Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14)
Our world is in a mess, but Jesus Christ told us exactly how to change our world in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Jesus told us what to be and what to do.
1. What you should be: salt and light. Why did Christ pick the illustration of salt and light? Salt is used as a preservative and to flavor food. Likewise, we should influence our world. Paul gave an example of this in 1 Corinthians 7:14, saying that the believer who remains married to an unbelieving spouse can influence them toward salvation. Light reveals and reflects. Likewise, we should reveal truth, glowing with the glory of God in our lives. Interestingly, Jesus said here, “You are the light of the world,” but in John 9:5, He said, “I am the light of the world.” This is no contradiction; Jesus is the source of the light, and we can merely reflect His light. We have no light within ourselves; we only get it when we are plugged into the power source through a relationship with Christ Himself.
2. What you should do: keep your saltiness and shine your brightness. Jesus said in this passage, that if salt loses its taste, it is no longer any good. A lot of Christians are sassy but not salty. We need to keep the saltiness but lose the sassiness. Jesus also says in this passage that nobody puts a lamp under a basket, but he puts it on a stand so everybody can see it. A wise person once said, “The best way to deal with change is to create the change.” Too many Christians are reactive instead of proactive. We have good news! We have hope! Spread it around and let it shine.
3. Why should we be salt and light: to glorify God. Jesus concludes by saying, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The reason for us to be salt and light is not so that others will look at us, but so that they will look at God.
Acts 17:6 says that the people in the city of Thessalonica were so stirred up about the influence of the Christians that they said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here, too!” The early Christians changed their world. So can we.
Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount begins with eight blessings in Matthew 5:3-10, often called “Beatitudes,” because they are blessings on those who have these attitudes. Jesus shows His deep connection to the Old Testament in these blessings. It’s structure is like the Ten Commandments, which begin with four commandments about our relationship with God and end with six commandments about our relationship with people. The first four Beatitudes relate to God, and the last four relate to people. His third blessing, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” is nearly a quotation of Psalm 37:11, “The humble will inherit the land.” The entire passage has echoes of Isaiah 61:1-9, a passage that Jesus read when He inaugurated His ministry at Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-21). Like the Beatitudes of Jesus, Isaiah 61 mentions good news for the poor (v. 1), comfort for those who mourn (v. 2), possession of the land by the downtrodden (v. 7), and the passage ends with how “they are a people the Lord has blessed” (v. 9).
Why would there not be a seamless connection between these Old Testament passages and the Beatitudes? The same Divine Mind inspired both. Now come in flesh, Jesus the Messiah spoke His distinctive message into the Beatitudes. As in His parables, He begins and ends with a reference to the “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, 10). These are the attitudes of citizens of the kingdom, under the Lordship of the King of kings, Jesus Himself:
*those who are poor in spirit
*those who mourn
*those who are gentle
*those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
*those who are merciful
*those who are pure in heart
*those who are peacemakers
*those who are persecuted for righteousness
What a radically different kingdom this is from the world we know– yet one that is declared “blessed.”
I loved Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book, Unbroken, about the amazing life of Louie Zamperini, so I was excited to hear that a movie version was being made. However, I was concerned when I heard reports that director Angelina Jolie had cut out the story of Zamperini’s Christian conversion.
The life of Louie Zamperini was made up of three inspiring stories of redemption: athlete, war hero, and Christian servant. Any one of these stories would make an great book or movie. The first story is how he was changed from a troubled boy into an Olympic runner through the inspiration of his big brother. The second story is how he survived air battles with the Japanese, a crash and 45 days afloat in the Pacific Ocean, and horrible torture in a Japanese P.O.W. camp through his personal determination. The third story is how he was saved from alcoholism, post-war trauma, a broken marriage, and bitterness toward the Japanese when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at the Los Angeles evangelistic crusade in 1949 that made Billy Graham a world-famous preacher. The book tells all three of these stories; the movie tells the first two.
