old Testament legislation about trimming hair, making clothes or planting crops as a comparison with human sexuality fails to recognize the special position of marriage and family in God’s plan and his word.

The Bible treats sexual relationships as unique. Although it is true that all sin is alike because all sin separates us from the love and blessing of God, Scripture notes the special status of sexual union. The letter to the Corinthian church warned believers that all other sins are outside one’s body, but sexual sin defiles one’s inner self, a serious matter for any Christian since all believers are living stones in the single structure of God’s temple, his church (1 Corinthians 6; 1 Peter 2).

Why should human sexuality be treated differently from all other sins? God’s gift of sexuality is meant to do more than provide for procreation and pleasure. The marriage relationship is designed by God to reflect his love for his people (Ephesians 5). A Christian marriage is meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church. The church is the Bride of Christ (not any one believer, but the church in total). The Christian wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ. The Christian husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her, a love willing to sacrifice self.

Are faithful, loving, monogamous same-sex relationships true to the intent of Scripture? The “B” in LGBT creates problems with this proposal. To be active bisexually requires more than one partner, thus raising serious questions about fidelity. Since the L and the G stand in solidarity with the B, they apparently express approval of polyamory against the clear design of Scripture.

It is true that the Bible reports times when God’s people engaged in polygamy, but never with approval. In fact, God’s word always highlights the inevitable failures of alternative designs of marriage and family (see Jacob and his wives in Genesis).

Are same-sex relationships in modern times different from those in Bible times? If that were so, it would be logically possible that God did not address modern relationships in the Bible. This would be either a terrible omission by God (creating conflict among us unnecessarily) or evidence that God cannot see the future (discrediting his sovereignty). Neither option is true to the claims made for God in Scripture. God is sovereign and he made no mistakes in his word. His design for human sexuality stands, just as his prohibitions against murder and adultery stand.

Another possibility would be that God has only recently decided to reveal this new view about same-sex relationships. This would put proponents of the New Sex Ethic into the same category as Joseph Smith, who assured his wife that God told him he could have other wives in addition to her. Smith tried to make the case that Christian churches had been wrong for more than a thousand years about human relationships (among other things). He claimed a new revelation directly from God, one which apparently undermined centuries of Christianity.

Proponents of forcing LGBT on God’s church are in the unfortunate position of being another pseudo Christian cult, like Joseph Smith’s group (Mormons), or Charles Taze Russell’s (Jehovah’s Witnesses), or Mary Baker Eddy’s (Christian Science), or one of countless others. Each of these false teachers also claimed special revelation from God that disagreed with the clear word of the Bible.

Those who question the clear word of God are risking association with the Father of all lies (John 8). He was the first to utter the words, “Did God really say. . .?” (Genesis 3). In fact, the biblical prohibitions about human sexuality are stated in clear language. Circumventing them requires twisted and strained logic which serves to justify sinful human desires and passions.

The LGBT community insists on defining personal identity by sexual orientation. Followers of Jesus find their identity in Christ. Jesus calls on anyone who would follow him to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him (Matthew 16). Jesus will not take second place to any human ideology, desire, or philosophy. His followers must renounce all idols, including sinful notions of human sexuality.

When responding to skeptics about the resurrection, Jesus surprised his listeners by revealing that marriage will be absent in heaven (Matthew 22). We may conclude from this that sexual orientation is a matter for this age only. At best, sexual orientation is a temporary part of our identity. Our eternal identity will not depend on our sexuality. For those who have taken the blessing of sex and perverted it into the ultimate goal of life and the cornerstone of their identity, Jesus’ heaven may sound more like hell.

The great missionary Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to the believers in Rome, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the ways of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12).

“Living sacrifices” is a reminder of Jesus’ exhortation to “deny self.” The follower of Jesus is not pulled through life by the ebb and flow of human desire. Jesus’ people find their pathway in life from him, from his example. Jesus was willing to deny himself of his very life in order to complete his mission. These are the footprints he has left for all who wish to be his disciples (1 Peter 2).

So what about the one who is attracted to the same sex? What is he or she to do? Predictably, the Bible’s answers have already been attacked, mocked, and deemed to be completely unacceptable by pop-culture proponents of LGBT. Nevertheless, like God’s design for sex, his word to those with same-sex attractions stands.

