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Nitpickers, wound lickers, goodness sakers and arm wavers

nitpicker

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?

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The wonder of the Christ child

BethlehemStable

Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

Barbara Robinson writes in her book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, about a Sunday School Christmas pageant. One child heard from Isaiah 9:6 that the Christ child’s name would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Wide-eyed, she responded, “He’d never get out of the first grade if he had to write all that.”
Perhaps we need to return to this familiar prophetic title with the same wonder of a child. We will see:

As Wonderful Counselor, Christ takes away our gloom.
As Mighty God, Christ takes away our doom.
As Everlasting Father, Christ adopts us all.
As Prince of Peace, Christ takes down the wall.

In the verses before Isaiah 9:6, we see how meaningful this really is…

I. Wonderful Counselor takes away our gloom

Isaiah 9:1 says “the gloom of the distressed will not be like that of the former times.” In this world, we often live in gloom and sorrow, but Christ takes it away. Our Wonderful Counselor listens with compassion, helps us see matters in a new light, confronts us with the truth, and guides us in the right way.

II. Mighty God takes away our doom

Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Because of our sin, we are living in the land of death, headed to a sinner’s hell. But the Christ child is more than a sweet baby; He is God in flesh, and able to save us from our sins by His sacrifice on the cross. He came to earth, so that we may go to heaven.

III. Everlasting Father adopts us all

Isaiah 9:4 speaks of the oppression and burdens of the people, who have no one to protect them. But God is a good Father, and His Son Jesus has come to adopt us all. When I say, “adopts us all,” I don’t mean to imply universal salvation; I’m speaking poetically of all who trust the blood of Christ, and then are adopted into God’s family, as if we were blood brothers and sisters. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised in John 14:18.

IV. Prince of Peace takes down the wall

Isaiah 9:5 speaks of the blood of war, from which Christ came to bring peace. He takes down the wall of sin (Isaiah 59:2), so that nothing separates us from God (Romans 8:38-39). He takes down the wall that separates us from our brothers and sisters in Christ: “For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

When missionary Don Richardson was trying to explain the gospel to a remote tribe, they could not understand the incarnation of God in flesh or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. But then he learned that when tribes wanted to make peace, they would exchange children to grow up in the other tribe. That was it! He explained that Jesus is our “Peace Child,” the Son of God, born as a Son of Man to make peace through His flesh.
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah’s birth long ago. As you celebrate His birth, you can also be born again by faith (John 3:3). Have you?

God’s Christmas letters to you

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Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

People enjoy getting Christmas cards and personal letters from old friends at Christmas. But did you know that God has Christmas letters for you, as well? We can easily spell C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S from the New Testament:

C- Clay. “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). As amazing as wrapping Jesus’ body in human flesh, is that He passes on the treasure of this gospel to humans to share, in our fleshly “jars of clay.”

H- Humble. “He humbled Himself, taking on the form of a man” (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus chose to empty His glory for a time, mysteriously humbling Himself in human form.

R- Rich. “He was rich but for your sake became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The Creator of the universe was born in a stable to offer the riches of salvation to us.

I- Image. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is God in flesh!

S- Son. “God sent His Son.” (Galatians 4:4).

T- Thanks. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). No gift you get for Christmas can be better than God’s gift of Jesus.

M- Manger. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12.

A- Angel. “And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you… therefore the child to be born will be called holy– The Son of God'” (Luke 1:35).

S- Savior. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

 

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

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Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

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

Twisted scripture: “the truth shall make you free”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

John8.32

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

President James A. Garfield said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Interesting quote, but President Garfield missed the point entirely.

One of the worst cases of taking a Bible verse out of context is John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This verse is engraved on courthouse entrances, implying that if a wise court can grant freedom by finding truth. This verse is cited by educators to say that knowledge is freedom, and it is quoted by investigative reporters who believe that freedom can be found in digging up the truth. While all of these are worthy goals, these interpretations ignore the verse immediately before it. So let’s read it again, this time in context:

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32, NKJV)

What a difference verse 31 makes! This verse gives us the audience to whom Jesus was speaking, and the conditions Jesus laid down to know truth and freedom. Notice what they are:

1. The audience. The audience who first heard these words were believers. Jesus “said to those Jews who believed Him…” Thus this promise is not intended for the general public. It is a promise for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Yet there is more.

2. The conditions. Jesus laid down two conditions to knowing truth and freedom. They link together like links in a chain. First, “If you abide in My word.” The first link is to continually study and obey the words of Christ. The second link results from the first: discipleship. He said, “you are My disciples indeed.” Note the word “indeed.” That is, if we study and obey Christ, then we are real disciples. The third link is in verse 32: “And you shall know the truth.” What is that truth? When Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, He said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:37). The governor asked, “What is truth?” Jesus had already answered that question in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The fourth link results from the third, of knowing the truth: “And the truth shall make you free.” As we have seen, the truth is Jesus. No wonder Christ said of Himself a few sentences later, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

So there you have it. If you believe in Jesus, then abide in Him. Study His word and obey it. If you do, you will be a real disciple. And if you are a real disciple, then you will really know the truth, for the truth is Jesus. And when you really know the truth in Jesus, you will truly be free.

