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Easter jazz

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

“Who will roll away the stone?” Mark 16:3

“Who will roll away the stone?” the women asked as they approached Jesus’ tomb. Their Savior had died, their hopes were gone, and their heads hang in despair as the question lingered in the air. Can you relate to that?

We have stones that need to be rolled away, too. Our way is blocked with giant stones with names like cancer and COVID-19, stones with names like debt and divorce, names like shame and sorrow, and the actual names of people like the crazy co-worker, the insane in-law, the nosy neighbor.

Like the women that first Easter Sunday morning, we too wonder, “Who will roll away the stone?”

In many ways, the message of Easter is like jazz music. Jazz music originated with African-American musicians in New Orleans around 1900, and it often expresses discordant notes of pain that are then resolved with the swing of sweet notes of joy.  

Easter is like jazz music. The people loved Jesus for His compassion for the outcast, His inspiring teaching of love, and His healing of the sick. Imagine their despair when Jesus was arrested, flogged, spat upon, mocked with a purple robe and crown of thorns, beat upon the head, forced to carry His cross to Calvary, the Place of the Skull, and then the nails slammed through his hands and feet, and forced to hang there naked and suffering, No wonder Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It’s bad enough when you and I feel forsaken by God, but here was the Son of God feeling forsaken by God! That despair was shared by Jesus’ disciples. The disciples were hiding out in a room, afraid for their future, fearing they would be next.

But that was on Friday. Very early on Sunday morning, everything changed. The stone was rolled away, an angel in white clothes had bright news, that although they came thinking they would see a dead corpse, instead they saw an empty tomb, because Jesus was crucified, but now He has risen! The One who had been nailed to a cross was now raised from the grave, the One who had been whipped was now being worshiped.

His story was also their story. The wondering women had their stone moved, the shamed Simon Peter discovered that his Savior was alive. Notice verse 7 says to tell the disciples “and Peter.” The frightened disciples became bold preachers of the gospel.

What a crazy change in three days! No wonder they were overwhelmed with emotion.

Verse 5 says they were “amazed” and “alarmed.” Verse 8 says “trembling” and “astonishment overwhelmed them” and that they were “afraid.”

That’s why I say Easter is like jazz— it moves from discord to resolution, from pain to joy, and it requires a certain mystery and faith. Somebody asked Louis Armstrong what jazz music was, and he said, “If you have to ask, you don’t know!”

But you can know the Easter jazz. You can believe in Jesus Christ. His story was their story and it can be your story and mine.

The apostle Paul put it this way in Ephesians 2:1, 4-6: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… But God, who is rich and mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ, even though you were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.”

Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 51-52: “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”

Easter does not mean that we will no longer have problems. The music of our lives will continue to have bent notes and broken cords. But because of His resurrection, the discord will be resolved with the sweet sound of hope for all of us who believe.

What stones do you need to have rolled away? What hope do you need to hear? Shh! Listen closely. I think I hear Jesus playing jazz!

Chaplain’s address, COVID-19 Candlelight Service

I delivered the following address at the COVID-19 Candlelight Service service at Forrest General Hospital, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on March 11, 2021, marking the one-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Mississippi:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love… – Romans 8:35, 37-38, NLT.

We are here today to look back and remember, to look around in unity, and to look forward in hope.

We look back and remember. We look at our calendars, and we remember that one year ago today, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Mississippi. We look back over that year, and remember those who died, those who
survived, their families and friends, and how all of us have been affected. Let us reflect back at how all of us have been changed, in ways often painful, but we are not defeated– “overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” So we light a candle to remember.

We look around in unity. We look around this room, look at our co-workers, look to our families and our community, and we see that we are standing together. We are all unique individuals, but we come together, because we have a
common calling to care for people. In a few minutes, we will light candles together. Let us look around and draw strength from one another. “Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” So we light a candle in unity.


