Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.
We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:
I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)
People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)
Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!
III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)
Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”
My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.” In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.
The Shack is a motion picture being released on March 3, 2017. It has a Christian message, yet some Christians are calling the movie heresy. What’s going on?
The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by William Paul Young. (This is a review of the book. You can read my review of the movie by clicking here.) It is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. The main character, Mack, gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. Mack goes, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God’s goodness. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Then why the controversy?
Negative elements in the book
Many people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name “Papa,” Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for “wind”) whom you can see through. Although they appear as three persons, they are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. “Papa” reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact, (spoiler warning: don’t read this next statement if you don’t want to know too much about the novel’s plot…) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, “Papa” appears to Mack as a man.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
The most troubling part of the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. It appears that Jesus is saying that He has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has “Jesus” speak:
“…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'”
Perhaps this is universalism, or perhaps it means that Jesus is the only way, but He will do what it takes to reach us. The only thing that is clear is that it is left unclear.
Positive elements in the book
The book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion. It illustrates how suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God’s purposes, thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know too much of the plot…) Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Mack is asked to “play God” and decide which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack’s reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
God says, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” (p. 204)
God says, “Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” (p. 224)
This is a review of The Shack, the book. The movie has several differences, so see my follow-up review of the actual film by clicking here. The movie has no profanity, and has fewer implications of universal salvation, as some of the above conversations that imply universalism are not in the film. Also, the depiction of God the Father as a woman is explained earlier and more clearly in the film.
Whatever your opinion about the depiction of the Trinity and other controversial elements in the book, it is an inspiring message of how God works through suffering that reminds us how we ultimately find hope not in the shack, but in the cross.
“God…rewards those who seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6b, HCSB
I like rewards.
I’m a member of the Holiday Inn Priority Club, and I like getting rewards for staying at the Holiday Inn. They give me a gift bag when I arrive. They let me check out late. I earn points and occasionally get to stay one night free.
But no rewards program can compare with God’s rewards program. Yes, we’re saved by grace, not by good deeds. The greatest reward is our salvation and eternal life in heaven. However, God also grants amazing rewards for serving Him. Here’s my top ten:
1. Reward for good deeds. First Corinthians 3:11-15 says that Jesus is the foundation of salvation, but if anybody builds on that foundation, “he will receive a reward” (v. 14).
2. Reward for giving up sin. Moses gave up “the fleeting pleasures of sin” for Christ, “for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
3. Reward for humility. Jesus repeatedly said that if we do our good deeds humbly and in secret, that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
4. Reward for generosity. Jesus said that if you invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner instead of your friends, family or rich neighbors, “you will be repaid at the resurrection” (Luke 14:12-14).
5. Reward for discipline. The apostle Paul said that athletes receive a temporary crown that fades away, but if we live a disciplined Christian life, we receive an “imperishable” crown (1 Corinthians 14:12-14).
6. Reward for service. Colossians 3:23-24 says that if you work heartily for the Lord, “you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”
7. Reward for enduring trials. The “crown of life” is mentioned twice in scripture (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) for the one “who remains steadfast under trial.”
8. The prophet’s reward. The shepherd (pastor) of the flock of God is promised “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Jesus says this reward is also available to all, for “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).
9. Reward for looking forward to the Second Coming. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord… will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
10. Reward for leaving a legacy. Abraham, the father of faith, was told, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Think of Abraham’s legacy of faith as Father of the Hebrew nation, ancestor of Jesus, and role model of faith for all people. There can be no greater reward than a legacy of faith that leads others to faith. There can be no greater reward than seeing others in heaven because we shared our faith with them on earth.
How about you? Are you in God’s reward program?
Guest article, Copyright by Dawn McDowell
Here are five reasons why this activity that has been growing in popularity in recent years can give your relationship a boost.
Millions of Americans tune in to Dancing With The Stars each week to watch celebrities waltz, tango and salsa in pursuit of the mirror-ball trophy. Many of the viewers have decided to give partner dancing a whirl themselves.
If you have not rushed out to your local ballroom dance studio with the throngs of others, I challenge you to consider it. Before you discount it, consider these five benefits of learning to dance with your spouse.
- Dance is a fun activity you and your spouse can do together.