Free from what? From from the power of death and the devil, from deception, and from deeds of sin. (See Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 2:11, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Galatians 5:13).

Engraved on the Statue of Liberty is a poem by Emma Lazarus that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Millions of people have passed by the Statue of Liberty as they came into New York harbor, seeking freedom in America. But Jesus Christ has a better offer. He says to those who believe in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Real freedom comes from real discipleship, following the real Savior.

How Jesus said you can change your world

Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers

salt-n-light

“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

Our world is in a mess, but Jesus Christ told us exactly how to change our world in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Jesus told us what to be and what to do.

1. What you should be: salt and light. Why did Christ pick the illustration of salt and light? Salt is used as a preservative and to flavor food. Likewise, we should influence our world. Paul gave an example of this in 1 Corinthians 7:14, saying that the believer who remains married to an unbelieving spouse can influence them toward salvation. Light reveals and reflects. Likewise, we should reveal truth, glowing with the glory of God in our lives. Interestingly, Jesus said here, “You are the light of the world,” but in John 9:5, He said, “I am the light of the world.” This is no contradiction; Jesus is the source of the light, and we can merely reflect His light. We have no light within ourselves; we only get it when we are plugged into the power source through a relationship with Christ Himself.

2. What you should do: keep your saltiness and shine your brightness. Jesus said in this passage, that if salt loses its taste, it is no longer any good. A lot of Christians are sassy but not salty. We need to keep the saltiness but lose the sassiness. Jesus also says in this passage that nobody puts a lamp under a basket, but he puts it on a stand so everybody can see it. A wise person once said, “The best way to deal with change is to create the change.” Too many Christians are reactive instead of proactive. We have good news! We have hope! Spread it around and let it shine.

3. Why should we be salt and light: to glorify God. Jesus concludes by saying, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The reason for us to be salt and light is not so that others will look at us, but so that they will look at God.

Acts 17:6 says that the people in the city of Thessalonica were so stirred up about the influence of the Christians that they said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here, too!” The early Christians changed their world. So can we.

Why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25?

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

BethlehemStable  Since nobody knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth, why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?

The Beginning of the Christmas Holiday

The answer to that question is submerged under a haze of mystery. An early father of the church, Cyprian, said in 243 that Christ was born on March 28, the spring equinox, for “on that day which the sun was made on the same day was Christ born.” However, Christ’s birthday was not celebrated until the fourth century, and when the tradition of Christmas began, the date of December 25 was preferred in the West, while January 6 was preferred in the East (a date that is still preferred by Eastern Orthodox Christians).
The earliest known reference to celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was in the Philocalian Calendar, a list of martyrs of the Roman Church, written in 354 but reflecting practices in 336. In 376, the bishop of Rome first required churches to keep the nativity festival on December 25. In 386, John Chrysostom refers to the date of the December 25 festival by saying, “It is not yet the tenth year since this day has become clearly known to us.” Ironically, Christmas was celebrated in Bethlehem on January 6 until the sixth century (since Bethlehem was under the influence of the Eastern tradition). After the sixth century, Bethlehem celebrated Christmas on December 25, because Emperor Justin II (565-578) ordered the celebration of Christmas on December 25 throughout the Roman empire.

The Origin of the Date of Christmas

There are two major theories of the origin of these dates: one with pagan roots, and one with Christian roots.
The most commonly accepted theory is that the date was chosen, perhaps by Emperor Constantine, to divert the attention from pagan holidays. Emperor Aurelian had established a pegan winter solstice festival on December 25, 274, and he probably dedicated a temple to the sun god on that date. Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the son god Aion on January 6.  Many people contend that Christmas should not be celebrated because of this possible connection to pagan origins. Ironically, some of these same people will themselves seek to replace the pagan celebration of Halloween with a Harvest Festival at their churches, in much the same way as they claim the early Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth to replace a pagan holiday.
Thomas J. Talley, in his book, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, argues that the dates of both December 25 and January 6 can be explained from Christian origins. In rabbinic thought, it was common to remember the conception and death day of patriarchs on the same day. By putting Jesus’ conception on the Jewish day of 14 Nisan (March 25 on the Western calendar and April 6 on the Eastern calendar), His birth nine months later would be either December 25 (according to the Western calendar) or January 6 (according to the Eastern calendar). Thus the birth of Christ could have been set “without reference to pagan public celebrations,” says Talley.
Since Luke 2:8 says the shepherds were outdoors with their flocks when the angel announced Christ’s birth to them, Cyprian’s date of March 28 is probably closer to the actual birthday of Jesus than the colder times of December 25 of January 6. Some would argue that since there is no historical evidence for Jesus’ birth on these dates, that we should not celebrate Christmas. However, there is another piece of the puzzle from history that would argue otherwise. In the fourth century, when the Christmas holiday became popular, Christians were in the midst of a raging controversy of what they believed about Jesus Christ. By celebrating Christmas, orthodox Christians were able to affirm the important doctrine of the Incarnation, that Jesus was God in the flesh. For example, Chrysostom, who himself stated that the festival of December 25 was a relatively new celebration in his time, went on to say this about its importance:
“This day He who is, is born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man… being the Word, He became flesh…”

Poem: “Pinned and Wriggling”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

PrayJAlfredPrufrock

Oh! Beastly burdened groan

Piercing pain in my side

Blood dribbling from my mouth.

