Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the fourth blog post in a series on scriptures commonly misinterpreted.)
President James A. Garfield said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Interesting quote, but President Garfield missed the point entirely.
One of the worst cases of taking a Bible verse out of context is John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This verse is engraved on courthouse entrances, implying that if a wise court can grant freedom by finding truth. This verse is cited by educators to say that knowledge is freedom, and it is quoted by investigative reporters who believe that freedom can be found in digging up the truth. While all of these are worthy goals, these interpretations ignore the verse immediately before it. So let’s read it again, this time in context:
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32, NKJV)
What a difference verse 31 makes! This verse gives us the audience to whom Jesus was speaking, and the conditions Jesus laid down to know truth and freedom. Notice what they are:
1. The audience. The audience who first heard these words were believers. Jesus “said to those Jews who believed Him…” Thus this promise is not intended for the general public. It is a promise for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Yet there is more.
2. The conditions. Jesus laid down two conditions to knowing truth and freedom. They link together like links in a chain. First, “If you abide in My word.” The first link is to continually study and obey the words of Christ. The second link results from the first: discipleship. He said, “you are My disciples indeed.” Note the word “indeed.” That is, if we study and obey Christ, then we are real disciples. The third link is in verse 32: “And you shall know the truth.” What is that truth? When Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, He said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:37). The governor asked, “What is truth?” Jesus had already answered that question in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The fourth link results from the third, of knowing the truth: “And the truth shall make you free.” As we have seen, the truth is Jesus. No wonder Christ said of Himself a few sentences later, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
So there you have it. If you believe in Jesus, then abide in Him. Study His word and obey it. If you do, you will be a real disciple. And if you are a real disciple, then you will really know the truth, for the truth is Jesus. And when you really know the truth in Jesus, you will truly be free.
Free from what? From from the power of death and the devil, from deception, and from deeds of sin. (See Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 2:11, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Galatians 5:13).
Engraved on the Statue of Liberty is a poem by Emma Lazarus that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Millions of people have passed by the Statue of Liberty as they came into New York harbor, seeking freedom in America. But Jesus Christ has a better offer. He says to those who believe in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Real freedom comes from real discipleship, following the real Savior.
“Ever heard of the ‘Free State of Jones?'” my father asked me when I was a boy. “When Mississippi seceded from the Union, Jones County seceded from Mississippi, but Mississippi forced Jones County back into the state, and the Yankees forced Mississippi back into the Union.”
It wasn’t quite so simple as that, but Dad had the basic story right. Now this little-known (but well-known in south Mississippi) and strange piece of Civil War history is on the big screen, in Free State of Jones.
My wife and I saw the film in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which is in the county immediately south of Jones. The theater was packed for an afternoon matinee, as people are fascinated by a film about local history. Some people personally knew minor actors in the film. Behind us, someone whispered in a swamp scene, “That must be the Okatoma.”
What they saw was an mostly accurate, violent film about the stubborn, tragic character of Newton Knight, who led a band of escaped slaves and poor white deserters, at times numbering in the hundreds, that literally took control of Jones, Jasper and part of Smith Counties in south Mississippi late in the Civil War, and rebelled against the Confederacy.
(Above: Newt Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey, leads his band of rebels.)
Why did they do it? Jones County had the lowest percentage of slaves in the state of Mississippi. A law passed during the war allowed whites who owned 20 or more slaves to be exempt from fighting. Poor white farmers in south Mississippi had no interest in the war and resented being forced to fight. As Newt Knight famously said, “This is a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
Notice that I said the film is mostly accurate. There are some dramatized scenes based on the true story, of details that we cannot know, such as some of the interactions between Newt Knight, his wife Serena, and his common-law African-American wife, Rachel. Also, the film takes major liberties with Newt’s killing of the Confederate officer who was trying to capture Knight. The movie invents a dramatic scene involving an ambush at a funeral and shows Newt killing the officer in a church. The historical records indicate that what really happened was that Newt hunted down Major Amos McLemore at the Deason home in Ellisville, killed the colonel in the house, and then fled. This scene is the only major departure from the historical record that I saw in the film, and even though the film took liberty with the events for the sake of drama, at least got it right that Knight hunted down and killed the man who was trying to capture him.
Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Newt Knight is convincing, as is all of the acting. The costumes and cinematography are realistic and gripping. Little details are correct, such as names of places, and the correct Mississippi flag of that era. The plot appears to reach a climax of victory and then it feels like an alligator painfully dragging you into the swamp. That is because this is not fiction, this is history. History doesn’t always fit into neat plots with satisfying endings. But the adage applies here: truth is stranger than fiction.
Caution: Free State of Jones is rated R for graphic war violence.
(Above: Newt Knight rallies poor people of Jones County to fight.)
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the third in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13, NKJV
Philippians 4:13 is one of the most beloved verses in the Bible. Sports teams emblazon it on their uniforms to inspire them to win games, and business people quote it to inspire their sales force. So what is the problem with that? A closer look at the verse shows that such interpretations violate the cardinal rule of Bible interpretation: context. So let’s put the verse back into its context and unpack it.
The apostle Paul was in jail when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He stated in the letter that he could die there for the gospel (Philippians 1:12-13, 20-21). In the last chapter of the letter, Paul talked about his suffering in prison, and said, “…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content–whether well-fed or hungry whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, HCSB). From the context, it is obvious that Paul was not talking about winning games or setting sales records. In fact, he didn’t even ask to change his circumstances, to break out of jail. Instead, he was talking about contentment in the midst of his circumstances.
Taken out of context, people often stress the phrase “I am able to do all things,” as if this is a guarantee that we can climb the highest mountain and swim the deepest sea. But taken in the context of Paul’s contentment, despite his imprisonment, the whole verse makes sense. The stress is not on being able to do anything, but on being able to do all things (including handling bad things) through Christ. That is, whatever I face in the physical world, I can face it with with the spiritual strength that Christ gives me.
Understanding the context does not mean Philippians 4:13 should no longer inspire you, or that it cannot be a theme for sports teams or business people. It can. It can inspire the team that has lost to get up and go again. It can inspire the business that has failed not to quit. Just remember that this verse is more about Christ than self, more about hope than hype, and more about rising from the bottom than about climbing to the top.
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
A man came home late from work, exhausted, and went to his son’s room to tell him goodnight. His son sat up in bed and asked, “Daddy, how much money do you make?” Irritated by such a question, he said, “Enough!” But the boy wasn’t satisfied and asked, “I mean how much do you make an hour?” He grumbled, “They pay me $25 an hour.” The boy then asked, “Can I borrow $10?” The father gruffly replied, “No! Now go to sleep!”
The following morning, the overworked dad apologized to his son and handed him a $10 bill. The little guy excitedly ran to his room, and soon returned with his piggy bank. He spilled all of his pennies, dimes and nickels on the breakfast table in front of his father. He said, “I’ve got $15 in my piggy bank.” Then he added the $10 bill to the pile and said, “Here’s $25, Daddy. Can I buy an hour of your time?”
This Father’s Day, let’s remember that our families want a relationship with us more than they want our money. And the greatest example is the relationship that Jesus, Son of God, has with God the Father. This is beautifully expressed by Jesus’ words in John 5:19-23. There we read that Jesus and the Father worked in perfect harmony, as Jesus said, “For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way” (John 5:19). Too often, families are like a choir whose members are all are singing a different tune in a different key and rhythm. The result is a discordant chaos. The Father-Son relationship puts harmony to sheet music for the rest of us. Their relationship also proved its love by showing honor. Jesus said, “For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing…So that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father…” (John 5:20, 23). Too often for us, the very mention of “family” causes a person to get a knot in his or her stomach, because of painful memories, hurtful words, and feelings of rejection. However, the Father-Son relationship is a picture of what love feels like. When Jesus was baptized, the Father proudly proclaimed, “This is My Beloved Son!” (Matthew 3:17). If God had a refrigerator, Jesus’ photos would be all over it.
Jesus said, “whatever the Father does, the Son does these things in the same way.” His way is a relationship path all of us should follow. That’s what makes for a happy Father’s Day!
Happy Father’s Day!
Watch for my upcoming book of humorous church stories. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get updates on the progress of the book, and to be eligible for a pre-publication discounted price!
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
What are the top ten gifts NOT to give on Father’s Day?
