My wife and I were deeply moved by the new film, I Can Only Imagine. I was so emotional that I had to compose myself before I could drive home– it was that powerful.
You may know the song, but do you know the story behind the song? “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard of the Christian band Mercy Me is the best-selling, most-played Christian single of all time. The new film by the same title tells the moving true story of the songwriter and how he wrote the song.
The film tells how Bart Millard’s father abused him and his mother, and constantly told Bart he was not good enough. [Spoiler alert—skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know the basic plot.] Thanks to a football injury and a music teacher’s insistence, Bart discovered he had a gift to sing. When his father told him to forget his dreams, he left home, turned his back on the girlfriend who loved him, and tried to escape his troubles by singing with a traveling band.
I won’t give away the ending, because the circumstances of how he recorded the song have surprising twists and turns along the way, but suffice to say that Bart had to face his fears to reach his dreams. And yes, the film dramatically presents the full song near the end of the film.
Dennis Quaid is amazing as the actor playing Bart’s abusive father. People who have endured abuse will feel the pain Bart feels from his father, but many people with sins in their own past, like myself, will identify with the pain of the father himself.
This is a Christian film, but it is not “preachy.” The story is raw, real and unapologetically soaked with the hope of the gospel. Go see this film if you like music, if you like romance, if your dreams have been crushed, if you have been abused, if you have abused someone, if you have a broken home, if you are grieving the death of a loved one, if you need forgiveness, if you need to forgive, and if you need hope.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – Romans 1:26-27, ESV
Gay rights activists often object to this passage, claiming it does not apply to consenting adult homosexuals. Here are three objections they give, and a rebuttal to each:
1) Objection: Some say this does not apply to those whom they claim are “born” homosexual. They say that when it refers to “natural relations,” it means people born homosexual are natural, but if a person is not born homosexual, then it is wrong for them.
Rebuttal: But Paul plainly says that homosexuality itself is unnatural, and so does the rest of scripture. Genesis 1:27 says we were created male and female, and intended for heterosexual relationships. Sodom was destroyed, according to Genesis 19, because of homosexual sin. Leviticus 18:22 and 1 Timothy 1:10 also condemn homosexuality.
2) Objection: Some homosexuals say this verse in Romans only applies to abuse of children, saying it is meant to keep adult homosexuals from sexually abusing children.
Rebuttal: While child abuse is also wrong, notice that verse 27 says “men with men,” not men with boys. It plainly applies to homosexual acts between consenting adults.
3) Objection: Some will admit that the homosexual act is forbidden, but they will say that homosexual feelings cannot be helped, so as long as the person with homosexual leanings remains celibate, it is okay to be homosexual.
Rebuttal: While it is true that feelings cannot be helped, it is also true that feelings and desires, if encouraged, will lead to actions. Notice that verse 26 refers to “lusts,” also translated “passions,” as shameful.
Notice at the end of verse 27, homosexuals are described as receiving “in themselves the due penalty for their error.” The word “error” is the Greek word for “wandering” or “straying” from the truth. It is the same word used for the straying sheep in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:12, and for backsliding believers in Hebrews 5:2. And here is where there is hope: sheep and backsliders can return from their wandering, and according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, some of them did! Paul says that former homosexuals were washed and sanctified and changed!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
When someone falls into sin, we often speak about repentance and a “restoration process.” But what should the restoration process look like? Having been through the process myself, I believe that it requires three things:
1. The restoration process requires a balance of grace and truth. See Psalm 85:10-11. This usually means counseling (strong on grace) and accountability (strong on truth). It is imperative that the fallen person have people pour both grace and truth into their lives very early in the restoration process.
2. The restoration process requires a “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2). This is the literal meaning of the Greek word for repentance, metanoia. There are three parts to this new way of thinking:
A. First, one learns to focus on praising God, which lifts from depression. See Psalm 42.
B. Second, one learns to forgive oneself. This usually takes time. C.S. Lewis said, “If God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
C. Third, one learns to reject living in the past. See Philippians 3:13-14. Frank Pollard says, “To dwell on past sins is to invite one of two things: thinking about it will lead you to sin again, or you will spend your time in self-destructive despair. God has placed our sins in the sea of His forgetfulness and has put up a sign: ‘No Fishing Here.’”
3. The restoration process requires activity. A fall into sin usually results in being cut off from an activity the person loved; the sinner is acutely conscious of what he or she can no longer do. Within a few weeks of the fall, they must become busy doing something good to replace the former activity; otherwise, they can fall from idleness to depression and worse sin. This is the replacement principle found in Matthew 12:43-45. For example, a fallen coach can volunteer to help Little League baseball, a fallen pastor can volunteer to teach the Bible at a prison. Charles Spurgeon said, “Sedentary habits have a tendency to despondency.”
The restoration process can reclaim fallen people to service. Just ask Moses, David, Peter and Paul! But it will take time and personal investment in their lives.
My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.” In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.
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?
I loved Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book, Unbroken, about the amazing life of Louie Zamperini, so I was excited to hear that a movie version was being made. However, I was concerned when I heard reports that director Angelina Jolie had cut out the story of Zamperini’s Christian conversion.
The life of Louie Zamperini was made up of three inspiring stories of redemption: athlete, war hero, and Christian servant. Any one of these stories would make an great book or movie. The first story is how he was changed from a troubled boy into an Olympic runner through the inspiration of his big brother. The second story is how he survived air battles with the Japanese, a crash and 45 days afloat in the Pacific Ocean, and horrible torture in a Japanese P.O.W. camp through his personal determination. The third story is how he was saved from alcoholism, post-war trauma, a broken marriage, and bitterness toward the Japanese when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at the Los Angeles evangelistic crusade in 1949 that made Billy Graham a world-famous preacher. The book tells all three of these stories; the movie tells the first two.
