Top religious news of 2018

AsiaBibi

(Pictured above: Pakistani Christian mother Asia Bibi, and two of her children. Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy but is still in danger for her life.)

As the year comes to a close, let us look back with at the top religious news events of 2018. Here are seven of the top events:

*The Death of Billy Graham. Graham was the most prominent Christian of the 20th century, having preached the gospel to more people than any other person in history. He died on February 21 at age 99. How thankful we are that he ended well, faithful to the end.

*Bill Hybels steps down. Hybels was pastor of the Chicago-area megachurch, Willow Creek Community Church. He has been influential in his books and “seeker-sensitive” approach to church growth. Sadly, he was forced into early retirement on April 10 when the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today published accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment. How we need to pray for healing for the victims, and repentance and restoration for Hybels.

*Paige Patterson is fired. Patterson was dismissed and then formally fired in June as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, the world’s largest seminary, by the trustees. He had been accused covering up two separate instances of rape on seminary campuses where he was president, and of insensitive remarks appearing to excuse domestic violence. Patterson was one of the architects of the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention that turned the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in a more conservative direction in the 1980s. This event was sadly reminiscent of Pastor Hybels and calls us to more prayer to always guard against sin.

*Supreme Court rules in favor of a Christian baker. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack Phillips, a Christian Baker in Colorado who refused, on religious grounds, to make a cake celebrating a gay wedding. The ruling was specific to his case, saying the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was biased against Phillips. Although it did not establish an open door for Christian businesses to make conscientious objection to endorsing morally objectionable messages, it may have cracked the door open for such a ruling in the future.

*Pastor Brunson freed by Turkey. Andrew Brunson, a Presbyterian missionary to Turkey for 23 years, was released from prison on October 21. He had been jailed in 2016, accused of supporting terrorism (specifically accused of supporting Kurdish rebels and Turkish opposition leader in exile, Fethullah Gulen). Brunson denied the accusations, and evidence was lacking. U.S. President Donald Trump put pressure on Turkey for the release, and Christians around the world prayed for him. His release was cause for rejoicing and thanks for answered prayer.

*Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Christians joined with Jews in mourning a horrific massacre in a place of worship, as a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshipers and wounded six others at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 27. The shooter, whom I will not dignify by naming, said, “I just want to kill Jews.” What a reminder to pray against hate, specifically anti-Semitism, which has been a blot on the history of Christianity, and does not reflect our Savior, who was Himself a Jew, of course.

*The acquittal of Asia Bibi in Pakistan. Asia Bibi is a mother of five, the only Christian in her village. In 2009 she had a disagreement with Muslim co-workers over sharing water, and they accused her of blasphemy against Islam. In Pakistan, blasphemy carries a death penalty, and the law is often used as a weapon to persecute Christians. The Pakistani Supreme Court showed great courage in acquitting Bibi, as it was under enormous public pressure to rule against her, despite there being no evidence. Sadly, despite the ruling and permission for her to leave the country for her safety, no nation has shown enough courage to give her exile. This calls for continual prayer in the New Year, and for efforts to convince our own nation to grant her exile.

 

Book review: “The Valley of Vision”

TheValleyOfVision

I rarely do this in a book review, but I give five stars to The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, by Arthur Bennett. A former pastor, Darryl Craft, introduced me to this amazing book of prayers when he quoted it in worship. I decided to buy a copy and spend this year slowly reading them in morning devotions.  

To say this is a popular, influential book is an understatement. First published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1975, it has been through numerous printings in the U.K. and USA. Collected and edited by British author Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision contains over 200 prayers of Puritans such as Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon (whom Bennett calls “the last of the Puritans”). However, Arthur does not identify the authors of the individual prayers. The prayers are grouped by sections under ten subjects such as the Trinity, redemption, penitence, and service. The final section are a collection of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week. These prayers use poetic rhythm and repetition to deliver a powerful emotional punch. For example, the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus” (p. 27) begins, “O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee…” Others use poetic imagery, as the prayer “Humility in Service” (p. 178), which includes the line, “O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood…”
Modern readers may find many of the prayers to be extremely self-deprecating and so full of humility that the reader appears too hard on himself. For example, “After Prayer” (p. 150), says, “Let me be as slow to forgive myself as thou art ready to forgive me.” I would question the spiritual healthiness of being slow to forgive oneself. Yet with that caution, modern culture has gone so far in the opposite direction, that most modern Christians could benefit from a healthy dose of feeling the heaviness of sin.
If you want to be inspired to pray with conviction, read this book, but read it slowly, to savor every morsel. Then read it again. That’s what I plan to do.