First, God’s word to the one with same-sex attraction is the same as it is to all people: Seek him in prayer. Don’t misquote me. I am not saying “Pray away the gay.” Despite the derogatory tone of this phrase, I know from first-hand experience that God has the power to change our desires. But God works according to his time table and his agenda. We must patiently endure. Prayer is not merely about persuading God to do something now. Prayer is communion with God which includes listening for his Spirit and gaining wisdom from our experiences in life (see the Book of Job).

Second, God sometimes calls people to celibacy. It is no surprise that worldly minds reject this option without any serious consideration. The world says, “Indulge yourself!” Jesus says, “Deny yourself.” Jesus recognized celibacy as a special calling in God’s kingdom (Matthew 19). The Bible envisions a church where most are married but some are freed from the commitments of an intimate physical relationship in order to invest more time and energy in kingdom pursuits (1 Corinthians 7).

Same-sex relationships undoubtedly include authentic human desire and affection. But human emotions are notoriously prone to manipulation and to unpredictable fluctuations. Human affection is not a dependable moral compass. In fact, the power of sexual attraction has shipwrecked many a life and family. Any who choose to “follow their heart” instead of submitting to God’s word should beware the consequences.

The ways of this world have always pulled God’s people away from his truth. Pop-culture in the West has embraced LGBT in a rapid and unprecedented way, sweeping away established cultural norms and laws about marriage and family while threatening to ruin any who stand in the way. To disagree with this New Ethic is to risk being charged with hate speech, a circumstance that reveals the intolerance of the LGBT movement. But we must choose between God’s word and those who claim that God’s word doesn’t mean what it clearly says.

Any attempts to promote prohibited sexual relationships as acceptable expressions of human sexuality misunderstand and misrepresent God’s word. Unfaithful relationships do not reflect the pure and faithful love that God has for his people and that his people are to aspire to for him. Same-sex relationships do not reflect the joining of what is different yet compatible, God and his church, husband and wife.

The writer of this article is sympathetic with those who find themselves attracted to people of the same sex. Human affections are strong. God made us passionate people. He is a passionate God and we are made in his image. But our passions are wounded by sin and subject to manipulation, temptation and deception.

If you are struggling with same-sex attractions, please do not despair. The story of your life is yet to be finished. We all struggle with sin. Sinners are not the enemy of the church. Sinners are the intended targets of God’s grace and mercy! God’s word assures us that he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4).

If you are promoting the erroneous idea that same-sex relationships are endorsed by God and working to persuade others to agree with you, I urge you to reconsider. Jesus warns that anyone who breaks the least of God’s commands and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5).

Christ Jesus assures us that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away (Matthew 24). How many popular movements that questioned God’s word have come and gone in the past two millennia since he made that promise? Every generation sees its challenges to God’s truth, but the challengers have always eventually faded away and they always will. Each of us should decide to build on the rock of God’s faithful and unwavering truth, not the sand of the world’s shifting desires and ideas.

Brother Richard Foster

Please note: Bible references above give only book and chapter. This is by design. Too often debates about the Bible’s message employ verses and even smaller sections of Scripture without due consideration of their context, thus misrepresenting God’s intended meaning. I invite the reader to examine carefully the context of my biblical quotations, testing their applications for faithfulness to God’s word.

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What Is A Great Christian?

Jesus’ disciples asked him who is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens. In other words, who is greatest among Jesus’ followers? If they expected him to choose one of them, they got a surprise.

Jesus called a child and had him stand among them. He told his disciples that unless they changed and became like children, they would certainly not enter God’s kingdom. Notice the switch: not just fail to be great in God’s kingdom, but fail to enter God’s kingdom!

So, Jesus said that the one who humbles himself like a child is great in God’s kingdom. But why is humility so great?

The Bible tells us that Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly glory and became not just a man, but a servant. In another place Jesus says that whatever we do to the least of these brothers of his, we do to him. So Jesus humbled himself and he identifies personally with those who are humble.

To be great in God’s kingdom one must be like Jesus: humble and willing to identify with others who are humble.

Jesus goes on to say that anyone who causes one of these little ones who believe in him to stumble would be better off if they had a large millstone tied around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. That’s harsh!

He also says that if our hand or foot causes us to stumble then we should cut them off and throw them away because it’s better to enter life maimed than go to hell with both hands and feet. Jesus is calling for radical action to keep from sinning, not literal dismemberment, but his figure of speech gets our attention.

Our personal sin can lead others astray, especially the “little ones.” Christian humility demands that we live holy lives not just for ourselves, but for one another. Christian humility is not just words. It is actions. It is putting others before ourselves.

