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A plea to save our Republic

On January 10, 49 B.C., Julius Caesar made a decision to cross the Rubicron River, defying the Roman Senate. This would lead to the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of a Roman Emperor.

On the night of January 6, A.D. 2021, I went to bed distressed, having a hard time sleeping, and awoke earlier than usual to pray longer. After thinking about it all day, I feel compelled to speak up. As a Christian and an American, I condemn in the strongest terms the Trump supporters who invaded our nation’s Capitol building while Congress was in session, threatening the very heart of our democracy, and I was horrified at the blasphemy that some of them waved Christian flags and a “Jesus” flag while rioting.

Have we crossed a Rubicon, from which there is no turning back?

Some people will say that the rioters were not really Trump supporters, or that they were not representative of most Republicans and Trump supporters. On the other side of the aisle, some will say that it just showed how evil all Republicans are. Enough of this! We must stop pointing fingers at others, and we must come to grips with the fact that in a real sense, we all bear a responsibility for what happened yesterday, by passively allowing the rhetoric in this nation to rise to a fever pitch.

Words have consequences. When we speak angry words, some of our hearers will take our words farther than we ever intended. Sin is like that– it takes us farther than we want to go. To my fellow Christians, let us remember that scripture tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. It tells us to be kind to one another. When we say angry things about our political opponents, there are always those who will repeat it and take it a step farther. One person posts angry words against a politician on social media, and another person reads it and spray paints the same politican’s house or yells at them in a restaurant. One person rips up a speech, and another person rips down a monument. One person cries out to march against the Capitol because he felt he was cheated in the election, and others will march right into the building and riot. If we want to save our democracy, we must stop pointing fingers at the other side and instead take a look at our own hearts. If the apostle Paul could tell the Christians to submit to governing authorites that was ruled by an evil Roman emperor, then we can do no less in our democracy, as imperfect as it is.

Have we crossed a Rubicon, from which there is no turning back? Or will we save our Republic?

This is a plea for us to tone down the rhetoric, to stop shouting at one another, and to listen to those with whom we disagree. It is high time for civil behavior in our civil body politick. Years ago, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill were fierce political opponents, but they were friends, and could be civil and respectful to one another. We must return to those days when we can agree to disagree, without demonizing one another. It is worth it to save our democracy. Let us remember our pledge to the flag of the UNITED States, to be “ONE nation under God, INDIVISIBLE…”? Let us keep that pledge, for divided we fall, but united we stand.

Book review: “Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860”

Menikoff, Aaron. Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publicaitons, 2014.

Aaron Menikoff fills in important gaps in Baptist history with this well-researched study of Baptist involvement in social reform between the American Revolution and Civil War. He is well-prepared to write on the subject, with a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and experience as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, a Baptist.
This book debunks the common idea that Baptists in the 19th century were only concerned about personal salvation, and neglected social issues. He first examines the overall attitude of Baptists toward salvation, morality, politics, and church and state, with particular emphasis on how Baptists held in tension the idea that church and state should be separate, yet a nation needed to be virtuous to survive. In other words, the Baptist understanding of separation of church and meant the government had no right establishing a particular religion, but this did not mean a separation between church and society– far from it.
Next, Menikoff examines how this Baptist attitude played itself out in five major issues of the time: political parties, slavery, the Sabbath Mail Controversy, poverty, and the temperance movement. He shows the majority Baptist approach to each issue, while also revealing how different Baptists took different sides on each of these issues. ]
On political parties, Baptists usually avoided endorsing candidates or parties, yet spoke out on political issues, and some were more directly involved as candidates and supporting parties.
On slavery, Menikoff shows the complexity and diversity of Baptist views, including the colonization movement to resettle slaves in Africa. While Northern Baptists generally joined the abolitionist movement and southern Baptists opposed it, he shows how there were southern Baptists opposed to slavery in the south as late as the 1830s, and Baptist leaders like Richard Furman called upon slaveholders not to neglect the spiritual needs of their slaves.
The Sabbath Mail Controvesy is largely forgotten today, but at the time there was great religious opposition to the delivery of mail on Sunday, including most Baptists. He tells the fascinating story of how a Baptist Senator, Richard Johnson, gave the Congressional report supporting the delivery of mail every day, calling his fellow Baptists hypocrites for trying to unite church and state over the issue.
On poverty, the author shows how Baptists were active in relief efforts for the poor, although they often blamed the poor for getting themselves into their situation and focused on targeted giving of the “deserving poor.”
The temperance movement to abstain from alcohol was the most popular Baptist cause, as all Baptists saw alcohol abuse as a major social problem. However, Menikoff shows that Baptists also had different opinions over the temperance issue, especially defending the liberty of conscience for individual Baptists who drank moderately, and those Baptists who opposed to political efforts at prohibition on the grounds that it mixed church and state.
This book gave me a new perspective on several issues, especially the fascinating Sabbath Mail Controversy as well as how complex and diverse Baptist opinions were on slavery in the south. Menikoff’s research is carefully documented, with hundreds of footnotes and an exhaustive bibliography, leaving a rich resource for further study on the subjects covered. It is not light reading, but for those interested in Baptist history, it is rewarding, indeed.

