Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
I received the following question from a man named Jason:
[My wife] came home telling me that somehow at work they got in the conversation about ghosts and whether Christians believe they are real or not. Can you help me with this? And can you provide me with specific scripture?
Here’s my answer:
The King James Version translates “Holy Spirit” as “Holy Ghost,” because in the English language four hundred years ago, the words “ghost” and “spirit” meant the same thing. However, today, we associate the word “ghost” with a shadowy image of a dead person coming back to haunt people, whereas the Bible is referring to the unseen living person of God when scripture calls Him the “Holy Spirit.”
Regarding the modern idea of ghosts, we read in I Samuel 28 that King Saul consults a medium and asks her to bring up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel to speak to him, and she does! But the Bible strongly condemns mediums and witchcraft (see Leviticus 19:31). In fact, the first part of 1 Samuel 28 mentions that King Saul had banished the mediums and spiritists from Israel, but then violated his own law to try to bring back the ghost of Samuel. So yes, it is real, but it is satanic and should be avoided. Delving in ghosts leads people into dangerous territory. Instead, we should be consulting God’s word, not spirits of the dead. Isaiah 8:19 warns, “When they say to you, ‘Consult the spirits of the dead’… shouldn’t a people consult their God?”
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Two churches were located a few blocks from each other in the same small community. The leadership of the two churches felt it would be wise to merge into one larger, stronger congregation, and so plans were set in motion. But it never happened. Why? They could not agree on the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. One group preferred “forgive us our trespasses” while the other wanted “forgive us our debts.” A newspaper article reporting the failed merger noted that one group went back to its “trespasses” while the other returned to its “debts” (Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier, Holman New Testament Commentary: Romans, p. 417-418.)
Unfortunately, churches and church members often divide over many minor matters.
In Romans 14:1 (NIV84), Paul says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”
There are all kinds of disputable matters that come up in churches today. Church members debate over the translation of the Bible. Church members debate over whether to use organ and piano or use guitars and drums in worship. Church members debate over how much of the budget should go to missions, whether to tithe the gross or the net, and what Sunday School literature to use. Church members debate about whether it is proper for a Christian to have a tattoo or whether to wear dress clothes or casual clothes to church. Some churches debate over whether or not it is proper for a man to wear short sleeves and a woman to wear makeup. Some even debate over the color of the carpet.
So how do we handle it when disputable matters come up in the church?
Romans 14:4 asks, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” The point Paul is making is that the Lord Jesus is the Master, not you or me, so don’t get critical over sideline issues.
This raises a question, however. How do we define what is a disputable matter? After all, most people would agree that whether I preach from the King James Version or some other translation of the Bible is a disputable matter, but for some people, it’s not even open for debate. How can we know? Here are some guidelines:
First, what does the Bible teach on the subject? Take the example of drinking alcohol. Some Christians drink alcohol, while others feel you cannot be a true Christian and drink alcohol. So what does the Bible teach? The Bible says in some passages that wine was consumed by good people (Melchizedek brought out wine and bread to Abraham in Genesis 14:18; Jesus turned water into wine in John 2:1-11), but it also says that drunkenness is sinful and foolish (Proverbs 20:1; 23:20, Isaiah 5:11). So according to the Bible, drinking alcohol is not a sin, but getting drunk is a sin. So the first principle is to ask what the Bible teaches on the subject.
Of course, there are some areas where sincere Christians have honest differences of opinion about what the Bible teaches on a subject. For example, I believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus’ Second Coming is premillenial. However, I used to believe it was amillenial, and I finally changed my mind after continual study. The reason for differences of opinion is that a person can take scripture and make arguments for both sides, based on scripture. And if two Bible-believing Christians can back up their viewpoints from scripture, then they should respect their differences of opinion.
There is a second guideline that can help us, however. Paul says later in this chapter, in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Notice that he is making a distinction between practices and principles. “Eating and drinking” are practices. “Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” are principles. Worshiping the Lord is a principle; playing the organ or playing the guitar are practices. We should stand on our principles but be flexible in our practices.
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Many pastors have come to learn some deep, dark secrets of members that we must take to our graves. But thanks to HIPAA, one of the secrets we used to find out about has been hidden. I’m talking about the real first names of church members.
You see, hospitals list patients by the name that is on their insurance, not by the name their family and friends call them. In the old days, the preacher could look at the list of patients at the information desk, and find out, for example, that John Smith was actually Orville J. Smith. Of course, John didn’t like to use the name “Orville” and would beg the preacher to keep it a secret. Going to visit “Bubba”? No problem, you could just ask for his last name and find him. But then along came HIPAA.
HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law that protects the privacy of hospital patients and wreaks havoc on the hospital visitation ministry of pastors. Under HIPAA, patients have the right to refuse the release of any information to anybody, including their own pastors. And under HIPAA, anybody inquiring about a patient must give the correct name of the patient– even if the patient doesn’t go by that name.
So now when the preacher goes to the hospital and asks for John Smith, the lady at the information desk looks down at “Orville J. Smith” on her computer screen, and then looks up at the preacher with a smirk and says, “I’m sorry, we don’t have anybody by that name.” The preacher can beg and plead and promise to do a wedding for her family for free, but she will just say, “Have you ever heard of HIPAA? I can’t release that information unless you can give me the correct name.”
I must admit, we preachers had it coming. After all, for years we have abused that privileged information, barging into the hospital room and loudly asking, “How are you feeling Orville?” as John (a.k.a. Orville) hides under his sheets in embarrassment. But no more. Now, only God and your doctor have to know your real first name. That is, unless Orville wants his pastor to come pray before his next knee surgery.
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
“Then the Angel of the LORD responded, ‘How long, LORD of Hosts, will You withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that You have been angry with these 70 years?’ The LORD replied with kind and comforting words to the angel who was speaking with me.” – Zechariah 1:12-13, HCSB
I believe that the person called the Angel of the LORD in this passage is the pre-incarnate Son of God, and that this is a unique example of a prayer of Jesus in the Old Testament.
Notice that He is called “the LORD” in Zechariah 3:2, even though He is called the Angel of the LORD in verse 1 and 4 of that same chapter.
We also see that the Angel of the LORD appears to Abraham in Genesis 22:11-12 yet speaks as God, and appears to Jacob in Genesis 31:11 and wrestles with Jacob in Genesis 32:24-30. In the last passage, Jacob says He saw God face to face. In Daniel 3:24-25, a fourth person appeared in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrews, and one is described as looking “like a son of the gods.” All of this leads many Bible commentators to wonder if these are appearances of Jesus, the Son of God, in the Old Testament.
Another reason why I take Zechariah 1:12 as a prayer of Jesus is the unique wording of the prayer. While we read of angels praising God in Ezekiel 3:12, Luke 2:14, Revelation 15:3-4; 16:5-6, it is unusual for an angel to pray like this, making intercession. However, this prayer fits the prayer and personality of Jesus. Hebrews 7:25 says that Christ always lives to intercede for us, and Matthew 23:37 says that Jesus wept over Jerusalem. In this passage, the Angel of the LORD prays for God to show mercy and forgiveness to the exiles of Jerusalem after 70 years in Babylon.
Notice also how the LORD replies to the prayer of the Angel in Zechariah 1:13: “with kind and comforting words.”
Oh, that Christ might intercede for us, who are His followers, and He does! Oh, what joy to know that the Son prays for mercy for us and the Father replies to that prayer with comforting words!
Millions of people gather around their television sets to watch sports championship games. Some will be very happy after the game, and others will be very disappointed. But in the end, it really doesn’t matter.
Philippians 2:10-11 says that in the end, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
In the end, it will not matter what team you follow, but it will matter whether or not you followed Jesus. In the end, it will not matter what nation you lived in, but it will matter whether you were you in the kingdom of God. In the end, it will not matter what terrorists you feared, but whether you feared God. In the end, it will not matter which church you attended, but whether you were part of the body of Christ.
In the end, it will not matter what your political affiliation was, but whether your affiliation was with Jesus. In the end, it will not matter where you worked, but whether you served Jesus. In the end, it will not matter what family or culture you were born in, but whether you were born again into the family of God. Because in the end, what will matter is not whether you got your name in the history books, but did you get your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
Five years ago I started riding a mountain bike a few miles in the morning to work out at the YMCA. I figured with gasoline at $4.00 a gallon, I could pay for the bicycle in gas saved and be exercising while riding. Soon I was addicted to cycling, and started riding longer distances on Saturdays for fun. When I got up to nearly 20 miles, serious cyclists told me I should upgrade to a road bike, and I was blessed to receive one on permanent loan from a friend. Soon I was riding 30 and 40 miles on the weekends on the road bike, which is a lot easier and more fun to ride, with its light weight and narrow tires.