To dance is to celebrate. Consider these biblical references:
I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful. Jeremiah 31:4, NIV
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11, NLT
Be glad at such a time, and dance for joy; for your reward is great in Heaven. Luke 6:23a, Weymouth New Testament
Dancing is customary at many weddings and holiday socials — times of celebration. And it can be a source of joy and fun for your marriage.
“The enjoyable times we spend together are the lifeblood of a marriage,” writes Greg Smalley, in an online article on the Focus on the Family website. “In fact, while researching their book Fighting for Your Marriage, the authors discovered that ‘the amount of fun [couples] had together emerged as the strongest factor in producing their overall marital happiness.‘”
Engaging in fun activities together creates memories that can be enjoyed for years to come as you reflect on them.
- Learning to dance together can rekindle romance.
A study by social psychologists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook found that enjoying a new recreational activity with your spouse can rekindle the romance that brought you together in the first place.
“New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine,” writes Tara Parker-Pope in an online New York Times article reporting on the research. “These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner.”
“Every marriage could use more romance,” writes Neil Clark Warren in Catching the Rhythm of Love. “It weaves you together, soul to soul.”
If you and your spouse have dance experience, choose a new style of dance and reap the romantic benefits of learning something new together.
- Dancing is great exercise. It improves your health while it improves your relationship.
The health benefits of dancing can include losing weight, reducing the effects of stress, strengthening your heart, lifting your spirits, improving your balance, and increasing your flexibility and energy level.
In a guest post on simplemarriage.net, Sean Marshall, dates and romance columnist of Family Rocketship, includes dancing on his list of physical “date night” activities. “Dancing is a fantastic way to get to know each other’s bodies and work together to create something beautiful,” he writes. “Find a dance style that you both like and go for it.
“The goal is to achieve a happy and strong marriage,” Marshall writes. “Two healthy bodies sure help you achieve that worthy goal.”
- Dancing together increases intimacy.
Intimacy is the genuine closeness that can be developed in all dimensions of a marriage. Sharing experiences, conquering challenges and generally navigating life together over time contributes to this closeness.
In a post on his Complete Life Fitness blog, dance instructor Stuart Palmer describes observations that he and his wife Tracy have made in their students:
… we continue to see that couples who dance together generally have better relationships and deeper intimacy. Not only that, but just about every couple we’ve taught proclaims that learning to dance together parallels learning to have a better relationship. And it’s true; the couples that look the best on the dance floor have learned to be better partners. They understand their individual roles and know how to enhance their partnership.
- Dancing together provides a “living picture” of scriptural marriage.
I have devoted an entire blog to exploring this “living picture,” and I invite you to visit marriagedance.org. For a sneak preview, I provide these words from author Sheila Gregoire’s blog. She describes the experience of learning to dance with her husband:
It really does change your relationship. It makes you work together. It makes you smile.
In most areas of our lives today, the sexes are interchangeable. A woman can do whatever a man can do, and vice versa. Dancing is one of the few areas of life where you have to either be a man or be a woman. You each have very defined roles, and it reminds you that you are two very different halves of one whole.
… If you’ve ever longed to hear her [your wife] say, “You decide and I’ll follow,” you’ve got to hit the dance floor.
Dancing doesn’t work if she tries to take control. You [the man] really do get to decide pretty much everything. And once she realizes that it works better that way, she can be putty in your hands. Plus, it is awfully romantic.
While you get to feel like a man, she gets to feel like a princess as you twirl her around. … It’s about treating her like she’s precious, and showing her off to the world. What woman doesn’t want to be treated like that?
Scriptural marriage affirms the equal value of men and women. It describes distinctly different and complementary roles for each of them. It is a beautiful partnership that I believe can be more completely understood by learning to dance with your spouse.
Waltz. Tango. Polka. Square Dance. There are a multitude of dance styles from which you can choose one that suits your preferences. Engage with your spouse in this fun and active pursuit, and your marriage will reap the benefits.
About the author: Dawn McDowell is a freelance writer and avid social dancer who has studied and practiced ballroom and swing dancing for more than 15 years. Desiring to see Christian marriages strengthened for the glory of God, she created a workshop that incorporates dance instruction with a scripture study on marriage. For more information, visit marriagedance.org. This article was previously published in Marriage Magazine.