Four 19th century biographies of Southern slavery

Recently, I’ve read four 19th century biographies and autobiographies of men and women who escaped slavery in the South. If you want to read about what slavery was really like in that time, these classic books will let you hear the stories in the words of those who experienced it.

Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Harriet, the Moses of Her People.

This biography, written by a white friend of Harriet Tubman gives a firsthand account of the amazing life of an amazing woman who bravely made so many trips to the South to rescue over 300 of her people along the “Underground Railroad.” The author is somewhat patronizing toward African-Americans, yet beautifully portrays the unwavering Christian faith that sustained Harriet through it all, and the events surrounding her that some call “supernatural.” Her story has recently been made into the film, Harriet.

Solomon Northrup, 12 Years a Slave.

The most dramatic story I have read of someone escaping slavery is that of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who was kidnapped in New York, and sold into slavery in Louisiana, where he suffered until his dramatic rescue. Northrup himself vividly describes his experiences, which shows the cruelty of slavery in the Deep South. The events surrounding his rescue will have you on the edge of your seat. No wonder this was made into an Academy Award Winning film!

Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself.

This account of a female former slave, using the name Linda Brent, shares graphic details of brutality and especially sexual abuse by white owners. There is a constant tension between Linda and her owner, Dr. Flint, whose affections she continually rejects. Although a true story published at the outbreak of the Civil War, it reads like a novel, and I read it quickly. It gives so many insights into slave life in the South, and even discrimination against blacks in the North.

Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave.

This true story was the basis for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I downloaded it and read it in one day. Henson was an industrious man with great leadership and organizational skills. The storyline moves quickly and is so emotional, that it overcomes the 19th century formal writing style. I highly recommend this short read to get a feel for the heartless institution of slavery in the South.

The memories behind the painting: growing up in the 1940s in rural Mississippi

(My mother, Joyce Clinton Rogers, was born on July 1, 1935. If you who follow her paintings on Instagram @mymothersart or on Facebook, you know that she is still actively painting, but the most treasured of all her paintings is the one of her grandfather in front of his home in Epley, Mississippi. Below she shares her personal memories of her grandparents, and what life was like growing up in the 1940s in rural Missississippi. It will help you understand why this painting is so special.)

by Joyce Clinton Rogers

When I was a little girl in the 1940s, my parents took me to spend a week in the summer with my Clinton grandparents who lived on a farm in Epley, Mississippi (located between Sumrall and Hattiesburg). I may have gone several summers– I’m not sure. I may have forgotten.

There wasn’t much a young girl could do but explore, so I did. A short walk away past the cemetery was a small bridge over a creek. It was fun to swing my feet into the cool creek water and see what critters were in the water.

