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Five things Christians cannot do without the church

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

As a hospital chaplain, I often meet people who believe in God but don’t believe in the church. Some are angry with the church, and many just don’t have any motivation to be connected to a church. They are fed up with the hypocrites. I get that– I have been one of those hypocrites, and perhaps you have, too. They are tired of church fights. I get that, too. One guy told me, “I can catch hell at home; I don’t need it at church.”
Yet I submit that we need the church. (I’m talking about the people, not a building. The early church met in houses, and many churches meet in homes today.) In fact, there are at least five spiritual practices that a Christian cannot appropriately do without the church.

1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. Romans 12:5-6 talks about how we are all part of the body of Christ as we have different gifts. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ. Prophesying, teaching, serving, giving, leading, showing mercy, and so many other spiritual gifts are either done among members of the church or together with members of the church.
2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We are told to serve each other, teach each other, feed each other, pray for each other, encourage each other. I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers. No wonder Hebrews 10:25 commands believers not to forsake gathering ourselves together, but instead to encourage each other.

3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there. God is real in private prayer, but this is a clear scriptural promise that God is present in a greater way when we pray together. No wonder the Psalmist proclaimed, “Better a day in Your courts, than a thousand anywhere else!” (Psalm 84:10).

4. We cannot appropriately pray the Lord’s Prayer without the church. Jesus gave us this beloved prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-6, as a model on how Christians should pray. The repetition of the words “our” and “us” throughout the prayer is constant reminder that Jesus taught us to pray with other believers and for other believers. While a Christian may certainly pray this prayer alone, we cannot continue to pray this prayer with sincerity and remain alone.
5. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:17 observes that by sharing the bread of communion, Christians are expressing their unity: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.

Christ died for the church.
Christ is the builder of the church.
Christ is the head of the church.
Christ is the shepherd of the church.
Christ is the groom for His bride, the church.
Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!

How the Gospels contradict the "prosperity gospel"

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

The Gospels contradict the “prosperity gospel.” The Gospel According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John directly contradict the Gospel According to Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Oral Roberts and Joel Osteen.

What do I mean by the “prosperity gospel”? Costi Hinn is the nephew of Benny Hinn, who made millions of dollars preaching this heresy (although he recently renounced it). Costi Hinn defines “prosperity gospel” teaching this way: God wants you to be healthy, God wants you to be wealthy, God wants your life to be comfortable and easy. If you don’t get these things, it is because of your “negativity” and lack of faith. (Costi Hinn, God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel, Zondervan, 2019, p. 141). But is this what the Bible teaches? No! From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible teaches otherwise, but let me simply give five important verses from the Gospel writers themselves:

Matthew 5:10, NIV: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by reminding His followers that they might be poor, or mourn, or even be persecuted, but that will ultimately be a blessing in the kingdom of heaven. (The apostle Paul adds in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “everyone” who follows Jesus “will” –not might– be persecuted.)

Matthew 16:24, CSB: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (See also Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23). Just to clarify, Jesus is not talking about a 24 karat gold cross necklace.

Mark 10:21, CSB: “Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” That doesn’t exactly sound like Jesus always wants us to be wealthy, does it?

Luke 16:25, NIV: “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.’” Uh, oh! According to Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, the “good things” in this life belonged to the bad guy, and the “bad things” belonged to the good guy. This inequality wasn’t corrected until the afterlife. Abraham reminded the rich man of it– perhaps Abe needs to also remind Kenneth Hagin.

John 16:33, NIV: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Could Jesus be any clearer than that? Of course, prosperity preachers will twist these words, implying that Jesus was promising you could “overcome the world” by getting healthy and wealthy here and now if you just send enough “seed” money to their ministries so they can buy a jet and go sell this to some more people. But the best interpreter of scripture is scripture, not Reverend Ike. Thus, Paul says, “It has been granted to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29, CSB).

Following Jesus doesn’t mean you have no problems– it means you have new problems from those who oppose Jesus. But Jesus encouraged us to take heart that we would overcome, not because we would get something now, but that later. Al Mohler said it best: “In the end the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little.” We have overcome the world, because Jesus Christ is not focusing on this world: He has in store for His followers a new heaven and new earth, where there is no more grief, crying, or pain (Revelation 2:4). And that’s the gospel truth!