Are you ticked off? Angry? Has something made you hot under the collar? In John 9, the Bible tells the story of how Jesus healed a man who was born blind, but instead of people celebrating, he got nitpickers, wound lickers, goodness sakers… and finally, an arm waver. Compare your own attitude with theirs:
1. Nitpickers (John 9:14-16)
The Pharisees nitpicked about how Jesus supposedly “worked” on the Sabbath because he made some mud with His saliva, touched a blind man’s eyes, and healed him. The Jewish Mishnah did not allow kneading dough on the Sabbath, and so in their minds, what Jesus did qualified as a violation. Never mind that a blind man could now see! Nitpickers love to burst the balloons of our celebrations, observing at a wedding that the bride needs to lose weight, criticizing a child for not making all A’s on his report card, complaining about the songs we sing at church. Don’t be a nitpicker!
2. Wound lickers (John 9:18-19)
The Pharisees could not leave well enough alone. They summoned the man’s parents to know if he was really born blind and how he received his sight. They wanted to expose some imaginary wrong. Wound lickers refuse to let others or themselves heal. The husband who always brings up his wife’s past mistakes, the woman who says after a divorce that she will never trust a man again, or the church member who says he’ll never go back to the church because nobody called when he was sick, are all examples of wound lickers. Scarred by emotional wounds, we cannot heal if we continue to lick them and gnaw at them. Don’t be a wound licker!
3. Goodness sakers (John 9:28)
Finally, the Pharisees crossed their arms, and looked down their noses, ridiculing Jesus and the man He healed. They said, “We know that God has spoken to Moses. But this man– we don’t know where He’s from!” Ray Stevens had a humorous song, “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” with a character named Sister Bertha Better-than-You. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sisters and brothers like Bertha in our churches, putting their hands on their hips and declaring, “For goodness sake, who let those people in here?” Being a goodness saker is the greatest temptation of church members, and it is the biggest turnoff to the lost. For goodness sake, don’t be a goodness saker!
4. Arm wavers (John 9:38)
It’s stunning that this story is almost over before somebody finally celebrates. The arm waver is the man who was healed of blindness. It progressively comes to him throughout the chapter, as he realized just who Jesus is. He calls Jesus a “man” (v. 11), then a “prophet” (v. 17), then recognizes Jesus as a life changer (v. 25), then a “man from God” (v. 33), and finally he calls Him “Lord” (v. 38) and does a full body wave, worshiping at Jesus’ feet. He challenges the nitpickers and goodness sakers, reminding them that nobody in history has healed a man born blind. He declared, “Whether or not He’s a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (v. 25).
How we need arm wavers. These are the people who cheer for their child’s Little League team when they down by ten runs, and praise the grandchildren for their creative coloring (even though they colored on the wall). They are the ones who jump up and shout when someone trusts in Christ and is baptized. In heaven, nobody will be nit picking (“I don’t like my mansion”), wound licking (“I see your husband didn’t make it”), or goodness saking (“I’ve got a better mansion than you”), but all will be arm waving before the throne of God. So if that’s what we’ll do in heaven, why don’t we live like that on earth?
Here are the words of Bishop Wayne T. Jackson’s prayer, offered at the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, January 20, 2017:
We thank You, Father, for letting us share this great moment together. Let us not take for granted the air we breathe, or the life You’ve given us. We were all created by You with one blood, all nations to dwell on this land together. We’re not enemies; we’re brothers and sisters. We’re not adversaries, but we’re allies. We’re not foes, but we’re friends. Let us be healed by the power of Your love, and united by the bond of Your Spirit.
Today, we pray for our 45th president, the vice-president, and their families. Give them the wisdom to guide this great nation, the strength to protect it, and the hands to heal it. We bless President Donald J. Trump. We ask that You give him the wisdom of Solomon, the vision of Joseph, and the meekness of Christ. Solomon, who kept peace among many nations, Joseph, who dreamed better for the people, and Christ who accepted us all. Oh Lord, mend our hearts, and stitch together the fabric of this great country.