When I went to see the movie, I knew the conversion story would not be told, so I went with low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie did include the same foreshadowing of his spiritual conversion that is found in the book: the Christian message he heard growing up in an Italian Catholic home with a praying mother, and the promise he made to God when adrift in the ocean that if God would save him, he would serve Him the rest of his life. The movie ends with his homecoming after the war, but the text on the screen briefly tells the viewer that Zamperini “made good” on his promise to serve God, and that he returned to Japan to forgive his captors.
So the story of Zamperini’s faith is not omitted from the movie, but it is greatly abbreviated. The movie itself is very well done. The acting, filming, musical score and drama is top-notch and faithful to the story found in the first two parts of the book. If you have read the book, you will still enjoy the movie. If you have not read the book, I encourage you to see the movie and then read Laura Hillenbrand’s book to get “the rest of the story.”
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
What do you do after Christmas? What happens after you take down the tree, put up the lights, and put away all the wrapping? You do as the shepherds and Mary did: promulgate, meditate and celebrate!
1. PROMULGATE. In a previous century, they called missionary-sending organizations a Society for the Promulgation of the Gospel. In this century, the need is as great as ever to spread the good news. “After seeing them, they reported the message… about this child” (Luke 2:17). Ask somebody how their Christmas went, and use it as an opportunity to tell them how much it means to you to know Christ as your Savior.
2. MEDITATE. “But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” (Luke 2:18). Spend some time quietly reflecting on the miracle of the Virgin Birth, and the Incarnation, God coming in flesh.
3. CELEBRATE. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God.” (Luke 2:19). You probably went to church before Christmas. Sadly, the Sunday after Christmas is often one of the lowest in attendance of the year at many churches. But the shepherds rejoiced and worshiped AFTER the birth of Christ. So should we.
Below is a “True/ False” Christmas Trivia Quiz, developed by the chaplains at the hospital where I work. See how many you get right. Click on the “Comments” below to read the answers in the first comment.
1. John’s Gospel names Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.
2. The name, “Jesus,” was not prophesied in the Old Testament; rather, it was given to Mary by the angel for the Christ-child.
3. The Bible does not provide any clues as to when Jesus was born.
4. Jesus was born in the year 1 A.D.
5. Gabriel was the angel who informed young Mary that she would miraculously conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit.
6. According to the Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel told Joseph to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
7. The Bible says that Mary rode to Bethlehem while pregnant with Jesus on a donkey.
8. Angels announced Jesus’ birth to shep-herds in the fields nearby.
9. The Magi, or Wise Men, brought gifts to the newborn King on the night of His birth.
10. According to Matthew’s Gospel, the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
11. According to the Bible, Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day of his life.
12. Simeon was the name of the righteous man who blessed Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.
13. Herod was the evil King who ordered all male children under the age of 2 in Nazareth to be slaughtered in an attempt to kill Jesus.
14. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt in the middle of the night after being warned by an angel in a dream.
15. Early Christians did not celebrate the birthday of Christ.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
The Beginning of the Christmas Holiday
The answer to that question is submerged under a haze of mystery. An early father of the church, Cyprian, said in 243 that Christ was born on March 28, the spring equinox, for “on that day which the sun was made on the same day was Christ born.” However, Christ’s birthday was not celebrated until the fourth century, and when the tradition of Christmas began, the date of December 25 was preferred in the West, while January 6 was preferred in the East (a date that is still preferred by Eastern Orthodox Christians).
The earliest known reference to celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was in the Philocalian Calendar, a list of martyrs of the Roman Church, written in 354 but reflecting practices in 336. In 376, the bishop of Rome first required churches to keep the nativity festival on December 25. In 386, John Chrysostom refers to the date of the December 25 festival by saying, “It is not yet the tenth year since this day has become clearly known to us.” Ironically, Christmas was celebrated in Bethlehem on January 6 until the sixth century (since Bethlehem was under the influence of the Eastern tradition). After the sixth century, Bethlehem celebrated Christmas on December 25, because Emperor Justin II (565-578) ordered the celebration of Christmas on December 25 throughout the Roman empire.
The Origin of the Date of Christmas
There are two major theories of the origin of these dates: one with pagan roots, and one with Christian roots.
