Book review: “Snoop: A Spiritual Memoir of a Vietnam Army Grunt”

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Snoop: A Spiritual Memoir of a Vietnam Army Grunt (Published by Parables, 2016), by C. Wayne Harrison, is a 98-page book that tells stories of war, grouped together for devotional reflection. That may sound like an unusual approach, but Harrison makes it work.

Harrison was a private in the U.S. Army, who fought in the jungles in the Vietnam War in 1969-1970. Today he is Baptist minister in Booneville, Mississippi. In ten short chapters, he recalls his desire to be a soldier and relates in vivid detail the horrors he experienced in the war. Although the stories tend to move chronologically from early in his life through his year in Vietnam, the chapters are more thematic in nature, with titles such as, “The Heart of a Soldier,” “The Hands of a Soldier,” “The Hardships of a Soldier,” etc. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Bible, then focuses on stories that relate to the theme of the chapter, followed by some discussion questions and a prayer.

The reader identifies with the young man, who is nicknamed “Snoop” because of his lapel pin of Snoopy, the dog who imagined he was a fighter pilot, in the “Peanuts” comic strip. Some descriptions of war in the book may be disturbing to young readers, and the stories certainly are sobering even to mature readers. I believe Harrison’s writing will connect well with soldiers who read the book, and would make an excellent resource for military chaplains or anybody, especially soldiers, who are willing to reflect on God’s purpose for their lives.

The book is well-written, using excellent images and descriptions, and is easy to read, although I noticed a typo on p. 64, where the word “scar” was spelled “scare.” There are black-and-white photos of Harrison as a young soldier in the back of the book. In interest of full disclosure, I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, with no obligation to write a favorable review.

15 years after 9/11: The answer to “why?”

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Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked America, flying hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and Washington, D.C.  The evil intentions of hijackers on a third plane that day is unknown, because brave passengers resisted the hijackers and forced it to crash in Pennsylvania.
When tragedies like this happen, the inevitable question is, “Why?” Amazingly, Jesus Christ asked the same question as he was dying upon the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) It is in that very question of Jesus that we can find helpful answers.
He absorbed our evil by His love. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they unleashed a Pandora’s Box of evil that impacts us to this day. But upon the cross, Jesus absorbed that evil, by lovingly sacrificing Himself. The apostle Paul put it this way: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13).
He empowered us to overcome evil by faith. Jesus’ sacrifice inspires us to identify with Christ by faith, and moves us to action ourselves. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Thus Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
He heals the hurt of evil by giving hope. The greatest medicine for healing is not penicillin or aspirin– it’s hope. During World War II, psychologist Viktor Frankl studied the lives of people who survived Nazi concentration camps, and found the survivors were those who had hope. The Bible says, “For in hope we have been saved” (Romans 8:24); “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19); “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
Louie Zamperini was an American aircraft gunman in World War II, whose plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He and his friends floated across the ocean for a month, losing half of their body weight and nearly going insane, only to be captured by the Japanese. Because Zamperini had been a famous Olympic runner, the Japanese treated him with particular cruelty, beating him mercilessly. His story was made famous in the 2014 movie, Unbroken. But Hollywood only hinted at the rest of the story. After his return from war, Louie Zamperini suffered so much post-traumatic stress that he fell into despair and addiction. Then a young preacher named Billy Graham held a revival in his home in Los Angeles. At the urging of his wife, Louie went. Graham stood and asked, “Why is God silent when good men suffer?” He reminded the audience that God sends us messages through creation and through Christ that He cares for us. Zamperini remembered seeing a swirl of light in the sky when he was floating across the Pacific, awed by God’s creation. He listened as Graham talked about the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin, and that day, Zamperini found hope in Christ. For the rest of his life, Louie Zamperini followed Christ. He founded a ranch to offer hope to troubled boys, and he even traveled to Japan to forgive his prison captain.
Louie Zamperini found the answer to “Why” in the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So can you and I.

