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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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What Does Spiritual Maturity Really Look Like?

Moses started out by telling God, “No.” He did not want to go. He wanted nothing to do with helping the Hebrew people break free from their cruel bondage under the oppressive rule of Pharaoh in Egypt. But God has a way of persuading people.

In Egypt, circumstances reinforced Moses’ first instinct about this mission. Not only did Pharaoh oppose him, but the very people that he went to save wanted nothing to do with him. His plea for Pharaoh to let the people go made their lives even more difficult. Moses complained to God but he did not quit his mission.

As events unfolded, Moses began to trust God more and more. Eventually he saw the Lord rescue the Hebrew people with astonishing miracles. God’s deliverance took time and required patience from Moses and the Hebrew people, but his methods left no doubt about his power and authority.

Once they were out of Egypt, the people began to test Moses’ patience, perhaps even more than Pharaoh’s stubborn behavior had. They complained about the lack of food and water. They even talked about going back to Egypt. . . .

Then the people sinned against God by making an idol and worshiping it, at the very place where they agreed to worship the Lord only! The anger of God was stirred and he threatened to do away with the people and start over with Moses.

Moses now demonstrates striking spiritual maturity and insight. Instead of stepping aside and allowing God to destroy the people, Moses intercedes. He offers to have his own name blotted out from God’s Book of Life as a substitute sacrifice for them. Very Christ-like behavior! Of course, only Jesus can do such a thing, but Moses’ action displays amazing spiritual growth since his refusal to obey God’s call at the burning bush.

The Hebrew people, however, are slow in their spiritual development. They continue to gripe, grumble and complain. Then, in a breath-taking act of disobedience, they refuse to go up and take the Promised Land, which prompts God to condemn an entire generation to nomadic wandering in the desert. The next generation will enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land.

Now, after 40 years, the time has come for that next generation to answer God’s call, to carry out his plan, and to enjoy his blessing: a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses is now 120 years old. He gives his farewell address to the Hebrews, the people he has devoted his life to serving.

In his last message (the Book of Deuteronomy), Moses seems to have a bone to pick with the people. He says to them, “because of you,” the Lord was angry and refused to allow him entrance into the land.

He is referring to one of the many times during the years in the desert when the people grumbled against Moses and against God. On this occasion it was because water was scarce. Moses prayed and the Lord instructed him to speak to the rock. God would provide.

But this time Moses could no longer contain his frustration with the people. He scolded them harshly and then struck the rock with his staff in anger not once, but twice. As a result of disobeying the Lord’s instructions, God would deny Moses entrance into the Promised Land.

Now, in his farewell address, Moses tells the people that he pleaded with God to let him enter the Promised Land. But God refused to listen, telling him to stop asking. Moses would die east of the Jordan.

As Moses recounts this episode in his farewell address, his disappointment is evident. He blames the Hebrew people for his failure, not once, but three times (Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26; 4:21).

His resentment is understandable. Moses’ life has been devoted to leading God’s people into the Promised Land. How many times in their wilderness wanderings when the people grew weary and wanted to give up did Moses inspire them to carry on by reminding them about the land flowing with milk and honey that awaited them in the future? And now, at the climax of his life’s work, he is being refused the opportunity to experience the blessed land which they had waited for all their lives.

Moses may complain, but he does not give in to the temptation to walk away and give up on the people. He does not say, “If I can’t go in, then I don’t care what happens to these people!” He does not stomp away and sulk.

Instead, Moses recognizes God’s authority in the matter and works to prepare the people for the next step in God’s plan. He gives his farewell address, readying the people for their lives in the Promised Land. And he encourages their new leader: Joshua.

At first blush, Moses’ struggle with resentment and bitterness indicates that he may not be as spiritually mature as he appears. If he were really mature, would he even be struggling with such ugly emotions?

On further reflection, however, we should take note that Moses’ continued commitment to God’s plan and God’s people reveals a remarkable level of spiritual maturity. Moses is somehow able to act right when he feels wrong!