Finally Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones because their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Popular opinion values the “big ones”: the big celebrities, the big politicians, the big money makers, and so forth. So we may be tempted to look down on the “little ones.”

Sinful pride tries to convince us that we are better than the “little ones.” But when we lift ourselves up by putting others down we are not acting like citizens of God’s kingdom, much less great citizens. And sinful pride comes before a painful fall.

Jesus did not rebuke his disciples for wanting to be great in God’s kingdom. But he did make sure that they understood God’s criteria for true kingdom greatness. The one who humbles himself like a child is great in God’s kingdom (see Matthew 18:1-10).

May God’s Spirit enable us to be great Christians,

Brother Richard Foster

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Culture Wars and Prayer

Elijah appears suddenly in the pages of the Bible in 1 Kings 17. He is a prophet, a man of God.

Elijah lives at a time of spiritual decline in Israel. God’s people are being led astray to forget the God of the Bible and to adopt a competing worldview.

The champion of this competing worldview is a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel is a Baal worshiper. Baal is an idol. Baal worshipers give this idol credit for controlling the rain, and thus having the power of life.

Jezebel is married to the king of Israel, a man named Ahab. She uses her political position to promote Baal worship. She also abuses her power to intimidate and persecute those who worship and serve the Lord.

Baal worship threatens to extinguish belief in the Living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God sends Elijah to confront King Ahab with bad news. Rain in Israel will cease. Why? To prove to the people that Baal does not control the rain, God does.

Eventually Elijah faces a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. This event is one of the most dramatic in all the Bible (see 1 Kings 18). It is a contest to prove who is really God.

The contest was simple. The prophets of Baal would prepare a sacrifice and call on Baal. Elijah would prepare a sacrifice and call on the Lord. The one who answered by fire would be the true God.

The prophets of Baal cried out to the idol but, of course, it failed to answer. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord. In his prayer he called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again, back to the truth, back to the Lord.

Israel was experiencing what some would call a “culture war.” Two competing worldviews were struggling for the hearts of the people: Baal worship versus faithfulness to the God of their forefathers.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today, a time of frustrating spiritual decline. Powerful proponents of secularism are working diligently to erase the God of the Bible from the public square and from the hearts of the citizenry.

Whether we call this struggle a “culture war” or a “spiritual battle,” the stakes are high. Elijah recognized the fundamental issue in his struggle and he expressed it well in his prayer. The basic issue was not the laws of the land or the leaders on the throne. The basic issue was the hearts of the people.

Elijah’s response to the struggle in his time included bold prayer. His prayer called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again. We should follow his example and pray passionately for God to turn the hearts of the people back to the truth, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.

God answered Elijah’s prayer and brought a great victory. But the struggle continued. We can expect the same: great victories and continued struggles. We can be faithful in fighting the good fight, because we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to be faithful,

Brother Richard Foster

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Christmas Bible Reading from The Book of Revelation

Christmas Bible readings from Matthew and Luke are typical, but there are other places in Scripture that speak about Jesus’ birth. The Book of Revelation is a word from God to his people about the realities in heaven that effect and direct human history, things which we cannot see with our natural eyes, spiritual happenings. Chapter 12 uses symbols to describe a cosmic battle that rages between God and Satan. And Jesus’ birth is an important part of this struggle.

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman dressed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of 12 stars and being pregnant, she cries out in labor pains, tormented to give birth.
And another sign appeared in heaven: Look! A great red dragon having 7 heads and 10 horns, and upon his heads 7 diadems, and his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
And the dragon stood before the woman, the one about to give birth, so that when she gives birth he may devour her child.
(Revelation 12:1-4)

If you have not spent time reading the Book of Revelation, it can be a strange experience at first, like stepping into a sort of theological Alice in Wonderland. The Book of Revelation is filled with apocalyptic literature, a style of writing that uses many symbols.

In this section we see several important symbols. The woman who is dressed in the sun is a symbol for God’s chosen people, Israel. God’s people are often spoken of in Scripture as God’s wife or bride. In the Old Testament Israel is God’s wife. In the New Testament the Church is the Bride of Christ.

The woman’s child is the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the one he promised to send as savior of his people. He is Jesus.

The dragon is obviously an enemy of the woman and her child, that is, an enemy of Israel and Messiah Jesus. The dragon with his 7 heads and 10 horns and 7 diadems represents political power. The diadems on the dragon’s heads are crowns.

