(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!
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Billy Graham has said, “People in the South have been exposed to so much religion that many of them have been inoculated against getting the real thing!”
In Romans 2:17-3:18, the apostle Paul points out three deceptions of having religion without a relationship with Jesus:
1. The deception of spiritual pride (2:17-24). Muhammad Ali once got on an airplane, and the flight attendant told him to buckle his seat belt. He said, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane.” It’s easy to be proud of how spiritual we are, and forget that we are nothing without Christ. Paul talks about how the Jewish people were proud of their spirituality, but failed to practice what they preached. Substitute the word “religious” for “Jew” and it can apply to any of us.
2. The deception of depending on ritual (2:25-3:4). Some people think that because they are baptized, go to church, receive communion, etc., that they are right with God. It ain’t necessarily so! The Jews were proud of their circumcision. It was the mark of their identity. But they forgot that God wanted a circumcision of the heart (v. 29; see also Deuteronomy 30:6). While there are advantages to religious faith, like having the Word of God and our church (3:1-4), it can deceive us into thinking it saves us. Only Jesus can save.
3. The deception of presuming on grace (3:5-8). Once the great Reformer, Martin Luther, saw a drunk in the alley. The drunk said, “You’re Martin Luther! I’m one of your disciples!” Luther replied, “You must be one of mine, because you are none of Christ’s.” Luther preached salvation by grace, but he knew that a truly saved person would show it in his life.
Paul was falsely accused of teaching that salvation by grace meant you could live in immorality and it didn’t matter. Paul was not saying that at all. While we preach grace, we must not be deceived into playing games with our religious theology. As 2 Corinthians 6:1 says, Don’t receive God’s grace in vain. A person who truly receives grace by faith will have a new heart’s desire to follow Christ.
Jefferson Bethke puts it this way:
“Religion says do,
Jesus says done.
Religion says slave,
Jesus says son.
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.”
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!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
When someone falls into sin, we often speak about repentance and a “restoration process.” But what should the restoration process look like? Having been through the process myself, I believe that it requires three things:
1. The restoration process requires a balance of grace and truth. See Psalm 85:10-11. This usually means counseling (strong on grace) and accountability (strong on truth). It is imperative that the fallen person have people pour both grace and truth into their lives very early in the restoration process.
2. The restoration process requires a “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2). This is the literal meaning of the Greek word for repentance, metanoia. There are three parts to this new way of thinking:
A. First, one learns to focus on praising God, which lifts from depression. See Psalm 42.
B. Second, one learns to forgive oneself. This usually takes time. C.S. Lewis said, “If God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
C. Third, one learns to reject living in the past. See Philippians 3:13-14. Frank Pollard says, “To dwell on past sins is to invite one of two things: thinking about it will lead you to sin again, or you will spend your time in self-destructive despair. God has placed our sins in the sea of His forgetfulness and has put up a sign: ‘No Fishing Here.’”
3. The restoration process requires activity. A fall into sin usually results in being cut off from an activity the person loved; the sinner is acutely conscious of what he or she can no longer do. Within a few weeks of the fall, they must become busy doing something good to replace the former activity; otherwise, they can fall from idleness to depression and worse sin. This is the replacement principle found in Matthew 12:43-45. For example, a fallen coach can volunteer to help Little League baseball, a fallen pastor can volunteer to teach the Bible at a prison. Charles Spurgeon said, “Sedentary habits have a tendency to despondency.”
The restoration process can reclaim fallen people to service. Just ask Moses, David, Peter and Paul! But it will take time and personal investment in their lives.
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers.
Your child is wronged by another child, and when you try to talk to her parents, they tell you off. A friend gets angry with you and refuses to talk to you. A fellow worker never shows you respect, always going over your head. How do you deal with difficult people? My grandfather loved to answer this dilemma with Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
This verse recognizes two important facts about dealing with difficult people: 1) we should live at peace with people, and 2) it’s not always possible. In fact, Romans 12 gives us four ways to deal with difficult people when peace is possible, and four ways to deal with them when peace is not possible.
When peace is possible
Romans 12:14-16 gives us some practical ways to live at peace with difficult people.
1. Be a blessing (v. 14)
Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This statement, like several others here, refer back to Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Paul must have remembered his own past with this statement, for many years before, Paul was the young Pharisee named Saul who held the coats of those who stoned to death the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Acts 7:60 records that as he died, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
2. Be empathetic (v. 15)
In verse 15 he adds, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This is more than sympathy; it is empathy. It is identifying with those who hurt. This is a critical response to a difficult person, because when we can identify with them and understand why they act the way they do, then we will be much better at relating to them.
