Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
Imagine if legendary blues singer B.B. King died and went to heaven, and met King David, singer of the psalms. What would their conversation be like? Here’s how I imagine it:
B.B.: Are you David? Nice to meet you, sir. My name is Riley B. King, but my friends call me B.B.
David: Why do they call you B.B.?
B.B.: It stands for Blues Boy. You know, David, we have a lot in common!
David: What’s that?
B.B.: Both born in small towns, you in Bethlehem, and me in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Both played stringed instruments, you the harp and me the guitar. This is my guitar, Lucille. And we both sang the blues.
David: I’m glad you recognize that. When people think of my psalms, they may think of praises to God. But if you really read the psalms, you will find that many of them express disappointment with God. I wrote many of them in hard times.
B.B.: Yeah, growing up a black man in the Mississippi delta, I can relate to a lot of your psalms. One of my big hits was “Every Day I Have the Blues.”
David: You had the blues every day, and I had them all night long. Psalm 6 is about that. I was so depressed that I felt I was going to die, and I tried to convince God not to let me die by saying I could not praise the Lord from the grave. I did not mean that I didn’t believe in the afterlife– in fact, in Psalm 16, I said God would not abandon me in the graven, nor let his “Holy One” see decay. Hey, B.B., did you know that “Holy One” is Hasid in Hebrew, a play on words on my own name, David. You see, we Hebrews knew how to have fun with a pun, too. But it was still the blues. As I said in Psalm 6, verse 6, “I am worn out from weeping all night.”
B.B.: I like that one. It reminds me of a song by Slim Harpo. He sang, “You can cry, cry, baby, cry, cry all night long. But when you wake up in the morning, You’re gonna find your good man gone.”
David: Yeah, but the beautiful thing is that although I cried all night, God finally answered my prayer. I put that in near the end of Psalm 6: “The Lord has heard my plea for help; the Lord accepts my prayer.” B.B., let me ask you a question. Are black folks the only ones who sang the blues in your time? I mean, I’m a Hebrew, and like you said, many of my psalms were sad.
B.B.: Oh, no, black folk ain’t the only ones singin’ the blues. In fact, lots of folk call country music the white man’s blues. In fact, one of your psalms reminds me of a country song.
David: Which one was that?
B.B.: Psalm 10.
David: The sequel to Psalm 9. Yes, I remember that one. It opens, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
B.B.: Yeah, there was a country song that said, “Where, O where, are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone?” Like I said, the white man’s blues.
David: But again the difference is that I ended my song with faith. Listen to verse 17: “You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted.” It reminds me of something I heard one of your American presidents say after he got shot and came up here. Abraham Lincoln said, “Often I am driven to my knees because there is nowhere else to go.”
B.B.: That’s cool. I like ole Abe. Hey, didn’t you say this Psalm 10 was the sequel to Psalm 9? How’s that?
David: Psalm 9 and 10 form an acrostic in Hebrew, with each stanza beginning with each of the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so Psalm 10 finishes the acrostic that starts in Psalm 9. Psalm 9 praises the Lord with enthusiasm and even says, “For you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” So remember when you read Psalm 10, not only that it moves from doubt to faith, but that it is part of another psalm of faith.
B.B.: Man, I didn’t know that! It’s like you didn’t cut a single, you was putting out a theme album, dude! So when I think the thrill is gone, I just need to hang on to God, cause it ain’t gone after all.
David: That’s right, B.B.
(Conversation to continue tomorrow)
Yesterday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. You can read the text of his speech here.
In that speech, he said many good things. He spoke out against terrorist attacks from Paris to Pakistan “by those who profess… to stand up for Islam,” and especially the “brutal, vicious death cult” ISIS, which he calls ISIL. He also spoke up for Iran to release Pastor Saeed Abedini, and he praised the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae from North Korea. Unfortunately, when he got to the subject of Nigeria, he only referred to “the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.” By mentioning Muslims first and Christians second, he played down the reality that it is an Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, that is wreaking havoc all over northern Nigeria, and that the killings in Nigeria are overwhelmingly done by Muslims, killing Christians and sometimes killing other Muslims, as well.
