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Three thorns and roses in Romans 8:28

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28, CSB

Romans 8:28 is one of the most beloved promises in the Bible. Most people focus on the words, “for the good.” Perhaps we should reflect more on the phrase, “work together,” because the verse is teaching that God can mix bad things in the life of a believer, and bring about good results, like roses on the end of a thorny stem. Let me suggest three kinds of thorns God brings from our lives that work together to grow roses: troubles, temptations and trespasses.

1) The thorn of troubles. God will allow troubles in our lives, to teach us to trust Him. When we have troubles, we are faced with our weakness. Yet, they work together for the good lesson of teaching us to depend on God’s sufficiency. As 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, this teaches us to “not trust in ourselvs but in God who raises the dead.”

2) The thorn of temptations. God will allow temptation in our lives, to teach us obedience. An athlete develops muscles and endurance by the pressure, weight and strain of exercise. Likewise, God allows us to be tempted, so that it works together for the good spiritual muscles that we develop as we grow stronger in obedience. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

3) The thorn of trespasses. By trespasses, I mean sin. God does not want us to sin, but when we sin, we must humble ourselves, repent, and ask Jesus for forgiveness. Scripture tells us to forgive, even as the Lord has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Those who have truly experienced the grace of forgiveness tend to be better at forgiving others. So trespasses– whether they be our own or the sins of others– work together to grow beautiful flowers of forgiveness in our lives.

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.”

Book review: “The Valley of Vision”

TheValleyOfVision

I rarely do this in a book review, but I give five stars to The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, by Arthur Bennett. A former pastor, Darryl Craft, introduced me to this amazing book of prayers when he quoted it in worship. I decided to buy a copy and spend this year slowly reading them in morning devotions.  

To say this is a popular, influential book is an understatement. First published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1975, it has been through numerous printings in the U.K. and USA. Collected and edited by British author Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision contains over 200 prayers of Puritans such as Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon (whom Bennett calls “the last of the Puritans”). However, Arthur does not identify the authors of the individual prayers. The prayers are grouped by sections under ten subjects such as the Trinity, redemption, penitence, and service. The final section are a collection of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week. These prayers use poetic rhythm and repetition to deliver a powerful emotional punch. For example, the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus” (p. 27) begins, “O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee…” Others use poetic imagery, as the prayer “Humility in Service” (p. 178), which includes the line, “O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood…”
Modern readers may find many of the prayers to be extremely self-deprecating and so full of humility that the reader appears too hard on himself. For example, “After Prayer” (p. 150), says, “Let me be as slow to forgive myself as thou art ready to forgive me.” I would question the spiritual healthiness of being slow to forgive oneself. Yet with that caution, modern culture has gone so far in the opposite direction, that most modern Christians could benefit from a healthy dose of feeling the heaviness of sin.
If you want to be inspired to pray with conviction, read this book, but read it slowly, to savor every morsel. Then read it again. That’s what I plan to do.

Movie review: “I Can Only Imagine”

ICanOnlyImagineMovie

My wife and I were deeply moved by the new film, I Can Only Imagine. I was so emotional that I had to compose myself before I could drive home– it was that powerful.
You may know the song, but do you know the story behind the song? “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard of the Christian band Mercy Me is the best-selling, most-played Christian single of all time. The new film by the same title tells the moving true story of the songwriter and how he wrote the song.
The film tells how Bart Millard’s father abused him and his mother, and constantly told Bart he was not good enough. [Spoiler alert—skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know the basic plot.] Thanks to a football injury and a music teacher’s insistence, Bart discovered he had a gift to sing. When his father told him to forget his dreams, he left home, turned his back on the girlfriend who loved him, and tried to escape his troubles by singing with a traveling band.
I won’t give away the ending, because the circumstances of how he recorded the song have surprising twists and turns along the way, but suffice to say that Bart had to face his fears to reach his dreams. And yes, the film dramatically presents the full song near the end of the film.
Dennis Quaid is amazing as the actor playing Bart’s abusive father. People who have endured abuse will feel the pain Bart feels from his father, but many people with sins in their own past, like myself, will identify with the pain of the father himself.
This is a Christian film, but it is not “preachy.” The story is raw, real and unapologetically soaked with the hope of the gospel. Go see this film if you like music, if you like romance, if your dreams have been crushed, if you have been abused, if you have abused someone, if you have a broken home, if you are grieving the death of a loved one, if you need forgiveness, if you need to forgive, and if you need hope.