There are 2 kinds of crowns in the Book of Revelation. Stephanos is a crown made of a wreath. It is given to winning athletes and worn at feasts and celebrations. It is usually made of some type of greenery that fades quickly. But the diadem is made of precious metals and stones, jewels. It is worn by kings and queens. It is a symbol of empire, of political and military power. The dragon wields political power.

Nations and their leaders who are enemies of God’s people are often symbolized by giant dangerous creatures, like dragons and leviathans. Pharaoh and Egypt were enemies of God’s people in the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh tried to destroy the Hebrews, God’s people, by throwing all their baby boys in the Nile River. In the Book of Esther, we read about Haman in the ancient kingdom of Babylon. Haman had political power which he tried to use as a tool to destroy the Jews who were in exile in Babylon. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem King Herod tried to destroy him, killing all the babies in that town. So, this red dragon represents political powers and their leaders who try to destroy God’s people so that his chosen Messiah cannot come and carry out his mission. But there is more to it.

And she birthed a son, a boy who is about to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron, and her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.(Revelation 12:5)

This is an apocalyptic version of the Gospel, Jesus’ life and ministry from a heavenly perspective. We are familiar with the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which give us an earthly view of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke is filled with things familiar to us: taxes, a pregnant woman, a long journey, a town packed with travelers, the cradle, the animals, the shepherds. True, we still have the angels, but the earthly focus is unmistakable.

In Revelation 12:5, however, we are given a different perspective. Jesus’ birth, life and ascension back to God in heaven is reduced to one verse. The focus here is on his role as king. He will rule all the nations with a rod of iron. No nation, people or culture will defy the rule of Jesus. Jesus is King of kings. His rule is unbreakable, a rod of iron. His rule is endorsed by God. Jesus is welcomed to God’s throne. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people in the Old Testament. God promised to send his Anointed One as a descendant of Abraham. And God promised that he would be the one to rule forever. Jesus is born to rule.

These verses tell us 2 things. First, Jesus’ birth is one of God’s great goals in history. And second, Jesus’ birth leads to his universal eternal rule.

And the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God so that they might care for her 1,260 days.
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels made war against the dragon and the dragon and his angels made war. And he was not able nor was a place found for them any longer in heaven.
And the great dragon was thrown out, the ancient serpent, the one called the Devil and Satan, the one leading astray the whole inhabited earth, he was thrown to earth and his angels were thrown down with him.
(Revelation 12:6-9)

If we have any doubt about the identity of the dragon it is dispelled in this section. The Lord wants to be sure that we know who the red dragon represents. He is more than a symbol for nations and their leaders who are hostile to God and his people. He is a powerful person using those nations and rulers against God and his people. He is the ancient serpent, the one who tempted Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden and so lead all humanity into a fallen state. He is the one called the Devil, which means slanderer. He is the one called Satan, which means adversary. He is the one who leads the whole world astray. Just as he persuaded Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word, so he still persuades people, communities, cultures, societies and nations today. His first recorded words, “Did God really say?” are still his most effective tool.

John’s vision includes a great battle in the heavenly realms between the Angel Michael and all the angels who follow him, fighting against the dragon, Satan, and his angels. Despite Satan’s great power, he loses and is expelled from heaven. All of this is a reminder that what we see in history is driven by forces which are invisible to our natural eyes. Spiritual warfare rages all around us. We see and experience the results. The results are broken lives and families, broken communities and nations. The battle is real and the losses are tragic. But these visions show that there is a victory and it belongs to God.

And I heard a loud voice in the heaven saying, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser of our brothers is thrown out, the one accusing them before our God day and night. (Revelation 12:10)

The scene shifts in verse 10. John hears a loud voice of praise in heaven, God’s dwelling place. What follows in an expression of worship. Songs of worship are found throughout the Bible and they are some of the most inspiring passages of Scripture to read and meditate upon. But many of the worship songs before the Book of Revelation use the form, To God be, To God be the glory, the power, the honor, and so forth. It is an expression of hope and belief about the future: may it be. But the loud voice in heaven affirms that the time of God’s victory is no longer in the future, the kingdom of God is no longer merely potential, Now are the salvation and power and kingdom of God. Jesus began his preaching ministry by proclaiming that the kingdom of God is near. He taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. But John’s vision of the worship in heaven sees the time when God’s kingdom is consummated. Note that God’s kingdom is closely related to the authority of Jesus, the one born to rule.

