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The wedding sermon that rocked the world

BishopCurryRoyalKiss

On May 19, 2018, “Everybody who is somebody” was there for the royal wedding of Prince Harry to an American actress, Meghan Markle. British royalty, Hollywood stars, etc. were all there, and the world was watching. Perhaps even more people than usual were watching this royal wedding, because of all the discussion about the fact that the bride is biracial. Many people were pleased to see this, and sadly, some were not.

They were all in for a surprise, however, when the officiating minister, Bishop Michael Curry (who is African-American) began his wedding sermon. Instead of a staid, formal address that people would expect at a royal wedding, the American preacher gave a warm-hearted, passionate plea for the power of love, rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Taking his text from Song of Solomon 8:6, which speaks of love as strong as death and powerful as fire, he talked about the power of love. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about the power of the love of Jesus, pointing out that “Jesus didn’t get an honorary doctorate in dying,” and the power of the gospel is from love, not education. He spoke of the redemptive love that gave American slaves hope in the midst of their oppression. He quoted French priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin about the power of fire, reminding everyone that combustion engines empowered them all to get there, but the Bible says that love is more powerful than fire.

Bravo to Bishop Curry for being faithful to his calling to preach the gospel, and all the more so when given a world stage.

Here is the full text of the wedding sermon: https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/19/europe/michael-curry-royal-wedding-sermon-full-text-intl/index.html

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The Gospel in the Old Testament

Isaiah53Short

Copyright by Bob Rogers

Many Christians can share the Gospel of Christ with verses from the New Testament, but you can also share it using only the Old Testament. Christians commonly think they can only share the Good News of salvation by verses like the “Roman Road” (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9) or other collections of scriptures from the New Testament. However, the Gospel message is to the Bible like the spokes on a wheel, all revolving around that central truth. So below is a collection of the truths of the Gospel, just from the Old Testament:

All have sinned:
1 Kings 8:46a: “There is no one who does not sin…”
Sin separates us from God:
Isaiah 59:2: “Your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…”

We cannot earn our own salvation:

Psalm 49:7: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice.”

Christ died for our sins:
Isaiah 53:5, speaking of the Messiah: “But He was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.”
“In a single day” (on the cross) God took away guilt of sin:
Zechariah 3:3-4, 8-9 speaks of Joshua the high priest, who represents the people: “Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. So the angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes!’ Then he said to him, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you…
Listen, High Priest Joshua… I am about to bring my servant, the Branch… and I will take away the iniquity of this land in a single day.”

What “single day” could possibly fulfill this verse than Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross to take away sin?
Repent, confess sin, and be forgiven:
Psalm 32:5: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You took away the guilt of my sin.”
Hosea 14:2: “Take words of repentance with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Forgive all our sin…”

Movie review: “I Can Only Imagine”

ICanOnlyImagineMovie

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.

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).

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.”

 

 

Guest blog: Why We Don’t Do Elf on the Shelf

ElfOnMarshmellows

(This guest blog is written by my daughter, Melissa Rogers Dalton. She and her husband Steven have two sons and live in Virginia, where she is an elementary school teacher, with an endorsement as a Reading Specialist.)

Article copyright by Melissa Rogers Dalton

When I first learned about the idea of Elf on the Shelf a few years ago, I was completely sucked in. I didn’t have any kids yet, but the idea of setting up an elf with all of these great little tricks greatly appealed to the prankster inside of me that has become dormant since my college days.

I mean, how cute are these!

Once Keagan was finally old enough to enjoy it, I brought it up to Steven and he immediately shut it down. He knows that I have a tendency to get overly involved in things like this and could picture me staying up way too late every night trying to concoct the perfect scheme for the next morning. Yeah, he knows me way too well… 😉

But over the past two years, I’ve decided he was right to say no for a completely different reason.

Teaching our children that they have to be good in order to receive gifts is completely opposite of what the gospel preaches and, therefore, goes against everything Christmas stands for.

You see, Jesus was sent to Earth because we couldn’t find our way back to God on our own. He is our Rescuer and Redeemer, and there is NOTHING we can do to earn his gift. Actually, the definition of “gift” says “a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.”

So this whole myth about Santa and his naughty or nice lists really should disappear.

I’m sure some well-meaning parent created it somewhere along the line because kids at this point of the year start going a little crazy, but we have to put an end to it. Even as adults, we struggle with remembering/understanding that our actions are not the path to heaven. Just listen for two seconds, and you’ll hear it all around. I had a coworker tell me just a few days ago that she was going to hell for saying something mean about someone else. Technically, yes you can, but stopping it isn’t going to get you to heaven either.

