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Prayer in suffering

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Lord, we despair under the dark clouds of suffering. We cannot see You or feel Your presence. Yet, we believe there is a light behind those clouds, because we have seen it before. Give us faith to hold on and trust You in the dark, until the day that the clouds part and Your light shines through again. In the name of Jesus, the light of the world, I pray. Amen.

The parable of the bear and the rabbits

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Once there was a colony of rabbits who lived by a forest. Although there were some dangers, such as a bear named Covey in the woods and a snake in the Vax River, most of the time they lived peaceful, happy lives. The forest was overflowing with fresh grass, weeds and wildflowers to eat.

One day, just as the herd was grazing together along the Vax River, Covey, the big bear appeared from behind the trees, snatched up some rabbits in his paw, and ate them. The terrified rabbits ran, but they were trapped by the river behind them, and a fence to the sides, made by the Man. As they darted back and forth, the bear continued to grab rabbits and eat them. One rabbit shouted, “Jump into Vax River!” Others shouted back, “We can’t! The snake may be in the river! God will rescue us!” Many jumped into the river, and swam away, but many others stayed in the nest. Soon, a large part of the colony had escaped to the other side of the river, but the bear continued to gobble up those left behind. The rabbits on the other side of the river called to the others, pleading with tears, “Please jump in the river and swim over!” But the rabbits who remained in the nest shouted back, “Don’t tell us what to do! The snake may be in the river!” The rabbits on the other side called back, “The snake didn’t bite us! We tested the river, and it’s safe!” But the rabbits in the nest said, “The Vax River hasn’t been tested long enough! Maybe you were bitten and just don’t realize it yet. The venom may yet kill you.” The rabbits on the other side said, “No, we were not bitten. We trust the river.” The rabbits in the nest said, “We trust in God. God will protect us.” The rabbits on the other side said, “God protected us when we crossed the river.” But it was no use. Despite the pleading of the rabbits on the other side of the Vax, the rabbits who remained in the nest were more afraid of the Vax than Covey.

The rabbits on the other side of the River Vax ran to another field, far, far away. The rest of the colony continued to flee Covey, and the bear grabbed them and ate them, one by one. Then Covey went off in search of other rabbits.

Prayer for wisdom

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Father, how we need Your wisdom. One person says to do this, and another says to do that, and both seem to give good reasons. We don’t know what to do. You say in James 1:5-6 that if we ask for wisdom in faith, You will give it, so we ask with confidence that you will direct us. Show us what is good and right, according to Your Word.  Show us what will honor Your name and further Your kingdom. May we humbly make decisions that serve the interests of others more than our own interests, and please give us peace as we act on the wisdom that You give. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

A prayer for personal peace

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Oh Jesus, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), I ask You to calm my heart and still my soul. In the quietness of this moment,

I focus my thoughts upon You. You are the God of peace (Philippians 4:9), You are the living water (John 4:10, 14), so like a pond receiving water from a river, I look to You as my upstream source of restoration.

As I abide in You, and Your words abide in me, may Your presence overflow me and make me as calm as pond water.

Prayer to hear God’s voice

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Then the LORD came and stood, and called as at the other times: “Samuel! Samuel! And Samuel said, “Speak for Your servant is listening.” – 1 Samuel 3:10, NASB

Lord, Your servant is listeniing. Speak to me.

Speak to me through Your scriptures. Uplift me when I feel downcast, correct me when I wander from Your way.

Speak to me when I am quiet, alone in prayer and speak to me when I loudly sing Your praises with Your people.

Speak to me in the gentle voice of wind blowing the grass, the majestic voice of a tall pine tree, the thundering voice of a rainstorm.

Speak to me through the advice of a friend, complaint of a co-worker, and rebuke of an enemy.

Attune my ear to hear quickly and lull my lips to speak slowly, that I may be more like You.

Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.

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!

How Christians can respond to rejection

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Everybody has to deal with rejection. Even Jesus Christ was rejected by his hometown of Nazareth. They didn’t like it when He declared His Messianic mission would include Gentiles, so they tried to throw him off the local cliff (see Luke 4:23-29).