We look forward in hope. We look forward, just as the darkness is broken at dawn by the rising sun. In a few weeks, we will celebrate Easter, when we who are Christians celebrate the rising of the Son of God. We have many reasons for hope. Amazingly, in less than a year since the first case of COVID, there are now three vaccines available, the number of virus cases is declining, and look at us—we are still here. We have made it “through the valley of the shadow of death.” So we light a candle of hope.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. – Psalm 23:4, KJV

How Christians can respond to rejection

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Everybody has to deal with rejection. Even Jesus Christ was rejected by his hometown of Nazareth. They didn’t like it when He declared His Messianic mission would include Gentiles, so they tried to throw him off the local cliff (see Luke 4:23-29).

In one of the greatest face-to-face confrontations in history, Jesus faced their rejection and “passed right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30). That’s how He handled it, how do we?

Let’s be clear about something. You and I are not Jesus, so we first need to examine our own actions and motives in the light of scripture, to make sure our rejection isn’t a deserved rebuke for ungodly behavior. Peter writes, that if we are ridiculed “for the name of Christ” we are blessed, yet cautions “let none of you sufer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Most of us would be okay if he hadn’t added “meddler.” So before anything else, let’s take an honest look at why we are rejected.

If, after taking an honest look at ourselves, we know that our rejection is because we have lived for Christ, and done so with integrity, then what? Scripture tells us three ways that Christians can face rejection: rejoice, remember and rely.

  1. Rejoice (Matthew 5:10-12). Jesus concluded the “Beatitudes” by telling His followers that when we are rejected, we should rejoice: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you becaue of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We naturally want to get angry, defensive, or feel hurt, but Jesus tells us we should rejoice, because it shows we are on the right side! The early apostles did exactly that! When the Jewish Sanhedrin ordered them not to preach about Jesus, they left, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name” (Acts 5:41).
  2. Remember (John 15:19-21). Jesus reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, because I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” So whenever we are rejected, we don’t need to be surprised; we should remember that we were told to expect that it comes with the territory.
  3. Rely (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). The Apostle Paul is a great role model for handling persecution. He explained how it taught him to rely on God: “We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed– beyond our strength– so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again.”

Tony Evans says that whenever somebody rejects him because of the color of his skin, he remembers who he is in Christ. God says he is a child of the king. Thus, if they reject him, they are refusing royal blood in their presence. What a good example for us when people reject us because of our faith. Remembering that, we can rely on God, and rejoice!

Top 10 signs you’re in a bad church

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

I’ll admit it, some people have bad experiences with a church. Here are the top ten signs you’re in a bad church:

10. The church bus has gun racks.

9. Church staff: senior pastor, associate pator, socio-pastor.

8. The town gossip is the prayer coordinator.

7. Church sign says, “Do you know what Hell is? Come hear our preacher.”

6. Choir wears leather robes.

5. During greeting time, people take turns staring at you.

4. Karaoke worship time.

3. Ushers ask, “Smoking or non-smoking?”

2. Only song the organist knows: “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

  1. The pastor doesn’t want to come, but his wife makes him attend.

If your church is that bad, you might want to look for another church. But the fact is, that there is no perfect church, because the church is made up of imperfect people. The phrase the Bible uses to describe us is “sinners saved by grace.” So before you give up completely on the church, remember this: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). If Jesus considered the church worth dying for, then we ought to consider the church worth living for.

An unknown poet put it well:

“If you should find the perfect church, without fault or smear
For goodness sake, don’t join that church, you’d spoil the atmosphere.
But since no perfect church exists, made of perfect men,
Let’s cease on looking for that church, and love the one we’re in.”

(This article will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)

Saturday, Day of Waiting

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Like Wednesday of Holy Week, nothing is recorded in the Gospels about what happened on Saturday. However, we know about the day because Mark 15:42 tells us that they buried Jesus before sundown on Friday, so they could rest on Saturday, the Sabbath. Nothing more is recorded until Mark 16:1 tells what happened on the first day of the week, which was Easter Sunday. (Matthew 27:62-66 does record that on Saturday, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, agreed to post guards at the tomb of Christ.) Saturday was a day of waiting and wondering what would happen next. They had no idea anything good was going to happen the next day. They just had to wait on the Lord.