Then my brother, who lives in Louisiana, got into cycling. We decided that we would ride the 41-mile Longleaf Trace (near our parent’s home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi) over the Christmas holidays. Since I had been cycling a lot longer than Todd, I was sharing my expertise with him and comparing notes on Facebook and in phone calls. Soon he was riding 40 miles each weekend. I got up to 52 miles on my longest ride.
A couple of months before the ride, it dawned on me that my brother was going that distance on a mountain bike, while I was riding a road bike. I decided to be fair to him, I should also ride the slower, heavier mountain bike, and I started training again on my mountain bike. I had never been farther than 22 miles on a mountain bike. A couple of weeks before our ride, I got up to 35 miles on my mountain bike, and I thought I was going to die.
I should have seen what was coming, but my pride got in the way. On December 31, our Dad dropped us off in Prentiss at the beginning of the Longleaf Trace, with our mountain bikes. (That’s a picture of the two of us on this page, with Todd on the left, and me on the right.)
The idea was to ride in each other’s draft, taking turns leading one another. I led the first seven miles, with Todd right behind me in my draft. It was largely uphill, and then we took a break. I felt fine, but Todd said my pace seemed slow. He led the next 12 miles. Forget about staying in his draft, after about 5 miles, it was killing me to keep up with him. I had to make a decision: was I going to be in pain trying to keep up his pace, or just enjoy the ride? I decided to enjoy the ride and soon he was half a football field ahead of me, constantly looking back. After the next stop, I was feeling humiliated. I had to put the bicycle in a low gear to handle the slightest uphill slopes, while Todd started meandering on the path, over to the left and then to the right, just to slow himself down and keep from going over the horizon out of my view. Then he started telling me that he needed to reset his music on his mp3 player, and told me to go on ahead and he would catch up. Soon he was flying past me. I felt like the little engine that could, but I wasn’t so sure that I could. The last 10 miles were pure pain and determination. I think I saw a turtle pass me. After five hours and 41 miles on the trail, I finally crossed the line, muttering that I HATE mountain bikes. My brother was circling around the parking lot waiting for me, saying he could go another 5 miles. But I couldn’t be mad at him, because he was trying to be nice about it the whole time, thanking me for riding with him and saying how much fun we had. That evening he went out to a movie. I took ibuprofen and rubbed my sore thighs and knees at home.
The experience reminds me of the way we often see ourselves spiritually. We think we are really good people. We compare ourselves with others, and we look pretty good. But the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we compare ourselves with God, He runs circles around us, and leaves us in the dust. It’s an humbling realization, but an important lesson for us to learn.
That long ride on mountain bikes with my brother taught me that I’m not nearly as great a cyclist as I think I am, and also encouraged me to keep on training. Getting a glimpse of God’s glory should teach us a similar lesson: we aren’t nearly as holy and good as we think we are, but we have a loving God who is waiting on us up ahead, accepting us for who we are encouraging us to do better.
However, there is also a difference. My brother can do nothing to help me, except give encouragement. My God can give me power to do what I cannot do myself. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
I’m looking forward to the ride with God in 2013.
UPDATE: When I got back to Georgia, I noticed that my rear tire was lose and rubbing against the rim, so I took it to my bike repairman. He said the bearings were shot, and he said, “I don’t know how you even finished 41 miles with a wheel in that bad shape.” Soooooo…. maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t in as bad a shape as I thought! Looks like I need to challenge Todd to another ride on the Longleaf Trace!
The grief process is always very difficult and especially so during the holidays. Even the smallest memories will bring about a flood of painful thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we don’t know what to do or how to deal with these thoughts or the empty place on Christmas Day. Here are a few helpful suggestions:
Wrap a favorite keepsake or framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
Create a special ornament with the name of your loved one and hang it on your Christmas tree.
Decorate a candle and light it at meal time in memory of your loved one.
Make a donation to a favorite charity in the person’s honor. Create a scholarship to keep the memory of the loved one alive and announce it at a holiday gathering of family and friends.
Purchase a Christmas book, perhaps a favorite of your loved one, and donate it to your local library or school. Ask the librarian to place a label in the front cover in memory of your loved one.
Bring your loved one’s favorite food to share at Christmas dinner. Mention their name in the blessing over the food.
Encourage grieving children to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the one who died, to give to other family members.
Decorate and hang a cut-out star in your home, write on the star your hopes and dreams for the future. Thinking about tomorrow is part of the healing.
Once you have remembered your loved one, make sure you remember yourself. Take care of your needs. Be gentle. Do what you can and no more and no less.
Psalm 102 teaches us how to pray when we are in distress.