Here’s my list:
9. “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug
8. “World’s Best Dad” t-shirt with a picture of Darth Vader
7. “World’s Best Dad” certificate signed by a Lazy Son or Daughter
6. The book, Fatherhood for Dummies.
5. A text message saying “Happy Father’s Day.”
4. Nose and ear hair trimmer
3. Big Mouth Billy the Bass singing fish
2. Book a cruise and charge it to Dad’s credit card.
Yep. Nothing. The worst gift of all is to forget Father’s Day and fail to call or say anything about it. Even a text message is better than nothing at all.
“Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving…
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Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the second in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)
As a hospital chaplain, I seek to guide patients to find the spiritual strength to handle their problems. After hearing their story, I sometimes ask, “How are you handling that?” Many people will reply, “Well, God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle.” Others will say, “The Bible says God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.” That sounds nice, but it’s not what the Bible says! People get this idea from a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here is what the entire verse says [italics mine]:
“No temptation has overtake you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV
Many people seem to think that this verse says that God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can bear. But read the verse again. Is that what it says? No! It says God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. Some people correctly argue that the Greek word can be translated “tested” or “tried,” instead of “tempted.” However, almost all translations prefer the word “tempted” in this verse. Why? Because of the context. A rule of thumb for Bible interpretation is to read the context. So when we read the whole chapter, we see that 1 Corinthians 10 is about temptation. The first part of the chapter gives a series of warnings against falling into disobedience through unbelief. Verse 12 warns, “So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.” Fall into what? Temptation. And verse 14 says the solution to the temptation is to “flee.” So the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 shows that it is about temptation.
But if 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not say God won’t put on us more than we can bear, do other verses teach this? What does the rest of scripture say on this subject? When David felt overwhelmed by the Amalekite raid of his camp at Ziklag, and his own men were talking of stoning him to death, 1 Samuel 30:6 says, “But David found strength in the LORD his God.” This strength is what the apostle Paul had in mind in Philippians 4:13, when he learned contentment despite being in jail for his faith, and wrote, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Unfortunately, Philippians 4:13 is also misinterpreted, and we’ll discuss how in the next blog post.)
Here is the bottom line: God is not saying that we won’t face more than we can handle, but He is saying that He will give us the spiritual strength to handle whatever we face.
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the first in a series of blog posts I will be doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted scriptures in the Bible.)
In Judges 6:36-40, Gideon put fleece on dry ground, and asked God for a sign: to make the morning dew fall on the fleece of wool while leaving the ground around it dry, and then a second sign on the second morning, by leaving the fleece dry and covering the ground in dew. God granted Gideon’s request. From this story, we get the expression “putting out the fleece.” For many people, this has come to indicate the practice of asking God for a sign to show them God’s will. They may pray for God to show them a “sign” before making a major decision like getting married or taking a job. Sometimes, they even ask for a specific fulfillment, as putting out their fleece. For example, a person may pray, “God, if you want me to marry this man, have him notice the emerald ring on my right hand.” Or they may pray, “God, if you want me to take the job, then when I go for the interview, have the boss wear a blue tie.”
The problem is, that this is a twisting of scripture, and totally unbiblical. Here’s why:
1. Gideon didn’t just ask for a coincidence, he asked for a miraculous sign. For dew to fall only on the fleece with the ground left dry, and then dew to fall only on the ground with the fleece left dry, is not a natural occurrence, and cannot happen by accident. It required a supernatural intervention from God. So what Gideon asked for cannot be compared with the common idea of asking for an interesting coincidence to happen to guide someone to God’s will.
2. Gideon was not asking for God’s will. He already knew that it was God’s will to fight for their independence from the Midianites. He was looking for reassurance of God’s power and presence. He said, “If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said [italics mine], I will put a fleece of wool here…” (Judges 6:36-37)
3. Gideon’s “test” (Judges 6:39) was a violation of Deuteronomy 6:16, where God commanded the Israelites not to put the Lord to a test. Jesus himself interpreted this as a command not to test God with signs, and Jesus refused the temptation to do so (Matthew 4:7). Apparently, Gideon realized that he was treading on dangerous ground, since he asked God not to be angry at him for making the request (Judges 6:39). The fact that God granted Gideon’s request only shows that God is sometimes gracious with us, even in our foolishness.
4. Jesus refused to grant signs, implying we should trust in Biblical revelation instead of mystical experiences. In Matthew 12:38-39, the scribes and Pharisees said, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” He went on to talk about how Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and came out, and likewise Jesus Himself will be in the earth three days and come out. So Jesus was pointing them to the scripture and to the events of the gospel, and saying, “Put your trust in this.”