All we have to do is realize that we are beyond unworthy, but God sent us the perfect gift of His son to come, live, and ultimately pay the penalty for our sins with His life so that we could be reunited with Christ someday. Then we just accept that gift by choosing to follow Christ. That’s it. Our works will never be enough.

If you have an elf and want to continue your fun with it, by all means go ahead. I love seeing what creative schemes you create. But PLEASE stop telling your kids that they won’t receive Christmas this year if they don’t behave. Instead, preach the true gospel to them. If you need any ideas for ways to bring it down to their level without missing the importance, I highly recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible.

The reason I like this particular Bible for kids is because they end every story by bringing it around to Jesus and the gospel. It doesn’t matter if the story is about Leah or the actual birth of Christ. They all talk about the Rescuer coming to save us so that kids can understand that everything in the Bible points to Him. They aren’t just individual cool stories that happen to be in the same book.

There is also a FREE Advent Calendar that goes along with this Bible (it includes the actual scripture references as well if you don’t have/want this Bible). I know it may be too late for this year, but I plan on using it next year.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless!

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!

God Has Good News for You!

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Article copyright by Bob Rogers

It seems like we constantly hear bad news: mass shootings, hurricanes, war, terrorist attacks, racial strife, and on it goes. No wonder it is so encouraging that Paul’s Letter to the Romans starts by letting us know that God has good news for us! In Romans 1:1, Paul says he was called and set apart for “the gospel of God.” The word “gospel” simply means “good news.”
He goes on in the next few verses to explain the content of this gospel, the impact of the gospel, and the urgency of the gospel.
The content of the gospel.
A great tragedy occurred in 1982 in Chicago, Illinois, when people went to the grocery store to buy a bottle of Tylenol. Someone laced some of the capsules with cyanide, and seven people died. They went to the store believing they were buying Tylenol. They had belief, but their belief was not sufficient, because the contents of the bottles had been tampered with. Likewise, if somebody tampers with the contents of the gospel, it is dangerous to our spiritual health.
Paul explains in verse 2 that it was promised in the Old Testament scriptures, then in verses 3-4 he points out that it is fulfilled by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection as the Son of God, and in verses 5-7 he emphasizes that it is received by grace through faith. This sums up the contents of the gospel: it must be based on prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our eternal life, and it must be received by his grace, not be our good deeds, but by our faith.
The impact of the gospel.
Next, Paul explains the impact that the gospel of Jesus has. He says that it spreads everywhere, commenting in verse 8 that the whole world had already heard about their faith in Rome. Then he talks about the encouragement of the gospel in verses 9-12, as he discusses how mutually encouraging it will be to him and them when they meet as brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, he notes in verse 13 how the gospel bears fruit, as he looks to see a harvest of souls among them when he preaches there in Rome. We are seeing that today, as millions of people are turning to faith in Jesus Christ, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, China, South Korea, the Philippines and many other places around the world.
The urgency of the gospel.
Third, Paul explains the urgency of sharing the gospel. He says in verse 14 that he is under obligation to share it with people of every culture and race, “Greek and barbarian.” How dare he not share such good news! But he doesn’t just see it as a duty, but he sees it as an opportunity. In fact, he says in verse 15 that he is eager to share the gospel to them. Are you as excited to talk about the gospel as you are about your favorite ball team or hobby?
Dr. Tony Evans shared the experience of a seasoned chess champion touring an art museum. While passing through the gallery, his attention was drawn to a painting that involved chess. The artist had painted a match between Satan and an outwitted young man. The picture frozen on canvas showed the two engaged in a chess game being played out for the man’s soul. The man was in obvious panic as the adversary’s hand is shown making his final move. The artist’s work is simply titled Checkmate. The chess champion stood and observed the painting for a long time. His scowl of concentration was finally softened by a slight smile. He turned to the curator and said, “I’ve got good news for the man in that picture. He still has a move.” Satan, the father of lies, has convinced far too many people that he has placed them in checkmate, but thanks to the gospel of the grace of God, every person “still has a move,” if we only believe in Christ. That’s good news!

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?”

Book Review: “The Shack”

theshackmovie

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

BethlehemStable

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?

Ten Secrets to Successful Missions

Copyright by Bob RogersEarth boy

Luke 10:1-20 records that Jesus sent out 70 people to go on a mission trip, going in pairs to towns and villages where He was about to go. Apparently it was very successful, because we read in verse 17, “The Seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” And Jesus replied in verse 18, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash.”

