Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28, CSB
Romans 8:28 is one of the most beloved promises in the Bible. Most people focus on the words, “for the good.” Perhaps we should reflect more on the phrase, “work together,” because the verse is teaching that God can mix bad things in the life of a believer, and bring about good results, like roses on the end of a thorny stem. Let me suggest three kinds of thorns God brings from our lives that work together to grow roses: troubles, temptations and trespasses.
1) The thorn of troubles. God will allow troubles in our lives, to teach us to trust Him. When we have troubles, we are faced with our weakness. Yet, they work together for the good lesson of teaching us to depend on God’s sufficiency. As 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, this teaches us to “not trust in ourselvs but in God who raises the dead.”
2) The thorn of temptations. God will allow temptation in our lives, to teach us obedience. An athlete develops muscles and endurance by the pressure, weight and strain of exercise. Likewise, God allows us to be tempted, so that it works together for the good spiritual muscles that we develop as we grow stronger in obedience. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
3) The thorn of trespasses. By trespasses, I mean sin. God does not want us to sin, but when we sin, we must humble ourselves, repent, and ask Jesus for forgiveness. Scripture tells us to forgive, even as the Lord has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Those who have truly experienced the grace of forgiveness tend to be better at forgiving others. So trespasses– whether they be our own or the sins of others– work together to grow beautiful flowers of forgiveness in our lives.
After seven weeks of teaching my Bible class about dealing with pain and suffering, today I asked them, “What is the biggest take away you have learned about suffering?” As they talked, I began to summarize their thoughts on the whiteboard. Here is a list of their comments:
*We grow in faith through suffering.
*Suffering can be used as a testimony to glorify God.
*A diamond is formed under pressure; likewise, suffering develops character.
*Suffering is a process, and you have to let the process work you into a diamond. If you quit on God too soon, you just become a lump of coal.
*In the Holy Land, olives were pressed and crushed in a vat, making olive oil. Likewise, God allows us to suffer pressure, and God produces good things in our lives from it.
*We experience God’s presence in suffering– it draws us closer to God.
*Suffering forces us to make choices– will we be better or bitter?
*We must learn to see suffering in perspective: it is temporary and light compared to the eternal weight of glory God has for us (2 Corinthians 4:17)
*We are able to relate to others with similar suffering, and comfort them. (2 Corinthians 1:4).
*Suffering requires us to be obedient to share the lessons we learned with others, even though we might prefer to talk about other subjects. But when we talk about it, it helps others.
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” repeats the beloved spiritual. “Every rung goes higher higher.” The last verses urge, “Keep on climbing, we will make it,” and finally asks, “Do you want your freedom?” I can just hear Southern slaves singing this as they pick cotton and dream of liberty from oppression. It must have seemed that God was not there, but they found hope in a vision of escaping one day.
Yet when we read the beloved story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28, we find a reassurance not just for the future, but for right now. Jacob had left his father Isaac and mother Rebekah in Canaan, and was on a journey to see his relatives in Mesopotamia, and to find a wife.
Ancient pagans thought that a god only dwelled in the land where he was worshiped. If you left that territory, you also left that god. So what a surprise, when Jacob got a vision in a foreign land, of a stairway from the earth to heaven, and angels going up and down it. Then the Lord himself spoke, “I am the LORD (Yahweh), the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13). The God of Jacob’s father’s was not limited to a territory! The Lord continued “Look, I am with you…” (Genesis 28:15.
In amazement, Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning house of God, and said, “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).
What a reassurance to us when we feel that we are in a god-forsaken place, that there is no god-forsaken place, for God is omnipresent, always present, always here. He is not limited by time, place, or circumstances. Look around and see what God is doing right here, right now. Surely, the Lord is in the place where you are, but do you know it?
Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church, a megachurch in Atlanta, writes Not Forsaken to help people see God as a good Heavenly Father, especially those who have had a bad earthly father. The subtitle says it well: “Finding Freedom as Sons & Daughters of a Perfect Father.”