A Christmas Prayer

Nativity

God the Father, who gave us Your Son,

What shall I render You for the gift of gifts?

Here is wonder of wonders:

He came down below to raise me above,

was born, like me that I might become like Him.

Here is love:

when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to Himself.

Here is power:

when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated with the created.

Here is wisdom:

when I was undone, with no will to return to Him, and no intellect to devise recovery,

He came, God in flesh, to save me completely,

as man to die my death.

O God, as the watchful shepherds enlarge my mind,

to hear good news of great joy, and hearing to praise You,

Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn Child to my heart,

embrace Him with undying faith.

In Him You have given me so much that heaven can give no more.

———————————————————————–

Adapted from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett.

Where do we get the tradition of Christmas trees?

ChristmasTreeGrandchildren

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

   All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees for the holiday. But what does this have to do with the birth of Jesus? Is it just a pagan practice, or can we find Christ in the Christmas tree?

   Where did the tradition of the Christmas tree come from?

   There are many different stories, since ancient peoples have made use of trees and even worshiped them. One of my favorite stories is of St. Boniface, the missionary to the Germans in the 8th century. Boniface told them about Jesus Christ, but they worshiped a great oak tree. So Boniface boldly went to the oak with an ax and began to chop it down. They were ready to kill him, when a great wind came and blew the tree down. After that, the Germans converted to Christianity in large numbers.

    Some legends tell that St. Boniface later decorated a fir tree to represent Jesus instead of their pagan gods. It is uncertain whether this is true.

   During the Middle Ages, there was a popular medieval play in western Germany about Adam and Eve and a “paradise tree,” which was a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. Germans set up paradise trees in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it, representing the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and then later they hang cookies, and often put candles, symbols of Christ as the light.

   Meanwhile, in the 15th and 16th century in Latvia, Estonia and northern Germany, there was a tradition of bringing an evergreen tree to the town square on Christmas Eve, dancing around it, and letting it burn. Eventually people in Germany began to light a tree on Christmas Eve with candles. Lutheran tradition says that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther helped popularize the lighting of an evergreen tree at Christmas all over Germany.

The first Christmas carols– of Mary, Zechariah, the angels and Simeon

MaryElizabeth

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

    Singing Christmas carols goes all the way back to the first Christmas, because Luke’s Gospel records four different songs as he gives the Christmas story. Let’s look at the lessons we get from these original Christmas carols.

Mary’s song says that Christ came to love the forgotten  (Luke 1:46-55)

   When Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she broke out into a song of praise, found in Luke 1:46-55. It is often called “The Magnificat” because she began, “My soul magnifies the Lord…”

   The song emphasizes how God has remembered the forgotten and lifts up the lowly. In verse 48-49 she sings with amazement that God chose her, a simple girl from Nazareth: “He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” And notice what she sings in verse 52: “He has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly.”

   Mary’s song reminds us that in Christ, God remembers the forgotten. Mary was a poor girl, and Jesus was born in a feeding trough. The song should remind us to stop and give a donation to the Salvation Army when we go shopping, to help Toys for Tots, and share with Operation Christmas Child and Backpacks for Appalachia. The Christmas child shoe boxes and backpacks are a wonderful way to share Jesus with the poor at Christmas.

Zechariah’s song says that Christ came to save us (Luke 1:67-79)

Not only was Jesus’ birth a miracle, but the birth of John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Christ, was also a miracle, because his parents were way too old to be having children. Yet an angel appeared to Zechariah to tell him that his wife Elizabeth would have a child in her old age. When John the Baptist was born to them, Zechariah broke out into a song of praise. It is found in Luke 1:67-79.

Zechariah’s song emphasizes that Christ came to save us. Luke 1:68-69 says, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for His people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David.” In the Bible, a horn was a symbol of strength. The Messiah was to come from the family line of King David. So Zechariah was singing about the same thing his son would prophesy when John the Baptist saw Jesus, and John proclaimed, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

   Zechariah’s song reminds us that Christ came to save us from sin.