In the spirit of the legendary gospel songwriter, Mahalia Jackson,
Deep in my heart, I do believe/ the Lord will see us through, I do believe / We are on our way to victory, I do believe/ we will walk hand in hand, I do believe / We shall live in peace, I do believe/ Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe / America, we shall overcome.
And may the Lord bless and keep America, and make His face shine upon us, and be gracious unto us, and give us peace. In the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
Read “5 reasons to pray for President Trump (even if you didn’t vote for him)” here: https://bobrogers.me/2017/01/20/bishop-jacksons-inauguration-prayer-for-president-trump/
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Outreach magazine publishes a list of the 100 largest churches in America and the 100 fastest-growing churches in America.
But when we read about the church in the New Testament, we don’t read Paul reporting to the church that when he left Ephesus they were running 200 in Sunday worship. Instead of talking about numerical growth, he emphasizes spiritual growth. So why don’t we?
Instead of so much emphasis on church growth, we should talk about church health. So what makes a church healthy, anyway? Paul gives us a full description in Ephesians 4:11-16.
1. Leaders who equip
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11, HCSB)
Healthy churches have leaders who equip their members.
In this verse, the last two leadership gifts are indispensable to local church health. In Greek, the terms go together, “pastor-teacher.”
Pastors (translated “shepherds” in the ESV) bring guidance and comfort to the flock of God.
Teachers instruct the church in correct understanding of the Bible and Christian living.
Notice in verse 12 that these leaders have the purpose of training, or equipping, the church to do their work.
If a church is going to be healthy, it must have a pastor/teacher who is feeding the congregation God’s Word on a consistent basis.
2. Members who serve
“… for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12, HCSB)
Healthy churches have members who serve. Churches that grow rapidly from sensational entertainment often burst like a balloon and wither away. But when members serve, they reproduce healthy growth.
The “saints” are all the believers. “Saint” means a “holy one,” and every believer is called to be holy and set aside for God’s service.
It says the saints are trained by the leaders so that the saints can do the work of the ministry. So all members are called to serve.
3. Unity in the faith
“… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son…” (Ephesians 4:13a, HCSB)
Healthy churches are united. Unhealthy churches are divided. Notice the two ways he says we are to be united: by doctrinal faith (“in the faith”) and by personal faith (“and in the knowledge of God’s Son”).
Remember the lesson from Noah’s Ark. It may stink sometimes, but we have to stay together, because we’re all in the same boat!
4. Growth measured by Christ-likeness
“… growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:13b, HCSB)
Too often, churches measure themselves by numerical growth. And it is true that healthy churches should have numerical growth. However, there are churches that have numerical growth but they are not healthy. A tumor can grow, but it isn’t healthy. And some churches explode and then die down. Others grow and grow in numbers, but they are attracting people for entertainment or because their standards are lax, and people are not being discipled.
Notice that verse 13 gives the correct measurement of real growth: “a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” That is our measurement of growth: are we like Christ? If our budget grows but we spend our budget on a bowling alley for church members instead of helping the hurting and sharing the gospel, we may be growing in numbers but not in Christ-likeness.
Healthy churches measure growth by being more like Christ.
5. Teaching that provides stability
“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Ephesians 5:14, HCSB)
Another great sign of a healthy church is that the Bible is so consistently taught, that the members aren’t tricked by heresy and false teaching.
Years ago, a powerful wind storm blew an oak tree on the youth building of the church where I was pastor. The tree had shallow roots, and when the winds came, it fell. A healthy church that teaches the Bible is like a healthy tree with deep roots. It doesn’t fall under the pressure of false teaching.
6. Honest and loving relationships
“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head– Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)
Healthy churches have honest and loving relationships. “Speaking the truth in love” means that we are honest with each other, we speak the truth, but we are also loving when we do it. We don’t just try to please each other. If something’s wrong, we deal with it, but we always seek to deal with it in love. That’s challenging, but it’s vital to having a healthy church.
7. An environment that encourages involvement
“From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” (Ephesians 4:16, HCSB)
Healthy churches create an environment that encourages involvement. “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together… promotes the growth of the body…”
Many people think that it doesn’t matter if they are involved in the church or not, that the church won’t miss them if they are gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A healthy church is a church where misfits can fit in. A healthy church is a place where the displaced can find a place.
This world is in desperate need of healthy churches in every community. Christian, are you allowing God’s Spirit to work through you to make and keep your church healthy?
Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:31,35, 37-39 (ESV)
Why did he or she commit suicide? Could I have done something to prevent it? Most of us have asked these questions when someone we love has committed suicide. While there are no easy answers, the Bible gives us help in this time of grief.
Let me suggest several truths that can help.
1) Guard against being judgmental.
This is not a time to judge the friends, family, and certainly not a time to judge the one who took his or her life. No one knows the pressures or problems another person faces. Jesus taught us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, KJV) It will not help to judge others, nor to judge yourself.
You may have repeated the word “if.” If only I (or someone else) had said something or done something different, perhaps she or he would not have taken that precious life. Martha used the word “if.” In John 11, Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was dying and they sent for Jesus to heal him, but Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. In John 11:21, “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” But “if” is about the past. “If” cannot bring the loved one back, and it will not help us in the present.
Instead of asking “why?” or wondering “if,” we need to ask “what.” What can I do now? Jesus told Martha what she needed: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25, ESV)
So instead of asking, “why,” let’s ask “what.” What can we do to be better because of this?
2) Hold on to our hope in Christ.
There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. So let’s address the matter directly. Is suicide a sin? Yes, it is. Is suicide the unpardonable sin? No, it is not. There are so many reasons why we should not take our own lives, which I will discuss in a moment, but the Bible does not teach that suicide cannot be forgiven. Mark 3:28-30 says that all sins can be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to rejecting the Spirit’s call on us to follow Christ; this is not referring to taking one’s own life.
Our salvation is not based on the way we die, but based on the One who died for us.
3) God brings good out of the bad.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples thought their world had come to an end, and Jesus had been defeated. But instead, God was using it to forgive our sins, and then God raised Jesus from the dead to pave the way for us to have eternal life. God is in the business of bringing good out of bad!
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Jesus Christ is the permanent solution who makes our problems temporary!
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but he things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)
4) Let’s examine our own lives.
Life is a gift. We should not waste our lives by suddenly taking it, or by wasting it slowly by degrees, with meaningless living. Make your days count. Hug your children. Hug your parents. Say, “I love you.” Listen to one another. Reach out for help when you are in despair. Talk about your problems. We have a choice to be bitter or better because of this. If we can draw closer together as a community and with our families, we can be better.
Storms will come in our lives, but those who withstand are those who have strong roots. Years ago, a powerful storm blew down an oak tree in front of the youth center at the church where I was pastor. It crushed the roof and did major damage. Thankfully, it happened at night when nobody was inside. The reason it happened was that tree did not have deep roots. A tree that has deep roots can withstand a bigger storm.
The way you get deep roots is by a personal relationships with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. As you grow in your relationship with Him by faith, your roots get deeper and deeper, and you are more able to stand against the storms of life.
We will never understand all of the reasons why there is tragedy in life, but if we are rooted in Christ, we can hold on despite the tragedies we face.
The contemporary Christian group, 4Him, wrote a song about the tragic death of a friend, saying,
“When the reasons aren’t clear to me
When it all is a mystery
I want to know why.
And though down here I may not understand
I won’t let go of the Unseen Hand
For it holds the reasons why.”
Hold on to that Unseen Hand, my friend. He will be there for you.
Article Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Once I met a guy in the gym who had muscles of steel. I was amazed when he told me that he used to be fat, until he decided to get into shape.
First Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Many of us are spiritually fat. But just as my friend got physically fit, you can get into spiritual shape. Here’s how:
I. Put your heart into it.
Dotsie Bausch was riding a mountain bike one day when a group of competitive road cyclists flew past her. Dotsie chased them and stayed on their heels for two miles. That night, she told a friend, “This cycling thing, I’m actually pretty decent at it.” Four years later she was on the U.S. national cycling team. Her heart was all in. (Evan Miller, “Dotsie Bausch: Cycling,” Guideposts, July 2012, p. 47-49.)
Ezekiel 18:31. “Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” You must put your heart into it.
II. Remove hindrances.
In football, the offense has a big obstacle. It’s called the defense.
In the spiritual life, sinful obstacles block us, too.
Hebrews 12:1: “… let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”
Choose to remove the hindrances to your spiritual life, especially sinful lifestyles that have been dragging you down. Do it!