When I went to see the movie, I knew the conversion story would not be told, so I went with low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie did include the same foreshadowing of his spiritual conversion that is found in the book: the Christian message he heard growing up in an Italian Catholic home with a praying mother, and the promise he made to God when adrift in the ocean that if God would save him, he would serve Him the rest of his life. The movie ends with his homecoming after the war, but the text on the screen briefly tells the viewer that Zamperini “made good” on his promise to serve God, and that he returned to Japan to forgive his captors.
So the story of Zamperini’s faith is not omitted from the movie, but it is greatly abbreviated. The movie itself is very well done. The acting, filming, musical score and drama is top-notch and faithful to the story found in the first two parts of the book. If you have read the book, you will still enjoy the movie. If you have not read the book, I encourage you to see the movie and then read Laura Hillenbrand’s book to get “the rest of the story.”
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
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?
(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.)
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I was comfortable in a dark closet
Thinking dark thoughts
Doing dark deeds.
Then a brilliant burst of light revealed
That I’m in a closet of mirrors
I see my ugly, naked body everywhere
I cannot escape in any direction
Every wall is a mirror.
Outsiders can see me through the mirror
But I cannot see them
I wonder what they think and what they see
But I can only see me—
The one person I do not want to see.
I want to cover myself
But I have nothing.
I want to drive a nail through the mirror
But I have nothing.
I fall to my knees, curl into a tiny ball
Wailing, whining, whimpering.
Oh, God, kill me! I have nothing! I need you!
Softly a nail falls by my side, skipping on the glass
Then two…three…ten…fifty…a hundred…
Nails crash down, crack open
Cutting me — and covering me.
But now I have something
I have a covering—a covering of rusty nails.
And the mirror is broken at last.
(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. If you see an inappropriate ad, you can email me at BobRogersThD@gmail.com.)
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!
The Dark Knight Rises is the name of the much-anticipated third Batman movie in the wildly popular films produced by Christopher Nolan. But it was a dark night in a different sense in a theater in Aurora, Colorado, where gunman James Holmes took to the stage himself and shot 70 people, killing at least 12.
When such horrific tragedies happen, we gasp, we hug our children, we lower our flags, we pray, and we ask, “Why?”
Soon a number of scapegoats will be brought forth to be sacrificed at the altar of our need to blame someone or something.
Some will blame a lack of gun control. They will say that if we had stricter gun control, this man could not have obtained so many weapons. However, mass shootings have occurred in other nations that have strict gun control.
Some will blame a lack of security, since the gunman carried so much artillery into the theater. Perhaps improvements in security can be made but the police and security guards cannot be everywhere.
Some will blame violence in the movies, saying that it desensitizes the viewer and can lead to copy-cat actions. Some news reports today say that the shooter was dressed as the Joker, lending some credence to this theory. However, millions of other people have seen the Batman films without having an urge to hurt anybody.
Others will blame the man’s upbringing, environment, how he may have been treated at the school where he dropped out, and so on.
But in playing the “blame game,” we often fail to look at the greatest reason for the actions of James Holmes and for each of us: the human heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jesus said that evil comes from within, out of the heart (Mark 7:21).
When the Gospel of John describes how Judas Iscariot got up from the Last Supper, left Jesus and the other disciples, and stepped outside to betray Christ, John adds this short sentence: “And it was night.” (John 13:30). John was speaking of the spiritual darkness of that moment. But after that dark night, a light arose, because this Jesus who died on the cross also arose from the dead to defeat evil and give us hope.
The greatest need that mankind has is not gun control, more police, controls over movies, or psychologists. Our greatest need is for a Savior who can change the heart. He alone can change our dark nights into bright mornings.
It is a difficult issue, because as Christians it is not ours to avenge, but to leave it to the Lord. However, most Christians agree that there is such a thing as a “just” war when a greater evil is prevented. A good example is World War II and the ultimate death of Adolf Hitler.
There was a great German pastor in World War II named Dietrich Bonhoeffer who opposed Hitler. Bonhoeffer even participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler, and he was a Christian pastor! Why would he do that? Because Bonhoeffer knew that it would stop a greater evil.In the Old Testament, Moses was sent to Pharaoh and told to demand justice for the Hebrew slaves. God even sent a “death angel” as a final plague upon the Egyptians to set the people free. When the Hebrews fled across the Red Sea and Pharaoh chased them, God allowed the Egyptians to drown in the sea, and Exodus 15 records the song of rejoicing that Moses sang at their defeat. That is why Proverbs 11:10 says that when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.
How do we reconcile this with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies? I think we need to make a distinction between personal offenses and social justice. While it is a virtue to overlook a personal insult, it is not a virtue to overlook a tyrant who is oppressing a people. The former act would be consider an act of grace; the latter would be considered a gross negligence of justice.
I cannot judge the hearts of those who shouted and jumped for joy at the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. I’m sure for many, it was a hateful rejoicing at a man’s death. However, for others, it may have been more of a celebration of justice being done, as we find in some of the psalms, such as Psalm 69:19-25. This psalm is quoted by Paul in Romans 11:9-11, and is applied to the death of Judas Iscariot by the early church in Acts 1:20. You will notice in Psalm 69 that the psalmist does not ask for an opportunity to personally harm his enemy, but he asks God to bring about justice, which is actually the same thing we read in Romans 12:19, where we are told to “leave room for God’s wrath.” Thus as a Christian, I do not rejoice that a man is dead, but I do rejoice that God executed His justice to end an evil terrorist who will never be able to blow up another building or murder any more defenseless people.
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.