However, I was especially troubled by the way he focused on violence done in the name of Christ to imply that Christians were really no better than Muslims. Twice he mentioned violence done “in the name of Christ”– once in reference to the Crusades and the Inquisition, and then again in reference to slavery and Jim Crow. He said, “There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency, that can pervert and distort our faith.” To sum it up, President Obama clearly implied that Christians are really no different from Muslims, because all religions have people who distort their faith.
So why do I find this so offensive?
1) To have a fair discussion of any religion, we should judge that religion by it’s true followers, not blame it for it’s misguided followers. President Obama, by his own words, appears to agree. So let’s look at the founders of Islam and Christianity. Muhammad was a man of the sword, who sought an earthly kingdom. He wrote in the Qur’an, “Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day… until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued” (Sura 9). Through countless sayings attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith, he left them a heritage of permanent war against the “infidels.” In a short time after his life, Muslims conquered the Middle East, Northern Africa, and eventually conquered parts of southern and eastern Europe, forcing non-Muslims into second-class status under their rule. In contrast, Jesus was a man of peace, who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a symbol of peace, and allowed His life to be sacrificed to forgive sins. He said, “Put away your sword” (Matthew 26:52), and “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). In a short time after His life, Christians spread their peaceful message all over the Roman empire, without fighting any wars, at all.
2) To have a fair discussion, we should look at things in balance. It is a fact that the followers of Muhammad, be they misguided or not, sought to conquer the territory of the known world, and nearly succeeded. It is also a fact that the misguided Crusaders sought only to conquer the Holy Land. (See the map below.) The Crusades and other wrongs done by people in the name of Christ are inexcusable, but they are not the norm of the Christian faith, nor can they compare with what was done in the name of Muhammad.
3) To have a fair discussion, we should not blame people today for what their ancestors have done in the past. When I meet a Japanese person today, I do not hold him personally responsible for the attack at Pearl Harbor, which happened less than a century ago. Obama wants to blame Christians for the Crusades that happened ten centuries ago, but does he see roving bands of fundamentalist Christians beheading people, flying planes into buildings, and conquering vast sections of territory today in the name of Jesus? No? Does he see anybody doing anything today in the name of Muhammad? Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said it well: “The medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President. Please look out for the radical Islamic threat today.”
Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
The high standards of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7, have encouraged millions to live a better life, while at the same time the sermon has left many discouraged, feeling the bar is set so high, they can never reach it. Who is able to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love their enemies, and forgive those who mistreat them? Then, to top it off, Jesus said, “be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
The key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount is found early on, when Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). This statement must have made the disciples catch their breath, because the scribes and Pharisees were considered the holiest people in Israel. Yet Jesus said his disciples must surpass the scribes and Pharisees, or not enter the kingdom of heaven at all! How could this be?
Immediately after this breath-taking statement, Jesus launched into his explanation. The scribes said not to murder; Jesus said not to be angry. The scribes said not to commit adultery; Jesus said not to lust. Jesus was zeroing in on the real issue: faith is a matter of the heart.
This theme of focusing on the heart continued throughout the sermon. Instead of legalistically saying it is okay to hate our enemies as long as we love our neighbors, Jesus called on His disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. This can only happen with a changed heart. Instead of showing off our religion by giving, praying and fasting in public, Jesus called on His disciples to do it in private. Repeatedly, Jesus said that God rewards those who don’t do it for show, and He labeled as hypocrites those who practiced their faith for show. Why? Because giving, praying and fasting in private comes from a pure heart, with no desire for earthly praise. Jesus told His disciples to look at the log in their own eyes before trying to judge their brothers by removing the speck from their brothers’ eyes. Again, this turned the focus back to self-examination– of one’s own heart. Near the end of the sermon, Jesus said that many will say to Him on Judgment Day, “Didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Jesus’ reply was astonishing. He said that He would tell many of them, “I never knew you,” and send them to Hell. Why? Because if people have not given their hearts to Christ, it doesn’t matter how many good deeds they have done for Him.
If we have hearts hot with a fire to follow Christ, then we will surpass the scribes and Pharisees, for our faith will be an expression of what is inside of us, not an outward show of religion.
But what about that pesky phrase, “be perfect?” The word used in Matthew 5:48 is the same word used by Christ on the cross when He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). It is a word for completion. Just as a baseball player can throw a “perfect” game even though he may throw some balls and even walk some players, we can “be perfect,” if we completely, and wholeheartedly build our lives on Jesus, “the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
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.