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Prayer Asking Why

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Lord, why is there cancer? Why must a child die? Why is there pain and heartbreak? My God, why have You forsaken me? … Jesus, You asked the same question on the cross. It made no sense at the time for You to die as a young man. Yet the answer was in the question, for Your forsakenness brought our forgiveness. So Lord, even as we as raise our hands to heaven and cry out “Why?” we will also grasp the divine Hand who holds the answers to the question, and we will not let go, for we are trusting that one day we will know. Until that day, it is enough that we hold the Hand that holds the answers.  

Easter jazz

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

“Who will roll away the stone?” Mark 16:3

“Who will roll away the stone?” the women asked as they approached Jesus’ tomb. Their Savior had died, their hopes were gone, and their heads hang in despair as the question lingered in the air. Can you relate to that?

We have stones that need to be rolled away, too. Our way is blocked with giant stones with names like cancer and COVID-19, stones with names like debt and divorce, names like shame and sorrow, and the actual names of people like the crazy co-worker, the insane in-law, the nosy neighbor.

Like the women that first Easter Sunday morning, we too wonder, “Who will roll away the stone?”

In many ways, the message of Easter is like jazz music. Jazz music originated with African-American musicians in New Orleans around 1900, and it often expresses discordant notes of pain that are then resolved with the swing of sweet notes of joy.  

Easter is like jazz music. The people loved Jesus for His compassion for the outcast, His inspiring teaching of love, and His healing of the sick. Imagine their despair when Jesus was arrested, flogged, spat upon, mocked with a purple robe and crown of thorns, beat upon the head, forced to carry His cross to Calvary, the Place of the Skull, and then the nails slammed through his hands and feet, and forced to hang there naked and suffering, No wonder Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It’s bad enough when you and I feel forsaken by God, but here was the Son of God feeling forsaken by God! That despair was shared by Jesus’ disciples. The disciples were hiding out in a room, afraid for their future, fearing they would be next.

But that was on Friday. Very early on Sunday morning, everything changed. The stone was rolled away, an angel in white clothes had bright news, that although they came thinking they would see a dead corpse, instead they saw an empty tomb, because Jesus was crucified, but now He has risen! The One who had been nailed to a cross was now raised from the grave, the One who had been whipped was now being worshiped.

His story was also their story. The wondering women had their stone moved, the shamed Simon Peter discovered that his Savior was alive. Notice verse 7 says to tell the disciples “and Peter.” The frightened disciples became bold preachers of the gospel.

What a crazy change in three days! No wonder they were overwhelmed with emotion.

Verse 5 says they were “amazed” and “alarmed.” Verse 8 says “trembling” and “astonishment overwhelmed them” and that they were “afraid.”

That’s why I say Easter is like jazz— it moves from discord to resolution, from pain to joy, and it requires a certain mystery and faith. Somebody asked Louis Armstrong what jazz music was, and he said, “If you have to ask, you don’t know!”

But you can know the Easter jazz. You can believe in Jesus Christ. His story was their story and it can be your story and mine.

The apostle Paul put it this way in Ephesians 2:1, 4-6: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… But God, who is rich and mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ, even though you were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.”

Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 51-52: “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”

Easter does not mean that we will no longer have problems. The music of our lives will continue to have bent notes and broken cords. But because of His resurrection, the discord will be resolved with the sweet sound of hope for all of us who believe.

What stones do you need to have rolled away? What hope do you need to hear? Shh! Listen closely. I think I hear Jesus playing jazz!

