Blog Archives

Easter jazz

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

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!

Prayers for Holy Week

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Lord Jesus, You entered Jerusalem in triumph, receiving the praises of “Hosanna!” from the crowd. Then You cleansed the temple and healed the sick. When the priests challenged Your authority, You said scripture foretold praises from the children (Matthew 21:1-17). Lord Jesus, I am Your servant. I bow before You and recognize Your Lordship over my life. I give You praise, my God and my King! Heal me, change me, lead me.

Oh, Lord, when You came to Jerusalem, You cleansed the temple. Would You cleanse my heart today of all that displeases You?

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed so fervently, His sweat became like drops of blood, yet His disciples fell asleep. Jesus said, “Get up and pray, so that you won’t fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:46). Lord, may my prayer life be so strong that it weakens my temptation.

Lord Jesus, they stripped You naked, flogged You, slapped You, spat on You, mocked You, beat You on the head, forced You to carry Your cross to Your execution, nailed Your hands and feet to the cross, and when You died, they thrust a spear into Your side. Or did they? In truth, I should change the word “they” to “I”! Did not I do all of that to You? It is because of my sin that You suffered. I stripped You, I flogged You, I slapped You, I spat on You, I mocked You, I beat You, my sin caused You to carry Your cross and take the nails and spear for my forgiveness. Oh, Jesus, my heart gently lifts the crown of thorns from Your head, and with all my soul, I place a golden crown on Your bloodied brow, and I bow at Your nail-scarred feet.

Lord, when You died on the cross, You tore down the barrier between God and mankind. I am overwhelmed that Your grace has given me access by faith into the very presence of God. May I never take Your death for granted. As You died for me, I will live for You. (Mark 15:37-38)

Lord Jesus, You were mocked and crucified for my sins. I can never repay Your sacrifice, but I shall not be afraid to be mocked or punished for the sake of Your name. (Matthew 27:31)

Lord Jesus, from the cross You cried, ‘Into Your hands I entrust My spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Help me to pray that same prayer with my dying breath. Into Your hands I entrust my body, my soul, my spirit.

The resurrected Christ walked with two disciples to Emmaus, yet they did not recognize Him until he blessed and broke the bread. “Then their eyes were opened” (Luke 24:31), and they told others “how He was made know to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Lord, open my eyes when I break the bread of communion. Remind me again how my sin made it necessary for Your body to be broken and Your blood to be shed. As I share the bread, may I share Your presence and grace with those around me.

How to get ready for Easter

Whether or not your church observes the tradition of Lent, it is an important reminder of how any Christian can get ready for Easter...
Jerusalem Lutheran Church, Ebenezer Community, Effingham County, Georgia

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

When I served as a Baptist pastor in Rincon, Georgia, I had the unique experience of putting on a white wig and an old robe borrowed from a Methodist, to give a dramatic presentation of the founding pastor of the oldest Lutheran Church in North America. The historic pastor’s name was Johann Boltzius, and his church was Jerusalem Lutheran Church, founded in 1734 in the Ebenezer Community in Effingham County, Georgia, some 30 miles north of Savannah.

School children came from all over Georgia to the retreat center at Ebenezer to learn Georgia history. They visited Savannah, and they also came to the old Jerusalem Lutheran Church, whose sanctuary was built in 1769, to hear me tell the story, in costume, of Boltzius who served a congregation that fled to the New World from Salzburg, Austria, in search of religious freedom.

After the presentation, students were given an opportunity to ask “Pastor Boltzius” questions. One day in March, a student asked me why it was so dark in the church. With a gleam in my eye, I explained that it was Lent, a season in which members of that church remembered Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. Members of the church fasted, prayed, and thought of other ways to make sacrifices in memory of Jesus, and during this time, they kept the window shutters closed. In fact, on Good Friday, they came into the church and sang songs about Jesus’ death, and then blew out all of the candles and went home in total darkness. The students reflected on that quietly, and I paused. Then I waved my hand at the shutters and shouted, “But on Easter Sunday morning, they threw open the shutters, let the light in, and celebrated, because Jesus is alive!”