The most commonly accepted theory is that the date was chosen, perhaps by Emperor Constantine, to divert the attention from pagan holidays. Emperor Aurelian had established a pegan winter solstice festival on December 25, 274, and he probably dedicated a temple to the sun god on that date. Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the son god Aion on January 6. Many people contend that Christmas should not be celebrated because of this possible connection to pagan origins. Ironically, some of these same people will themselves seek to replace the pagan celebration of Halloween with a Harvest Festival at their churches, in much the same way as they claim the early Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth to replace a pagan holiday.
Thomas J. Talley, in his book, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, argues that the dates of both December 25 and January 6 can be explained from Christian origins. In rabbinic thought, it was common to remember the conception and death day of patriarchs on the same day. By putting Jesus’ conception on the Jewish day of 14 Nisan (March 25 on the Western calendar and April 6 on the Eastern calendar), His birth nine months later would be either December 25 (according to the Western calendar) or January 6 (according to the Eastern calendar). Thus the birth of Christ could have been set “without reference to pagan public celebrations,” says Talley.
Since Luke 2:8 says the shepherds were outdoors with their flocks when the angel announced Christ’s birth to them, Cyprian’s date of March 28 is probably closer to the actual birthday of Jesus than the colder times of December 25 of January 6. Some would argue that since there is no historical evidence for Jesus’ birth on these dates, that we should not celebrate Christmas. However, there is another piece of the puzzle from history that would argue otherwise. In the fourth century, when the Christmas holiday became popular, Christians were in the midst of a raging controversy of what they believed about Jesus Christ. By celebrating Christmas, orthodox Christians were able to affirm the important doctrine of the Incarnation, that Jesus was God in the flesh. For example, Chrysostom, who himself stated that the festival of December 25 was a relatively new celebration in his time, went on to say this about its importance:
“This day He who is, is born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man… being the Word, He became flesh…”
All Is Well: A Story for Christmas is different from other children’s Christmas books for several reasons. It is on the reading level of an older child, perhaps about fifth grade. It is on the emotional level of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas. The story takes place in July, not during the Christmas season. Yet is most certainly a Christmas story, especially for those who going through tough times during the holidays.
If you are looking for a cute Christmas book for your child, this is not your book. But if you need encouragement to make it through Christmas, this may be the best book you could read, especially to a child who doesn’t understand why God is allows suffering and hard times.
In my list of favorite children’s Christmas books, I have to include the classic book that I loved when I was a child, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book has been made into a popular cartoon TV show, that includes the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” In recent years, a live-action movie was also made, but I still prefer the cartoon that follows the book word-for-word. It is hard to improve on the whimsical rhyme of Dr. Seuss.
Most readers already know the story, of how the Grinch couldn’t stand the noise that all the “Who’s down in Whoville” made on Christmas morning. So he decided to steal all of their toys on Christmas Eve. What he never anticipated was that they would still sing on Christmas morning without any presents at all. I love the climactic lines:
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!/ It came without packages, boxes or bags!”/ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. / Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!/ “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store./ Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
The changed heart of the Grinch has put the word “Grinch” next to “Scrooge” in the Christmas vocabulary of the English language. Every child deserves a chance to hear a parent or grandparent read it to him or her directly from the book, and follow it with a heartfelt discussion about the real meaning of Christmas.
Imagine the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” told in the dialect of south Louisiana, with St. Nicholas gliding across the bayou, with “eight alligator a pullin’ a skiff.” Of course, the alligators have French names:
“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’! Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an Renee’!”
I have read this story aloud to my family and to children in public schools over the years, and it always produces loud laughter, even among those who aren’t familiar with the Cajun culture. There have been many imitations of this book, such as the Cowboy Night Before Christmas and the Redneck Night Before Christmas. But none have surpassed the originality and pure fun of Cajun Night Before Christmas.
The book is available in many book stores and at amazon.com here.
One of my favorites is Alabaster’s Song: Christmas through the Eyes of an Angel by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a boy who believes he hears the angel on the Christmas tree singing. Then miraculously, the gap-toothed angel appears by the boy’s bedside, a boy like him, and tells him what it was like to sing to baby Jesus. Children of all ages will enjoy this book, but parents, watch out, because you may get a lump in your own throat at the way the story ends.
The book can be found in many Christian book stores, and on Amazon.com here.