3. Be agreeable (v. 16a)
Verse 16 begins, “Live in harmony with one another.” Literally, the Greek means to “have the same mind toward one another.” We can disagree in substance and still be agreeable in spirit.
4. Be humble (v. 16b)
Sometimes the reason that the other person is so difficult to deal with us because the problem is within ourselves! Thus Paul reminds us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” As Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”
When peace is impossible
Paul said in verse 18 to live at peace “if it is possible” and if “it depends on you.” He was recognizing that there are times when it is impossible for us to bring about peace in our own power. So what do you do when there is no peace? What do you do when it’s out of your hands?
1. Do not seek personal revenge (v. 17a, 19a)
Although I have listed this under the category of “when peace is impossible,” it probably fits under both categories. This is a principle that goes both ways.
Verse 17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” Verse 19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends…” Jesus also taught the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39, 41). Jesus was not talking about social injustice; He was making reference to personal insults. As Proverbs 12:16 says, it is wise to ignore an insult.
2. Do what is right (v. 17b)
We do not need to let the meanness of another person drag us down to their level. Thus verse 17 continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” We must decide that even when the other person refuses to do what is right, that we will do what is right. Even when we cannot keep the peace, we can keep our integrity.
3. Let God avenge (v. 19b)
Verse 19 begins by saying, “Do not take revenge” but the verse goes on to say, “leave room for God’s wrath.” That is, we do not take revenge for personal insults and injuries, but we do make room for God to work his vengeance, particularly against social injustice.
When the Hebrews fled across the Red Sea and Pharaoh chased them, God allowed the Egyptians to drown in the sea, and Exodus 15 records the song of rejoicing that Moses sang at their defeat. Proverbs 11:10 says that “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” While it is a virtue to overlook a personal insult, it is not a virtue to overlook a social injustice. The former is gracious; the latter is gross negligence.
4. Overcome evil with good (v. 20-21)
Paul says, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ [A quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22.] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We can read Romans 12:20-21 on two levels: On a personal level, “kill him with kindness.” If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Let his evil be in such contrast to your goodness, that evil will be conquered by good. You may change his heart. On a social level, God will bring about the vengeance, often by using the judicial system, law enforcement and the military to bring about justice. In this way, you are leaving room for God’s wrath.
To sum up, how do you deal with difficult people? If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with them. If possible, be a blessing, be empathetic, be agreeable, be humble. Respond to their personal insults with personal kindness. And if none of those things are possible, you may just need to walk away and let God deal with them.
How does God want you to deal with your difficult person?
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)
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.
In case you missed them, here were my top blog posts and top new blog posts in 2016, in order of the most visits:
TOP THREE POSTS OF 2016:
1. Blessing the food: ways to say “Grace”: https://bobrogers.me/2013/10/25/blessing-the-food-ways-to-say-grace-before-meals/
2. Four great truths from the creation account in Genesis: https://bobrogers.me/2013/10/14/four-great-truths-from-the-creation-account-in-genesis/
3. Why I am changing Bible translations: https://bobrogers.me/2012/04/17/why-i-am-changing-bible-translations/
TOP THREE NEW POSTS OF 2016:
1. In this weird political year, be a patriotic prayer warrior! https://bobrogers.me/2016/05/05/be-a-patriotic-prayer-warrior/
2. Twisted scripture: “by His stripes, we are healed”: https://bobrogers.me/2016/08/07/twisted-scripture-by-his-stripes-we-are-healed/
3. Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”: https://bobrogers.me/2016/06/10/twisted-scripture-god-doesnt-put-on-you-more-than-you-can-handle/
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I was comfortable in a dark closet
Thinking dark thoughts
Doing dark deeds.
Then a brilliant burst of light revealed
That I’m in a closet of mirrors
I see my ugly, naked body everywhere
I cannot escape in any direction
Every wall is a mirror.
Outsiders can see me through the mirror
But I cannot see them
I wonder what they think and what they see
But I can only see me—
The one person I do not want to see.
I want to cover myself
But I have nothing.
I want to drive a nail through the mirror
But I have nothing.
I fall to my knees, curl into a tiny ball
Wailing, whining, whimpering.