Whether or not your church observes the tradition of Lent, it is an important reminder of how any Christian can get ready for Easter, by first reflecting on the suffering of Christ. I encourage you to read the story of the crucifixion from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Spend time alone, silent, reflecting on it. Fast and pray. Think about your own sin, your own struggles, your own sorrows, and how the suffering of Christ forgives, redeems and renews you. Meditate on the dark, and the light will brighten you more when it comes. Like that church in Georgia that threw open their shutters, if we will remember how dark it was when Christ died, we will appreciate all the more how glorious it was that He arose!

Good Friday, Day of Sacrifice

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

On Friday of Holy Week, Jesus was crucified for our sins. The crowd cried “Crucify Him!” and so Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did exactly that. They flogged Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and crucified Him.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is so important to our faith, that all four gospels describe it in great detail.

Mark records six times that Jesus was mocked: once by the Sanhedrin (14:65), twice by the Roman soldiers (15:18, 20), by those who passed by (15:29), by the religious leaders (15:31), and by the criminals crucified with Him (15:32). Six is the number of evil in the Bible. But Jesus overcame evil by his sacrifice on the cross.

Luke records that Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, and one of the criminals was apparently so moved by Christ’s forgiveness that he became repentant (Luke 23:39-43).

John records that as He died, Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Jesus paid the price for sin and won the victory over evil.

Matthew records that when the Roman centurion saw how Jesus died, the soldier declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
We call it “Good Friday,” because it was good for us, not good for Jesus. By sacrificing Himself for our sin, Jesus did what none of us can do for ourselves, and no religion can do for us. We can’t pay for our sins; we must trust in the payment already made by Jesus upon the cross.
British preacher Dick Lucas recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her neighbor in Rome.
“Ah,” the neighbor says. “I hear you are religious! Great! Religion is a good thing. Where is your temple?”
“We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our temple.”
“No temple? But where do your priests work and do their rituals?”
“We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our priest.”
“No priests? But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?”
“We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our sacrifice.”
“What kind of religion is this?” sputters the pagan neighbor.
And the answer is, it’s no kind of religion at all. (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 45-46)

Because of Good Friday, it’s no longer about religion; it’s about a relationship based on faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.
Good Friday, the day of sacrifice, teaches us to believe in the Christ who died on the cross, to find forgiveness and eternal life.

Favorite Billy Graham quotes

Billy Graham Preaching to Crowd

Here are a few of my favorite quotations from the great evangelist Billy Graham, who died on February 21, 2018, at age 99:

“Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless.”

“The Bible teaches that we are to be patient in suffering. Tears become telescopes to heaven, bringing eternity a little closer.”

“The devil doesn’t need to invent any new temptations; the old ones work as well as they ever have.”

“In some churches today and on some religious television programs, we see the attempt to make Christianity popular and pleasant. We have taken the cross away and substituted cushions.”

“Thousands of pastors, Sunday school teachers, and Christian workers are powerless because they do not make the Word the source of their preaching and teaching.”

“The Bible is the one book which reveals the Creator to the creature He created! No other book that man has conceived can make that statement and support it with fact.”

“Evangelism is not a calling reserved exclusively for the clergy. I believe one of the greatest priorities of the church today is to mobilize the laity to do the work of evangelism.”

“Philip is the only person in the Bible who was called an evangelist, and he was a deacon!”

“If God were to eradicate all evil from this planet, He would have to eradicate all evil men. Who would be exempt? God would rather transform the evil man than eradicate him.”

“I have never been to the North Pole, and yet I believe there is a North Pole. How do I know? I know because somebody told me. I read about it in a history book, I saw a map in a geography book, and I believe the men who wrote those books. I accept it by faith. The Bible says, ‘Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17, KJV).”

“People do not come to hear what I have to say– they want to know what God has to say.”

“When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.”

“We have changed our moral code to fit our behavior instead of changing our behavior to harmonize with God’s moral code.”

“If you are ignorant of God’s Word, you will always be ignorant of God’s will.”

“Go is the first part of the word Gospel. It should be the watchword of every true follower of Christ. It should be emblazoned on the banners of the church.”