The world says, “Follow your heart.” But doing only what we feel like doing, only when we feel like doing it is a great definition of adolescence, not maturity. God’s word reminds us that our hearts are deceitful. People often do what they know is wrong or even dangerous. Why? Because they want to.

We need a more dependable source of guidance. Moses followed God’s direction in his life, even when it was painful and disappointing. He valued God’s judgment above his own. When his own heart was not in harmony with God’s, Moses chose to trust God’s heart.

The Lord gave Moses a consolation. From the height of Mt. Pisgah on the east side of the Jordan River, God showed his faithful servant the blessed land which his people were about to inherit. Was Moses given a vision that surpasses what natural eyes can perceive?

That short time with the Lord on the summit of the mountain, viewing the prize, was precious for Moses. It was worth far more to him than many days or years of bowing to his disappointment and walking away in defiance to God’s word.

Moses’ experience with the Lord on Mt. Pisgah has become a powerful symbol in Christian thought. In fact, the entire Exodus has been used by believers for generations to give expression to the Christian experience.

Egypt symbolizes our former life in bondage to sin. Crossing the Red Sea is a powerful picture of salvation through faith. The wilderness wanderings often epitomize our struggles to obey God in a world full of temptations. The Jordan represents death and the Promised Land is heaven.

In this theologically rich vision of the Christian life, Mt. Pisgah occupies an inspiring place in the minds of Jesus’ followers. It has come to picture a vision of heaven enjoyed by the faithful when they draw close to physical death, an encouraging foretaste of glory provided by the gracious hand of a loving Father.

This beautiful idea appears in hymns. “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer; May I thy consolation share, Till from Mt. Pisgah’s lofty height, I view my home and take my flight.” What a view! And what a flight!

Moses really was a man of great spiritual maturity. He knew that whatever God withholds is worth nothing compared to what God grants. Better to be in fellowship with the Lord on Mt. Pisgah than to be in defiance of him in the Jordan valley. What God shows us is always better than what we can see for ourselves.

May God’s Spirit transform us into the image of Christ from grace to grace and glory to glory,

Richard Foster

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Kids Ask Why And So Should We

Kids love to ask why. Why is the sky blue? Why does the snow melt? Why do I have to go to bed now? Why can’t we have pizza for breakfast?

We answer these questions to the best of our ability, knowing that their curiosity is good because it stimulates learning. But their questions can test our knowledge and our patience!

Sometimes the only answer we can give to kids’ questions is this: “Because I say so!” In these cases, the answer comes not from evidence but from authority, our authority. . . .

Even as adults, we still need the “Why?” question. It can drive us to discover answers and solutions that would otherwise remain hidden.

One question we should ask is this: Why do we believe that some things are right and others are wrong? In other words, what is the basis for our moral standards?

They tell me that I must stop for a red traffic signal. Why? We organize traffic laws in order to avoid accidents. I want to travel without death or injury and so I obey those laws and I hope others will too. In addition, running red lights can cost me expensive interaction with the legal system (a combination of reasoning and authority).

So some actions, like our driving habits, are defined to be right or wrong not because they are inherently good or evil, but because they are practical. They protect life and property. Other actions, however, are of a different sort. They appeal to a higher standard of good and evil.

What about giving to the poor? We all agree that helping the poor is the right thing to do. We also believe that it is right for the wealthy to contribute more in order to relieve the hardships of poverty.

But why? Why should I give away things that belong to me? It seems impractical. What if my family and I need it? What if I want it? Why should I give it to someone else, someone I don’t even know?

Why should I spend time cooperating with others (government) in order to make wealthy people give away more of what they have (taxes) in order to help the poor (welfare)? Why should I care what others do?

For generations we have answered these questions by appealing to the Bible. God’s word tells us that people are created in God’s image, so every human life is of inestimable value. Therefore, I help others, even though it costs me personally.

The Bible tells us that we are expected to be good stewards of our resources, which includes helping those who cannot help themselves. The Bible condemns selfishness. I must be willing to share.