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?

The women in Jesus' family tree

The Gospel of Matthew opens with the family tree of Jesus, from Abraham through Joseph and Mary. In typical Hebrew fashion, it lists the men, not the women, who “begat” (KJV) or “fathered” each son. Yet of the 42 generations listed, Matthew inserts references to four women other than Mary, the mother of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (who is only called “Uriah’s wife”). Why are these women mentioned?

Matthew is writing to a very religious Jewish audience, and by inserting these names in the genealogy of the Messiah, he is showing us two encouraging truths.

All our welcome. All of the women were foreigners: Tamar was a Canaanite (Genesis 38:6), Rahab was from Jericho (Joshua 2:1-22), Ruth was from Moab (Ruth 1:4), and Bathsheba was a Hittite (2 Samuel 11:3). To a Jewish audience, he was reminding the Chosen People that God welcomes all people to follow Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world.

He came to save sinners. Three of the women were notorious for sexual sin. Tamar seduced her father-in-law Judah (Genesis 38), Rahab was a prostitute (Joshua 2:1), and Bathsheba committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11-12), which is why she is referred to by Matthew as “Uriah’s wife,” as a reminder of that adultery.

No wonder the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

I’m so glad Jesus’ genealogy included those four women, because it reminds me that He includes me, a non-Jewish sinner in need of a Messiah and Savior.

Charles Spurgeon said in commenting on Matthew 1:21, “The first link between my soul and Christ is not my goodness but my badness, not my merit but my misery, not my standing but my falling, not my riches but my need. He comes to visit his people– not to admire their beauties but to remove their deformities, not to reward their virtues but to forgive their sins.”

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

Book review: God's Wisdom for Navigating Life by Timothy Keller


Keller, Timothy. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotionals in the Book of Proverbs. New York: Viking, 2017.

I loved this daily devotional! I have read Keller’s devotional through Psalms, and I find this one to be an excellent companion to it.
Keller wisely (pun intended) groups the devotionals into topics, rather than trying to go through Proverbs chapter by chapter. By including verses from different parts of the book in a day’s devotional, he gives a greater balance and thoroughness to each, as he often includes wisdom sayings that give different perspectives on the same topic, or give further elaboration and illustration on the same topic.
Keller also includes some selections from other wisdom books, especially Ecclesiastes and Job, and ends during the Christmas season with insights from the New Testament and how Jesus is our ultimate source of wisdom.
I highly recommend this daily devotional! It will challenge you to think deeply and live wisely.

On Drew Brees and being indispensable

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

It was the second game of the 2019 football season, and the New Orleans Saints were looking to get revenge on the Los Angeles Rams, the team that had eliminated them from going to the Super Bowl the previous year in a controversial game featuring a no-call by the refs.

Instead of getting revenge, the unthinkable happened. The Saints’ future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, injured his thumb on his throwing hand, causing him to be sidelined for that game and for weeks on end. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater finished the game, but the Saints lost to the Rams. Sports analyst Stephen A. Smith said, “The Saints are done without Drew Brees. Period.”

Fast-forward six weeks later, and the Saints have not lost a single game since losing Drew Brees! Teddy Bridgewater has stepped up to the task and led the team to victory after victory, allowing Brees to rest and rehab.

This sports story should be a valuable reminder to our own stories. Nobody is indispensable! In the Bible, when Moses died, the Lord told Joshua to put Moses in the past, and go conquer the Promised Land (Joshua 1:2)! When King Uzziah died after a long reign, the prophet Isaiah may have feared for the future, but God gave him a vision: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” (Isaiah 6:1, ESV). The king was dead, but the King of kings was still on His throne.

This sports story should be a valuable reminder to our own stories. Nobody is indispensable!

Richard and Henry Blackaby, commenting on how the prophet Elisha continued the work of Elijah, said it well: “God has limitless ways to accomplish His will… We deceive ourselves if we think we are indispensable to God. Service to the Lord is an honor He bestows on us, not a favor we do for Him. If you are mourning the loss of one of your leaders, do not despair. God has another leader, for He will see that His will is carried out. It may even be that He has been preparing you to be that leader” (Blackaby, Experiencing God Day by Day, devotional for July 29).