In one of the greatest face-to-face confrontations in history, Jesus faced their rejection and “passed right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30). That’s how He handled it, how do we?

Let’s be clear about something. You and I are not Jesus, so we first need to examine our own actions and motives in the light of scripture, to make sure our rejection isn’t a deserved rebuke for ungodly behavior. Peter writes, that if we are ridiculed “for the name of Christ” we are blessed, yet cautions “let none of you sufer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Most of us would be okay if he hadn’t added “meddler.” So before anything else, let’s take an honest look at why we are rejected.

If, after taking an honest look at ourselves, we know that our rejection is because we have lived for Christ, and done so with integrity, then what? Scripture tells us three ways that Christians can face rejection: rejoice, remember and rely.

  1. Rejoice (Matthew 5:10-12). Jesus concluded the “Beatitudes” by telling His followers that when we are rejected, we should rejoice: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you becaue of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We naturally want to get angry, defensive, or feel hurt, but Jesus tells us we should rejoice, because it shows we are on the right side! The early apostles did exactly that! When the Jewish Sanhedrin ordered them not to preach about Jesus, they left, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name” (Acts 5:41).
  2. Remember (John 15:19-21). Jesus reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, because I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” So whenever we are rejected, we don’t need to be surprised; we should remember that we were told to expect that it comes with the territory.
  3. Rely (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). The Apostle Paul is a great role model for handling persecution. He explained how it taught him to rely on God: “We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed– beyond our strength– so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again.”

Tony Evans says that whenever somebody rejects him because of the color of his skin, he remembers who he is in Christ. God says he is a child of the king. Thus, if they reject him, they are refusing royal blood in their presence. What a good example for us when people reject us because of our faith. Remembering that, we can rely on God, and rejoice!

Lost in New York without knowing it

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

            When I was in the seventh grade, Dad was stationed at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, in order to attend a nine-month Army Chaplain’s School. Almost every family on the post was there because of a chaplain attending the school. That meant all of the kids were “preacher’s kids,” and all of the families were new, because we would be transferred after a year and a whole new group would come the following school year. The school year was 1970-71. We could see the twin towers of the original World Trade Center under construction across the Hudson River. I went to Public School 104, which was in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood. It was a good school, with strict discipline and excellent academics.

            Soon after school started that fall, we learned that on Wednesday afternoons they had “release time.” This was when students got out of school early and could go to their house of worship for religious education, if they wished. On that first Wednesday, all of us Protestant chaplains’ kids, being brand new, simply followed our Catholic friends down the street to their church and went to catechism. Then we returned to school in time to catch the Army bus back to Fort Hamilton.

            Needless to say, the phones were ringing off the hook that night when we started telling our parents what kind of notebooks the nuns wanted us to buy for catechism. It only took one week for those chaplains and spouses to organize a Protestant religious education class for us to attend.

            But what really got some parents rattled was what happened to my little sister Nancy and some of her friends during their first “release time.” Nancy, who was in second grade, and a few other Protestant chaplains’ daughters, went to the Catholic class but they missed the bus ride home. Their parents had the military police frantically searching the streets of New York for them. Imagine: little girls from places like Kansas, Texas and Mississippi, all lost on the streets of Brooklyn! When the girls were found, they didn’t know they had been lost.

            Jesus said that he came to seek and save people who were lost (Luke 19:10). He told parables about a lost sheep, lost coin, and lost (prodigal) son, to illustrate how God goes to great lengths to find people (see Luke 15). Many don’t even know they are lost.

            Ironically, my sister Nancy now lives in Brooklyn. She lives there with her husband Alex, and she rides the subway like a native. She doesn’t get lost there anymore; it’s her home. Likewise, when people turn to faith in Christ, they too are no longer lost. Like my sister, they have found their home at last.