My granddaddy was a farmer and a well-digger. Our whole family, my three sisters and three brothers, loved to play around the well. We had running water and electricity and a real bathroom at the teacher’s home at Oak Grove where we lived– but not my grandparents. My grandparents had an outdoor toilet and a Sears & Roebuck Catalogue for toilet paper. (I’m not kidding!) They had a tub used for washing clothes, vegetables, and for getting a bath, and goodness knows what else.

The story is told that granddaddy got baths by waiting ’til dark, stripping and pouring buckets of well water over his head, then drying off naturally by swinging in the swing on the front porch. One night, my Aunt Carol was entertaining a boyfriend on the front porch, and granddaddy’s arrival caused quite a stir!

I remember the house well. Our family visited every Sunday afternoon for years. I did a painting of the ole house, which hangs in back of my favorite chair where we live now. The farmhouse had no electricity and was heated by fireplaces and the kitchen by a stove. The stove had a door that opened and you put firewood inside. There were two fireplaces, one in each bedroom on each side of the house. When we went to visit in the wintertime, we sat on the edge of one of the two beds in the rooms to the right. If others came in, we just slid over. Grandma sat in her chair on the left of the fireplace, and granddaddy sat on the right.

On holidays, occasionally we might eat at the farmhouse. If that was the case, we came early so mama could help with the cooking. And oh, what a great feast we would have! We’d have fried chicken, lots of vegetables from their garden both fresh and “canned” (stored in jars), biscuits and cornbread, casseroles and desserts. As the oldest granddaughter, I got some jobs. Grandma made buttermilk and butter by placing milk in a jar, and I shook the jar until buttermilk and butter formed and separated from the other milk. My arms would get so tired!

I remember well hearing granddaddy say the blessing. He was loud! After he finished, he said, “Now you see what’s here…” I can’t remember what else he said (to finish that phrase). If any family remember, I wish you’d tell me how he finished that statement.

Speaking of being loud and praying, I had an interesting experience on one of my summer visits. I was on the swing on the front porch while granddaddy’s young pastor visited with him. I heard granddaddy praying loudly. I realized that the pastor didn’t come to pray for granddaddy, but for granddaddy to pray for him. Or maybe both ways.

Grandma always wore a long simple dress down to her ankles, an apron and her hair in a bun on top of her head. On Sunday, she wore a white apron. Granddaddy wore overalls and clean ones on Sunday.

Grandma swept the yard with a broom. She didn’t want grass growing in her yard. There was a rooster in the back yard who chased me. I was deathly afraid of him.

There was a long back porch where vegetables might be stacked or the washtub might be the bathing place for the more genteel. On the end of the porch near the kitchen was a shelf where a bucket of water with a dipper and a washpan stood. This is where you got a drink of water and/or washed your hands. Yes, we all drank from the same dipper.

Granddaddy never owned a car. He used his plowhorse, Dolly, to pull the family wagon to go to Sumrall for supplies and to church on Sunday. You can see him with Dolly in my painting.

Painting of the Clinton “Ole Place” by Joyce Clinton Rogers

Known in the community as “Uncle Charlie” and “Aunt Marthy,” this is how things were in rural Epley in the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s. Both are buried in the little Clinton Family Cemetery with their parents, their grandparents and some of their nine children and grandchildren, including one of my brothers, Donald Clinton. Also buried there are my parents, Rankin Anderson Clinton, Sr. and Lucy Rutledge Clinton, and Gwen Clinton, the first wife of my brother Sam.

Charles and Martha Clinton

Tearing down statues– where does it end?

Protesters in San Francisco have pulled down a bust of Ulysses Grant, the former U.S. president and Union general who defeated the Confederates, because Grant married into a slave-owning family. They also pulled down other statues, including that of Francis Scott Key (pictured above), who wrote the U.S. national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” since Key owned slaves.

I readily agree that slavery was and is reprehensible, and the Confederates were traitors to the Union. I also agree that statues of many such historical people need to be removed to museums, not glorified front and center in our parks and courthouses. But where does this sort of thing end? What person, past or present, is without character flaws?