Twisted scripture: “by His stripes we are healed”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Isaiah53.5

(NOTE: This is the fifth blog post in a series on scriptures commonly misinterpreted.)

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5, NKJV

I often meet people praying for the sick who claim Isaiah 53:5 as a promise that God will heal any sickness if they pray for it in faith. Their logic is straightforward: the prophet said that the Messiah would be crucified for our sins, “and by His stripes we are healed.” Thus, they conclude, the verse is saying that Jesus’ cross has two effects: first, Christ paid for our sins, and second, He also heals our diseases, if we pray in faith. After all, they reason, didn’t Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well?” (Mark 5:34).
Is this really what Isaiah 53:5 is teaching? Does it teach a two-part effect of the cross: a healing from both sin and sickness? This interpretation fails to take into consideration the kind of Hebrew poetic writing used here, often called Hebrew parallelism. That is, the Hebrew poet frequently says the same thing twice in slightly different ways, for emphasis. We see this in many psalms, such as, “While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have being” (Psalm 146:2). If this is Hebrew parallelism, then the second part means the same thing as the first part, and the first part says the Messiah was wounded for our transgressions, not our sickness. But what if this is not Hebrew parallelism?

Here is where we need to apply a very important but often neglected principle of Bible interpretation: scripture itself is the best interpreter of other scripture. So what does the rest of the Bible say on this subject?
The New Testament frequently discusses the effect of the cross of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:24-25 speaks of how Jesus’ blood justifies us from sin, redeems us from sin, and presents Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin. Ephesians 1:7 says His blood gives us forgiveness from our sin. Colossians 1:20-22 says Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross, in order to present you “holy and blameless” before God. Many other scriptures talk about how the cross of Christ offers salvation from sin, but nowhere does the New Testament say that the cross of Christ brings healing from sickness.
Is Isaiah 53:5 directly quoted anywhere else in the Bible? Yes, it is, in 1 Peter 2:24. Here it is:
“Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
If Isaiah 53:5 was intended to be a prophecy that Jesus’ cross would heal from sickness as well as sin, then when Peter quoted that very same verse, surely Peter would have mentioned the effect of the cross on sickness. Yet it is not there. Read the verse again. It says Jesus “bore our sins in His own body…” It continues, “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.” After making reference to sin twice, Peter then quoted Isaiah 53:5: “by whose stripes you were healed.” There is no question what kind of healing Peter understood Isaiah to mean. He already said it twice: healing from our sins.
Remember this important principle: the best interpreter of scripture is other scripture, not a human preacher or teacher. Should we pray for the sick? Yes, we are commanded to do so (Matthew 10:8; James 5:14). Is God able to heal the sick? Yes, and He often chooses to do so, although not always (Acts 5:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). However, does Isaiah 53:5 teach that the cross of Christ is a promise of physical healing for us to claim in faith? Based on the interpretation of scripture itself, we can only conclude that it is a promise for one type of healing– the greatest kind of all– from our sin.

Twisted scripture: “the truth shall make you free”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

John8.32

(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.

Movie review: “Free State of Jones”

FreeStateofJones

“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.

FreeStateofJonesArmy

(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.

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  (Above: Newt Knight rallies poor people of Jones County to fight.)

Twisted scripture: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

Philippians4.13

(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.

What makes a happy Father’s Day

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

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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!

The Top Ten Gifts NOT to give on Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day!
Watch for my upcoming book of humorous church stories. Email me at bobrogersthd@gmail.com to get updates on the progress of the book, and to be eligible for a pre-publication discounted price!

Bob Rogers

Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

FathersDayFacebook

What are the top ten gifts NOT to give on Father’s Day?

Here’s my list:

10. Necktie

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.

1. Nothing.

   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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Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

WomanOverworked

(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.

Twisted scripture: “Putting out the fleece”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

GideonFleece

(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.