The angel’s song says that Christ came to give us peace (Luke 2:13-14)

   When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he was suddenly surrounded by a great angel choir that sang the best-known of the songs that first Christmas. We read it in Luke 2:13-14. It is called “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” because it begins with the words, “Glory to God in the highest.”

   The angel’s song spoke about Christ, the Prince of Peace, coming to bring us peace. Most of us know this song from the King James Version, which says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, Good will towards men.” Many of us react to that like the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” during the Civil War. He wrote,

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

   The good news is that the most reliable ancient manuscripts do not say what the KJV says. That is why the HCSB translates it, “peace on earth to people He favors!” You see, Jesus’ coming is not a general guarantee that everybody will have peace. The more accurate translation does not say peace to all men, but peace to people He favors. That is, peace is available to those who receive God’s grace, or favor, through faith in Christ. As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” On Christmas Eve, 1914, during World War I, the British, French and German armies laid down their arms and visited with one another in peace, and they all sang “Silent Night” in their own languages, as they all knew the song. The message about the Prince of Peace made all the difference, even in the midst of war.

   Have you found the peace of Christ? The angel’s song reminds us that Christ came to give us peace, a peace we receive by faith in Him.

Simeon’s song says that to keep Christmas with us, we must share it (Luke 2:29-32)

   There is one more Christmas song in Luke’s Gospel. Officially, it was after Christmas, since it happened a few days later. A lot of people get the post-Christmas blues after Christmas is over. They get kind of sad, taking down the Christmas tree and putting away the decorations. And we rarely sing Christmas carols after Christmas Day. But Simeon did.

   A few days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to dedicate Him to the Lord in the temple. There they met a prophet named Simeon, who had been waiting all of his life for the Messiah to come and save His people. Luke 2:26 says it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. When he saw Jesus with Mary and Joseph, Simeon took Him in his arms and sang the fourth Christmas carol. In that song, Simeon reminded us that to keep Christmas with us, we must share it. We read the song in Luke 2:29-32.

   Simeon sang, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples—a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.”

   Simeon knew that the salvation that is offered in Jesus Christ was prepared for “all peoples,” both Gentiles and Jews, and he wanted everybody to know that the baby Jesus that he was holding in his arms was the Savior.

   Simeon’s song reminds us, to keep Christmas all year long, keep on sharing the good news.

 Christmas carols that celebrate Jesus may not be in the top 20, but people still recognize the songs and enjoy hearing them this season of the year, which is all the more reason for us to play carols in our homes and cars and places we work. It’s a simple way to share the good news.

    And how we need to renew the tradition of going Christmas caroling! I have a suspicion that if Zechariah and Simeon and Mary were with us today, they would be going door-to-door caroling, with some shepherds right behind them and angels overhead.

   Years ago, a small group of carolers went door-to-door in a wealthy neighborhood of Beverly Hills, California. They rang a doorbell, and the man of the house answered, all in a hurry. He said, “Look, I appreciate the sentiment, but I really don’t have time for this. The house is a mess and we’re trying to get out the door to go shopping. Come by some other day.” As he shut the door, Bing Crosby and his family said, “Okay,” and left.

    God sent His Son at Christmas. Don’t be so busy you miss the song.

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…

Book review: The Best Yearly Devotionals

Devotionals

Many people like to get a book with devotional readings for the entire year. If you are shopping for an annual devotional book, the two classic, all-time best, in my opinion, are Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, and My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (I recommend spending a little extra to get the updated edition of Chambers, because his work was originally written in 1917, and the language of the original can be difficult to follow.) Both of these devotionals are strongly rooted in the scripture, with penetrating insights that will drive you to deeper prayer and faithfulness.