The consummation of God’s kingdom rule is also important for God’s people. They are the ones who were being harassed by Satan. He accuses them before God night and day. His accusations may include lies, since he is the great deceiver, but they are damaging because they also contain some truth. God’s people have sinned and rebelled against the Lord. Satan knows that for God’s holiness to remain intact, for his righteousness to be unstained, he must exercise justice and punish his people, cut them off from his love and blessing. Satan believes that he has put God in an impossible situation. He must either show himself to be unrighteous by blessing those who do not deserve it, or he must show himself to be unloving by condemning those he created for fellowship. But God is not defeated. Jesus is the answer to the spiritual conundrum. That’s why Satan tries so hard to destroy Jesus. He knows that Jesus can defeat him. Jesus’ rule leads to Satan’s defeat.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life unto death. (Revelation 12:11)

So God’s people have victory over Satan and his accusations. Notice that this victory comes by the blood of the Lamb. “Lamb” is a reference to the Passover feast memorializing God’s rescue of his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. God instructed them to sacrifice a lamb to remember his salvation and to look forward to a much greater salvation. So, Satan is accusing God’s people of sinning, which they have done, forcing God to exercise his justice and deny his love, or exercise his love and deny his justice. But Jesus sacrifices himself at Calvary, giving his life as a sin offering for God’s people, the ultimate Passover Lamb. It is his blood, his life, offered as a sacrifice that enables God to forgive his people. God’s holiness is satisfied because the sin of his people is punished and God’s love is satisfied. This frees God to forgive and bless his people, demonstrating his mercy and grace. Satan is expelled from heaven and his accusations are silenced. God does not simply ignore sin. That would make him unjust. God does not abandon his people. That would make him unloving. His solution is brilliant, a cosmic victory.

We shouldn’t miss something important about this verse. God’s people overcome by the blood of the Lamb, by Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, but also by the word of their testimony. The salvation that comes from Jesus’ sacrifice is not forced on anyone. It must be appropriated by personal faith, by the word of their testimony. Only those willing to testify, to place their faith in Jesus, will enjoy the benefits of his sacrifice. And this testimony is not empty words. Notice what it says: They did not love their lives even to the point of death. In other words, they were willing to die for their testimony. Saving faith inspires meaningful words which are backed up by actions, by sacrifice, even by martyrdom if necessary.

In verse 5 we read that the woman, God’s people, gave birth to her son, Jesus, who will rule the nations with an iron rod, and he was snatched up to God, to his throne. This is a short version of the Gospel, a heavenly perspective that focuses on his birth and ascension (his coming and going, if you will). Now, in verse 11, we get his important sacrificial death, the blood of the Lamb, which is the proper focus of saving faith. Those who overcome the enemy do so by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. The blood of the Lamb does not automatically save all who are born on earth. Each one must decide and be willing to hold that faith as more precious than even life itself. Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection offer us eternal victory.

But the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

Therefore, rejoice O heavens, and those dwelling in them. Woe to the earth and the sea for the Devil has gone down to you, very angry, knowing that he has little time.(Revelation 12:12)

Victory has begun with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is not finished. There is still a battle to be fought. This reminds me of playing ball on the street as a boy. In our neighborhood we usually played baseball or football. We played together so often that we knew once the teams were chosen which team would win. We could tell by who was on each team. If you were chosen by the losing team, well, that was no fun. You just had to go out and do your job of losing and being a good sport. But when you were chosen to play on the winning team, it was great fun to play! The Book of Revelation is telling us that we know who will win. We know by whose team we are on. Jesus is the winner. All who follow him will share in his victory. Anyone following the devil and his team will share in his loss.

And when the dragon saw that he was thrown to the earth, he pursued the woman who gave birth to the boy.(Revelation 12:13)

It may seem strange to read about dragons in the Bible. Is this evidence that the Bible is merely some sort of religious mythology with no basis in fact? It is fashionable in our culture to be skeptical of invisible heavenly happenings. But so-called “consensus science” and its self-imposed Darwinian limitations have failed to explain the richness of the human experience of reality. Darwin leaves too much out. The Bible reveals what naturalistic science cannot see. In symbolic language we are reading about the cosmic struggle between God and his enemy Satan. And the enemy hates all that God is trying to do through and for his people. He works to destroy God’s work, his people.