It was written by someone who suffered through the exile in Babylon, but it applies to anybody in suffering. Like the changing weather, this psalm expresses the psalmist’s changing mood. Open your Bible to the psalm and follow this prayer outline:
1) Clouds gather (v. 1-2). He first cries out to God. “Lord, hear my prayer…Do not hide Your face from me in my day of trouble…”
2) Gloom and darkness (v. 3-11). Next, he describes his suffering: heartache (v. 4), he can’t eat (v. 4), he loses weight (v. 5), he is lonely (v. 6). he can’t sleep (v. 7), he suffers abuse (v. 8), he weeps (v. 9), and he suffers because of his sin (v. 10). Thus he says, “My days are like a lengthening shadow.” (v. 11). But the clouds part and the sun shines in.
3) Sunshine (v. 12-22). A ray of future hope from the Lord shines in his heart, and he sees that he will see the ruins of Zion and rebuild Jerusalem, or at least the future generations will see it.
4) Clouds return (v. 23-24). But as he waits for the fulfillment of his future hope, the clouds of doubt return briefly. Can’t we all relate to that?
5) Eternal light (v. 25-28). Finally the psalm ends with a statement of faith in the eternal light of God, for even when the earth wears out like clothing, “You are the same, and Your years will never end.” (v. 27). This part of the psalm is quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 as a prophecy of Jesus Christ. This reminds us that our ultimate light and hope for our distress comes when we trust in Jesus.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
A lady didn’t have time to purchase gifts for her circle of friends, so she rushed to the store and bought a box of pretty Christmas cards, and mailed them without even reading the message inside. When she finally had time to relax on New Year’s, she picked up one of the unused cards and to her horror she read the message she had sent: “This Christmas card is just to say, a little gift is on the way!”
In all of our rushing around this Christmas season, let’s not forget the little gift, the baby Jesus, whom God sent to become the big gift for our eternal life. And let’s ask ourselves what gifts we are giving this Christmas. May I suggest a few?
The gift of time. Spend time doing things that matter– with your family, in worship, and in personal reflection.
The gift of love. Look people in the eye, give them a hug, truly listen to what they are saying. Show them they are important to you.
The gift of the gospel. Share the real meaning of Christmas with your Christmas decorations, using a nativity scene, a lighted cross, and so on. Ask a friend or co-worker, “What does Christmas mean to you?” and after they answer, tell them what it means to you.
The gift of money. Yes, money, but not like you may think. After all, it’s not your birthday or my birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday. So why not spend at least as much money in honor of Jesus as we do on our own family members? Share generously with the missions offering to spread the gospel to those who have never heard. Share generously with people in need. And don’t forget your tithes to your own church, to continue the ministries that focus on the real reason for the season.
The gift of song. Christmas is a time for singing and rejoicing! Surround yourself with Christmas carols, and share it with everybody you meet. Go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood and share fresh-baked cookies with an invitation to our Christmas Eve service. This is one time of the year when the whole world likes to hear songs about Jesus, so spread the joy! Like the wise men who gave gold, frankincense and myrrh, what gifts can you and I bring Jesus?
As Thanksgiving comes and goes, most of us will feast on turkey, ham and many other wonderful foods. But you can get too much of a good thing– even fried chicken.
Fried chicken is so popular at church meals in the South, that some people call it “gospel bird.” But Dan Spencer from Thomasville, Georgia, tells about a preacher who had too much gospel bird. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but it makes a good point.
This particular minister was preaching a week-long series of revival sermons. Each day, he was invited to eat at the home of a different member of the congregation. And every day, they served the same thing– fried chicken. Most preachers like fried chicken, but not this man, which only made matters worse. Finally, he came to the last meal of the week, and when he sat down to eat, he looked and saw in front of him the same dish: fried chicken. The lady of the house asked the visiting preacher to ask God’s blessing on the meal, and this is what he prayed:
“Lord, I have it hot
and I’ve had it cold
I’ve had it young
and I’ve had it old
I’ve had it tender
and I’ve had it tough.
And thank you, Lord,
I’ve had enough!”
Sometimes we feel like that in life. Sometimes we just get to the point that we’ve had enough. We wonder if we can take any more of the troubles that life dishes out to us, such as financial problems, health problems and family problems. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed, even if it’s a good thing, we can get overloaded with work and busyness.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for us to stop and remember that in Jesus Christ, we can find peace when we’ve had enough. As Christ said, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33, HCSB).
So pass the chicken. I think I can take one more bite.