In addition, the Bible tells us that God commands us to help the poor. So we help the poor, because people are precious and because God tells us to do so. I want to please God, so I obey his commands.

But a new voice in culture is trying to convince us that we can be good without God and his commands. We can still help the poor and hold the rich responsible without any appeal to spiritual truth or special revelation, so they say.

According to these secular voices, we can love our neighbor without a word from God. All we need is a scientific worldview. Nature will show us the way.

But will this pass the “Why?” question? Let’s see: No God means no Creator. No Creator means that we are a fortuitous cosmic accident, a happenstance. As such, we are not accountable to anyone but nature (whoever that is!).

Now the godless ‘natural’ version of reality is clear. In order to grow smarter and stronger we have evolved by ruthlessly taking hold of every possible advantage. The strongest, smartest and fastest get the natural resources they need to survive and thrive and everyone else . . . well, everyone else does not deserve to survive.

The weak and slow ones cannot be favored because they will use resources that should go to the stronger and smarter. The weak and slow should not reproduce because they will impede or even permanently derail the evolution of the race, according to the God-free version of reality.

The stronger and smarter ones survive and propagate the race. Each generation gets a little better because the weak are weeded out, so the ‘natural’ scientific view says.

At this point the secular crowd must interrupt and say that being kind to the poor will somehow make us stronger and better, so it is right to help the poor and weak even if you only appeal to natural forces. They must convince us that a more compassionate humanity is a stronger humanity.

But is that true? Why? How? How does it propagate the race and help humanity to grow stronger if we keep the weak ones alive?

Nature is heartless with the weak. In the animal kingdom the weak are food for others. Now we are told by secularists that people should go against nature and act as if nature is wrong. Why? The Bible has the answer, the only answer. Because the natural world is broken as a result of sin and God made people superior to animals; he made us in his image.

The love ethic that is advanced by the Bible generally and by Christianity especially is built upon the firm foundation of God’s revealed word. The love ethic is not a free-floating ethical notion.

We help the poor because we believe that human lives are valuable and worthy of dignity. We believe this about human lives because the Bible tells us that people are created in the image of God and that God loves his creation; he loves people so we should love people.

We believe that God is the creator and sustainer and that he holds successful people responsible for how they use the wealth which he has enabled them to gain. We expect the rich to give because God says they should do so.

Secular humanists wish to retain this kindness toward the poor and this responsibility for the rich but they want to remove the foundation of trust in God as Maker, Sustainer, Judge and Savior. We can help the poor and exhort the rich without believing in God, we are told. But will this house of love stand on a foundation of natural selection? If God is not Maker, Sustainer, Judge and Savior, then who is?

Darwinian evolution is no foundation for loving our neighbor. God’s word is. More than that, Jesus and his personal sacrifice at Calvary, a sacrifice made for the sins of a world that is hostile to him, this is more than a foundation for an ethic of love. Jesus is the ultimate inspiration for sacrificial love.

Sometimes we discover what is right from an authority, from someone who has the right to tell us, “Because I say so!” Sacrificial love is so out-of-step with the heartless forces of nature that we must either abandon such an ethic or build it on another foundation, a higher authority. That higher authority is the Living God, who sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we can be saved from this broken world.

If we ignore God then we abandon the ethic of love and compassion. Instead of trying to ignore our Maker, we should abandon atheism and embrace Christian love.

Richard Foster


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Tell Your Story!

You have story to tell! As a follower of the Lord Jesus, you have become a permanent part of Jesus’ story. And Jesus’ story will always be a vital part of your life story.

Your story includes the great change that Jesus has made in your life when you were saved. More than that, your story includes the changes that God’s Spirit is making in your life now as he grows you toward spiritual maturity.

In a sense, your story and mine each begins when Jesus willingly gave his life as a sacrifice so that we can be forgiven. Jesus’ sacrifice almost 2,000 years ago opened a door to God’s blessing that we walked through when we confessed Christ as Lord.

Jesus’ story did not end with his death. God raised him up from the grave, alive again and alive forever. More than that, Jesus ascended to heaven and poured out his Spirit on his followers, on us.