Notice how God’s people are identified in verse 13. They are the woman who gave birth to the boy, Jesus. Five times in this short chapter the ancient Greek word for giving birth is used (tiktō). That’s why it is appropriate to use this chapter as a Christmas reading. In just 17 short verses the birth of Jesus is mentioned at least 5 times. Why? Because Jesus’ birth is an important part of this cosmic struggle which is raging between God and his enemy, the Devil.

But we hear competing notions about the real meaning of Jesus’ birth. What is the true nature of Christmas? The watered-down version of Christmas asserts merely that people have good hearts and simply need a little inspiration to be generous and loving and kind and do the right thing. Jesus’ birth is sentimental folklore like other religious myths which are designed to appeal to our better nature. This popular presentation of Christmas uses the pictures of Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph and the animals and shepherds, all part of the Bible’s presentation. By using imagery that evokes the Bible’s account, this false version reinterprets the Bible’s message, replacing the truth with a lie.

A much better version of Christmas reminds us that Jesus’ birth is not folklore but history and that he came for more than the cradle. He came to die on the cross. And even more than that, he came to wear the victor’s crown. This biblical version of the cradle, cross and crown reminds us that we need more than someone to appeal to our better natures. In fact, the Bible asserts that we have no better nature, merely a sin nature. Our sin nature will destroy us if left to run its course, and we haven’t the power to stop it. We need a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. He offered himself as a sin offering on the cross and God raised him up and received him back to heaven. He is alive and able to live in the hearts of his people through God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, giving us power to overcome our sin nature.

But even this presentation of Christmas leaves out one important aspect. Jesus came to conquer more than just our sin nature. Once we have been forgiven in the eyes of God by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, because of our faith in him, we still have an enemy who is out to destroy us: Satan. The ancient Serpent who persuaded Adam and Even to doubt God and disobey him is still deceiving people, trying to persuade them to reject God and his salvation. The dragon is active in turning nations and empires against God’s people in an effort to destroy them. So Jesus’ birth is certainly about more than sentimentality but it is about more than our personal salvation. Jesus’ birth is an important part of the cosmic battle between God and Satan.

And the 2 wings of the great eagle were given to the woman so that she might fly to the wilderness, to her place, where she is nourished a time and times and half a time away from the presence of the serpent. (Revelation 12:14)

The imagery here comes from the Book of Exodus. After God rescued his people from cruel bondage in Egypt he brought them to Mt. Sinai in the desert. He said, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Now we read in the Book of Revelation that God will again bring his persecuted people to a place of safety in the wilderness. When it says “time, times, and half a time,” it is probably a reference to a period which is measured as 1,260 days and as 42 months in other places. It is 3 and a half years. Why any time at all? Why would God allow his people to be pursued and flee into the wilderness?

Before God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt he made them wait while he visited 10 plagues on the land of their oppressors. Why? Why not just come in and destroy Pharaoh’s army and put an immediate end to their cruel bondage? Why make them wait? God was doing more than rescuing his people. He was revealing his power and his redemption in unforgettable ways. More than that, he was refining their faith like gold in a fire. He wanted more than their freedom, he wanted their faith. He wanted them to see his glory in ways that they would talk about for generations.

Here, at the end of the age, we see in the Book of Revelation that God’s tactics are unchanged. He delays victory so that his people can be, not just saved, but strengthened. We can believe that the wilderness times in our lives, the struggles we experience, are allowed by God in order to show us his power, to reveal his work of redemption to us, and to refine our faith like gold in a fire.

And the serpent spewed from his mouth after the woman water like a river so that it might sweep her away. And the earth helped the woman, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon spewed from his mouth. (Revelation 12:15-16)

Notice that God’s enemy keeps changing his name: devil, dragon, serpent. Every time we turn around he is wearing a different mask. That should be no surprise. Satan is a master of disguises and full of deception.

Verses 15 and 16 demonstrate one of the challenges to interpreting the symbols in the Book of Revelation. The idea of a river coming from someone’s mouth would seem to be a symbol for speech. Since it comes from the Devil’s mouth, it would make sense for this river of water to represent an overwhelming barrage of deception. The Devil is full of deceit. But if that is a correct interpretation, then how does the earth open its mouth and swallow words of deception? Mentioning the earth makes the river seem more literal, like a natural disaster. Is it some combination of the two?