I wonder if these same protesters would be willing to tear down a statue of Charles Darwin, since he was a racist who said Africans were less evolved than white people? I wonder if these same protesters would be willing to deface a statue of John F. Kennedy, since he was reportedly an adulterer?

Interestingly, some of those people of the past, if they were here today, would likely be shocked by the immoral practices of some of these modern protesters, some who may cohabitate outside of marriage or may have killed babies through abortion– but at least they didn’t own slaves, so they judge themselves righteous. How blind these self-righteous anarchists are, seeing the sins of the past but ignoring the sins of the present.

These modern moralists do not see how similar their vandalism is to ISIS fighters who tore down ancient statues in the Middle East because they were “pagan.” These revolutionaries do not see how their onrush to destroy any and every injustice in the name of the people is similar to another revolution– the French revolution, a time when the revolutionaries were soon devouring each other for not being radical enough. Today’s radicals could read about it in their history books, but it seems they have torn out most of the pages.

Easter Sunday, Day of Surprise!

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Many people who doubt the truth of Jesus’ resurrection say something like this: “People in the first century were superstitious, simple-minded people, and they were much more likely to believe in a resurrection than modern people are today. So, probably something else happened, and they just wanted so badly for Jesus to live that they convinced themselves that Jesus was raised.”

But when we read the Gospels, a totally different picture appears. The early disciples were just as surprised then as we would be now.

The Gospel of Mark could hardly have used more words to describe ow surprised they were. Mark 16:5 says they were “alarmed.” The angel calmed them by saying, “Don’t be alarmed… You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.”

Mark 16:8 says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

“Alarmed.” “Trembling.” “Bewildered.” “Afraid.” Mark was letting us know that they were totally surprised by the resurrection. They never expected it. Jesus had plainly told them he would be raised (see Mark 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), but they reacted to those predictions with fear and disbelief, just as people would today. Yet it really happened!

And because it happened, world history is changed. Time is divided from B.C. to A.D., because of Jesus. Within five weeks, 10,000 Jews in Jerusalem were following Jesus, and within 300 years, the Roman Empire came under the sway of Christianity.

Best of all, because of Jesus’ resurrection, we don’t have to escape reality, we can face reality! So many people try to escape their painful lives by diversions and entertainment. But Jesus’ resurrection changes all that. The sick man doesn’t have to transport himself into the imaginary world of a basketball star who slam dunks the ball; the sick man knows that in Christ, one day he will walk on streets of gold! The unloved woman does not have to escape into a world of romance novels to imagine love; one day because of her faith in Christ, she will be in a place where everybody loves her and accepts her, and she will see the One who died and arose to save her.

Surprise! Surprise! Easter is not a myth at all. It really happened, and because it happened, we can face reality.

Book review: “A History of the Modern Middle East”

 

ABookModernMiddleEast 

A History of the Modern Middle East by William L. Cleveland and Martin Bunton, 6th ed., (Westview Press, 2016).

This history does as the title promises, focusing more on the modern period of the Middle East, especially from the Ottoman Empire through 2015. The book covers the rise of ISIS but was written before the downfall of ISIS. It includes the Arab Spring of 2011, which Cleveland prefers to call the “Arab Uprisings.” It includes balanced discussions of areas from Turkey to Iran to the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt. It does not include neighboring countries such as the Sudan, North Africa or Afghanistan in the discussion, except where events there affect the Middle East proper, such as the Egyptian war in Sudan, the harboring of Osama bin Laden by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia and led to the downfall of Libya’s dictator, too.
The book gives much attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is appropriate, as well as thorough coverage of the Kurdish problem of being a people without a homeland.
Perhaps due to his focus on the modern period, Cleveland passes over the Crusades with barely a mention, which I found peculiar, since modern Arabs like Osama bin Laden referred to Christians as the “Crusaders.”
While Cleveland strives to present a balanced report of both the positive and negative traits of each people and each personality, he appears to have certain biases. He clearly is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians verses the Jews, and is favorable to the Muslim worldview (for example, he blames Islam’s low view of women on the influences of the cultures neighboring the Arabs, and refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate”). Nevertheless, he does a good job of explaining the various sectarian and ethnic groups, such as the Sunni and Shi’a, and minority groups like Arab Christians, Assyrians, Yazidis, Druze, Alawites, etc.