Giglio begins by stating that every person has an innate need for a good father who is proud of him or her, yet the author readily recognizes that many people have had an abusive or absent earthly father, and this makes it difficult for them to affirm God as good. Giglio confronts this dilemma step-by-step, making frequent use of scripture. First, he explains that God is good, even if Dad was bad: “God is not the reflection of your earthly dad. He is the perfection of your earthly dad” (p.76). Then, Giglio encourages the reader to “reverse the curse” through forgiveness of a bad father, saying, “Bitterness continues to pave a path to your past, while forgiveness paves a way to your future” (p. 114). Next, Giglio guides the reader to an understanding of the good fatherly qualities of God. He acknowledges some people will ask, If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop evil? In a paragraph worth repeating, he responds to this question:
I think the answer is because the moment He steps in and removes all the collateral damage of this broken world from ever happening again, that will mark the instant life on earth is over. And in that moment the lost will be lost forever and many whom God wanted to become sons and daughters will be separated from His arms. So, He waits and extends grace another day. And for twenty-four more hours, we are caught in the crossfire of a sin-shattered world. (p. 178)
Finally, he challenges readers that just as we tend to pick up the qualities of our parents, so we should “grow up like Dad,” our heavenly Father.
Although the book is only 235 pages, divided into 10 chapters, Giglio tends to repeat statements he has already made, which is normal for a public speaker like himself, but seems redundant when reading a book. Perhaps with more editing, he could have communicated just as well with fewer than 200 pages. Nevertheless, Giglio writes in a personal, encouraging style, based on solid Biblical interpretation, with many insightful illustrations. This book can be quite helpful to readers who struggle with the idea that God is a good Father.
DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book from B&H Bloggers, but I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.
Article copyright by Larry Robertson.
(Below is a guest column written by my friend Larry Robertson, senior pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville, Tennessee.)
Perhaps you’ve heard by now that the New Orleans Saints got robbed of a chance to go to the Super Bowl, during the closing moments of the NFC Championship Game on January 20, 2019. Even the NFL admits that pass interference should’ve been called on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and that the call would’ve most likely led to the win for the Saints…and a trip to the Super Bowl. But after the Rams player virtually assaulted Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis at a critical point in the game, no yellow flag was thrown.
This is not opinion; it’s a verifiable fact. Robey-Coleman even admits that the refs missed the call. But, per league rules, judgment calls like pass interference are not subject to video review.
Life’s not fair.
That’s one of the most basic life lessons that parents should teach their children, because they’re going to experience it soon enough on their own. At least if you’re expecting it (as much as you can expect the unexpected), the reality of it all won’t knock the breath out of you when you get kicked in the gut.
Life’s not fair.
In Genesis 39, Joseph was falsely accused of sexual assault by his employer’s wife but only because he refused her relentless sexual advances. Joseph did the right thing. Yet he was thrown into prison by his employer, Potiphar, who understandably believed his wife’s false narrative.
Life’s not fair.
“…But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him…” (Genesis 39:20-21). Life’s not fair; that’s true. But the LORD is faithful: He’s faithful in His presence…He’s faithful in His providence…He’s faithful in His promises.
I really believe that one reason some folk “lose faith” is that they mistakenly think that God’s will is always to manipulate circumstances for people of faith so that they get to eat cotton candy while riding unicorns through rainbows. And certainly no one will ever be able to push you down without a penalty! But that’s as false a narrative as Potiphar’s wife’s.
Read Romans 8:31-39. Read the list of hardships that Paul detailed. Take note, though, of verse 37. “…in all these things we are more than conquerors…” Not “in THE ABSENCE OF all these things,” but “IN all these things.”