Isaiah 40:31 (KJV) says, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Saturday, the day of waiting, teaches us to wait on the Lord. Waiting can be excruciatingly hard.

We have all agonized waiting. Maybe you waited to get a job or get a promotion or get a date or get an important phone call or get a test result. Right now, the whole world is waiting—waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to subside. Many of you are sheltered in place, worried about your health, worried about your job, wondering when this will all end. This kind of waiting is very, very hard. This was how the disciples felt that Saturday before Easter when they waited. They wondered what was next, and they did not expect it to be good. After all, their leader had been arrested and crucified.

The Hebrew word for “wait” in Isaiah and Psalms is a word for a chord, or rope. The idea of the word is that God has thrown us a rope, and asks us to hold on, because He has the other end. That’s why “wait” in Isaiah 40:31 is also translated “hope” or “trust.”

What’s more, you and I know the rest of the story. We know that on Easter Sunday, they got news more wonderful than they could ever imagine, because Christ arose!

That is why we who are followers of the Risen Christ can wait on this Saturday, because we are Easter Sunday people. We can wait on the Lord, for even when we don’t know what the future holds, we know Who holds the future—His name is Jesus, and He has already conquered sin and death and the grave and hell.  We can wait in the uncertainty of Saturday, because tomorrow is a certain Sunday!

The reassurance of Jacob’s ladder

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” repeats the beloved spiritual. “Every rung goes higher higher.” The last verses urge, “Keep on climbing, we will make it,” and finally asks, “Do you want your freedom?” I can just hear Southern slaves singing this as they pick cotton and dream of liberty from oppression. It must have seemed that God was not there, but they found hope in a vision of escaping one day.

Yet when we read the beloved story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28, we find a reassurance not just for the future, but for right now. Jacob had left his father Isaac and mother Rebekah in Canaan, and was on a journey to see his relatives in Mesopotamia, and to find a wife.

Ancient pagans thought that a god only dwelled in the land where he was worshiped. If you left that territory, you also left that god. So what a surprise, when Jacob got a vision in a foreign land, of a stairway from the earth to heaven, and angels going up and down it. Then the Lord himself spoke, “I am the LORD (Yahweh), the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13). The God of Jacob’s father’s was not limited to a territory! The Lord continued “Look, I am with you…” (Genesis 28:15.

In amazement, Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning house of God, and said, “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).

What a reassurance to us when we feel that we are in a god-forsaken place, that there is no god-forsaken place, for God is omnipresent, always present, always here. He is not limited by time, place, or circumstances. Look around and see what God is doing right here, right now. Surely, the Lord is in the place where you are, but do you know it?

Getting a 2020 Vision

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

I recently had my annual check-up with my eye doctor. She said that my left eye needed a stronger prescription. The goal is 20/20 vision, so I got new contact lenses and eyeglasses. With the onset of the year 2020, I expect we may hear many people talk about having a “2020 Vision.”

One of the most popular verses in the Bible about vision is the promise of Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” While we may only see a sea of sorrow around us, in this verse God says that He sees hope over the horizon– a seashore where we will safely land. Knowing this future is coming gives us hope to hang on.

However, there is a danger of taking this verse out of context. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus promising to hand out candy-coated lives without consequences. He is a holy God calling us to repentance. Notice that after the promise of “a future and hope” in verse 11, we read some requirements for its fulfillment in verses 12-14. The Lord says to call on Him in prayer, and He says to seek God “with all your heart,” and then you will find God and He will “end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” Thus, the vision is for those who seek out God and follow Him. In fact, Jeremiah 44:27 warns those who rebel against God that the Lord will be “watching over them for harm, not for good,” the exact opposite of Jeremiah 29:11.