Three strategies for victory, learned from Roman history

Roman-Soldier

Copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.

The Romans were a powerful people for over a thousand years. However, it was a slow process for Rome to become a powerful nation. They won a 70-year off and on battle against the walled Etruscan city of Veii, only ten miles to the north, finally capturing it in 396 B.C. Here are three lessons for battle that they learned, that would make them a victorious military power for centuries. Many of these lessons are useful today:

Lesson 1: Learn from defeat.

The Gallic Sack of Rome about 387 B.C. shocked them, when wild warriors from Gaul swept down from the Po Valley, burned and looted the city. After paying the Gallic army to leave, they copied the walls of Veii, and built a wall around Rome.

They fought three wars with the Samnites, who inhabited the Apennines Mountains in central Italy, and lost major battles to them because the phalanx didn’t work well in the mountains, but they learned how to fight different ways in the mountains.

What defeats have you suffered in life? How can you learn from them?

Lesson 2: Divide and conquer.

Although strategically located, the Romans were not the largest or most powerful people in Italy in their early years. But Romans were well organized and united, able to slowly “divide and conquer” the rest of Italy, mainly because the other people groups were not united. For example, the Etruscan cities were totally independent of one another, so the other cities didn’t help Veii, allowing Rome to capture them. They often played one group against another, as when they made a peace treaty with Carthage and allowed them to oppose the Greeks in Sicily, then after Rome defeated the Greeks, Rome turned against Carthage.

This strategy is manipulative and unethical when done with allies and friends. However, the “divide and conquer” strategy has its usefulness with opponents and enemies. If you have multiple opponents or problems, instead of taking all of them on, which ones could you defeat first, and then move on to the next? What ways can you let them work against each other?

Lesson 3: Make your enemies your friends.

When they defeated the Latins, Rome made them their allies, eventually merging with them. They later did the same with other groups in Italy that they conquered, including Etruscans and Samnites and Gauls. As each became an ally, Rome became stronger and stronger. At last, they were strong enough to take on the Greek colonies in the south of Italy, and slowly they united all of Italy.

This strategy is much more ethical, and has many benefits. What common ground can you find with opponents, turning them into allies and friends?

(Dr. Rogers is an adjunct history professor for The Baptist College of Florida, where he has taught Roman History numerous times.)

Where do we get the tradition of Christmas trees?

ChristmasTreeGrandchildren

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

   All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees for the holiday. But what does this have to do with the birth of Jesus? Is it just a pagan practice, or can we find Christ in the Christmas tree?

   Where did the tradition of the Christmas tree come from?

   There are many different stories, since ancient peoples have made use of trees and even worshiped them. One of my favorite stories is of St. Boniface, the missionary to the Germans in the 8th century. Boniface told them about Jesus Christ, but they worshiped a great oak tree. So Boniface boldly went to the oak with an ax and began to chop it down. They were ready to kill him, when a great wind came and blew the tree down. After that, the Germans converted to Christianity in large numbers.

    Some legends tell that St. Boniface later decorated a fir tree to represent Jesus instead of their pagan gods. It is uncertain whether this is true.

   During the Middle Ages, there was a popular medieval play in western Germany about Adam and Eve and a “paradise tree,” which was a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. Germans set up paradise trees in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it, representing the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and then later they hang cookies, and often put candles, symbols of Christ as the light.