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m happy for Teddy Bridgewater and the New Orleans Saints, and I hope that Drew Brees gets to play again. But God is more interested in His saints than those Saints. So let’s keep these truths in balance: God may use you or me at any time He wants, but when He does, let us serve with humility and gratitude, and remember that none of us are indispensable or irreplaceable. I’m sure that Drew and Teddy would agree.

Twisted scripture: “The curse of Canaan,” used to justify racism

Copyright by Bob Rogers

NoahSonsCurse

Canaan be cursed. He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers. – Genesis 9:25, CSB

One of the most despicable distortions of the Bible in all of history, was the use of Genesis 9:25 to justify enslaving the African people.

According to Genesis, shortly after Noah and his sons survived the flood, Noah got drunk and was lying naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw his father naked and told his two brothers. The two brothers took a cloak and walked backwards into the tent to cover their father while showing him respect by not looking at him. Genesis 9:24-27 says that when Noah awoke and learned what his youngest son had done, he cursed Ham’s descendants by cursing his son Canaan, saying he should be the slave of the descendants of the other sons.

This verse has been used to justify African slavery by those who claimed Canaan was the ancestor of Africans, and that Negroes were destined to be slaves of Caucasians. Since Genesis 10: 6 mentions that one of Ham’s sons was Cush, generally identified with Ethiopia, he has been falsely identified with Ham’s other son Canaan, as though both were African. However, the curse was on Canaan, not Cush, and Genesis 10:15-19 says that the descendants of Canaan included the Jebusites, Amorites and the settlers of Sodom and Gomorrah. All of these are well documented as being in Palestine, not Africa. The Amorites were so evil that Genesis 15:16 says, “the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (This full measure eventually was punished when Joshua entered the land to destroy this people, who were known for such evils as child sacrifice.) As for Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19 tells the story of the destruction of those cities due to their homosexual perversion.

Not only did the curse of Noah apply to Canaan and not Cush, but a prejudice against a descendant of Cush is specifically condemned in scripture. Numbers 12:1-16 tells how Moses own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, and the Lord became angry with Aaron and Miriam, cursing Miriam with leprosy for speaking against Moses and his Cushite wife. There are many other scriptures that condemn racism and teach that God does not show favoritism, showing how God accepts people from every race and nation who follow Him (Genesis 12:2-3; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 96:3; Isaiah 2:2; 56:6-7, Jonah 4:11; Acts 10:34-35, Galatians 2:11-14, Colossians 3:11, James 2:1-4, Revelation 7:9).

Thus, not only is it a devilish distortion of scripture to say that Africans were cursed to be slaves, it is also a correct conclusion from scripture to say that those who practice racism against Africans (or any other people) are cursed!

 

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

Looking-Down-From-Heaven-300x300

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: “Paul, Apostle of Christ”

PaulLuke

The film Paul, Apostle of Christ, is unlike some recent Bible films that retell the story from scripture. This film creates a fictional story of the Gospel writer Luke (played by Jim Caviezel), who seeks out the apostle Paul (played by James Faulkner) in prison in Rome, to collect stories for the Acts of the Apostle.

All of the story of the film is set in Rome, with Luke going back and forth from visits to Paul in prison, to visits with the Christian community hiding in Rome, led by the Biblical personalities Aquila and Priscilla. Thus, it is a slow-moving plot. However, it uses these scenes to show the violent persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero, and for Paul to flash back to memories of his own persecution of Christians before coming to the faith. The Roman commander of the prison who has a sick daughter becomes involved in the fictional storyline, which serves to further illustrate the Christian faith and martyrdom of Paul.

While the plot moves slowly, this film is not so much about the plot as it is about the characters and what they experienced, and the characters are developed well, helping you feel the emotion and real struggles of trying to have faith in God in a dark and evil world. Faulkner is very convincing as Paul. Aquila and Priscilla also portray a Christian married couple who show respect and love for each other. The acting, costumes, scenery, music and cinematography are outstanding.