In addition, the first part of this chapter gives a broader perspective to the vision of verse 11. God is not a quick-stop dispenser of immediate happiness; He seeks faithful followers who run the race of faith like a marathon, not a sprint. Notice that the earlier verses in Jeremiah 29 say that they would be going into exile in Babylon for 70 years—so long, in fact, that God told them to settle down in that new place, for they would be there a long time. Yet after telling them that the immediate future looked bleak, God said that He had plans for a hope-filled future! The same God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt after 400 years would rescue them from exile in Babylon after 70 years, and He will rescue you and me at the right time.

Don’t let this bigger picture of Jeremiah 29:11 leave you feeling in the dark. Instead, throw open the windows of your heart and mind to the light of a greater vision of what it means. It means much more than a surface-level promise for fleeting fun—it is a deep, abiding promise for an eternal faith in the Eternal God who has promised eternal life through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). That is “a future and a hope” worth waiting for and living for, in 2020 and beyond

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

HappyNewYear

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken—at least many people do. Gyms see an influx of new members in January who don’t make it to February. Diet Coke sales rise, and new Bibles are purchased and read by people who often don’t make it past Leviticus.

So, how can we keep our New Year’s resolutions? Henry and Richard Blackaby give wise advice about New Year’s resolutions in the January 1 devotional of their book, Experiencing God Day by Day: “Jesus does not need your resolutions, your recommitments, or your promises to try harder this year. If your resolve to obey God last year did not help you to be faithful, it will not make you successful this year. Jesus asks for your love. If you truly love Him, your service for Him in the new year will be of the quality that He desires.”

Yes! That’s the key to keeping New Year’s resolutions: love. If I am motivated by duty or guilt, I will eventually get weary and quit. But if I am motivated by love, I will experience change, because love changes my heart.

God so loved me that He sent Jesus to save me when I believe (John 3:16). When I respond in love, look at what He makes new:

*In Christ, I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17),

*I enjoy the spiritual new birth by faith (1 Peter 1:3).

*God makes a new covenant with me (Jeremiah 31:31).

*He puts a new heart and new spirit in me (Ezekiel 36:26).

*He puts a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40:3).

*He moves me to put on a new self (Colossians 3:10).

*He moves me to obey the new commandment of love (John 13:34).

*I have the new name (Revelation 2:17) of “Christian.”

*One day I will enter the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1).

*There God makes everything new (Revelation 21:4).

How about you? What’s new for you in the New Year? Why not start with a new heart for God, and love like God loves?

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Guest blog post: “Dead… and yet I see”

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Article copyright by Brian A. Williamson

(Brian A. Williamson is a hospital chaplain and former pastor in Mississippi. He shares the following reflection on a funeral and on a hospital visit he made with a dying patient, which I found thought-provoking. He follows the reflection with a poem. Feel free to share your comments below.)

 

I recently attended the funeral of my dear friend Jack’s beloved wife of more than 30 years—Paula. Paula, too, was a close friend of mine, but not like Jack. I’ve told people many times about Jack’s faithful service as a devoted deacon of the first church I served as pastor. Being with Jack in this setting was different… Many times before Jack and I sat with others in a funeral setting, but usually he was the one walking around and ministering to others in the room. He was clearly uncomfortable on this occasion with all the attention he was receiving by those coming to pay their respects and offer condolences—a mark of an incredibly humble man. On this day, I saw no tears fall from his eyes while I marveled at his faith—he clearly knew that his wife’s final hope was realized.

Paula’s casket was beautiful; the drape of orchids, hydrangea, and white with light blue roses was the prettiest I’d ever seen on a casket. The colors of the flowers provided the eyes with a visual symphony in perfect pitch…and all of this matched the colors of the sanctuary of that little country church beautifully; and I thought, “Paula would smile if she could see all of this…” And then it hit me—I wonder, “what if she can?”       I looked to and fro amongst all us mourners and supporters, contemplating this thought with a different curiosity than ever before. I thought, she’d cry at her own funeral—there were people everywhere sitting with this family, to support them and mourn with them over the loss of “the Queen of Banana Pudding” as she is known in the church. Paula isn’t used to this much attention, and I imagine she’d be uncomfortable with all this, too. Hmmm… I wonder, “What do dead people see?”

