Category Archives: Christian Living

An invitation to conversation with Almighty God

The LORD would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend… – Exodus 33:11

Years ago, I got to shake hands with the president of the United States. I was serving as a pastor near Savannah, Georgia, and President George W. Bush was coming to Savannah to speak. As part of the event, I was asked to say a prayer before the president arrived, and then I was allowed to sit on the front row when the president spoke. After his speech, he walked through the crowd quickly, shaking hands with people on the front row. He was headed in my direction! I watched as Secret Service agents went before and behind him. Cameras were flashing. The news media were everywhere. He was stopping briefly to shake hands and speak to each person. As he made his way closer, I thought about what I would say. I didn’t want to say anything stupid. I could imagine putting my foot in my mouth and getting it broadcast on the evening news: “Local pastor makes a fool of himself with the President.” I knew there was no time for a long conversation, either. Finally, President Bush got to me. As if in slow motion, I took the hand of “W,” and said, “I pray for you every day.” He replied, “Thanks; it’s working!” Two seconds later, he was moving down the line.

Now here is a thought that blows my mind: Moses talked to the Creator of the Universe face to face like God was his best buddy! It wasn’t a quick phrase, like my conversation with the president. No, Moses spent time with Yahweh, the personal God of Israel, in a long, leisurely conversation. They hung out together.

Here’s another thought that blows my mind: Jesus, my Savior, wants to talk to me like that! Jesus told His disciples, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15), shortly after encouraging them to “abide” or “remain” with him (John 15:4). The president of the United States did not have time to remain with me and talk to me like a friend, yet Jesus, my Savior, calls me “friend” and invites me to remain and spend time with him.

What would I have done if the president had said, “Bob, can I come over for dinner and talk with you a while?” I would have called my wife and said, “You got a few minutes to get the house ready for the president!” But I have One far greater inviting me to start my day in conversation with Him. How can I do otherwise?

A Biblical defense for online worship

As the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads around the world, government agencies are encouraging people not to gather in large groups, including movie theaters, concerts, sports events and houses of worship. However, many Christians have questioned whether it is appropriate for the government to tell them not to meet for worship. I believe there is solid Biblical grounds for Christians to meet only online for a season. Here are five reasons:

Online worship is meeting together! Hebrews 10:25 says not to forsake meeting together, which is why so many churches are meeting online! God’s word is still being preached, and Christians are staying in touch through this venue. Insisting that meeting together can only be allowed a certain way in times of crisis is legalism. Jesus said to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24), and the apostle Paul reminds us to avoid legalism, living by the Spirit, not the letter (Romans 2:29). The good news is, that in today’s world, a small church with one cell phone can broadcast for free on Facebook Live. We can still gather together!

Online worship doesn’t tempt God. The devil tempted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, to show His faith that the angels would protect Him. Jesus responded, “Do not test the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:5-7; Deuteronomy 6:16). COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease; risking exposure is not a faith that pleases God; it is tempting God.

Online worship is sound judgment. Yes, 2 Timothy 1:7 says God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but the same verse also says that God gives us sound judgment. Every medical expert in the world advises people to avoid physical gatherings right now. Let’s use sound judgment and listen to the experts.

Online worship is good citizenship. Romans 13:1-4 tells believers to submit to the governing authorities, who work for our good. Our government agencies have asked this of us for our good. This is not a religious persecution—people of faith are not being singled out. Online worship shows our respect for both God and the government.

Online worship shows love to our neighbors. Jesus reminded us in Matthew 22:39 that the second greatest command is to love our neighbors. If we insist on our rights to meet in groups, and then infect many around us who spread it to others in our neighborhood, we have violated this command. Don’t think this is not a real possibility. Just one patient, known as “patient31,” attended Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a mega-church in Daegu, South Korea, and she exposed 1,160 people at the church, which led to 2,418 people being exposed around that church’s neighborhood. Online worship is a way to love our neighbors.