5. All of this points to a rule of thumb for Bible interpretation: Don’t get truth from a descriptive passage of scripture; get truth from prescriptive scripture passages. For example, the Bible often describes people having multiple wives, but 1 Timothy 3:12 prescribes only one wife for deacons in the church. Judges 6:36-40 is descriptive; it describes what happened. That does not necessarily imply that it endorses Gideon’s behavior. Deuteronomy 6:16 is prescriptive; it specifically condemns putting God to a test.
Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
Many people have had mothers who prayed for them. The great theologian, Augustine, attributed his Christian conversion to the prayers of his mother, Monnica. Evangelist Billy Graham said, “What a comfort it was for me to know that no matter where I was in the world, my mother was praying for me.”
A Jewish mother named Hannah was a model of motherly prayer. The Bible says in the Book of First Samuel, chapter one, that Hannah was distraught because she could not have a child, and went to the tabernacle of the Lord to pray. There she met the priest Eli, who told her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the petition you’ve requested from Him” (1 Samuel 1:17). Later, she gave birth to her son, Samuel, the prophet who anointed the first two rulers of Israel, King Saul and King…
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Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
The first Thursday is May is the National Day of Prayer, a day when Christians gather to pray for the president and all of our nation’s leaders. However, many Christians express more anger than prayer for President Obama. The same was true when President Bush was in office. Just as much vitriol was poured out against him from the left as is now being poured out against President Obama from the right. Yet it is my duty to pray for my president daily.
My friend and fellow hospital chaplain, Dick Allison, usually votes for Democrats. He tells me that during the Watergate scandal that plagued Republican President Richard Nixon, he would often complain about Nixon’s failures. He didn’t vote for Nixon, and he didn’t like him. One day he realized that he had failed to pray for Nixon. “Since that day, hardly a day has gone by that I have not prayed for the president, whoever it was,” says Chaplain Allison.
I have a fuzzy photo of President George W. Bush taken on August 21, 2006, when President Bush spoke in Savannah, Georgia. After speaking, he went through the crowd shaking hands, and I grabbed my camera and took this picture in such a hurry that it came out fuzzy. As Mr. Bush greeted the crowd and shook my hand, I said, “I pray for you every day.” He looked me in the eye, and exclaimed, “Thanks, it’s working!” A priest who disliked President Bush’s policies later told me, “It must not be working.” Because he disagreed with the politician, he dismissed the prayer. How short-sighted! Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and the Old Testament prophets modeled this kind of praying for us. Isaiah said that the Lord “wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 49:16), Jeremiah wept over the nation, and Ezekiel called for someone to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30) on behalf of the nation. Whatever our political persuasion, we can be patriotic prayer warriors. If the praying prophets of ancient Israel could pray for their nation, even when they had evil rulers, can we do less? Will we stand in the gap for America?
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Above are photographs of fans of the pro football team, the New Orleans Saints. One is a photo of Saints fans in 1980, when the Saints were consistent losers. The fans wore bags over their heads and called the team the “Aints.” The other photo was taken in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, and fans chanted, “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” What a difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!
Scripture gives us a powerful example of the difference in success and failure in the story of Joshua and the Israelites in the first and second battle of Ai. After their great victory over Jericho, when the walls came tumbling down, The Book of Joshua, chapter 7, tells the story of how they went up to the small city of Ai with only a small army of 3,000 men, and were soundly defeated. When Joshua cried out to the Lord in prayer, the Lord told him that the entire nation was suffering the consequences of the sin of one man, Achan, who had hid for himself some of the loot from Jericho which was supposed to be sacred to the Lord.
Joshua and all of the Israelites took drastic action, destroying Achan and his family, and then went up a second time to fight Ai. The Book of Joshua, chapter 8, tells how this time, they involved the whole Army, and devised a battle tactic that tricked the men of Ai into chasing a small Hebrew army. When the men of Ai abandoned the city to pursue the Israelites, a larger Hebrew army of 30,000 attacked the city, burned it down, and then both armies attacked the men of Ai from both sides, catching them in the middle with nowhere to run. It was a total victory– all of Ai was destroyed. Afterwards, Joshua took the people to Mt. Gerizim and Ebal and read to them to law of Moses and had them repeat the blessings and curses that Moses had told them to repeat.