 

Flashback—I visited a terminal cancer patient in the hospital months ago who told me her only prayer request since being given a terminal diagnosis was to ask God to let her live long enough to see her first grandchild being born. Tearfully, she acknowledged the looming reality that she was dying faster than her daughter’s pregnancy was progressing. Several family members sat somberly with this woman as she lamented her death and God’s flat denial of her request. “Why would God take this from me?” she asked, seeming to genuinely hope that I had a great answer… But, I didn’t. Then she asked, “Do you think God will let me see my granddaughter’s birth even though I’m dead?”

I’d never considered a question the likes of this one before. Is it answerable? I pondered what it might be like once dead; is there Scripture to support such a notion? As I pondered the question further, her family began to offer her spiritual condolences… “Everything’s gonna be ok, why you won’t even care about us…things will be so beautiful in heaven that you won’t even think about us” said one man in a wheelchair. Another chimed in, “That’s right—you’ll just be worshipping the Lord, and you’ll be so consumed by his majesty that you’ll forget about us altogether…” Still another, “When you get to heaven, your sense of time will be like a warp or something; you won’t even think of being in a different place cause when you blink, we’ll all be there with you.” (Really? I thought…you gotta be kiddin’ me!) I thought more about the woman’s question…it was simple…yes or no…no other explanation needed.

YES” I said; and the room fell quiet instantly, as if someone had thrown open the hatch in space and the vacuum sucked all the wind and words out of the room. My eyes were locked into the dying woman’s eyes as I had come to this conclusion, communicating my sincere faith in my response. She locked her eyes on mine as seconds passed in slow motion—she was processing. She looked interested and hopeful, and I repeated, “Yes. I do think that God will allow you to see the birth of your granddaughter even though you are dead.”

The others in the room leaned back as if lightning was about to strike me as God “took me out” for such heresy. I continued with my thoughts out loud: “It seems to me that God understands the beauty of birth, for God created it; and, God knows the love you have for your daughter as well as your love for the unborn child. If God formed this life and longs for her to spring from her mother’s womb, and I believe that you believe it is so; then, I’m certain that his love for you would not deny you the joy of such an anticipated event that is overflowing with hope and love from you. Because of his love, I believe he will allow you to see what He will see on that blessed day. Even though you will be dead, you will be alive by faith. You’re death won’t make you blind—you will still see. I don’t know how it will work, but I believe it will be so. You and your family will celebrate your granddaughter’s birth together—of this, I have no doubt.”

She held her breath for in silence; then, she believed and exhaled. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. Her mourning tears became happy tears, and the anticipation of the new birth again gave her hope. No one had ever considered the possibility that God had already granted this grieving woman’s prayer request because she continued to die; but, God had.

Though “in Adam” we all die; yet, “in Christ” we all live! In Christ we live and move [and hope] and have our being! In Christ, this woman will live to see the birth of her prized and much-anticipated grandchild! “Dead, and yet I see!” will be her anthem on that day. I can’t explain how it will work or what it will be like, I only know that is the truth.

Dead and yet I see

By: Chaplain Brian Williamson

 

I’m dead and yet I see, having crossed over to Promised Land,

‘Tis my home now, though it’s hard for you to understand.

Am I dead? Yes…and yet I see, for by my faith I’ve moved along,

Joyfully straining to be happy in life, while longing what lies beyond.

Now more than ever, by my hope in Christ, I see

That painful things in life make sense in eternity.

 

Dead, but now I see. I know you don’t understand,

But my life isn’t over, and I still see you from Glory Land.

God knew my love for you; and though we now live separately,

I’m closer than you think, beloved; for though I’m dead, yet I see.