(This story will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)

Top 10 signs you’re in a bad church

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

I’ll admit it, some people have bad experiences with a church. Here are the top ten signs you’re in a bad church:

10. The church bus has gun racks.

9. Church staff: senior pastor, associate pator, socio-pastor.

8. The town gossip is the prayer coordinator.

7. Church sign says, “Do you know what Hell is? Come hear our preacher.”

6. Choir wears leather robes.

5. During greeting time, people take turns staring at you.

4. Karaoke worship time.

3. Ushers ask, “Smoking or non-smoking?”

2. Only song the organist knows: “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

  1. The pastor doesn’t want to come, but his wife makes him attend.

If your church is that bad, you might want to look for another church. But the fact is, that there is no perfect church, because the church is made up of imperfect people. The phrase the Bible uses to describe us is “sinners saved by grace.” So before you give up completely on the church, remember this: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). If Jesus considered the church worth dying for, then we ought to consider the church worth living for.

An unknown poet put it well:

“If you should find the perfect church, without fault or smear
For goodness sake, don’t join that church, you’d spoil the atmosphere.
But since no perfect church exists, made of perfect men,
Let’s cease on looking for that church, and love the one we’re in.”

(This article will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)

Yes, Virginia, there are Thanksgiving songs!

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Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

The season of Christmas is so celebrated in America today, that the holiday suffocates Thanksgiving! People replace their orange pumpkins with holly of red and green, earlier and earlier in November. When I suggested to a friend he might wait until after Thanksgiving to play Christmas songs, his reply was, “There aren’t any Thanksgiving songs, so I’m playing Christmas songs!” Here’s my reply: Yes, Virginia, there ARE Thanksgiving songs! (I can’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Virginia, with apologies to the famous 1897 editorial of The (New York) Sun, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”) Here are some Thanksgiving songs that are so awesome, they are worth downloading on Amazon Music, Spotify, watching on YouTube, or however you do it:

  1. “Thank You” by Chris Tomlin with Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line is a fast-paced country song of reasons to thank the Lord.
  2. “The Thanksgiving Song” by Ben Rector is a joyful pop song listing specific things we do on Thanksgiving. Written in 2020, the last stanza thanks God because “we made through, I do believe, the longest year in history.” The official You Tube video shows the words on the plates, boxes of food items, etc. as he sets the table.
  3. “At This Table” by Idina Menzel is an soaring, inspirational pop song that invites everybody to gather together at the same table of love.
  4. “Thankful” by Josh Groban features a rich, melodic pop tune, with inspiring lyrics calling us to look beyond ourselves and be grateful.
  5. “What I’m Thankful For” by Garth Brooks and James Taylor is a country song of gratitude for faith and family.
  6. “My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness” by Keith & Kristyn Getty has a beautiful Irish melody, a modern hymn, set to deep Christian theology of gratitude. I encourage you to watch this one on YouTube.
  7. “Thankful” by Kelly Clarkson is a sassy-styled pop love song of gratitude.
  8. “Thank You” by Keith Urban is an emotional pop song that reflects on how his wife rescued him from despair.
  9. “I Thank You” by Sam & Dave is a classic R & B love song.
  10. “Thankful N’ Thoughtful” by Sly and the Family Stone is a soul song that will have you dancing with gratitude.

Four 19th century biographies of Southern slavery

Recently, I’ve read four 19th century biographies and autobiographies of men and women who escaped slavery in the South. If you want to read about what slavery was really like in that time, these classic books will let you hear the stories in the words of those who experienced it.

Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Harriet, the Moses of Her People.

This biography, written by a white friend of Harriet Tubman gives a firsthand account of the amazing life of an amazing woman who bravely made so many trips to the South to rescue over 300 of her people along the “Underground Railroad.” The author is somewhat patronizing toward African-Americans, yet beautifully portrays the unwavering Christian faith that sustained Harriet through it all, and the events surrounding her that some call “supernatural.” Her story has recently been made into the film, Harriet.

Solomon Northrup, 12 Years a Slave.

The most dramatic story I have read of someone escaping slavery is that of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who was kidnapped in New York, and sold into slavery in Louisiana, where he suffered until his dramatic rescue. Northrup himself vividly describes his experiences, which shows the cruelty of slavery in the Deep South. The events surrounding his rescue will have you on the edge of your seat. No wonder this was made into an Academy Award Winning film!

Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself.