Oh, God, kill me! I have nothing! I need you!
Softly a nail falls by my side, skipping on the glass
Then two…three…ten…fifty…a hundred…
Nails crash down, crack open
Cutting me — and covering me.
But now I have something
I have a covering—a covering of rusty nails.
And the mirror is broken at last.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product. If you see an inappropriate ad, you can email me at BobRogersThD@gmail.com.)
Five years ago I started riding a mountain bike a few miles in the morning to work out at the YMCA. I figured with gasoline at $4.00 a gallon, I could pay for the bicycle in gas saved and be exercising while riding. Soon I was addicted to cycling, and started riding longer distances on Saturdays for fun. When I got up to nearly 20 miles, serious cyclists told me I should upgrade to a road bike, and I was blessed to receive one on permanent loan from a friend. Soon I was riding 30 and 40 miles on the weekends on the road bike, which is a lot easier and more fun to ride, with its light weight and narrow tires.
Then my brother, who lives in Louisiana, got into cycling. We decided that we would ride the 41-mile Longleaf Trace (near our parent’s home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi) over the Christmas holidays. Since I had been cycling a lot longer than Todd, I was sharing my expertise with him and comparing notes on Facebook and in phone calls. Soon he was riding 40 miles each weekend. I got up to 52 miles on my longest ride.
A couple of months before the ride, it dawned on me that my brother was going that distance on a mountain bike, while I was riding a road bike. I decided to be fair to him, I should also ride the slower, heavier mountain bike, and I started training again on my mountain bike. I had never been farther than 22 miles on a mountain bike. A couple of weeks before our ride, I got up to 35 miles on my mountain bike, and I thought I was going to die.
I should have seen what was coming, but my pride got in the way. On December 31, our Dad dropped us off in Prentiss at the beginning of the Longleaf Trace, with our mountain bikes. (That’s a picture of the two of us on this page, with Todd on the left, and me on the right.)
The idea was to ride in each other’s draft, taking turns leading one another. I led the first seven miles, with Todd right behind me in my draft. It was largely uphill, and then we took a break. I felt fine, but Todd said my pace seemed slow. He led the next 12 miles. Forget about staying in his draft, after about 5 miles, it was killing me to keep up with him. I had to make a decision: was I going to be in pain trying to keep up his pace, or just enjoy the ride? I decided to enjoy the ride and soon he was half a football field ahead of me, constantly looking back. After the next stop, I was feeling humiliated. I had to put the bicycle in a low gear to handle the slightest uphill slopes, while Todd started meandering on the path, over to the left and then to the right, just to slow himself down and keep from going over the horizon out of my view. Then he started telling me that he needed to reset his music on his mp3 player, and told me to go on ahead and he would catch up. Soon he was flying past me. I felt like the little engine that could, but I wasn’t so sure that I could. The last 10 miles were pure pain and determination. I think I saw a turtle pass me. After five hours and 41 miles on the trail, I finally crossed the line, muttering that I HATE mountain bikes. My brother was circling around the parking lot waiting for me, saying he could go another 5 miles. But I couldn’t be mad at him, because he was trying to be nice about it the whole time, thanking me for riding with him and saying how much fun we had. That evening he went out to a movie. I took ibuprofen and rubbed my sore thighs and knees at home.
The experience reminds me of the way we often see ourselves spiritually. We think we are really good people. We compare ourselves with others, and we look pretty good. But the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we compare ourselves with God, He runs circles around us, and leaves us in the dust. It’s an humbling realization, but an important lesson for us to learn.
That long ride on mountain bikes with my brother taught me that I’m not nearly as great a cyclist as I think I am, and also encouraged me to keep on training. Getting a glimpse of God’s glory should teach us a similar lesson: we aren’t nearly as holy and good as we think we are, but we have a loving God who is waiting on us up ahead, accepting us for who we are encouraging us to do better.
However, there is also a difference. My brother can do nothing to help me, except give encouragement. My God can give me power to do what I cannot do myself. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
I’m looking forward to the ride with God in 2013.
UPDATE: When I got back to Georgia, I noticed that my rear tire was lose and rubbing against the rim, so I took it to my bike repairman. He said the bearings were shot, and he said, “I don’t know how you even finished 41 miles with a wheel in that bad shape.” Soooooo…. maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t in as bad a shape as I thought! Looks like I need to challenge Todd to another ride on the Longleaf Trace!