Although most of the film is fictional, it seeks to carefully follow what is known from the Bible. For example, the film shows Luke making sure a letter is delivered from Paul to Timothy, and quotes extensively from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. A study of the last part of that letter mentioned “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11) and sends greetings to Priscilla and Aquila (2 Timothy 4:19), whom the film depicts as escaping Rome to be with Timothy.

Especially powerful is how the film deals with Paul’s inner struggle with guilt over killing Christians, yet accepting Christ’s grace and forgiveness. This is beautifully resolved at the end of the movie in a particularly moving scene. The film should spark great discussions about what it is like to live out the faith in a non-Christian world.

Pascal’s wager that God exists

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Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), was a brilliant French mathematician and scientist often remembered for “Pascal’s triangle.” But he was also a Christian writer. In his classic work, Pensees (Thoughts), he proposed a fascinating reason for believing in God, often called “The Wager.” Here it is. Feel free to share your reaction in the comments below:

Either God exists or he does not exist. But which view should be taken? Reason cannot answer this question. Imagine a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails; how will you wager? Since a choice must be made, let us see where your real interest lies. You have two things at stake: truth and happiness. What is the gain and the loss if you call heads, that God exists. If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. A gambler, where there is an equal chance of gain or loss, would place a bet if the possible gain was twice the possible loss. But here the possible gain is infinite, and the possible loss nothing. Every gambler takes a certain risk for uncertain gain. Here you are taking a certain risk with the prospect either of infinite gain if you win, or no loss if you lose.

 

Book review: “Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life and Eternity”

TouchingHeaven

Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life, and Eternity by Leanne Hadley is an inspiring collection of true stories by a United Methodist minister, primarily telling the stories of dying children she met as a young chaplain in a children’s hospital. Her stories of faith are deeply moving. She opens with her own story of faith as a preacher’s daughter, and how she began to doubt her faith. Then she tells a dozen stories of the faith of children who faced their own death, and the death of her own mother. This short book concludes with a summary of lessons learned that ties together the stories well, and shows how the faith of those to whom she ministered erased her own doubts. Some of the stories of children’s faith and encounters with angelic visions are amazing, and even startling, yet there is little reason to think that she is embellishing them.
This book is encouraging to anybody facing a terminal illness, especially the terminal illness of a child. It is also a great resource for those who do hospital ministry, as Hadley models good practices, and is honestly self-effacing about her feelings of inadequacy at times to do this ministry.
I could hardly put the book down, it was so engaging. I highly recommend it.

Three ways religion deceives

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Billy Graham has said, “People in the South have been exposed to so much religion that many of them have been inoculated against getting the real thing!”
In Romans 2:17-3:18, the apostle Paul points out three deceptions of having religion without a relationship with Jesus:
1. The deception of spiritual pride (2:17-24). Muhammad Ali once got on an airplane, and the flight attendant told him to buckle his seat belt. He said, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane.” It’s easy to be proud of how spiritual we are, and forget that we are nothing without Christ. Paul talks about how the Jewish people were proud of their spirituality, but failed to practice what they preached. Substitute the word “religious” for “Jew” and it can apply to any of us.
2. The deception of depending on ritual (2:25-3:4). Some people think that because they are baptized, go to church, receive communion, etc., that they are right with God. It ain’t necessarily so! The Jews were proud of their circumcision. It was the mark of their identity. But they forgot that God wanted a circumcision of the heart (v. 29; see also Deuteronomy 30:6). While there are advantages to religious faith, like having the Word of God and our church (3:1-4), it can deceive us into thinking it saves us. Only Jesus can save.
3. The deception of presuming on grace (3:5-8). Once the great Reformer, Martin Luther, saw a drunk in the alley. The drunk said, “You’re Martin Luther! I’m one of your disciples!” Luther replied, “You must be one of mine, because you are none of Christ’s.” Luther preached salvation by grace, but he knew that a truly saved person would show it in his life.
Paul was falsely accused of teaching that salvation by grace meant you could live in immorality and it didn’t matter. Paul was not saying that at all. While we preach grace, we must not be deceived into playing games with our religious theology. As 2 Corinthians 6:1 says, Don’t receive God’s grace in vain. A person who truly receives grace by faith will have a new heart’s desire to follow Christ.