“The Gospel shows people their wounds and bestows on them love.  It shows them their  bondage and supplies the hammer to knock away their chains. It shows them their nakedness and provides them the garments of purity. It shows them their poverty and pours into their lives the wealth of heaven. It shows them their sins and points them to the Savior.”

“Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

 

 

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

911libertyweeping
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.

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?

X

X

X

X

X

(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

StottCrossofChrist
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.

Finding a preacher who can sweat

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
An older pastor retired and moved back to his home in rural Mississippi. A few days later, his phone rang. Below is a verbatim transcript of the phone conversation:
“You got a King James Bible?” the person asked.
“Yep.”
“Can you sweat?”
“Yep.”
“Got a handkerchief to wipe the sweat?”
“Yep.”
“Then I know a church looking for a preacher.”
Apparently, those were the qualifications for a preacher– a King James Bible and the ability to sweat when preaching.
The apostle Paul added some other qualifications. According to the King James Version, he said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23-24, KJV)
So if you’re looking for a preacher, find one that preaches about the cross of Jesus Christ, for the message we all need to hear is about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin. And if the preacher can work up a sweat about it, that’s an added bonus.

What Jesus suffered

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

If you think that God does not understand your suffering, then you have not studied what happened to Jesus Christ as he went to die on the cross. Think about what Christ endured, according to the Gospel of Mark:
The disciples deserted Him (Mark 14:50-52).
The high priest condemned Him (Mark 14:63-64).
The Sanhedrin spat on Him (Mark 14:65), blindfolded Him, struck Him with their fists, and mocked Him (14:65).
The Jewish guards beat Him (Mark 14:65).
Peter denied Him (Mark 14:66-72).
The crowd cried, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:12-14).
The Roman soldiers flogged Him (Mark 15:15), put a crown of thorns on Him (15:17) and put a purple robe on Him and mocked Him as King of the Jews (15:17-18). Then the soldiers hit Him in the head with a staff, spat on Him, fell to their knees to mocked Him (15:19-20).
They led Him to Calvary, crucified Him, and gambled for His clothes (Mark 15:20, 24).
Passersby mocked Him (Mark 15:29-30), the Jewish leaders mocked Him (15:31-32), the criminals beside Him mocked Him (15:32).
The land turned dark, His Father forsook Him, and He died (Mark 15:33-34, 37).
Yes, if anybody ever suffered, Jesus did.

Good Friday, day of sacrifice

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

On Friday of Holy Week, Jesus was crucified for our sins. The crowd cried “Crucify Him!” and so Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did exactly that. They flogged Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and crucified Him. Mark records six times that Jesus was mocked: once by the Sanhedrin (14:65), twice by the Roman soldiers (15:18, 20), by those who passed by (15:29), by the religious leaders (15:31), and by the criminals crucified with Him (15:32). Six is the number of evil in the Bible. But Jesus overcame evil by his sacrifice on the cross. Luke records that Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, and one of the criminals was apparently so moved by Christ’s forgiveness that he became repentant (Luke 23:39-43). John records that as He died, Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Jesus paid the price for sin and won the victory over evil. When he saw how Jesus died, the Roman centurion declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
While Good Friday inspires us to live sacrificial lives, our primary response is one of faith. By sacrificing Himself for our sin, Jesus did what none of us can do for ourselves, and no religion can do for us. It’s no longer about religion; it’s about a relationship based on faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. We can’t pay for our sins; we must trust in the payment already made by Jesus upon the cross.
British preacher Dick Lucas recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her neighbor in Rome.
“Ah,” the neighbor says. “I hear you are religious! Great! Religion is a good thing. Where is your temple?”
“We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our temple.”
“No temple? But where do your priests work and do their rituals?”
“We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our priest.”
“No priests? But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?”
“We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our sacrifice.”
“What kind of religion is this?” sputters the pagan neighbor.
And the answer is, it’s no kind of religion at all. (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 45-46)
Friday, the day of sacrifice, teaches us to believe in Jesus to find forgiveness and eternal life.