Admittedly, online worship or even worship while “social distancing” should not be promoted as a permanent replacement for gathering physically together. After all, the Lord’s Supper just isn’t the same without being in the same room (although my church is going to observe the Lord’s Supper simultaneously online). Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a “season for everything,” including “a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing” (Ecclesiastes 3:5b). In this “time to avoid embracing,” online worship is a way for the church to, as my pastor, Dr. David Whitten says, “love God, love people, and serve both.”

Three thorns and roses in Romans 8:28

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28, CSB

Romans 8:28 is one of the most beloved promises in the Bible. Most people focus on the words, “for the good.” Perhaps we should reflect more on the phrase, “work together,” because the verse is teaching that God can mix bad things in the life of a believer, and bring about good results, like roses on the end of a thorny stem. Let me suggest three kinds of thorns God brings from our lives that work together to grow roses: troubles, temptations and trespasses.

1) The thorn of troubles. God will allow troubles in our lives, to teach us to trust Him. When we have troubles, we are faced with our weakness. Yet, they work together for the good lesson of teaching us to depend on God’s sufficiency. As 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, this teaches us to “not trust in ourselvs but in God who raises the dead.”

2) The thorn of temptations. God will allow temptation in our lives, to teach us obedience. An athlete develops muscles and endurance by the pressure, weight and strain of exercise. Likewise, God allows us to be tempted, so that it works together for the good spiritual muscles that we develop as we grow stronger in obedience. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

3) The thorn of trespasses. By trespasses, I mean sin. God does not want us to sin, but when we sin, we must humble ourselves, repent, and ask Jesus for forgiveness. Scripture tells us to forgive, even as the Lord has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Those who have truly experienced the grace of forgiveness tend to be better at forgiving others. So trespasses– whether they be our own or the sins of others– work together to grow beautiful flowers of forgiveness in our lives.

What have you learned about pain and suffering?

After seven weeks of teaching my Bible class about dealing with pain and suffering, today I asked them, “What is the biggest take away you have learned about suffering?” As they talked, I began to summarize their thoughts on the whiteboard. Here is a list of their comments:

*We grow in faith through suffering.

*Suffering can be used as a testimony to glorify God.

*A diamond is formed under pressure; likewise, suffering develops character.

*Suffering is a process, and you have to let the process work you into a diamond. If you quit on God too soon, you just become a lump of coal.

*In the Holy Land, olives were pressed and crushed in a vat, making olive oil. Likewise, God allows us to suffer pressure, and God produces good things in our lives from it.

*We experience God’s presence in suffering– it draws us closer to God.

*Suffering forces us to make choices– will we be better or bitter?

*We must learn to see suffering in perspective: it is temporary and light compared to the eternal weight of glory God has for us (2 Corinthians 4:17)

*We are able to relate to others with similar suffering, and comfort them. (2 Corinthians 1:4).

*Suffering requires us to be obedient to share the lessons we learned with others, even though we might prefer to talk about other subjects. But when we talk about it, it helps others.

Five things Christians cannot do without the church

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

As a hospital chaplain, I often meet people who believe in God but don’t believe in the church. Some are angry with the church, and many just don’t have any motivation to be connected to a church. They are fed up with the hypocrites. I get that– I have been one of those hypocrites, and perhaps you have, too. They are tired of church fights. I get that, too. One guy told me, “I can catch hell at home; I don’t need it at church.”
Yet I submit that we need the church. (I’m talking about the people, not a building. The early church met in houses, and many churches meet in homes today.) In fact, there are at least five spiritual practices that a Christian cannot appropriately do without the church.

1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. Romans 12:5-6 talks about how we are all part of the body of Christ as we have different gifts. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ. Prophesying, teaching, serving, giving, leading, showing mercy, and so many other spiritual gifts are either done among members of the church or together with members of the church.
2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We are told to serve each other, teach each other, feed each other, pray for each other, encourage each other. I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers. No wonder Hebrews 10:25 commands believers not to forsake gathering ourselves together, but instead to encourage each other.

3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there. God is real in private prayer, but this is a clear scriptural promise that God is present in a greater way when we pray together. No wonder the Psalmist proclaimed, “Better a day in Your courts, than a thousand anywhere else!” (Psalm 84:10).