Another excellent classic, Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon, provides readings for morning and evening every day. A Year with C.S. Lewis provides great selections from Lewis’s writings for every day of the year. The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy Keller, has a year of brief, Christ-centered daily devotionals through the Psalms. The prayers Keller offers are particularly inspiring.  Keller has also published a new devotional on the Proverbs, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. All of the above devotionals will cause you to think deeply and inspire you.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is an extremely popular devotional that uses the literary device of speaking to the reader as if it is the words of Jesus Himself. The devotionals in Jesus Calling are brief but quite encouraging, especially to those who need to find peace in their lives. However, the devotional has been criticized because the author claims she received the messages directly from Jesus, and some authors have pointed out minor errors in her book that prove not all messages were directly from God. (For more on this controversy, check the excellent book review by Tim Challies here.)  Despite these criticisms, I think her devotional is very helpful, and to her credit, Young includes scripture references at the end of each devotional. Young also has published spin-off devotionals that are similar, such as Dear Jesus.

Daily Guideposts, published annually by Guideposts magazine, include many inspiring stories by a different author every day, and while they are well-written, they lack as much substance as the other devotionals mentioned above.

Voices of the Faithful, edited by Beth Moore, has devotional stories by missionaries.

If you are looking for a devotional for married couples, Our Love Is Here to Stay: A Daily Devotional for Couples, by Tony and Lois Evans, is the best one I have read on the subject. It is well-written, interesting, and full of practical wisdom.

Book review: “Love and Respect”

BookLoveAndRespect

Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs is an extremely helpful Christian book on marriage. It was first published in 2004, and has sold over one million copies. My wife Mary and I listened to it together and we agreed he correctly understands the emotional needs of husbands and wives.

Eggerichs makes a great contribution to understanding marriage by his insight into the importance of taking Ephesians 5:33 literally: “Let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” The author points out that the greatest emotional need of the wife is for love, and the greatest emotional need of the husband is respect.

He gives specific ways that men can show love to their wives, and wives show respect to their husbands, to avoid the “crazy cycle,” as he calls it, of each spouse withholding what the other needs because of not getting what they themselves need. He speaks of the “energizing cycle” when spouses meet the need of the other. He concludes by emphasizing that the motivation of a Christian to meet the need of his or her spouse should be obedience to Christ, which he calls the “reward cycle.”

Book review of children’s book: “Who sang the first song?”

Who Sang the First Song? is a large hardback children’s book, written in rhyme by songwriter Ellie Holcomb and beautifully illustrated by Kayla Harren. In 24 pages that flow through 12 large two-page colorful drawings, Holcomb repeatedly asks the question, “Who sang the first song?” and then suggests the answer with questions, as it the names parts of the creation. The questions come in an order similar to the days of creation, flowing through poetic references to wind, moon, stars, sun, sea creatures, animals, plants and birds. The book answers, “All these guesses we’ve made are quite good, but they’re wrong. It was God, our Maker, who sang the first song!” Then Holcomb explains that God “wrote His song into everything” and tells children they are good and wonderfully made, and that God wants children to “sing with your life and your voice.” Each page shows happy children, and includes musical notes in the sky. Harren’s contrasting colors and detail delighted my grandchildren, who enjoyed pointing out things like the frog on an umbrella or a girl holding a basket of rabbits. I read this book to my grandchildren, ages 2, 3, 4 and 6. (In the photo, my grandson is reading the page with his favorite illustration.) The youngest were fascinated by the illustrations and wanted to see it again and again, while the older ones also understood the message.
Ironically, although the book is published by B&H Kids of Nashville (publishing arm of Southern Baptists), it is printed in Shenzhen, China (next door to Hong Kong), in a communist country that suppresses Christians from sharing the faith with their own children.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, but was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Book review: “Letters to an American Christian”

LetterstoAnAmericanChristian

How should the faith of American Christians affect their politics?
Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of theology and culture at Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in a scholarly yet readable way in his new book, Letters to an American Christian (Nashville: B & H, 2018). He uses the technique of imaginary letters to a young new believer, named “Christian.” Imagining he is responding to Christian’s questions and experiences as a new believer and college student in a liberal secular university, he covers a vast array of topics from a Biblical worldview, including church and state, free speech, women’s rights, racism, Black Lives Matter, political correctness, big government, judicial activism, gun ownership, gay rights, transgenders, environmentalism, immigration, nationalism, war and peace, and fake news.
The author frequently includes catchy quotations, humor and personal references to his fictional friend that make the scholarly portions of the book come across more human. Yet he is clearly a scholar, drawing from a vast reading and rooted in Biblical references and concepts. In his chapter on immigration, I was surprised that he made no reference to the Old Testament injunction to protect the “sojourner” and “alien” among Israel, since they were once sojourners in Egypt. His political views are self-described as “center right” (p. 211), and this comes across consistently, as he defends most conservative views, but does it with compassion and moderation. He is strongly critical of secular and liberal political views. He also criticizes alt-right, ultra-conservative views, especially those that are mean-spirited.
Few people are likely to agree with every position Dr. Ashford takes on so many topics, but most Bible-believing Christians will find his book thought-provoking and helpful in forming their own positions.