 

I shot the arrow and missed the mark

Boomerang cutting back at me

I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.

 

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

 

The incomprehensible creature comes

To pull our arrows out

But what will it be like?

I have grown accustomed to chopped flesh

No! I will keep my arrow

How else can I keep close contact with the wall?

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(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)

Book Review: “Crime Scene Jerusalem: A Novel”

Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Crime Scene Jerusalem
Crime Scene Jerusalem: A Novel by Alton Gansky (published by David C. Cook, 2007) does a masterful job of pulling off a peculiar premise: Max Odom, a forensics expert, is taken back in time to investigate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gansky makes the story much more than believable– he makes it gut-wrenching. The forensics expert doesn’t want to be there, and expresses all of the sarcastic humor of a jaded American man. But when he comes face-to-face with the cross, and sees how Jesus’ death speaks to the pain in his own life, he… well, read the book yourself. You will not be able to put it down, and you’ll be changed by the experience. Gansky describes life and culture in first-century Jerusalem vividly, and Gansky keeps the reader guessing what hurt Max Odom experienced that must come to the surface as he witnesses the Passion of Christ. A fascinating read for the Easter season or any season.

Book review: The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott

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Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
John R. W. Stott, who was pastor of All Soul’s Anglican Church in London before passing away in 2011, was one of the most respected evangelical writers in Great Britain. I thoroughly enjoyed his classic book, The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 1986, 2006). I found it to be the best book I have ever read about the Cross. I’m not surprised that it received the 1988 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Award.

Stott wrote as an evangelical pastor and scholar. While he thought deeply, he wrote with clarity and frequent illustrations. In fact, I used his book as the basis for a series of sermons on the cross.

Stott’s book begins by making a passionate argument for the centrality of the cross to the Christian gospel. Then he explores the reasons for the crucifixion, and while describing many “images” of atonement, he zeros in on Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice to satisfy both the holiness and love of God. His discussion in chapter seven of propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation is perhaps the best chapter of the book. The book concludes with chapters on what it means to live as followers of the One who died on the cross, with excellent explanations of service, overcoming evil, and understanding suffering.

Stott has read widely on the subject and he graciously comments on opposing views from liberal scholars and Roman Catholic scholars. He takes other views seriously, but he is faithful to an orthodox evangelical interpretation of scripture. I found it interesting that he disagrees with the popular view of Jesus’ death as a “ransom” paid to the devil in a strictly literal sense. His discussion on the distinctions between Protestant and Roman Catholic views of justification is particularly insightful. Stott rejects the doctrine that God does not suffer, maintaining in chapter 13 that it is precisely because God did suffer on the cross that we are able to bear our suffering.

Many parts of the book read as if they were sermons. This is not surprising, since Stott was a pastor. Yet it comes together as a systematic theology of the cross. His conclusion makes an excellent sermon on how central the cross is to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

This is a book that I will read again and again in the years to come.

The Old Testament prayer of Jesus

PrayingJesusAlone

Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

“Then the Angel of the LORD responded, ‘How long, LORD of Hosts, will You withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that You have been angry with these 70 years?’ The LORD replied with kind and comforting words to the angel who was speaking with me.” – Zechariah 1:12-13, HCSB

I believe that the person called the Angel of the LORD in this passage is the pre-incarnate Son of God, and that this is a unique example of a prayer of Jesus in the Old Testament.
Notice that He is called “the LORD” in Zechariah 3:2, even though He is called the Angel of the LORD in verse 1 and 4 of that same chapter.
We also see that the Angel of the LORD appears to Abraham in Genesis 22:11-12 yet speaks as God, and appears to Jacob in Genesis 31:11 and wrestles with Jacob in Genesis 32:24-30. In the last passage, Jacob says He saw God face to face. In Daniel 3:24-25, a fourth person appeared in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrews, and one is described as looking “like a son of the gods.” All of this leads many Bible commentators to wonder if these are appearances of Jesus, the Son of God, in the Old Testament.
Another reason why I take Zechariah 1:12 as a prayer of Jesus is the unique wording of the prayer. While we read of angels praising God in Ezekiel 3:12, Luke 2:14, Revelation 15:3-4; 16:5-6, it is unusual for an angel to pray like this, making intercession. However, this prayer fits the prayer and personality of Jesus. Hebrews 7:25 says that Christ always lives to intercede for us, and Matthew 23:37 says that Jesus wept over Jerusalem. In this passage, the Angel of the LORD prays for God to show mercy and forgiveness to the exiles of Jerusalem after 70 years in Babylon.
Notice also how the LORD replies to the prayer of the Angel in Zechariah 1:13: “with kind and comforting words.”
Oh, that Christ might intercede for us, who are His followers, and He does! Oh, what joy to know that the Son prays for mercy for us and the Father replies to that prayer with comforting words!