God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in the hearts of all believers, empowering us to worship and serve the Maker of heaven and earth. God’s Spirit is changing us from glory to glory into the image of Christ.

So, Jesus died for your sin, rose up to be your Savior and Lord, and he is working in your life now to do wonderful things that will continue into eternity.

All believers have much in common. We have the same Savior and we were all saved by our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. But we are still unique.

The circumstances of each person’s salvation experience vary and so each of us has a unique experience. In addition, the details of what God is doing on a daily basis in each believer’s life are unique.

So your story affirms the great truths of Christianity, truth about Jesus Christ and his work of salvation. But your story also reveals a very personal account of how Christ’s salvation is unfolding in history.

Somebody needs to hear your story. They need to hear the ancient and unchanging truth about Jesus and his offer of salvation. They also need to see and hear a living example of how Jesus saves now.

When we open our spiritual eyes, we begin to see the opportunities that God places in our path to testify about his goodness. Someone nearby is reaching a point in life where he is ready to listen.

We need to be ready to speak, to testify about Jesus and his work in our lives. Sharing Christ with others is a sign that God’s Spirit is active in our lives. It is one way that we grow stronger in our faith.

Telling others about Jesus is an important part of discipleship. Remember, discipleship is not merely learning God’s word. True discipleship is doing what God’s word says.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). We bear witness to the world of what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives. As we do this, others are saved. What a great honor!

May the Spirit of God inspire us to proclaim his goodness among the nations,

Brother Richard Foster

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Can We Talk Religion?

Can we have an honest discussion about religion? No. Not if those who speak the truth are indiscriminately labeled as bigots.

To discuss religion in the U.S. is to discuss Christianity and Islam. To discuss Islam is to discuss the problem of radicalization. But honest discourse is shouted down by predictable accusations of “hate speech.”

But to point out that Islam has a problem with violence is not hatred for all Muslims. To deny that Islam has a problem with violence is to ignore the facts and to stick one’s head in the quicksand of political correctness.

It is time to stop showing graphs that compare radical Islamic murder in the U.S. with other murder, but begin the count on the day after 9/11! The agenda of such cherry-picking of the stats is plain for all to see: to rewrite history in order to exonerate Islam.

Why the strained effort to elevate Islam and to denigrate Christianity (i.e., defining Christianity by the acts of 1,000-year-dead crusaders)? It’s the new definition of Equality.

The New Equality is not simply advocating for fair treatment between the races, between men and women, between the rich and poor, or between different creeds and religions. The New Equality is systematically dismantling established ideas of what is morally right and wrong.

The New Equality claims to be acting out of heartfelt sympathy for the exploited and the underdog. But the real goal is to establish a new foundation for defining right and wrong.

The long-time foundation for right and wrong is God. Different cultures and religions have diverse views about God, but still he is the authority, the basis for beliefs, values, laws, governments and societies.

But God and religion are no longer valid in the world of the New Equality. Things are simple with this new perspective. Erase all differences. Remove all pride of accomplishment or confidence in righteousness and you eradicate all hatred and violence, right? Soon everyone will be well-fed and satisfied, right? Wrong.

In the New Equality, nobody can claim to be right. All religions must accept absolute sameness. If a certain group claims to be right or to know the truth, then they are accusing someone else of being wrong, and that might hurt someone’s feelings.

Feelings are now more important than truth. Or, put another way, feelings have become truth. Not so long ago we were told, “If it feels good, do it!” Now we are faced with another step back: “If it feels good, it must be right!”

All this moral confusion is a result of denying humanity’s ability to know the truth. In an increasingly secular culture, we are asked to believe that nobody can really know ultimate truth, and so it is impolitic to make such a claim.

And yet certain claims stubbornly refuse to exit the stage of history. The words of Jesus still ring out: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – nobody comes to the Father but by me.” “I am the Light of the world – whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Think of all the kingdoms, movements and philosophies that have come and gone in the past 2,000 years. But Jesus’ words continue to speak truth and hope to hearts around the world.