 

Our God gives us hope through the promises contained in Scripture, and by faith in Him, I believe that he would never remove our love for others—if he did, He doesn’t understand.

Movie review: “I Can Only Imagine”

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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.

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!

Who is to blame for the mass shootings?

 

GrievingShooting

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

A Colorado theater. A Connecticut elementary school. A Texas church. A concert in Las Vegas. A Florida high school. Such diverse places have this in common: they are locations of mass shootings.
When such horrific tragedies happen, we gasp, hug our children, lower our flags, pray, and ask, “Why?”
Soon a number of scapegoats will be brought forth to be sacrificed at the altar of our need to blame someone or something.
Some will blame a lack of gun control. They will say that if we had stricter gun control, the shooter could not have done this. Perhaps if assault rifles and machine guns were off the market, it could reduce the likelihood of such attacks. Those who defend Second Amendment rights disagree, saying criminals will always find illegal ways to get guns, and mass shootings have also happened in nations with strict gun laws.
Some will blame a lack of security. Perhaps improvements in security can be made, but the police and security guards cannot be everywhere.
Some will blame violence in the media, saying that it desensitizes the viewer and can lead to copy-cat actions. However, millions of other people watch TV and movies without having an urge to hurt anybody.
Others will blame the shooter’s upbringing and environment, as many of these shooters have a troubled past. Most people agree that more could be done to detect and treat mental illness, and report “red flags” such as violent threats on social media. But once again, we cannot know what is in the min and heart of every person.
In playing the “blame game,” we often fail to look at the greatest reason for the actions of each shooter and for each of us: the human heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jesus said that evil comes from within, out of the heart (Mark 7:21).
When the Gospel of John describes how Judas Iscariot got up from the Last Supper, left Jesus and the other disciples, and stepped outside to betray Christ, John adds this short sentence: “And it was night.” (John 13:30). John was speaking of the spiritual darkness of that moment, but it reminds me of the Colorado theater shooting in 2012 at the opening of the Batman movie, The Dark Knight. After that dark night of Jesus’s betrayal and death, a light arose, because this Jesus who died on the cross also arose from the dead to defeat evil and give us hope.
The greatest need that mankind has is not gun control, more police, controls over movies, or psychologists. Our greatest need is for a Savior who can change the heart. He alone can change our dark nights into bright mornings.

Why does God allow suffering?

Flood

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

A hurricane destroys a city. A young mother dies of cancer. A man succumbs to depression and takes his life. When tragedies like this happen, the inevitable question is, “Why?” Amazingly, Jesus Christ asked the same question as he was dying upon the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) It is in that very question of Jesus that we can find helpful answers.
He absorbed our evil by His love. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they unleashed a Pandora’s Box of evil that impacts us to this day. But upon the cross, Jesus absorbed that evil, by lovingly sacrificing Himself. The apostle Paul put it this way: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13).
He empowered us to overcome evil by faith. Jesus’ sacrifice inspires us to identify with Christ by faith, and moves us to action ourselves. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Thus Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
He heals the hurt of evil by giving hope. The greatest medicine for healing is not penicillin or aspirin– it’s hope. During World War II, psychologist Viktor Frankl studied the lives of people who survived Nazi concentration camps, and found the survivors were those who had hope. The Bible says, “For in hope we have been saved” (Romans 8:24); “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19); “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
Louie Zamperini was an American aircraft gunman in World War II, whose plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He and his friends floated across the ocean for a month, losing half of their body weight and nearly going insane, only to be captured by the Japanese. Because Zamperini had been a famous Olympic runner, the Japanese treated him with particular cruelty, beating him mercilessly. His story was made famous in the 2014 movie, Unbroken. But Hollywood only hinted at the rest of the story. After his return from war, Louie Zamperini suffered so much post-traumatic stress that he fell into despair and addiction. Then a young preacher named Billy Graham held a revival in his home in Los Angeles. At the urging of his wife, Louie went. Graham stood and asked, “Why is God silent when good men suffer?” He reminded the audience that God sends us messages through creation and through Christ that He cares for us. Zamperini remembered seeing a swirl of light in the sky when he was floating across the Pacific, awed by God’s creation. He listened as Graham talked about the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin, and that day, Zamperini found hope in Christ. For the rest of his life, Louie Zamperini followed Christ. He founded a ranch to offer hope to troubled boys, and he even traveled to Japan to forgive his prison captain.
Louie Zamperini found the answer to “Why” in the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So can you and I.