(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

When is a believer’s name written in the Book of Life?

BookOfLife

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Revelation 20:15 says that everyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. From this passage, Christians conclude that God has a record of followers of Jesus Christ– the Book of Life– and that we do not have to fear Judgment Day, because if our names are written in the Book of Life, we will receive the gift of eternal life in heaven by God’s grace.

But exactly when is a believer’s name written in the Book of Life– at birth, or at the time we believe? I have always thought of it as written at the time that we believe in Christ, since it is a record of those who believe. However, I recently learned I was wrong.

We were discussing this in my Bible class recently. My friend Allen Steele pointed out Revelation 13:8 and 17:8. Both passages refer to unbelievers as “everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb…” If unbelievers names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, then it would follow logically that the names of believers were written from the foundation of the world in the book of life.

If we think this through, it makes perfect sense. After all, God speaks of our salvation as being “chosen in Him, before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), and that “those He foreknew He also predestined” (Romans 8:29), since we are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:1-2). In other words, God in His omniscience already foreknows what we will do, so He can speak of us as “chosen,” and He already has our names in the book even before we were born.

Does this mean our salvation is predetermined, without any choice on our parts? No, we “sealed” that entry in the book when we believed. As Ephesians 1:13 says, “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Thus Revelation 7:4 refers to believers as those “sealed.” So God foreknew who would believe, and already has their names in His book, but when we believe, we “seal” the deal.

 

Rising Tide: A Way to Understand Prophecy in Revelation

WavesOnSea

Copyright 2018 by Bob Rogers

For three decades as a preacher and teacher, I have studied and taught the Book of Revelation. I have sought to balance symbolism with the literal return of Jesus Christ. One of the thorniest questions has been, How do we understand the chronological sequence of prophecy in Revelation? The most helpful way to see it is what I call the “Rising Tide” theory. Let me explain why I think this, and then explain the theory.

The problem: As one studies the Revelation, we notice that in numerous places, the prophecies seem to describe the end times long before the end of the book. Revelation 6:17 speaks of how the great day of wrath has come, and that’s in the very first chapter of prophecy after the Lamb breaks open the seals! Revelation 11:19 says that God’s temple in heaven opened, preparing for the end, yet in the next chapter, Revelation 12, the gospel story is repeated from heaven’s viewpoint with the images of the birth and resurrection of Christ. Revelation 14:14-20 speaks of the harvest of God’s judgment (again sounding like the end), but then the following chapters revert back, coming to a climax in Revelation 19 with the rider coming on white horse (Jesus), the beast (antichrist) and false prophet cast into lake of fire. From that point forward, the chronology in chapters 20-22 appears to follow a direct line to the end, with Satan bound a thousand years, then thrown into lake of fire, and a new heaven and new earth, and invitation to respond.

The “Rising Tide” explanation: How are we to find a chronological order of prophecy in all of this? Instead of seeing the prophecies in chapters 6 and following as a straight line chronological order, I think we should interpret them like the waves during the rising tide of the seashore. That is, the prophecies appear to move near the end, then go back and repeat, each time coming close to the end times, just as the rising tide comes in waves to the seashore, receding, then coming farther in, receding again but eventually coming in farther and farther. I believe this interpretation honors the reality of the text, taking seriously the symbolism but also trusting in its truthfulness. Revelation is a powerful book, inspired by God to steadily wash over us with our need to have our names written in His book of life. By repeatedly warning us of the end, instead of just one description of the end, the constant waves of its truth have a greater affect on our hearts to fall down in worship before the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

 

Some of my favorite sunsets

Copyright by Bob Rogers

The greatest show on earth is in the heavens, and it is performed by God. No cinema is as stunning as the daily sunrise and sunset.

