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Some of my favorite sunsets

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.

SunsetCooperLake

#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.

SunsetFlorida

#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.

SunsetPorch

#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.

SunsetSteeple

#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.

SunsetSwing

#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.

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What’s your BHAG?

bhag1

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?

Why we must have unity in the church

ChurchFellowship

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?

 

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.

Five truths about predestination. Truth #5: It’s not God’s will that any perish.

CrossWay

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).

Five truths about predestination. Truth #4: predestination is according to foreknowledge.

PassengerAirplane

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.

Pascal’s wager that God exists

BlaisePascal

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.

 

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 today 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.”

 

 

How to Overcome Worry

WorryWoman

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).

Why we need sermons on the wrath of God

Wrath-of-God

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” – Romans 1:18, ESV
A subject preachers avoid
Many preachers like to talk about God’s love and kindness and say virtually nothing about God’s judgment. So when people see references to God’s wrath, they often get a picture of a primitive tribe in the jungle that thinks it has to sacrifice somebody to appease their angry God. Yet there it is in Romans 1:18. “The wrath of God is being revealed…” Has God lost his temper?
Apparently even the apostle Paul was aware of this kind of thinking, because in Romans 3:5 he asks, “What shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?”
Is wrath unworthy of God?
So is wrath unworthy of God? No, not at all. When the Bible talks about God’s wrath, it is referring to His just anger, much as we have justified outrage when we hear about the abuse of a child. Our problem is that we are comfortable with sin that God, in His holiness, finds offensive. But God’s wrath is never vindictive, nor is He an angry monster. God’s wrath is something people choose, and God uses. Let me explain what I mean.
God gave them up
After mentioning the wrath of God in Romans 1:18, we read this phrase three times in verses 25, 26 and 28: “God gave them up” or “God gave them over.” What does this mean to say “God gave them up”? Does it mean God gave up on sinners? No, C.S. Lewis explained it well, when he said that basically, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God will say, “thy will be done.” Because when we refuse to obey God, God gives us over to the consequences of our sin.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5:5 the purpose of God giving us over to the consequences of our sin, “hand this man over to Satan, so the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”
The purpose of God’s wrath
God knows that if we suffer the consequences of our sin, in order that we, like the prodigal son, will hit rock bottom, realize we have nowhere else to turn, and cry out to God for salvation. And that is when we understand our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of God’s wrath is to show us our need for the Savior.
Once I met a man at the gym, who told me his testimony of how he was a mean man, who drank and gambled and mistreated his wife and children. I asked him what happened, and he said he lost it all. His wife left him and took the children, and he hit bottom. That’s when he trusted in Jesus Christ, when he had nothing left and he realized his need for God. You could say that God gave him up. But the result was for his good, and for his salvation. That’s good news!

Four reasons I’m not ashamed of the gospel

ChurchDestroyed

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17, NIV

I’m ashamed of many things in my own past and things I see in society– I’m ashamed that crack cocaine is sold in every town in America, I’m ashamed that there are 800,000 abortions a year in our nation, I’m ashamed that we preachers have been in the news more for our sins than our sermons, but I’m not ashamed of the gospel! Why? Let me give you four reasons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:16-17:
1. Because the gospel is powerful (v. 16)
The Roman empire fell, but the gospel endured and grew. Nothing could stop it. It’s not just a nice story about a good man, but a life-changing story about the God-man, Jesus Christ.
2. Because the gospel can save anybody (v. 16)
Every other religion is limited to certain geographical regions of the world, but Christianity has spread to every continent, because it is a message from all people. It’s not just for good, upstanding people, either. God had a plan to work through the “Jew first,” because He called Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets to prepare the way for Jesus to come at just the right time. If God went to that much trouble to get the gospel to all, don’t think it can’t save you!
3. Because the gospel reveals God’s righteousness (v. 17)
The gospel is not about me and my righteousness, but God, and His righteousness. It shows off God’s goodness. I owed a debt I could not pay, so Jesus paid the debt He did not owe, when He died on the cross for my sin.
4. Because the gospel is all about faith (v. 17)
Literally, this verse says the gospel is “out of faith into faith.” In other words, it’s all about faith, from beginning to end. Some 500 years ago, Martin Luther was a frustrated Catholic monk, trying to obtain his righteousness before God. He tried all the good deeds, rituals and sacraments he could, to no avail. Then he discovered freedom in this verse, “The righteous shall live by faith!” Martin Luther began a revolution, called the Protestant Reformation, based on the truth of the gospel, which declares us right with God by faith in Jesus Christ.
No problem, no pressure, no persecution can turn me back from this gospel. I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Why does God allow suffering?

Flood

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

A hurricane destroys a city. A young mother dies of cancer. A man succumbs to depression and takes his life. 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.

What happens to those who never hear the gospel?

HinduWorship

Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers

Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.

We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:

I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)

People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)

Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!

III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)

Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”

Movie review: “The Shack”

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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 plot
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.
The characters
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 message
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.
Conclusion
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.

Book Review: “The Shack”

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The Shack is a motion picture being released on March 3, 2017. It has a Christian message, yet some Christians are calling the movie heresy. What’s going on?
The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by William Paul Young. (This is a review of the book. You can read my review of the movie by clicking here.) It is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. The main character, Mack, gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. Mack goes, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God’s goodness. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Then why the controversy?

Negative elements in the book
Many people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name “Papa,” Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for “wind”) whom you can see through. Although they appear as three persons, they are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. “Papa” reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact, (spoiler warning: don’t read this next statement if you don’t want to know too much about the novel’s plot…) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, “Papa” appears to Mack as a man.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
The most troubling part of the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. It appears that Jesus is saying that He has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has “Jesus” speak:
“…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'”
Perhaps this is universalism, or perhaps it means that Jesus is the only way, but He will do what it takes to reach us. The only thing that is clear is that it is left unclear.

Positive elements in the book
The book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion. It illustrates how suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God’s purposes, thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know too much of the plot…) Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Mack is asked to “play God” and decide which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack’s reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
God says, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” (p. 204)
God says, “Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” (p. 224)

Conclusion
This is a review of The Shack, the book. The movie has several differences, so see my follow-up review of the actual film by clicking here. The movie has no profanity, and has fewer implications of universal salvation, as some of the above conversations that imply universalism are not in the film. Also, the depiction of God the Father as a woman is explained earlier and more clearly in the film.
Whatever your opinion about the depiction of the Trinity and other controversial elements in the book, it is an inspiring message of how God works through suffering that reminds us how we ultimately find hope not in the shack, but in the cross.

The wonder of the Christ child

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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?