   Meanwhile, in the 15th and 16th century in Latvia, Estonia and northern Germany, there was a tradition of bringing an evergreen tree to the town square on Christmas Eve, dancing around it, and letting it burn. Eventually people in Germany began to light a tree on Christmas Eve with candles. Lutheran tradition says that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther helped popularize the lighting of an evergreen tree at Christmas all over Germany.

The stories behind three of the most popular Christmas carols

JoyToTheWorld

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

   Perhaps the three most popular Christmas carols in English are “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” The first two were sung in the American colonies even before the United States was a nation, but the third one came from Austria.

    “Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. It is based on Psalm 98, and its tune comes from one of the songs in Handel’s Messiah. Originally this song was intended to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, but it has come to be associated mostly with His first coming at Christmas.

   “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was written by the great Methodist founder Charles Wesley in 1739, and the words were revised by the great evangelist of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. A hundred years later, the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn composed the tune that is popular today when people sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

   “Silent Night” was originally written in German and first sung on Christmas Eve, 1818, at St. Nicholas Church in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria. The organist, Franz Gruber, discovered that the organ wasn’t working at the church. The priest, Joseph Mohr, had composed the words in German to “Silent Night” two years before. So he shared it with Gruber, who composed the tune to be sung by guitar. When Karl Mauracher came to repair the organ, he heard the story of how the song was composed in an emergency and sung without the organ, and Mauracher spread the song everywhere that he went. The song came to America by German-speaking congregations. Originally the words were “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” The English words we sing today were translated by John Freeman Young. “Silent Night” has been translated into 140 languages.

   While these songs are popular today, the first Christmas carols can be found in the Bible itself. More about that tomorrow…

 

The origins of Christmas carols

ChristmasCarolsAncient

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

While many Americans sing about Santa, chestnuts and a white Christmas, Christians all over the world have sung about the birth of Jesus Christ for centuries. As early as the fourth century, Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan, wrote a hymn for Christmas to teach that God truly became a man, in response to heretics who denied Jesus’ incarnation.

   Singing Christmas carols was popularized by St. Francis of Assisi during the Middle Ages in Europe, and was also encouraged by the Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther. As early as the 15th century, groups of singers would go from house to house in England and sing Christmas carols. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, chaplain from Shropshire, who lists twenty five “caroles of Cristemas”, probably sung by groups of “wassailers,” who went from house to house and enjoyed “wassail,” ale, or apple cider, and other desserts given to them at each home. Thus we get the line, “here we go a wassailing among the leaves so green,” and since the homes often fed the carolers, we also get the line, “bring out the figgy pudding, we won’t go until we get some.” It was only later that carols begun to be sung in church, and to be specifically associated with Christmas.

  Two of the oldest Christmas carols still sung today are “O Come, all ye faithful,” which was originally written in the 13th century, and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” which was first composed in the 14th century.

   Perhaps the three most popular Christmas carols in English are “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” The first two were sung in the American colonies even before the United States was a nation, but the third one came from Austria. More about them tomorrow…

Book review: “A Land Remembered” tells the history of Florida in novel form

ALandRemembered

A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith, is the history of Florida, told in novel form.
The author creates a fictional family, the McIvey’s, and weaves a tale of their lives through all the major points of Florida history, from the time of the Civil War to the 1960s. Sensing the onset of war, Tobias McIvey flees Georgia and settles in the wilderness of northern Florida in the late 1850’s with his young wife. Through Tobias and his sons Zack and Sol, as well as their African-American and Seminole friends, we learn about the Battle of Olustee during the Civil War, the shameful treatment of the Seminole tribe, how rural Floridians came to be called “crackers,” open-range cattle ranching, the beginning of citrus crops, the railroads of Henry Flagler, the settlement and rapid growth of Miami and south Florida, and more than anything else, we learn about the land– creatures, plants, lakes, hurricanes, and the Everglades. The story is told with humor and drama. This is an interesting way to learn about Florida, which is why many Florida social studies teachers use it in their classrooms. However, I should warn you that the characters are far from saints– there is a fair bit of profanity and some mild sexuality, as well. There is a student edition of this book which may tame some of those elements.