Listen, life’s not fair. But the LORD is faithful. So, count on that…
Who Sang the First Song? is a large hardback children’s book, written in rhyme by songwriter Ellie Holcomb and beautifully illustrated by Kayla Harren. In 24 pages that flow through 12 large two-page colorful drawings, Holcomb repeatedly asks the question, “Who sang the first song?” and then suggests the answer with questions, as it the names parts of the creation. The questions come in an order similar to the days of creation, flowing through poetic references to wind, moon, stars, sun, sea creatures, animals, plants and birds. The book answers, “All these guesses we’ve made are quite good, but they’re wrong. It was God, our Maker, who sang the first song!” Then Holcomb explains that God “wrote His song into everything” and tells children they are good and wonderfully made, and that God wants children to “sing with your life and your voice.” Each page shows happy children, and includes musical notes in the sky. Harren’s contrasting colors and detail delighted my grandchildren, who enjoyed pointing out things like the frog on an umbrella or a girl holding a basket of rabbits. I read this book to my grandchildren, ages 2, 3, 4 and 6. (In the photo, my grandson is reading the page with his favorite illustration.) The youngest were fascinated by the illustrations and wanted to see it again and again, while the older ones also understood the message.
Ironically, although the book is published by B&H Kids of Nashville (publishing arm of Southern Baptists), it is printed in Shenzhen, China (next door to Hong Kong), in a communist country that suppresses Christians from sharing the faith with their own children.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, but was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
Copyright by Bob Rogers
The greatest show on earth is in the heavens, and it is performed by God. No cinema is as stunning as the daily sunrise and sunset.
Here are five photos I have taken of sunsets. They cannot do justice to the glory of seeing them in person, but at least they capture the memories that I have of each one. Here are the photos, and the stories behind them. Please share in the comments which one is your favorite.
#1. SUNSET AT COOPER LAKE (above). I took this photo a few years ago at Cooper Lake, Morton, Mississippi, where I was with my wife’s family reunion. I like the reflection on the water, the silhouette of the cattails, and the framing of the tree above.
#2. SUNSET IN NASSAU COUNTY, FLORIDA (above). I was visiting my younger daughter, Lauren, who lives in Florida, and was walking in her subdivision, when this sunset grabbed my eye. I love the vivid colors, the reflection on the water, and the framing of the pine needles.
#3. SUNSET ON COUNTRY PORCH (above). This photo was taken on my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s porch, who live in the country in Scott County, Mississippi. Although it is at sunset, this photo is more about other things: the long shadows, peaceful grass and gentle path, and the rose bush. The rose has a special memory, because it was planted and tended by their son (my nephew) Brian, who died this past winter. We think of him when we see the rose, and think of his sunrise when we see the sunset.
#4. SUNSET STEEPLE (above). For the past year, I have been interim pastor of First Baptist Church, McLaurin, Mississippi. One Wednesday night, I arrived at the church and I was awed by the sunset behind the sanctuary, so I quickly snapped this picture.
#5. SUNSET IN THE CLOUDS (above). This photo was taken from the swing in my front yard in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The tall pines prevent us from seeing the actual sun as it sets, but one evening as I was sitting in the swing, I was captivated by the sun’s reflection on the clouds.
I hope you enjoyed these photographs as much as I enjoyed taking them. So which is your favorite? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Motivational author Jim Collins coined the term “BHAG” (BEE-hag), or “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal” to inspire businesses to have a great vision. For example, the BHAG of Microsoft was, “A computer on every desk in every home.” The BHAG of Ford was “democratize the automobile.”
In Romans 15:20, the apostle Paul stated his ambition: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” In fact, Paul had a BHAG to accomplish it:
Bold. In verse 15, Paul comments that he had written them boldly. In Ephesians 6:19, he asks the Ephesians to pray for him to be a bold preacher. He was bold. He boldly stood before Greek philosophers, Roman officials, and hostile Jewish synagogues all over his world to proclaim Jesus. Do you have a bold goal for Jesus?
Holy. In verse 16, Paul desires to be “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Sanctified means to be holy (set apart) to God. A bold goal does no good if it’s not a godly goal. Repeatedly in Leviticus, God said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 20:8, etc.)