Jefferson Bethke puts it this way:

“Religion says do,

Jesus says done.

Religion says slave,

Jesus says son.

Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.

Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.”

Four reasons I’m not ashamed of the gospel

ChurchDestroyed

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

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

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

What Bible translation should a pastor use from the pulpit?

Bibles.jpg

Copyright by Bob Rogers

What translation of the Bible is best for a pastor to use in the pulpit? Pastors and laypeople feel differently about the issue.
My Unscientific Survey
Recently I did an unscientific opinion poll on Facebook among pastors and laypeople about what Bible translation they preferred for use from the pulpit. On a Facebook page with 1,300 pastors, I asked them what translation they used in the pulpit. Then I asked laypeople on my own Facebook page, with over 2,000 friends, what translation they preferred that their pastor use (I blocked my pastor friends from seeing the post). I received 95 responses from pastors, and 48 responses from laypeople. This is an unscientific survey, since it was based on those who decided to answer, and the two Facebook groups have demographic differences, although the pastors Facebook page is dominated by conservative evangelical Christians, and most of my friends on Facebook are also conservative evangelicals. Despite that qualification, I noticed some significant results that are worth noting. Here are the results and lessons learned:
SURVEY RESULTS:
Pastors:
KJV: 31 %
NKJV: 18%
NASB: 17%
ESV: 15%
CSB: 8%
HCSB: 3%
Other: 8%
Laypeople:
KJV: 25%
NIV: 20%
NASB: 15%
ESV: 15%
HCSB: 9%
NKJV: 7%
Other: 9%
TRENDS NOTICED:
Given the unscientific nature of this survey and relatively small size of the sample, one should not read too much into this survey, but some trends should be noted:
*There is no one translation that the majority of people prefer. We live in an era in which many English translations of the Bible are available. No one translation is even close to being used by a majority of pastors or laypeople.
*The KJV is still the most popular translation, especially among pastors. The KJV was the number one answer among both groups, and half of all pastors either named the KJV or its updated version, the NKJV.
*There is a big divide between pastors and laypeople over the NIV. The NIV ranks beside the KJV in Bible sales in the USA, and this was reflected in the survey, as laypeople (who buy most of the Bibles) listed the NIV almost as much as the KJV. In contrast, almost no pastor listed the NIV. Laypeople also mentioned a greater variety of translations.
*The majority prefer that the pastor preach from a traditional, accurate translation. The KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are traditional, literal translations of the Bible. The CSB and HCSB are also accurate, though more contemporary translations, and even the NIV is much more accurate than free translations like the NLT or paraphrases like The Message. Pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly named accurate translations as their preference for pulpit use.
LESSONS LEARNED:
I do not presume to tell a pastor how to preach, but it I believe that pastors would do well to use an accurate translation from the pulpit. It has been my experience that many church members will go out and buy or download to their device the translation that their pastor uses. So choose your translation prayerfully, and use it consistently. Know your audience– just as a Hispanic pastor will choose a Spanish translation, a pastor needs to know the kind of congregation he has, and what will best communicate God’s word accurately and effectively to his people.
While reading the text from his preferred Bible translation, pastors would also do well to mention a variety of translations from time to time from the pulpit. Doing so can help clarify passages that are hard to understand, and also reminds the congregation that all English translations come from an original text that was in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Pastors should not condemn church members who are reading another translation of the Bible. Public condemnation of people over their Bible translation is unkind, and may humiliate a brother or sister in Christ who sincerely wants to know God’s word. Many new believers and young Christians prefer a more contemporary translation because they have difficulty understanding more traditional translations. If you have a conviction that they are not using a good translation of the Bible, you can instruct them lovingly and privately, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (see Acts 18:26).

Finally, pastors should announce the translation they are using, either audibly, or at least by showing it on the PowerPoint screen. It frustrates members to guess which translation is being used. Believe me, I have heard this opinion repeatedly from worshipers. Let them know what translation you are using!