The Christian roots of Santa Claus

St.Nicholas

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Many American children look forward to Christmas gifts from Santa Claus, but few people know the Christian roots of the legend of Santa.

Clement C. Moore’s poem

The American traditions of Santa Claus comes primarily from the poem by Clement C. Moore, a seminary professor in New York City. The poem was originally called, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” but most of us know it by the first line, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It was published in 1823 and had a great impact on the tradition of Santa Claus. It is from this poem that people get the idea of a jolly elf with a big belly coming on Christmas Eve with reindeer and bringing gifts for children. Yet even this poem never calls him Santa Claus, but instead it calls him St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas

Nicholas was a real person who was a Christian bishop in the 4th century. He was born in A.D. 270, and died on December 6, A.D. 343. Nicholas grew up in a wealthy home in Myra, part of modern-day Turkey. He became bishop of Myra and was known as an orthodox, Bible-believing bishop, with a reputation for secret gift-giving and caring for children. One legend said that he often put coins in the shoes of people in need. The most famous legend about Nicholas was that a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for their wedding. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.
One version of the legend has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

The legends develop
You can quickly see how these legends developed over the centuries into the legend of a character who brings gifts in secret, sometimes in stockings or down a chimney. He is known by many names in many countries, including Father Christmas, Père Noël in French, and Sinterklaas in Dutch.
Because the real St. Nicholas died on December 6, in many nations he is remembered on that day with the giving of gifts. But during the Protestant Reformation, many Protestants changed the gift-giver to the Christ child, which is Christkindl in German, and changed the date from December 6 to Christmas Eve. The German Christkindl was corrupted to Kris Kringle in English, and in New York, the home of poet Clement C. Moore, the Dutch Sinterklaas was corrupted to Santa Claus in English.

The history of Christmas lights

ChristmasTreeWindow

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Ever since the star of Bethlehem led the wise men to baby Jesus, Christmas has been associated with lights. For centuries, Christmas lights meant lighting candles.

Lights on trees
The tradition of putting up Christmas lights began with putting candles on Christmas trees. Christmas trees originated in Germany by the 16th century, from several different traditions. Some Germans actually burned an evergreen tree in the town square and danced around it. There is a popular legend that Martin Luther, the German Protestant reformer, began the tradition of putting candles on Christmas trees. The legend says that one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.

Advent wreaths
Whether or not this is true, we know that the Advent wreath was invented in 1839 by Johann Henrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor who worked with the urban poor in Germany. The children would ask every day if Christmas had arrived, so Wichern built a ring with evergreen and candles to candles to light the 24 days in December before Christmas, and large candles to mark the Sundays. Later this was simplified to four candles for the four Sundays, and a Christ candle in the middle for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom of lighting an Advent candle did not spread to America until a century later, in the 1930s.

Origin of electric Christmas lights
On December 22, 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, displayed his Christmas tree with 80 red, white and blue electric lights bulbs the size of walnuts, at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. This was the first time a Christmas tree had been illuminated with electric lights, but the idea spread quickly. Three years later, the White House Christmas tree was covered with electric lights. By the early 19th century, it became popular to put lights on buildings, not just on Christmas trees. In the 1960s, with the construction of so many subdivisions in American communities, it became the custom in American neighborhoods for many families to cover their houses with lights. This custom has spread around the world, and is particularly popular in Japan.
Today, Christmas lights cover waterfronts, caverns, skyscrapers and shopping centers. Some even use synchronized timers to have their lights flash to music. May each light remind us of a star long ago that led to Jesus, the Light of the world!