4. We cannot appropriately pray the Lord’s Prayer without the church. Jesus gave us this beloved prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-6, as a model on how Christians should pray. The repetition of the words “our” and “us” throughout the prayer is constant reminder that Jesus taught us to pray with other believers and for other believers. While a Christian may certainly pray this prayer alone, we cannot continue to pray this prayer with sincerity and remain alone.
5. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:17 observes that by sharing the bread of communion, Christians are expressing their unity: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.

Christ died for the church.
Christ is the builder of the church.
Christ is the head of the church.
Christ is the shepherd of the church.
Christ is the groom for His bride, the church.
Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!

The reassurance of Jacob’s ladder

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” repeats the beloved spiritual. “Every rung goes higher higher.” The last verses urge, “Keep on climbing, we will make it,” and finally asks, “Do you want your freedom?” I can just hear Southern slaves singing this as they pick cotton and dream of liberty from oppression. It must have seemed that God was not there, but they found hope in a vision of escaping one day.

Yet when we read the beloved story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28, we find a reassurance not just for the future, but for right now. Jacob had left his father Isaac and mother Rebekah in Canaan, and was on a journey to see his relatives in Mesopotamia, and to find a wife.

Ancient pagans thought that a god only dwelled in the land where he was worshiped. If you left that territory, you also left that god. So what a surprise, when Jacob got a vision in a foreign land, of a stairway from the earth to heaven, and angels going up and down it. Then the Lord himself spoke, “I am the LORD (Yahweh), the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13). The God of Jacob’s father’s was not limited to a territory! The Lord continued “Look, I am with you…” (Genesis 28:15.

In amazement, Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning house of God, and said, “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).

What a reassurance to us when we feel that we are in a god-forsaken place, that there is no god-forsaken place, for God is omnipresent, always present, always here. He is not limited by time, place, or circumstances. Look around and see what God is doing right here, right now. Surely, the Lord is in the place where you are, but do you know it?

Getting a 2020 Vision

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

I recently had my annual check-up with my eye doctor. She said that my left eye needed a stronger prescription. The goal is 20/20 vision, so I got new contact lenses and eyeglasses. With the onset of the year 2020, I expect we may hear many people talk about having a “2020 Vision.”

One of the most popular verses in the Bible about vision is the promise of Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” While we may only see a sea of sorrow around us, in this verse God says that He sees hope over the horizon– a seashore where we will safely land. Knowing this future is coming gives us hope to hang on.

However, there is a danger of taking this verse out of context. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus promising to hand out candy-coated lives without consequences. He is a holy God calling us to repentance. Notice that after the promise of “a future and hope” in verse 11, we read some requirements for its fulfillment in verses 12-14. The Lord says to call on Him in prayer, and He says to seek God “with all your heart,” and then you will find God and He will “end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” Thus, the vision is for those who seek out God and follow Him. In fact, Jeremiah 44:27 warns those who rebel against God that the Lord will be “watching over them for harm, not for good,” the exact opposite of Jeremiah 29:11.

In addition, the first part of this chapter gives a broader perspective to the vision of verse 11. God is not a quick-stop dispenser of immediate happiness; He seeks faithful followers who run the race of faith like a marathon, not a sprint. Notice that the earlier verses in Jeremiah 29 say that they would be going into exile in Babylon for 70 years—so long, in fact, that God told them to settle down in that new place, for they would be there a long time. Yet after telling them that the immediate future looked bleak, God said that He had plans for a hope-filled future! The same God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt after 400 years would rescue them from exile in Babylon after 70 years, and He will rescue you and me at the right time.

Don’t let this bigger picture of Jeremiah 29:11 leave you feeling in the dark. Instead, throw open the windows of your heart and mind to the light of a greater vision of what it means. It means much more than a surface-level promise for fleeting fun—it is a deep, abiding promise for an eternal faith in the Eternal God who has promised eternal life through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). That is “a future and a hope” worth waiting for and living for, in 2020 and beyond

Book review: God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life by Timothy Keller


Keller, Timothy. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotionals in the Book of Proverbs. New York: Viking, 2017.