Why we need sermons on the wrath of God

Wrath-of-God

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” – Romans 1:18, ESV
A subject preachers avoid
Many preachers like to talk about God’s love and kindness and say virtually nothing about God’s judgment. So when people see references to God’s wrath, they often get a picture of a primitive tribe in the jungle that thinks it has to sacrifice somebody to appease their angry God. Yet there it is in Romans 1:18. “The wrath of God is being revealed…” Has God lost his temper?
Apparently even the apostle Paul was aware of this kind of thinking, because in Romans 3:5 he asks, “What shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?”
Is wrath unworthy of God?
So is wrath unworthy of God? No, not at all. When the Bible talks about God’s wrath, it is referring to His just anger, much as we have justified outrage when we hear about the abuse of a child. Our problem is that we are comfortable with sin that God, in His holiness, finds offensive. But God’s wrath is never vindictive, nor is He an angry monster. God’s wrath is something people choose, and God uses. Let me explain what I mean.
God gave them up
After mentioning the wrath of God in Romans 1:18, we read this phrase three times in verses 25, 26 and 28: “God gave them up” or “God gave them over.” What does this mean to say “God gave them up”? Does it mean God gave up on sinners? No, C.S. Lewis explained it well, when he said that basically, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God will say, “thy will be done.” Because when we refuse to obey God, God gives us over to the consequences of our sin.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5:5 the purpose of God giving us over to the consequences of our sin, “hand this man over to Satan, so the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”
The purpose of God’s wrath
God knows that if we suffer the consequences of our sin, in order that we, like the prodigal son, will hit rock bottom, realize we have nowhere else to turn, and cry out to God for salvation. And that is when we understand our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of God’s wrath is to show us our need for the Savior.
Once I met a man at the gym, who told me his testimony of how he was a mean man, who drank and gambled and mistreated his wife and children. I asked him what happened, and he said he lost it all. His wife left him and took the children, and he hit bottom. That’s when he trusted in Jesus Christ, when he had nothing left and he realized his need for God. You could say that God gave him up. But the result was for his good, and for his salvation. That’s good news!

Does Romans 1 really forbid homosexuality?

Romans1.jpg

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – Romans 1:26-27, ESV

Gay rights activists often object to this passage, claiming it does not apply to consenting adult homosexuals. Here are three objections they give, and a rebuttal to each:
1) Objection: Some say this does not apply to those whom they claim are “born” homosexual. They say that when it refers to “natural relations,” it means people born homosexual are natural, but if a person is not born homosexual, then it is wrong for them.
Rebuttal: But Paul plainly says that homosexuality itself is unnatural, and so does the rest of scripture. Genesis 1:27 says we were created male and female, and intended for heterosexual relationships. Sodom was destroyed, according to Genesis 19, because of homosexual sin. Leviticus 18:22 and 1 Timothy 1:10 also condemn homosexuality.
2) Objection: Some homosexuals say this verse in Romans only applies to abuse of children, saying it is meant to keep adult homosexuals from sexually abusing children.

Rebuttal: While child abuse is also wrong, notice that verse 27 says “men with men,” not men with boys. It plainly applies to homosexual acts between consenting adults.
3) Objection: Some will admit that the homosexual act is forbidden, but they will say that homosexual feelings cannot be helped, so as long as the person with homosexual leanings remains celibate, it is okay to be homosexual.

Rebuttal: While it is true that feelings cannot be helped, it is also true that feelings and desires, if encouraged, will lead to actions. Notice that verse 26 refers to “lusts,” also translated “passions,” as shameful.
Notice at the end of verse 27, homosexuals are described as receiving “in themselves the due penalty for their error.” The word “error” is the Greek word for “wandering” or “straying” from the truth. It is the same word used for the straying sheep in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:12, and for backsliding believers in Hebrews 5:2. And here is where there is hope: sheep and backsliders can return from their wandering, and according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, some of them did! Paul says that former homosexuals were washed and sanctified and changed!

Three keys to the restoration process

LifeFromDeath

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

When someone falls into sin, we often speak about repentance and a “restoration process.” But what should the restoration process look like? Having been through the process myself, I believe that it requires three things:

1. The restoration process requires a balance of grace and truth. See Psalm 85:10-11. This usually means counseling (strong on grace) and accountability (strong on truth). It is imperative that the fallen person have people pour both grace and truth into their lives very early in the restoration process. They must be called to repentance, but they also need to be given hope that repentance leads to restoration.
2. The restoration process requires a “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2). This is the literal meaning of the Greek word for repentance, metanoia. There are three parts to this new way of thinking:
A. First, one learns to focus on praising God, which lifts from depression. See Psalm 42.
B. Second, one learns to forgive oneself. This usually takes time. C.S. Lewis said, “If God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
C. Third, one learns to reject living in the past. See Philippians 3:13-14. Frank Pollard says, “To dwell on past sins is to invite one of two things: thinking about it will lead you to sin again, or you will spend your time in self-destructive despair. God has placed our sins in the sea of His forgetfulness and has put up a sign: ‘No Fishing Here.’”
3. The restoration process requires activity. A fall into sin usually results in being cut off from an activity the person loved; the sinner is acutely conscious of what he or she can no longer do. Within a few weeks of the fall, they must become busy doing something good to replace the former activity; otherwise, they can fall from idleness to depression and worse sin. This is the replacement principle found in Matthew 12:43-45. For example, a fallen coach can volunteer to help Little League baseball, a fallen pastor can volunteer to teach the Bible at a prison. Charles Spurgeon said, “Sedentary habits have a tendency to despondency.”

The restoration process can reclaim fallen people to service. Just ask Moses, David, Peter and Paul! But it will take time and personal investment in their lives.

3 ways to avoid falling into sin

Shame

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

When another minister or other public figure resigns in disgrace, many people ask, “Could that ever be me?” How can we avoid falling into sin ourselves?
As a sinner who has fallen and gotten back up again, let me share three ways to avoid falling:

1. Be warned of the seriousness of sin. Proverbs 5 vividly warns the foolish man of the trap of adultery. I encourage you to read that chapter regularly. There is an old saying, “Sin takes you farther than you want to go, it stays with you longer than you want it to stay, and it costs you more than you want to pay.” The devil gets up every day seeking someone to devour, so we must get up every day and put on the spiritual armor of God (See 1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:11).
2. Be accountable and have a regular spiritual check-up. James 5:14 says to confess your sins to one another. I believe all Christians should have a fellow believer of the same gender whom they meet with from time to time for prayer and support, a person who will speak truth in love and ask him or her the honest, hard questions to keep them accountable. The analogy of Satan as the lion on the prowl to devour someone (1 Peter 5:8) should remind us that lions don’t attack a herd, or they will get stampeded. They attack an animal who has wandered off or left behind. Likewise, Satan attacks when you are alone. Stay accountable to fellow believers, so Satan won’t pounce!
3. Don’t rest on past laurels; you are either growing closer to Christ or drifting farther away. You are rarely standing still. David Jeremiah said, “Our spiritual fitness is just like our physical fitness; we cannot rely on yesterday’s workout to keep us strong today.”

A person can live in the hypocrisy of secret sin for a time, but it always ends in tragedy. Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “No man, for any period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” The three practices above can help you avoid that tragedy.

Top Ten Rewards of the Christian Life

crowns

“God…rewards those who seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6b, HCSB

I like rewards.
I’m a member of the Holiday Inn Priority Club, and I like getting rewards for staying at the Holiday Inn. They give me a gift bag when I arrive. They let me check out late.  I earn points and occasionally get to stay one night free.
But no rewards program can compare with God’s rewards program. Yes, we’re saved by grace, not by good deeds. The greatest reward is our salvation and eternal life in heaven. However, God also grants amazing rewards for serving Him. Here’s my top ten:
1. Reward for good deeds. First Corinthians 3:11-15 says that Jesus is the foundation of salvation, but if anybody builds on that foundation, “he will receive a reward” (v. 14).
2. Reward for giving up sin. Moses gave up “the fleeting pleasures of sin” for Christ, “for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
3. Reward for humility. Jesus repeatedly said that if we do our good deeds humbly and in secret, that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
4. Reward for generosity. Jesus said that if you invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner instead of your friends, family or rich neighbors, “you will be repaid at the resurrection” (Luke 14:12-14).
5. Reward for discipline. The apostle Paul said that athletes receive a temporary crown that fades away, but if we live a disciplined Christian life, we receive an “imperishable” crown (1 Corinthians 14:12-14).
6. Reward for service. Colossians 3:23-24 says that if you work heartily for the Lord, “you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”
7. Reward for enduring trials. The “crown of life” is mentioned twice in scripture (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) for the one “who remains steadfast under trial.”
8. The prophet’s reward. The shepherd (pastor) of the flock of God is promised “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Jesus says this reward is also available to all, for “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).
9. Reward for looking forward to the Second Coming. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord… will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
10. Reward for leaving a legacy. Abraham, the father of faith, was told, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Think of Abraham’s legacy of faith as Father of the Hebrew nation, ancestor of Jesus, and role model of faith for all people. There can be no greater reward than a legacy of faith that leads others to faith. There can be no greater reward than seeing others in heaven because we shared our faith with them on earth.
How about you? Are you in God’s reward program?