Acceptable. Also in verse 16, Paul says his ministry is “an offering acceptable to God.” Likewise in Romans 12:1, Paul urges Christians to offer themselves as living sacrifices, “holy and acceptable to God.” It matters not if our goals are acceptable to people, but it makes all the difference if they are pleasing to God. Are your ambitions acceptable and pleasing to God?
God-driven. In verses 17-19 Paul talks about God, not about himself. He speaks of his pride in Christ, not in himself; he says he doesn’t have anything to speak about except what Christ has done. Martin Niemoller was a German pastor who endured concentration camps in World War II. Two newspaper reporters went to hear him speak when he came to America, but they were disappointed. One said to the other, “Six years in a Nazi camp, and all he has to talk about is Jesus Christ.” May they say the same about you and me!
William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement, said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” What is your BHAG for God?
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many churches are like the two cats, whose tails were tied together, and thrown over a clothesline. They had union, but no unity. Yet in Romans 15, the apostle Paul insists we must have unity in the church. Why is unity so important?
- Because Christ set the example
Sadly, we pastors are put on a pedestal, and then when we fail or fall, members are disappointed and sometimes divided. Even the best ministers are not perfect examples. The great American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who was fat, met the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon. Moody asked Spurgeon when he would give up his awful cigars. Spurgeon pointed at Moody’s belly: “When you get rid of this, I’ll get rid of these.” Even the greatest preachers are not perfect: Jesus is our example. And Christ set an example of unity. Thus Romans 15:2-3 says, “Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.”
- Because scripture teaches it
In Romans 15:4 Paul mentions “the Scriptures.” Then in verse 5, he shows how this helps “you to live in harmony with one another.” Listen to the scriptures: John 13:35 says others will “know you are my disciples” by your love for each other. In John 17:22, Jesus prays “they may be one as we are one.” In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul appeals that “all of you agree.. that there may be no divisions.” In Philippians 4:2, Paul publicly named two women: “I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”
- Because it glorifies God
In Romans 15:6, Paul says, “so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” In the next verse, he stresses again how unity glorifies God: “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.” Thom & Jess Rainer published a study of the 78 million-member generation born between 1980 and 2000: The Millennials. In their book, they said 70% of millennials think that the American church is irrelevant today; the number one reason they gave was that they see religion as divisive and argumentative. But unity glorifies God!
Someone might object, but what if someone is denying the gospel or the inspiration of the Bible? What if someone is immoral? Please do not misunderstand: I am not calling for unity at all costs, but I am calling for unity at great sacrifice! Sadly, many Christians are not willing to swallow their pride and eat humble pie for the sake of unity. We should be willing to make any sacrifice for unity that does not sacrifice truth or morality. It is that important.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the final post in a series on predestination.)
The previous four posts have examined the Bible’s teaching on predestination, like shining a bright light to look closely under a microscope. But this final post is more like turning on all of the lights in the room, as we view the big picture of the overall teaching of scripture. The fifth truth is that it is not God’s will for people to perish.
Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) says, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
John 3:17 (ESV) says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
First Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Second Peter 3:9 (ESV) says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Thus we read repeatedly in scripture that it is not God’s will that anybody perish; rather, God’s will is for all people to repent of sin and be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. God in his foreknowledge is aware that many people will reject the offer of salvation, and they will perish, but that is not God’s will for any individual. As Luke 7:30 (ESV) says, “the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves…”
Yes, the Bible speaks of those who believe in Jesus Christ as “the elect,” and “predestined.” Jesus could even speak of those who would believe as “my sheep” and those who do not believe as “not my sheep.” Since God already knows they will choose to believe, God can say that he chose them. However, we are not God– you and I do not know who will believe, and we do not know who will be among Jesus’ sheep. All we know is that God wants all people to be saved, and that Jesus invited, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved… (John 10:9, ESV). Hence, we must accept predestination as a mystery of God’s knowledge and will, and we must share the gospel with urgency. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11, ESV).