I loved this daily devotional! I have read Keller’s devotional through Psalms, and I find this one to be an excellent companion to it.
Keller wisely (pun intended) groups the devotionals into topics, rather than trying to go through Proverbs chapter by chapter. By including verses from different parts of the book in a day’s devotional, he gives a greater balance and thoroughness to each, as he often includes wisdom sayings that give different perspectives on the same topic, or give further elaboration and illustration on the same topic.
Keller also includes some selections from other wisdom books, especially Ecclesiastes and Job, and ends during the Christmas season with insights from the New Testament and how Jesus is our ultimate source of wisdom.
I highly recommend this daily devotional! It will challenge you to think deeply and live wisely.

Devotional: Don’t run from your problems!

Runaway

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

God does not call us to withdraw from our problems or our culture; He calls us to live in the world, without letting the world live in us.

Devotional  |  Genesis 26:2-5

Often, our instinct is to flee from our problems. When there was a famine in the land, Isaac, son of Abraham, considered moving south to Egypt, just as his father Abraham had done during a previous famine. Isaac got as far as Gerar, when the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt… stay in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and bless you” (Genesis 26:2-3). Why would God tell him to stay in such a difficult situation? Why does God sometimes tell us to hang in there?

Years before, Isaac’s father Abraham had also fled from the famine, only to get into worse problems. He lied about his wife Sarah, saying she was his sister. When Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem, God struck the Egyptians with plagues. Eventually, Pharaoh drove Abraham out of Egypt in disgrace. During this time in Egypt, there is no record of Abraham calling on the Lord in prayer, although he had before (see Genesis 12:10-20).

Isaac needed to learn a spiritual lesson from his father. Running from our problems can create new ones. Quitting school or giving up on a job or marriage may seem the easy way at the time, but it often leads to greater problems. Staying in a relationship and seeing a difficult job to the end can be rough, especially if those around us are hostile to our faith. Yet the rewards can be tremendous.

The Lord repeated to Isaac the same promises of blessing that He had promised to Abraham: “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring” (v. 4; compare Genesis 13:16; 15:5). Thankfully, Isaac learned the right lesson from his father Abraham. Instead of following Abraham’s bad example of running away, he followed Abraham’s good example of faith. Verse 6 says that Isaac stayed where he was in Gerar. Likewise, Jesus told us to shine our light to the world (Matthew 5:14), and He prayed that we would remain in the world, but not be of the world (John 17:15-16). In what ways is God telling you to hang in there and engage your culture for the gospel, rather than “fleeing the famine”?

Ways parents can provoke children to anger

My Bible class often teaches me as much as I teach them. This week was a good example. We were studying Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath” (KJV), or, “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children” (CSB). I noted that while the plural verb translated “fathers” can also be translated “parents” (as it is in Hebrews 11:23), and some mothers can provoke children by words and actions, the reality is that fathers are more often guilty of this.

Then I asked the class to give some specific examples of how parents do this, and they came up with this list of behaviors parents should avoid:

Ephesians6.4When I taught this same lesson to inmates at a prison, they added two more ways: humiliating children in front of their friends, making promises and giving expectations and then failing to fulfill them. Would you add any other ways to this list? Feel free to leave a comment or share your story.

Book review: “Not Forsaken” helps those who had a bad Dad

NotForsakenLouie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church, a megachurch in Atlanta, writes Not Forsaken to help people see God as a good Heavenly Father, especially those who have had a bad earthly father. The subtitle says it well: “Finding Freedom as Sons & Daughters of a Perfect Father.”
Giglio begins by stating that every person has an innate need for a good father who is proud of him or her, yet the author readily recognizes that many people have had an abusive or absent earthly father, and this makes it difficult for them to affirm God as good. Giglio confronts this dilemma step-by-step, making frequent use of scripture. First, he explains that God is good, even if Dad was bad: “God is not the reflection of your earthly dad. He is the perfection of your earthly dad” (p.76). Then, Giglio encourages the reader to “reverse the curse” through forgiveness of a bad father, saying, “Bitterness continues to pave a path to your past, while forgiveness paves a way to your future” (p. 114). Next, Giglio guides the reader to an understanding of the good fatherly qualities of God. He acknowledges some people will ask, If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop evil? In a paragraph worth repeating, he responds to this question:

I think the answer is because the moment He steps in and removes all the collateral damage of this broken world from ever happening again, that will mark the instant life on earth is over. And in that moment the lost will be lost forever and many whom God wanted to become sons and daughters will be separated from His arms. So, He waits and extends grace another day. And for twenty-four more hours, we are caught in the crossfire of a sin-shattered world. (p. 178)

Finally, he challenges readers that just as we tend to pick up the qualities of our parents, so we should “grow up like Dad,” our heavenly Father.
Although the book is only 235 pages, divided into 10 chapters, Giglio tends to repeat statements he has already made, which is normal for a public speaker like himself, but seems redundant when reading a book. Perhaps with more editing, he could have communicated just as well with fewer than 200 pages. Nevertheless, Giglio writes in a personal, encouraging style, based on solid Biblical interpretation, with many insightful illustrations. This book can be quite helpful to readers who struggle with the idea that God is a good Father.
DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book from B&H Bloggers, but I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

7 ways to control social media before it controls you

media

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become major addictions for millions of people. Research shows that in 2018, the average person spent 2 hours, 16 minutes (136 minutes) a day on social media and similar platforms, and the numbers are increasing every year! Social media can be good, as it helps families and friends who are far apart stay in touch, but it can also be the source of adultery, bullying, political bickering, and other harmful practices. A wise person learns to control social media before it controls them. Here are seven ways:

  1. Set time limits and “off limits” times. You can adjust your settings on Facebook and Instagram so that they will notify you when you have been on the site for a certain amount of time. (I set mine to remind me at 30 minutes.) Stay off social media while at work or school. If people send you messages during work or school hours, wait until later to respond, and let them know that you are unavailable during work or class. When sitting down at a meal, agree with family and friends to put away your phones. Have “family time” that is off-limits to social media, such as 6-8 p.m.  daily-time-spent-social-networking
  2. Take precautions with the opposite sex. Social media is an easy medium for people of the opposite sex to have private conversations. Thus, married and engaged people in particular need to be intentional about taking precautions. My pastor, Dr. David Whitten, recommends that husbands and wives set up a joint account, or that they not make “friends” with the opposite sex unless they have a good reason for doing so, such as their own family members. Give your spouse your password, and give your spouse permission to approve or veto your friendship with members of the opposite sex.
  3. Turn off notifications. Tony Reinke in his book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, points out that a major reason for the addiction is how people get self-esteem from how many “Likes” they get. Some have suffered anxiety and depression if they fail to get the “Likes” they desire. Turning off the notifications shuts off these messages—it’s like throwing away the needle for a drug addict.
  4. Make spiritual disciplines a priority. When you rise in the morning, get out your Bible instead of your phone, and get on your knees to pray instead of getting on the computer to play. Make this your daily habit.
  5. Have a “day off” and a Sabbatical from social media. Christian blogger Tim Challies takes one day a week and one week a year to be completely off social media. If you don’t feel you can take an entire day, try staying off for 12 hours straight, and then lengthen the time the next week.
  6. Delete social media from your phone, and only use it on your computer. This is an excellent way to force yourself to stay off social media when at work, eating out, etc. Let people know that if they need to reach you, they can text or call!
  7. Set other healthy goals and pursue them. Keep a good book (and The Good Book) handy and set goals for minutes reading. Get a bicycle, join a gym, go walking, plant a garden, and make these healthy exercises a priority. The best way to overcome a bad addiction is to acquire a healthy addiction!

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

HappyNewYear

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken—at least many people do. Gyms see an influx of new members in January who don’t make it to February. Diet Coke sales rise, and new Bibles are purchased and read by people who often don’t make it past Leviticus.