This account of a female former slave, using the name Linda Brent, shares graphic details of brutality and especially sexual abuse by white owners. There is a constant tension between Linda and her owner, Dr. Flint, whose affections she continually rejects. Although a true story published at the outbreak of the Civil War, it reads like a novel, and I read it quickly. It gives so many insights into slave life in the South, and even discrimination against blacks in the North.

Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave.

This true story was the basis for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I downloaded it and read it in one day. Henson was an industrious man with great leadership and organizational skills. The storyline moves quickly and is so emotional, that it overcomes the 19th century formal writing style. I highly recommend this short read to get a feel for the heartless institution of slavery in the South.

A Prayer for President-elect Joe Biden

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Heavenly Father, our hope is in You, not our earthly leaders. But the Bible tells us that you place people in power and remove them from power, and that we are to pray for all those in authority, that we may live peaceful lives.

I pray that You will give President-elect Biden the wisdom of Solomon and courage of David as he seeks to lead our country. May he listen to You, not the voices of those who may seek to control him, and may he seek Your will, for the good of our nation.

Lord, he has promised equality for all and to root out racism; may he do just that. As he seeks justice and protection for the oppressed, may he remember the most vulnerable of all, the unborn. As he said that we are not just to keep the faith, but to “spread the faith,” may he respect and protect those of us who actively keep and spread our faith.

Help us, Father, to unite and heal as a nation; heal us both of the COVID contagion and the contagion of angry words. May we listen to one another and listen most of all to You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

How big is your Jesus?

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Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

A lady told me that her granddaughter visited her church and saw the large stained glass window picture of Jesus. She said, “Granny, your church has a BIG Jesus!”

What a great statement! Does your church have a “big Jesus”? Are the sermons Christ-centered? Does your worship lift up His Name? Do the leaders prayerfully ask, “What would Jesus do?” before they do what they do?

Christian, what about your personal faith? Do you have a big Jesus? He’s not a little bitty idol that you put on the shelf and take out when you need a little favor. He’s not mini-god for minor problems. He is the Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd, Great Physician, the Alpha and the Omega.

The apostle Paul prayed that the church at Ephesus would have a big Jesus. Here is how he put it:

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. – Ephesians 1:19-23, NLT

Now that is a big Jesus! He is available to every church and every believer. How big is your Jesus?

Saturday, Day of Waiting

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Like Wednesday of Holy Week, nothing is recorded in the Gospels about what happened on Saturday. However, we know about the day because Mark 15:42 tells us that they buried Jesus before sundown on Friday, so they could rest on Saturday, the Sabbath. Nothing more is recorded until Mark 16:1 tells what happened on the first day of the week, which was Easter Sunday. (Matthew 27:62-66 does record that on Saturday, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, agreed to post guards at the tomb of Christ.) Saturday was a day of waiting and wondering what would happen next. They had no idea anything good was going to happen the next day. They just had to wait on the Lord.

Isaiah 40:31 (KJV) says, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Saturday, the day of waiting, teaches us to wait on the Lord. Waiting can be excruciatingly hard.

We have all agonized waiting. Maybe you waited to get a job or get a promotion or get a date or get an important phone call or get a test result. Right now, the whole world is waiting—waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to subside. Many of you are sheltered in place, worried about your health, worried about your job, wondering when this will all end. This kind of waiting is very, very hard. This was how the disciples felt that Saturday before Easter when they waited. They wondered what was next, and they did not expect it to be good. After all, their leader had been arrested and crucified.

The Hebrew word for “wait” in Isaiah and Psalms is a word for a chord, or rope. The idea of the word is that God has thrown us a rope, and asks us to hold on, because He has the other end. That’s why “wait” in Isaiah 40:31 is also translated “hope” or “trust.”

What’s more, you and I know the rest of the story. We know that on Easter Sunday, they got news more wonderful than they could ever imagine, because Christ arose!

That is why we who are followers of the Risen Christ can wait on this Saturday, because we are Easter Sunday people. We can wait on the Lord, for even when we don’t know what the future holds, we know Who holds the future—His name is Jesus, and He has already conquered sin and death and the grave and hell.  We can wait in the uncertainty of Saturday, because tomorrow is a certain Sunday!