While many of the symbols in the Book of Revelation are interpreted by the book itself, and others are fairly easy to interpret without much assistance, some are quite difficult. But we must remember that God sometimes keeps the interpretation a mystery until some future time. In chapter 10 of John’s Apocalypse, the apostle hears 7 thunders. Seven is an important number in the Book of Revelation. It is the number for completion. The thunders apparently say something that is intelligible for John and he is ready to write it down. But a voice from heaven tells him not to write. The 7 thunders are kept from us for now. This is reminder that God has not revealed everything to us. Some things are kept for later.

One thing is clear from these verses: God always provides for his people, even though he allows the battle to be prolonged and even though he sometimes leads his people into wilderness places. God often uses a seemingly impossible avenue of rescue, something that we would never think of. When he brought his people out of slavery in Egypt, God led them up to the Red Sea where they were trapped by Pharaoh’s armies. Disaster seemed imminent. But then the Lord opened the sea and his people crossed through on dry ground. Pharaoh’s armies followed them and were swallowed up by the sea. God provided a way which the Hebrews could not see, until the time came. When the time comes, we will understand these symbols in the Book of Revelation. For now, we know enough to trust God.

And the dragon was enraged at the woman and he went out to make war against the rest of her offspring, those keeping the commands of God and having the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)

Satan keeps failing but he keeps fighting. Verse 12 says that he knows his time is short. This implies that he knows he will ultimately lose but he is hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and unrepentant. He never learns. Every time he tries to destroy God’s people God turns it into a celebration. Pharaoh tried to destroy God’s people in Egypt by throwing all the boy babies into the Nile River. But God saved them and instituted the Passover Feast. In Babylon a man named Haman hated God’s chosen people and tried to use the government to wipe them out. The result? God saved them and since then they have celebrated the feast of Purim to commemorate it. Back in the Promised Land, Antioch IV Epiphanes tried to destroy God’s people, but God saved them and they celebrate Hanukkah to remember it. King Herod tried to murder Jesus in Bethlehem, but he failed and so we celebrate Christmas. Satan used the Pharisees and Pilate to kill Jesus, but God meant it for our good and he raised Jesus up from the tomb and we celebrate Easter.

We have all this evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people, his ability and willingness to turn our defeats into victories. With all these examples of God’s faithfulness we should have great confidence in God. After all these defeats have been turned to victory throughout history there is no reason to think our lives and our place in history will be any different. God will turn our struggles and defeats into triumph!

Notice how God’s people are described in verse 17. They are the ones who keep God’s commands and have the testimony of Jesus, a combination of works and words. To testify without obeying is not enough. To obey without testifying is not enough. Obedience does not mean perfection. We still struggle with sin but we can humble ourselves before the Lord and be forgiven. Nevertheless, if someone has no desire to obey God it is a sign of no salvation from God. We cannot run with the Devil and share the Lamb’s victory. God’s people trust and obey.

President Donald Trump recently announced that the United States of America will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The whole world was stirred up by the announcement. After thousands of years, Israel and Jerusalem are still at the epicenter of history. God promised the land of Israel to his chosen people 4,000 years ago. He chose Jerusalem as the place where his name would dwell with his people. And he promised that even if his chosen people were scattered to all the nations of the world, he would restore them to the Promised Land: Israel. That may seem like ancient history, but God is faithful and his promises are sure.

God continues to prove the skeptics wrong. He does the impossible and he does it in the pages of our newspapers. Until very recently in history it did not seem possible that God’s ancient promise to gather his people and restore them to their land could ever come about. How can a people be scattered to the 4 corners of the earth for almost 2,000 years and even maintain their ethnic identity? Most peoples would intermarry and cease to be distinct. But God’s chosen people, Israel, has not only remained a people after being expelled from their homeland in the first century, but in May 1948 the impossible happened: Israel became a Jewish nation again, just as God promised. He gathered Jews from around the world and restored them to their homeland. And he did so after one of the most brutal attempts to destroy them history has ever seen: the Holocaust. The enemy’s hatred for God’s people is vicious, but he has failed.

God’s promises will all be fulfilled. Satan will lose. Jesus is the victor. We should trust the Lord, obey his commands, and testify to our faith in Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Brother Richard Foster

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Jesus and Christmas in a Land of Skepticism

The Gospels tell us that Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people out in the wilderness with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. And everyone was satisfied. A miracle! But why did he do it? What does it mean?

Some folks claim that Jesus did nothing supernatural. They say that many people in the crowd already had food but were too selfish to share. All Jesus did, they argue, was inspire them to open their hearts and share with one another.