What made their mission so successful? And how can our mission work and the missionaries we pray for discover the same power in their ministry?

This passages gives us ten secrets to successful missions. Here they are. Open your Bible to Luke 10, and notice these ten truths:

1. Multiplication. (v. 1) Use everybody, not just professional clergy. The Lord commissioned the 12 apostles in Luke 9:1-6, but here he sends out 70. Multiply your ministry. Use volunteers.

2. Teamwork (v. 1) He sent them in pairs, not alone. We can be so much more effective by working together, and it is a testimony to our unity in Christ to work in teams. Southern Baptists believe in the Cooperative Program as an excellent strategy, as thousands of churches pool their resources to support missionaries.

3. Prayer (v. 2) Before sending them out, He told them to pray for workers for the harvest. When Jerry Rankin was president of the International Mission Board, he spoke at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly and mentioned that the IMB has recently appointed our first missionary to serve openly in Albania. After the service, a woman came up to Dr. Rankin, crying. When she gained her composure, she said that seven years before, she had read that Albania was the most atheistic country in the world, and she called the IMB to ask what we were doing there, only to learn that Albania was completely closed to missionaries. So she went back to her ladies’ group in her church, and asked them to pray for Albania. “For seven years we have been praying for Albania!” she wept, and Dr. Rankin wept tears of joy with her. (Jerry Rankin, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 57-58)

4. Expect opposition (“like lambs among wolves”). (v. 3) A Christian pastor took a group of school children whom he was teaching, for a walk. The Secret Police dogged them at first, but when they went into a zoo, they left them alone. He led them to a lion’s cage and gathered them around so he could speak quietly. He said, “Your forefathers in the Christian faith were thrown to wild beasts like these. They died gladly, because they believed in Jesus. The time may come when you also will be imprisoned, and suffer for being a Christian. Now you must decide whether you are ready to face that day. With tears in their eyes, each in turn said, ‘yes.’ It was the last class he taught before he had to leave his country. (Richard Wurmbrand, God’s Underground. Cited in “The Last Class,” The Voice of the Martyrs, February 2013.)

5. Commitment (v. 4, 7-8) If you care too much about your personal comfort (“money-bag, traveling bag,” “eating what they offer,”) you will become discouraged. If you care too much for sightseeing and socializing (“don’t greet anyone along the road”), you will lose your focus. When William Carey arrived in India, his wife was sick, he face financial hardship, and he was so lonely that he wrote in his journal, “O that I had … an earthly friend to whom I could unbosom my soul!” (Mary Drewery, William Carey, p. 74.) Andrew Baldwin, who ministers to an unreached people group in London, England, says, “This also emphasizes the need to move out in faith and in total dependence on God. Some people insist on having everything in place and being totally prepared – preparation is good, but as the leader who first recruited me to Turkey wisely said, if we waited till we felt completely ready, we’d never go!”

6. Look for a person of peace (v. 5-6). “Shalom” means more than just peace; it means wholeness and health. A person of peace was a person who fully receives the missionary. This is a person living in the culture you are reaching, who welcomes you, receives the message, and can be a bridge between you and your target culture. When Lottie Moon was serving in China, she learned of a village ten miles from where she was, that was open to the gospel. There lived a man named Dan Ho-bang. He had heard from another missionary that Jesus could remove sins from people. Then he learned that Lottie Moon was teaching about Jesus. Mr. Dan sent three people to invite Miss Moon to preach the way of Jesus in his home. She went, and great crowds of people came to the home to listen to the gospel. It became possible, because of Mr. Dan, a man of peace. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 171)

7. Show and tell the gospel (v. 9) In other words, meet their physical needs and also their spiritual needs– by sharing the gospel. While we always have the authority to share the gospel, often they are more receptive to hearing it when we show that we love them in a practical way. But beware: don’t use service or meeting physical needs as an excuse to not share the gospel. Servant evangelism alone is not a substitute for preaching. James Harvey is a missionary to an unreached people in Nashville, Tennessee. He says, “people use it [servant evangelism] as an excuse to be lazy and non-strategic in declaring the gospel message up front with people in their first meeting/encounter, whether it’s a waitress at a lunch meeting, a worldly relative at a family reunion, or a lost co-worker they pass by every day.”

8. Don’t take rejection personally (v. 10-12). If they reject you, they are actually rejecting Jesus, not you. You’re only accountable for sharing the gospel; you are not accountable for their response. When Lottie Moon first went to China, the Chinese called her a “devil woman” because she was a foreigner. She patiently responded, “Do not curse me. I am a human like you.” It took time for them to even accept her. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 158.)