For many years, my father, U.S. Army Chaplain Robert H. Rogers, preached a message on this passage called, “The Difference in Success and Failure.” Here are some important lessons that this story teaches us about the difference in spiritual success and spiritual failure:
HOW TO FAIL SPIRITUALLY
1. Belittle the task God gives you. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “Don’t send all the people… since the people of Ai are so few…”
2. Leave God’s work to a few people. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “but send about 2,000 or 3,000 men to attack Ai… don’t wear out all our people there.” The attitude of spiritual defeat says, “I don’t need to share the gospel or minister; that’s what we pray the preacher to do.”
3. Rest on past laurels. Victory at Jericho did not guarantee victory at Ai. Just because you have experienced spiritual victories in the past does not guarantee victory in the future. Celebrate the past, but don’t linger there.
4. Do no more than necessary. They were lazy, trying to get by with minimum effort to conquer Ai. Spiritual losers are apathetic like that, lacking passion for the word of God.
5. Ignore the slide into sin. This is very important. Notice the gradual slide into sin in four steps. Achan confessed in Joshua 7:21: “I saw,” “I coveted,” “took,” “concealed.” First he saw the gold and silver, then he desired it, then he took it, and after he took it, he hid it. This is exactly what I did in major sin in my past. I saw something, then I desired it, then I acted on that desire, and then I tried to hide my sin. People rarely plan ahead to get addicted to drugs or commit adultery and embezzle funds. Instead, they fall slowly into temptation. We cannot ignore those early warning signs against sin.
6. Ignore sin in your midst. This final caution is one that we Americans struggle with, because America is highly individualistic. We red in Joshua 7:1, “The Israelites… were unfaithful… Achan… took some of what was set apart, and the LORD’s anger burned against the Israelites.” How is it that God held all of Israel accountable for one man’s sin? This is the Biblical concept of corporate sin. Because we tolerate sin in our midst, and turn a blind eye, we are all complicit. Don’t you think somebody saw Achan hid the loot in his tent? If we fail to address sin in our own families, our own churches, and our own nation, we we fail spiritually.
HOW TO SUCCEED SPIRITUALLY
1. Become deeply concerned. When they were defeated by Ai, Joshua 7:6 tells us how Joshua responded: “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell before the ark of the LORD…” We, too, must become deeply concerned about sin and spiritual apathy.
2. Depend upon prayer. Joshua 7:7 tells us that Joshua expressed his concern by prayer. He didn’t run out and get the latest book on “10 Easy Steps to Church Growth.” Instead, he knew it required the hard step of humble prayer. This is a lesson he had to learn again, as we read in Joshua 9:14 that he and the Israelites failed to inquire of God in prayer in the matter of Gibeon, and they were deceived. We must depend on daily prayer to succeed in the daily spiritual battle against sin.
3. Remove sin from your midst. Joshua 7:10-11, 24-26 tells the graphic details of how they discovered that Achan was guilty, and they stoned Achan and his family to death in the valley of Achor. The judgment seems harsh to the modern reader, but it is a reminder that sin cannot be taken lightly. Jesus warned that if the right eye causes you to sin, to gouge it out, and if the right hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Matthew 5:29-30). Yes, the wages of sin is death– that’s the harsh reality of sin. But the good news is that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
4. Follow Godly leadership. After facing the sin, it says in Joshua 8:3, “So Joshua and the whole military force set out…” Joshua chose to be obedient to God, and the people chose to follow his godly leadership.
5. Enlist everyone for God’s work. The word “all” is repeated frequently in these two chapters. Joshua 7:25 says, “all Israel stoned them…” Joshua 8:3 says, “the whole military force set out to attack Ai.” Joshua 8:11 says,“All those who were with him went up…” At the first battle of Ai, they sent a small army of 3,000 against a city of 12,000 and were defeated. At the second battle, they went over 30,000 to ambush the city from behind, while an army of 5,000 attacked and withdrew, then attacked again in a well-planned tactic to entrap Ai. This required the involvement of all of the people. Families and churches that involve everybody in the spiritual battle will win every time.
6. Re-commit to God. Joshua 8:30-35 tells how they went to Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal and renewed their covenant with the Lord, to obey His laws. If we wish to see a lifestyle of continual spiritual victories in our own lives, we too must continually return to God’s Word and pledge ourselves anew to faithful obedience. The end result for them was the conquest of the Promised Land. What will it be for you and me?