III. Exercise your spirit daily.
There are two major types of exercise: cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, and strength training, which is usually by lifting weights. Healthy athletes have a balance of both. Likewise, you need a balance of spiritual exercises, often called the “spiritual disciplines.” These include Bible reading and prayer, but they also include meditation and memorization of scripture, service and stewardship, worship and witness. A healthy spiritual life develops from regular practice of these spiritual disciplines.
As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
IV. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…”
In 2008, I was about 35 pounds overweight. I was breathing hard just walking to the second floor. My pants were too tight. I didn’t like how I looked. I made a decision to change, and put my heart into it. It was a lifestyle change, as I got serious about exercise, eating right, and sticking with it. Over a year, I took off the weight. Today, nine years later, I have maintained my lower weight and healthier lifestyle.
I had tried fad diets before, but I finally had success when I kept my focus on a goal and stuck with it.
In a much greater way, the same principle applies to your spiritual life.
How about you? Are you getting into spiritual shape? It’s got to start with a change of heart. Are you ready to begin the journey?
In case you missed them, here were my top blog posts and top new blog posts in 2016, in order of the most visits:
TOP THREE POSTS OF 2016:
1. Blessing the food: ways to say “Grace”: https://bobrogers.me/2013/10/25/blessing-the-food-ways-to-say-grace-before-meals/
2. Four great truths from the creation account in Genesis: https://bobrogers.me/2013/10/14/four-great-truths-from-the-creation-account-in-genesis/
3. Why I am changing Bible translations: https://bobrogers.me/2012/04/17/why-i-am-changing-bible-translations/
TOP THREE NEW POSTS OF 2016:
1. In this weird political year, be a patriotic prayer warrior! https://bobrogers.me/2016/05/05/be-a-patriotic-prayer-warrior/
2. Twisted scripture: “by His stripes, we are healed”: https://bobrogers.me/2016/08/07/twisted-scripture-by-his-stripes-we-are-healed/
3. Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”: https://bobrogers.me/2016/06/10/twisted-scripture-god-doesnt-put-on-you-more-than-you-can-handle/
“Today is Nazo Heydo’s wedding. The day she will set herself on fire.”
Thus begins What Comes with the Dust: Goes with the Wind, Gharbi Mustafa’s gripping novel about women who survive the abuses of the Islamic State.
I have read Gharbi Mustafa’s first novel, When Mountains Weep, which is the story of a Kurdish boy coming of age when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to exterminate the Kurds. I knew Mustafa was as excellent novelist, so I was looking forward to this second novel about the suffering of Yazidi Kurds under ISIS. I was totally blown away by this new book. Mustafa’s first book was very good; this book is great.
What Comes with the Dust: Goes with the Wind is a long title, which comes from the Yazidi religious legends that are explained in the book. It is a story about two Yazidi women, Nazo and Soz, and their struggle to survive. Nazo must escape slavery from ISIS to reach her forbidden lover. Soz is a female soldier who fights ISIS but also struggles with a secret love. Their fates are intertwined in a heart-wrenching story taken directly from the events we see on the daily news.
In 2014, the world watched in horror as Kurdish helicopters dropped relief supplies and tried to rescue thousands of Yazidis on Shingal Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan, trapped there by ISIS. Since then, the United Nations has recognized the Yazidis re the targets of genocide by the Islamic State.
Who are these Yazidis? Why are the Kurds so eager to rescue them? Why is ISIS so eager to destroy them? This novel answers these questions, even though it is a work of fiction. In story form, the novel unravels the mysteries of the Middle East to western readers. Along the way, Mustafa shows us the mysterious religion and culture of the Yazidis, and contrasts these peaceful people with the fanatical cruelty of ISIS. Rich in culture and characters, and jarring in its account of jihadist brutality, it is a story that keeps the reader turning the pages to the end. I simply could not put it down until I finished.
Gharbi Mustafa is uniquely qualified to write this story. A Kurd himself, Mustafa is professor of English at the University of Dohuk in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. He has personally interviewed Yazidi women who escaped ISIS, and knows the culture like few writers in the English language. As a novelist, he writes in a way that is at once deeply moving and enlightening. It is well worth the two hours and 200 pages.