Three reasons why I believe the Bible

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

In the runaway bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown claims that Emperor Constantine “commissioned and financed a new Bible” and he “outlawed, gathered up, and burned” the existing gospels (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, p. 234).
While reputable historians have rejected the claims of The Da Vinci Code as having no basis in fact, many people wonder, why should I believe the Bible?
The Bible itself claims to be the Word of God. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) that “all scripture is God-breathed…” I believe the Bible is the Word of God? Why? Not only does it claim to be the Word of God, but it passes three important tests:
1. It passes the test of corroboration.
In a trial, one of the things a judge or jury look for is corroborating testimony. If one witness sees something, and another witness agrees and says he saw the same thing, it gives extra credence to the truth of his words.
The Bible passes the test of corroboration, because so many other witnesses verify what the Bible says. Here are just a few examples:
Genesis 36:20 says the Horites were descendants of Esau, but some historians doubted they existed. In 1995 Giorgio Buccellati discovered the Horite capital city beneath modern Syrian city of Tell Mozan.
According to 1 Kings 9:28, King Solomon brought back 16 tons of gold from Ophir. But nobody knew that Ophir existed. In 1956 broken pottery found at Tell Qasile in Israel was inscribed, “gold of Ophir for Beth-Horon.”
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Nero persecuted the Christians, and then explained that “Christus” was crucified under Pontius Pilate, just as the Gospels record.
In 1990 a bone chest was discovered in Jerusalem that was inscribed “Caiaphas” and “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” John 11 says Caiaphas was the high priest at Jesus’ trial, and Jewish historian Joseph says his full name was “Joseph, called Caiaphas.”
There are literally thousands of these kinds of historical and archaeological discoveries that identify people and places named in the Bible.
2. It passes the test of endurance.
The manuscript evidence of the Bible is an amazing story.
The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and some in Aramaic, and copied down by hand. So how trustworthy is the text that has been copied and recopied for several thousand years? We got our answer when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a thousand years older than any other manuscripts available at the time! Scholars eagerly studied them to see what errors would have been made in all those years of copying. To their amazement, there were almost no differences. For example, when they studied the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, which is about 100 pages in English translation, they only found three minor spelling differences, similar to the difference in spelling Savior or Saviour.
The New Testament has by far the best manuscript evidence of any other ancient document. There are 5,400 ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that scholars can study to figure out what the original text said. Compare that with the classical works of Plato, Herodotus, and Aristophanes, that have anywhere from one to 20 manuscripts.
At one time, liberal scholars claimed that the Gospel of John must have been written long after John’s life, in the late second century. But then a papyrus was discovered in Southern Egypt of the Gospel of John carbon dated to A.D. 125. Since John was probably written at Ephesus, it had to have been written long before A.D. 125 to have time to travel to Southern Egypt.
The Bible has outlasted the empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome. It survived the invasions of the Goths and Vikings and the neglect of the Dark Ages. It survived the skepticism of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Over the centuries, people have attacked the people, banned the Bible and even burned the Bible, but the Bible continues to endure as the number one bestselling book of all time.
3. It passes the test of experience.
Millions of people have read the Bible and found that it spoke to their hearts.
Lewis Wallace was a Union general in the Civil War, and then became governor of the territory of New Mexico. He met the atheist scholar Robert Ingersoll and was unable
to refute Ingersoll’s arguments against the Bible. So he studied everything he could about the life of Jesus, and became convinced that Jesus was everything the Bible says he was. In the process, Wallace wrote a novel, called Ben Hur about a man who meets Jesus and gives his life to Christ.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian who was sent to the Soviet labor camps for eight years for writing disparaging comments about the Soviet leader, Stalin. There he became convinced that only the message of the Bible explained the human condition of sin and gave the solution for changing the human heart. Solzhenitsyn’s writings about the Soviet prisons and Russian history are considered some of the greatest writings about communism in the USSR.
I grew up the son of a U.S. Army chaplain. In the seventh grade, I began to read about ten chapters of the Bible every day. I could not get enough of it, I was so thirsty to read more and know more about the scripture. And the more I read the Bible, the more my life changed. Finally, in the tenth grade, I sensed that God was calling me to preach His Word.
Why do I believe the Bible? It passes the test of corroboration and test of endurance, but most of all, I have experienced it’s life-changing message, and so have millions of others. How about you?