The non-miraculous interpretation of Jesus feeding the 5,000 may sit well with skeptics, but it doesn’t fit the Gospel writers’ accounts. The Gospel writers clearly present Jesus as a man of miracles, born of a virgin, healing all kinds of diseases, casting out demons, and even commanding storms to stop!

So, if Jesus did not feed the 5,000 in order to inspire people to be more generous, then why did he do it?

Another interpretation of this episode starts by recognizing that Jesus truly performed a supernatural act by dividing 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed more than 5,000 people. But this version goes on to say that Jesus’ goal in feeding the 5,000 was to inspire sacrificial giving. As a young lad in the crowd gave his lunch to Jesus, we should give our all to Jesus.

But John is the only Gospel writer who mentions this lad and John never says anything about the boy’s desire to give his loaves and fish to Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke never mention the youngster at all, so the boy certainly cannot be vital to a proper understanding of Jesus’ actions.

If Jesus is not inspiring generosity toward others or promoting sacrificial giving to him, then what is the meaning of his feeding the 5,000?

The people who ate Jesus’ miracle meal that day recognized that Jesus was doing something similar to what God did when he fed Israel in the wilderness. After the Lord rescued his people from bondage in Israel he rained down manna from heaven to provide food for them in the desert.

Jesus is demonstrating that he has the same kind of power that God displays. When they asked for more miraculous meals, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus believes in generosity and sacrifice, but something bigger is at stake. Jesus is God in the flesh, come not just to promote or inspire good deeds, but to give himself so that we can have eternal life in heaven with God.

Each year we hear heart-warming and sentimental expressions about the true meaning of Jesus’ birth, the real spirit of Christmas. A plethora of virtues find room in the inn of a humanistic Christmas: love, generosity, sacrifice, family, compassion, and so on.

As the wise men came and brought gifts to Jesus we should give gifts to one another, so the popular reasoning goes. But the magi from the east were not on a goodwill tour. They traveled a great distance not to promote a spirit of gift-giving, but to worship the King.

The Bible says that Jesus’ birth is a cosmic turning point in human history. The nations of this world languished in violence and hatred, hunger and poverty, suffering and sorrow, disease and death. God made us for better.

Jesus, born to a young lady named Mary and laid in a manger, is God stepping into this tragedy we call life, sharing our ups and downs. His mission? to bring victory over death and joy in God’s presence forever. That’s bigger than anything that comes in a gift bag.

So Christmas is not just a time to promote human virtues or to enjoy temporary delights. Christmas is the time we remember this greatest episode in all human history: Jesus is God in the flesh come to save his lost people.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill,

Brother Richard

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Tell The Story of The Bible in One Minute Or Less

We can tell the story of the Bible in one minute or less. That may sound impossible, but it isn’t.

We begin where the Bible begins: creation. God made the heavens and the earth and everything in them. And his creation was good.

Next, we point out that God made people in his image. Every man, woman, boy and girl is made in God’s image and has incalculable value.

Here’s the bad news: humanity rebelled against God. Adam and Eve disobeyed him and all their descendants have, too. Because of our disobedience to God we live in a broken world full of injustice, suffering and death.

Here’s more bad news: God will punish all disobedience. He proved that with Noah’s Flood and his judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now for some good news: God promised a man named Abraham that through his descendant every nation would be blessed. Much of the Old Testament tells how God’s promise slowly unfolded in generation after generation of Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites.

God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus was born a descendant of Abraham, sent by God to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin so that all who trust in him can be forgiven and enjoy God’s eternal blessings.

God raised Jesus from the dead, showing that both sin and death have been defeated. Then God poured out his Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers, the church, empowering them to live a new kind of life.

Now, through the church, God is proclaiming his message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. And soon, Jesus will return and take all those who belong to him to be with him forever.

So try it and see how long it takes. Use the stopwatch on your smartphone. It took me just over 50 seconds to speak through the version above.

We could alter the details of this presentation in a variety of ways, but the main thrust of the story is clear. God made us; we rebelled against him; he loves us enough to save us. So, each of us must decide whether we will accept his offer of salvation.

God has entrusted his story to us. We have the responsibility to be his messengers in the world today. And the world desperately needs the truth of God’s story.

What an honor it is to speak God’s truth. What a joy it is when we see someone respond with saving faith. Let’s tell God’s story!

May God’s empowering Presence inspire and enable us to tell his story boldly,

Brother Richard

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