9. Celebrate spiritual victories. (v. 17-19) When the 70 returned with joy that the demons submitted, Jesus rejoiced with them that Satan was being defeated. Whether you experience small victories, such as a person listening to the gospel, or great victories, such as a person coming to faith in Jesus, it is always reason to celebrate God’s work.

10. Find your greatest satisfaction in your own salvation (v. 20) Jesus reminded them that the greatest rejoicing was that their own names are written in the Book of Life. If you have been obedient to your call to be on mission, you will always be successful, no matter what numerical results you see in your lifetime.

A famous artist was asked to paint a picture of a dying church. One would expect that he would paint a small congregation in a dilapidated building. Instead, he painted a beautiful edifice with a rich pulpit and magnificent stained glass windows—and near the door, an offering box marked “Missions,” with the contribution slot covered with cobwebs. (Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, p. 378.)

It’s very true. If the church of Jesus neglects mission, the church will die, for the heart of Christ is a heart for missions. But if a church will follow the words of Christ for missions listed here in Luke 10, that church will be alive.

Which kind of church will we be? What kind of missionary will you be?

Finding a preacher who can sweat

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

What about those who have never heard the gospel?

Copyright by Bob Rogers

One of the most nagging questions skeptics of the Christian faith ask, is this: “If one must believe in Jesus to go to heaven, happens to those who never hear the gospel of Jesus Christ?”
Edward Boyd writes, “Doesn’t this mean that these unfortunate people—who constitute the majority of the world—are in fact going to be sent to hell by your all-loving God? But how can this be since they had nothing to do with when they were born, where they were born, what culture they were born into… How can one go to hell by the accident of where he happened to be born? (Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, p. 155).
The dilemma that Edward Boyd asked is a dilemma for many Christians, as well as skeptics.
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. David Platt explodes this idea. He says, “If people have a pass just because they have not heard the gospel, what is the worst thing you can do? If you tell them about Jesus, you just increased their chance of going to hell!” Yet Romans 10:14-15 and many other scriptures plead with believers to spread the gospel. So what is the answer to this dilemma? We find some answers in Acts 17.
Acts 17 tells how Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before. He notices that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he tells 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)

Edward Boyd thought it was 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 have ministered in Mississippi, one of the most heavily evangelized states in America. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel. However, when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
The International Mission Board reports: God descended on a Muslim village in Algeria one night. On that evening in 1983, villagers later testified, the Holy Spirit moved from house to house, revealing himself through dreams, visions and angelic visitations. Some 450 Muslims in the village eventually became believers in Christ as their Savior. Christians had nothing to do with the incident — or so they thought, until they discovered this: More than six centuries ago, Spanish missionary Raymond Lull was stoned to death by Muslims for preaching where the village now stands. Lull wrote before his death that Islamic strongholds would be conquered not by force, but only “by love and prayers, and the pouring out of tears and blood.” (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
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:
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-3, 1984 NIV)
“Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,  being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Romans 4:20-24, 1984 NIV)
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 last year 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.”
— A young Muslim angrily took a Bible tract from a Christian worker, tore it up and threatened the worker’s life. The next day the same young man appeared at the worker’s door, not with a weapon but with a plea: “I must have another booklet.” The previous night, he recounted, he had felt two hands shake him awake and heard a voice say, “You have torn up the truth.” He read the tract and became a believer in Christ.
— 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.

A few years ago, a group of nine people from my church visited in the home of a Christian who grew up in the Middle East. She lived in a city and nation where there are very few Christians, and she had never met a Christian or read the Bible or heard the gospel. But one night, she had a dream. In this dream, she stepped outside of her door and was in a desert, and there was a cross lying on a rock. She was told to put the cross in the rock, and when she did, a city appeared with people who looked like her but spoke a language foreign to her.
Three years later, she and her husband moved to Pakistan. There she met people who looked like her but spoke a foreign language, just as in her dream. Then her husband brought home a Bible in Arabic and said, “Why don’t you read this?” She said, “Aha! I have always heard that the prophet Jesus said to follow the prophet Muhammad who is coming after him.” So she read the Bible to find this, but was surprised to read instead that Jesus said false prophets would come after Him (Matthew 7:15; 24:24). When she read this, she exclaimed, “Muhammad is a false prophet! I must follow Jesus.” She has been a faithful Christian to this day, sharing her faith with Muslim women.
Remember the question of the skeptic, Edward Boyd? After 3 years of writing back and forth 30 letters with his son, and numerous phone calls, Edward Boyd finally came to faith in Christ. So can you, and so can the lost who live in faraway lands!
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?”