Movie review: “The Shack”

theshackmovie

My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The plot
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
The characters
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The message
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.”  In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
Conclusion
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.

How do I deal with the suicide of someone I love?

ComfortFriend

Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:31,35, 37-39 (ESV)

Why did he or she commit suicide? Could I have done something to prevent it? Most of us have asked these questions when someone we love has committed suicide. While there are no easy answers, the Bible gives us help in this time of grief.
Let me suggest several truths that can help.

1) Guard against being judgmental.
This is not a time to judge the friends, family, and certainly not a time to judge the one who took his or her life. No one knows the pressures or problems another person faces. Jesus taught us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, KJV) It will not help to judge others, nor to judge yourself.
You may have repeated the word “if.” If only I (or someone else) had said something or done something different, perhaps she or he would not have taken that precious life. Martha used the word “if.” In John 11, Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was dying and they sent for Jesus to heal him, but Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. In John 11:21, “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” But “if” is about the past. “If” cannot bring the loved one back, and it will not help us in the present.
Instead of asking “why?” or wondering “if,” we need to ask “what.” What can I do now? Jesus told Martha what she needed: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25, ESV)
So instead of asking, “why,” let’s ask “what.” What can we do to be better because of this?

2) Hold on to our hope in Christ.
There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. So let’s address the matter directly. Is suicide a sin? Yes, it is. Is suicide the unpardonable sin? No, it is not. There are so many reasons why we should not take our own lives, which I will discuss in a moment, but the Bible does not teach that suicide cannot be forgiven. Mark 3:28-30 says that all sins can be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to rejecting the Spirit’s call on us to follow Christ; this is not referring to taking one’s own life.
Our salvation is not based on the way we die, but based on the One who died for us.

3) God brings good out of the bad.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples thought their world had come to an end, and Jesus had been defeated. But instead, God was using it to forgive our sins, and then God raised Jesus from the dead to pave the way for us to have eternal life. God is in the business of bringing good out of bad!
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Jesus Christ is the permanent solution who makes our problems temporary!
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but he things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)

4) Let’s examine our own lives.
Life is a gift. We should not waste our lives by suddenly taking it, or by wasting it slowly by degrees, with meaningless living. Make your days count. Hug your children. Hug your parents. Say, “I love you.” Listen to one another. Reach out for help when you are in despair. Talk about your problems. We have a choice to be bitter or better because of this. If we can draw closer together as a community and with our families, we can be better.
Storms will come in our lives, but those who withstand are those who have strong roots. Years ago, a powerful storm blew down an oak tree in front of the youth center at the church where I was pastor. It crushed the roof and did major damage. Thankfully, it happened at night when nobody was inside. The reason it happened was that tree did not have deep roots. A tree that has deep roots can withstand a bigger storm.
The way you get deep roots is by a personal relationships with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. As you grow in your relationship with Him by faith, your roots get deeper and deeper, and you are more able to stand against the storms of life.
We will never understand all of the reasons why there is tragedy in life, but if we are rooted in Christ, we can hold on despite the tragedies we face.
The contemporary Christian group, 4Him, wrote a song about the tragic death of a friend, saying,
“When the reasons aren’t clear to me
When it all is a mystery
I want to know why.
And though down here I may not understand
I won’t let go of the Unseen Hand
For it holds the reasons why.”

Hold on to that Unseen Hand, my friend. He will be there for you.