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the fourth in a series of five articles about predestination.)
Some people object to the idea of predestination because they think it takes away human responsibility and free will. Yet the Bible says predestination is “according to foreknowledge.” In other words, God can speak of something as destined to happen, because God already knows the future.
Romans 8:29 (ESV) says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…” Peter said, “To those… chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1 Peter 1:1-2, CSB). This concept is plainly stated in the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65, ESV). That sounds like predestination, doesn’t it? But read the verse before it: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe…” (John 6:64, ESV). There it is again—foreknowledge!
Let me illustrate it like this. Once I was a passenger on an airplane coming into the airport in Savannah, Georgia, which is near Interstate 95. As we descended, I could see a wreck on I-95 that was several miles to the north. I knew that the northbound cars immediately below me were going to come upon that wreck, because I could see farther that they could see. In a similar way, since God exists beyond time, and knows the future, he can speak of it as certain to happen (predestined). He already knows what we will do, but we are still free and responsible for what we do.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), was a brilliant French mathematician and scientist often remembered for “Pascal’s triangle.” But he was also a Christian writer. In his classic work, Pensees (Thoughts), he proposed a fascinating reason for believing in God, often called “The Wager.” Here it is. Feel free to share your reaction in the comments below:
Either God exists or he does not exist. But which view should be taken? Reason cannot answer this question. Imagine a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails; how will you wager? Since a choice must be made, let us see where your real interest lies. You have two things at stake: truth and happiness. What is the gain and the loss if you call heads, that God exists. If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. A gambler, where there is an equal chance of gain or loss, would place a bet if the possible gain was twice the possible loss. But here the possible gain is infinite, and the possible loss nothing. Every gambler takes a certain risk for uncertain gain. Here you are taking a certain risk with the prospect either of infinite gain if you win, or no loss if you lose.
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.”
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
There are more things to worry about than sand on the seashore. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life… or about your body” (Matthew 6:25, CSB). Jesus followed that statement with five reasons why we don’t need to worry. In each of these reasons is a truth that teaches us how to replace worry with something else!
1. Life is about more than things (6:25). Jesus said, “Don’t worry… Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?” This question teaches us to overcome worry by changing our priorities in life. Once Jesus turned down lunch from his disciples and said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about” (John 4:32). He was referring to the satisfaction in His soul of leading the Samaritan woman at the well to faith. Jesus didn’t worry about things, because His priority was spiritual.
2. Since God provides for His creation, you can trust that He will provide for you (6:26). “Consider the birds of the sky,” said Jesus. “They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?” This truth teaches us to replace worry with faith. Instead of turning over negative things in your mind, meditate on positive gifts from God. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6, NLT).
3. Worry doesn’t change your problem (6:27). Jesus asked, “Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?” This truth teaches us that worry is a waste of time—time that could be spent doing something useful, such as taking action to deal with the problem. My friend Melisa Grubbs says, “I can be a worrier or a warrior.”
4. If you focus on God instead of your problem, God will provide (6:33). When you hold a small object close to your face, it looks bigger than any object in the room. Worry is like holding your problem close to your face, instead of looking to God. Jesus promised, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” He was teaching us to replace worry by looking closely at God instead of looking closely at the problem. Scripture and prayer help us focus on God. Some helpful verses are: Psalm 27:1, Psalm 34:4, Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 11:28-30, Philippians 4:7, and 1 Peter 5:7.
5. Learn to live in the present (6:34). Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself.” How often have you fretted in anticipation of something out of your control, and later learned it was not an issue after all? So, replace worry about tomorrow by living in the present. Don’t miss the beauty of today by imagining things that may not even happen tomorrow.
No wonder Jesus Himself could sleep through a storm, and then wake up and calm the sea (Mark 4:38-40). Rest in the Savior, and He can calm your storm, as well. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).