Here are five photos I have taken of sunsets. They cannot do justice to the glory of seeing them in person, but at least they capture the memories that I have of each one. Here are the photos, and the stories behind them. Please share in the comments which one is your favorite.

SunsetCooperLake

#1. SUNSET AT COOPER LAKE (above). I took this photo a few years ago at Cooper Lake, Morton, Mississippi, where I was with my wife’s family reunion. I like the reflection on the water, the silhouette of the cattails, and the framing of the tree above.

SunsetFlorida

#2. SUNSET IN NASSAU COUNTY, FLORIDA (above). I was visiting my younger daughter, Lauren, who lives in Florida, and was walking in her subdivision, when this sunset grabbed my eye. I love the vivid colors, the reflection on the water, and the framing of the pine needles.

SunsetPorch

#3. SUNSET ON COUNTRY PORCH (above). This photo was taken on my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s porch, who live in the country in Scott County, Mississippi. Although it is at sunset, this photo is more about other things: the long shadows, peaceful grass and gentle path, and the rose bush. The rose has a special memory, because it was planted and tended by their son (my nephew) Brian, who died this past winter. We think of him when we see the rose, and think of his sunrise when we see the sunset.

SunsetSteeple

#4. SUNSET STEEPLE (above). For the past year, I have been interim pastor of First Baptist Church, McLaurin, Mississippi. One Wednesday night, I arrived at the church and I was awed by the sunset behind the sanctuary, so I quickly snapped this picture.

SunsetSwing

#5. SUNSET IN THE CLOUDS (above). This photo was taken from the swing in my front yard in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The tall pines prevent us from seeing the actual sun as it sets, but one evening as I was sitting in the swing, I was captivated by the sun’s reflection on the clouds.

I hope you enjoyed these photographs as much as I enjoyed taking them. So which is your favorite? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Twisted scripture: “The curse of Canaan,” used to justify racism

Copyright by Bob Rogers

NoahSonsCurse

Canaan be cursed. He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers. – Genesis 9:25, CSB

One of the most despicable distortions of the Bible in all of history, was the use of Genesis 9:25 to justify enslaving the African people.

According to Genesis, shortly after Noah and his sons survived the flood, Noah got drunk and was lying naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw his father naked and told his two brothers. The two brothers took a cloak and walked backwards into the tent to cover their father while showing him respect by not looking at him. Genesis 9:24-27 says that when Noah awoke and learned what his youngest son had done, he cursed Ham’s descendants by cursing his son Canaan, saying he should be the slave of the descendants of the other sons.

This verse has been used to justify African slavery by those who claimed Canaan was the ancestor of Africans, and that Negroes were destined to be slaves of Caucasians. Since Genesis 10: 6 mentions that one of Ham’s sons was Cush, generally identified with Ethiopia, he has been falsely identified with Ham’s other son Canaan, as though both were African. However, the curse was on Canaan, not Cush, and Genesis 10:15-19 says that the descendants of Canaan included the Jebusites, Amorites and the settlers of Sodom and Gomorrah. All of these are well documented as being in Palestine, not Africa. The Amorites were so evil that Genesis 15:16 says, “the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (This full measure eventually was punished when Joshua entered the land to destroy this people, who were known for such evils as child sacrifice.) As for Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19 tells the story of the destruction of those cities due to their homosexual perversion.

Not only did the curse of Noah apply to Canaan and not Cush, but a prejudice against a descendant of Cush is specifically condemned in scripture. Numbers 12:1-16 tells how Moses own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, and the Lord became angry with Aaron and Miriam, cursing Miriam with leprosy for speaking against Moses and his Cushite wife. There are many other scriptures that condemn racism and teach that God does not show favoritism, showing how God accepts people from every race and nation who follow Him (Genesis 12:2-3; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 96:3; Isaiah 2:2; 56:6-7, Jonah 4:11; Acts 10:34-35, Galatians 2:11-14, Colossians 3:11, James 2:1-4, Revelation 7:9).

Thus, not only is it a devilish distortion of scripture to say that Africans were cursed to be slaves, it is also a correct conclusion from scripture to say that those who practice racism against Africans (or any other people) are cursed!