So, how can we keep our New Year’s resolutions? Henry and Richard Blackaby give wise advice about New Year’s resolutions in the January 1 devotional of their book, Experiencing God Day by Day: “Jesus does not need your resolutions, your recommitments, or your promises to try harder this year. If your resolve to obey God last year did not help you to be faithful, it will not make you successful this year. Jesus asks for your love. If you truly love Him, your service for Him in the new year will be of the quality that He desires.”

Yes! That’s the key to keeping New Year’s resolutions: love. If I am motivated by duty or guilt, I will eventually get weary and quit. But if I am motivated by love, I will experience change, because love changes my heart.

God so loved me that He sent Jesus to save me when I believe (John 3:16). When I respond in love, look at what He makes new:

*In Christ, I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17),

*I enjoy the spiritual new birth by faith (1 Peter 1:3).

*God makes a new covenant with me (Jeremiah 31:31).

*He puts a new heart and new spirit in me (Ezekiel 36:26).

*He puts a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40:3).

*He moves me to put on a new self (Colossians 3:10).

*He moves me to obey the new commandment of love (John 13:34).

*I have the new name (Revelation 2:17) of “Christian.”

*One day I will enter the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1).

*There God makes everything new (Revelation 21:4).

How about you? What’s new for you in the New Year? Why not start with a new heart for God, and love like God loves?

NewYearResolution

 

The stories behind three of the most popular Christmas carols

JoyToTheWorld

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

   Perhaps the three most popular Christmas carols in English are “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” The first two were sung in the American colonies even before the United States was a nation, but the third one came from Austria.

    “Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. It is based on Psalm 98, and its tune comes from one of the songs in Handel’s Messiah. Originally this song was intended to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, but it has come to be associated mostly with His first coming at Christmas.

   “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was written by the great Methodist founder Charles Wesley in 1739, and the words were revised by the great evangelist of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. A hundred years later, the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn composed the tune that is popular today when people sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

   “Silent Night” was originally written in German and first sung on Christmas Eve, 1818, at St. Nicholas Church in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria. The organist, Franz Gruber, discovered that the organ wasn’t working at the church. The priest, Joseph Mohr, had composed the words in German to “Silent Night” two years before. So he shared it with Gruber, who composed the tune to be sung by guitar. When Karl Mauracher came to repair the organ, he heard the story of how the song was composed in an emergency and sung without the organ, and Mauracher spread the song everywhere that he went. The song came to America by German-speaking congregations. Originally the words were “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” The English words we sing today were translated by John Freeman Young. “Silent Night” has been translated into 140 languages.

   While these songs are popular today, the first Christmas carols can be found in the Bible itself. More about that tomorrow…

 

The origins of Christmas carols

ChristmasCarolsAncient

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

While many Americans sing about Santa, chestnuts and a white Christmas, Christians all over the world have sung about the birth of Jesus Christ for centuries. As early as the fourth century, Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan, wrote a hymn for Christmas to teach that God truly became a man, in response to heretics who denied Jesus’ incarnation.

   Singing Christmas carols was popularized by St. Francis of Assisi during the Middle Ages in Europe, and was also encouraged by the Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther. As early as the 15th century, groups of singers would go from house to house in England and sing Christmas carols. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, chaplain from Shropshire, who lists twenty five “caroles of Cristemas”, probably sung by groups of “wassailers,” who went from house to house and enjoyed “wassail,” ale, or apple cider, and other desserts given to them at each home. Thus we get the line, “here we go a wassailing among the leaves so green,” and since the homes often fed the carolers, we also get the line, “bring out the figgy pudding, we won’t go until we get some.” It was only later that carols begun to be sung in church, and to be specifically associated with Christmas.

  Two of the oldest Christmas carols still sung today are “O Come, all ye faithful,” which was originally written in the 13th century, and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” which was first composed in the 14th century.

   Perhaps the three most popular Christmas carols in English are “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” The first two were sung in the American colonies even before the United States was a nation, but the third one came from Austria. More about them tomorrow…