Just before he slipped away into the pages of history, Pilate asked a famous question, “What is truth?” When he uttered those words he was literally looking truth in the face, but he turned and walked away and washed his hands of Jesus.

The New Equality perpetuates the attitude of Pilate, insisting that truth is illusory. Deciding beforehand that we cannot find the truth really limits the discussion.

An honest dialogue admits to the possibility of real answers, of one position being right and another being wrong. Can we talk religion?

May God’s Spirit open your heart to his truth,

Richard Foster


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Who Speaks for Christianity?

Listening to chatter in the media one gets the message loud and clear that ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, and a host of other violent Muslim organizations do not represent the true teachings of Islam.

On the other hand, Christianity is represented by crusaders who have been dead and buried for a thousand years, or a rogue demented shooter who attacks a Planned Parenthood outlet, so we are told.

Can we find a more objective and accurate measure for “true Islam” and “true Christianity”? Yes, we can. Jesus and Muhammad.

Muhammad was a raider who used the sword to advance his agenda. He killed and beheaded some 700 Jewish men in one episode, taking their wives and daughters as the spoils of war. He taught his followers to kill the infidel, or at least subject them to second-class status.

Jesus was a teacher who insisted that his followers put away their swords, even though his own life was at stake. He taught his followers to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. He left this example for his followers: he gave his own life so that unbelievers can be saved.

To be a radical Muslim is to spill the blood of those who disagree with you. To be a radical Christian is to seal your testimony with your own blood, sacrificially giving your life so that others might live, in order to persuade many to be saved.

Peaceful Muslims are actually reflecting the life and values of Jesus more than those of Muhammad, at least with respect to violence. Murderous Christians are actually reflecting the life and values of Muhammad more than those of Jesus, at least when it comes to wielding the sword.

Jesus surprised his followers with his definition of greatness: “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. And whoever wants to be first among you will serve all.”

Jesus got down on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet. He got up on his cross and died for his disciples’ salvation. He stood up and walked away from his tomb to be his disciples’ Lord.

Jesus speaks for Christianity.

May the Spirit of Christ speak to your heart,

Richard Foster

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Impressing the Faith On Children

When it was time to go in and take the Promised Land, Moses reminded God’s people of how they should live in order to enjoy God’s blessing. He reminded them of the agreement God had made with them, the covenant. He was to be their God and they were to be his people. He would give them his truth and they would live according to that truth.

God’s blessing was designed to last for generations. As a result, each generation of God’s people was responsible to make sure that their children and grandchildren knew about God’s ways. Moses reminded the people that they were to impress God’s words on their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). Moses was not talking to professional teachers but to parents and grandparents. Faith begins at home.

God’s people still have the great responsibility and the wonderful joy of impressing God’s truth on our children. It is pleasing to God and profitable to our kids to make sure that they know God’s Word. When we tell our children about God’s ways, we stir the fires of faith in our own lives, too.

Impressing God’s commands on our children is an ongoing task that must be done in our homes every day and in our church every week. The Christian faith is not merely information, but a way of life. Children must see the faith in the lives of their parents in order to understand and embrace Christianity.

As our culture becomes more hostile toward Bible-believing Christianity, parents who strive to pass on the faith to their children will be harshly criticized. The organizations and institutions in our society will put pressure on Christian parents in order to pull them and their children away from the Bible and from the local church. Schedule conflicts will abound.

In this new environment of aggressive secularism, sadly, many parents will compromise. They will try to balance the recreational, academic, and athletic pursuits of this age with their commitments to Christ and his kingdom work. Their children are watching and they understand the inconsistency of claiming Christ as Lord but setting up idols in his place.

Other families will see the temptations of this godless world for what they really are. They will be ready to make personal sacrifices for the faith, knowing that Jesus calls his followers to deny self, take up a cross, and follow him. These parents will model Christ for their children. They will impress upon their children the Christian faith.

May God’s Spirit empower us to keep the faith alive in our own hearts and in the hearts of our children,

Brother Richard Foster

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