Book review: “Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life and Eternity”

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Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life, and Eternity by Leanne Hadley is an inspiring collection of true stories by a United Methodist minister, primarily telling the stories of dying children she met as a young chaplain in a children’s hospital. Her stories of faith are deeply moving. She opens with her own story of faith as a preacher’s daughter, and how she began to doubt her faith. Then she tells a dozen stories of the faith of children who faced their own death, and the death of her own mother. This short book concludes with a summary of lessons learned that ties together the stories well, and shows how the faith of those to whom she ministered erased her own doubts. Some of the stories of children’s faith and encounters with angelic visions are amazing, and even startling, yet there is little reason to think that she is embellishing them.
This book is encouraging to anybody facing a terminal illness, especially the terminal illness of a child. It is also a great resource for those who do hospital ministry, as Hadley models good practices, and is honestly self-effacing about her feelings of inadequacy at times to do this ministry.
I could hardly put the book down, it was so engaging. I highly recommend it.

Guest blog: “Defeating Giants” by Melissa Hanberry

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Copyright by Melissa Hanberry.
 Below is a guest post from Melissa Hanberry, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Melissa wrote this post in 2014, eloquently describing the lessons of faith that she and her family have learned as her daughter, Maggie, battled cancer from age 16 to age 20. Maggie went to be with the Lord on July 31, 2018. (Melissa is seated in this family photo, with her daughter Maggie seated on the chair arm, and daughter Molly and husband Phil standing.)
This post is taken, with her permission, from her Caring Bridge website. You can follow Melissa’s writings and learn how to pray for Maggie at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/maggiehanberry.”
 
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;
 Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  Psalm 23:4
 
Despite the Shepherd Psalm’s perennial status as the go-to passage for the dying and grieving alike, lately I’ve come to appreciate the message for the living that David expressed in Psalm 23. The picture of God as Shepherd and His people as sheep strikes at the heart of man’s humanistic hubris, but I find comfort in knowing He guides and cares for His own. My enemies and the evil they unleash threaten to turn life’s walk into a valley of the shadowiest shadows, as the Hebrew implies. David had more than his share of overhanging darkness and the wickedness that can hide within. I wonder exactly which foes pounced anew in his mind as he pinned these words.  Lions? Bears? Goliath?
 
Goliath’s name is forever coupled with David’s as the ultimate descriptor for the unexpected triumph of underdog over odds-on favorite. When they faced off in the valley of Elah, Goliath seemed to carry victory in his back pocket. At least that’s the way it appeared day after day when his challenges were met with stony silence. But do we get the story exactly right? Did Goliath’s massive size and prowess present such an obstacle that David’s one and only chance was a miracle-type one in a million shot? David had faced hairy beasts before – and won. He had slung his stones countless times until he achieved true warrior status as an ancient artillery expert. Truth be told, Goliath was probably the underdog in his cumbersome attire and with his weighty weapons relying on his own brute strength. His defeat was the safe bet that day unless he could freeze David in his tracks with fear and doubt, not by his intimidating exterior, but with the tongue he used to taunt David.
 
Goliath has a thousand twins that live large in our valleys. A few have human faces, some have heavy-sounding names and lurk within, while many are formless clouds looming overhead with darkest intent. Cancer. Pride. Debilitating pain. Unbelief. Disappointment. Bitterness. Insecurity. They mock us with questions and foster doubts in the One who sends us into battle. Your God is not big enough, strong enough, wise enough, concerned enough to deliver you. You think you have the proper tools to beat me? “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” (1 Samuel 17:43)
 

David took Goliath’s life with a stony missile and a conquered sword. Those are the tools of the trade we associate with his victory. But his first step in winning the battle was winning the war of words. “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.” (1 Sam 17:45) And there were two more weapons with David that day. Those sticks didn’t escape Goliath’s attention, so they shouldn’t escape mine. David’s rod and staff? The same rod and staff of Psalm 23:4? Maybe David carried them to battle for comfort, a tangible reminder of the Good Shepherd who counts, rescues, and protects His own. Today they remind me that our battle with cancer is not fought on one plane with one weapon alone. In the same way a shepherd numbers his sheep as each passes beneath the rod, He numbers the very hairs on Maggie’s head and bids us not to fear (Luke 12:7). And with the staff, He searches and rescues me from the end of my own path. With such a Shepherd, my valley of darkest shadows becomes my place of deepest trust and sweetest victory.