You can get into spiritual shape

muscles

Article Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers

Once I met a guy in the gym who had muscles of steel. I was amazed when he told me that he used to be fat, until he decided to get into shape.
First Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Many of us are spiritually fat. But just as my friend got physically fit, you can get into spiritual shape. Here’s how:

I. Put your heart into it.

Dotsie Bausch was riding a mountain bike one day when a group of competitive road cyclists flew past her. Dotsie chased them and stayed on their heels for two miles. That night, she told a friend, “This cycling thing, I’m actually pretty decent at it.” Four years later she was on the U.S. national cycling team. Her heart was all in. (Evan Miller, “Dotsie Bausch: Cycling,” Guideposts, July 2012, p. 47-49.)
Ezekiel 18:31. “Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” You must put your heart into it.

II. Remove hindrances.

In football, the offense has a big obstacle. It’s called the defense.
In the spiritual life, sinful obstacles block us, too.
Hebrews 12:1: “… let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”
Choose to remove the hindrances to your spiritual life, especially sinful lifestyles that have been dragging you down. Do it!

III. Exercise your spirit daily.

There are two major types of exercise: cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, and strength training, which is usually by lifting weights. Healthy athletes have a balance of both. Likewise, you need a balance of spiritual exercises, often called the “spiritual disciplines.” These include Bible reading and prayer, but they also include meditation and memorization of scripture, service and stewardship, worship and witness. A healthy spiritual life develops from regular practice of these spiritual disciplines.
As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

IV. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Hebrews 12:2 says, “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…”
In 2008, I was about 35 pounds overweight. I was breathing hard just walking to the second floor. My pants were too tight. I didn’t like how I looked. I made a decision to change, and put my heart into it. It was a lifestyle change, as I got serious about exercise, eating right, and sticking with it. Over a year, I took off the weight. Today, nine years later, I have maintained my lower weight and healthier lifestyle.
I had tried fad diets before, but I finally had success when I kept my focus on a goal and stuck with it.
In a much greater way, the same principle applies to your spiritual life.
How about you? Are you getting into spiritual shape? It’s got to start with a change of heart. Are you ready to begin the journey?

The wonder of the Christ child

BethlehemStable

Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

Barbara Robinson writes in her book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, about a Sunday School Christmas pageant. One child heard from Isaiah 9:6 that the Christ child’s name would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Wide-eyed, she responded, “He’d never get out of the first grade if he had to write all that.”
Perhaps we need to return to this familiar prophetic title with the same wonder of a child. We will see:

As Wonderful Counselor, Christ takes away our gloom.
As Mighty God, Christ takes away our doom.
As Everlasting Father, Christ adopts us all.
As Prince of Peace, Christ takes down the wall.

In the verses before Isaiah 9:6, we see how meaningful this really is…

I. Wonderful Counselor takes away our gloom

Isaiah 9:1 says “the gloom of the distressed will not be like that of the former times.” In this world, we often live in gloom and sorrow, but Christ takes it away. Our Wonderful Counselor listens with compassion, helps us see matters in a new light, confronts us with the truth, and guides us in the right way.

II. Mighty God takes away our doom

Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Because of our sin, we are living in the land of death, headed to a sinner’s hell. But the Christ child is more than a sweet baby; He is God in flesh, and able to save us from our sins by His sacrifice on the cross. He came to earth, so that we may go to heaven.

III. Everlasting Father adopts us all

Isaiah 9:4 speaks of the oppression and burdens of the people, who have no one to protect them. But God is a good Father, and His Son Jesus has come to adopt us all. When I say, “adopts us all,” I don’t mean to imply universal salvation; I’m speaking poetically of all who trust the blood of Christ, and then are adopted into God’s family, as if we were blood brothers and sisters. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised in John 14:18.

IV. Prince of Peace takes down the wall

Isaiah 9:5 speaks of the blood of war, from which Christ came to bring peace. He takes down the wall of sin (Isaiah 59:2), so that nothing separates us from God (Romans 8:38-39). He takes down the wall that separates us from our brothers and sisters in Christ: “For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

When missionary Don Richardson was trying to explain the gospel to a remote tribe, they could not understand the incarnation of God in flesh or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. But then he learned that when tribes wanted to make peace, they would exchange children to grow up in the other tribe. That was it! He explained that Jesus is our “Peace Child,” the Son of God, born as a Son of Man to make peace through His flesh.
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah’s birth long ago. As you celebrate His birth, you can also be born again by faith (John 3:3). Have you?

The difference in success and failure

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers


Above are photographs of fans of the pro football team, the New Orleans Saints. One is a photo of Saints fans in 1980, when the Saints were consistent losers. The fans wore bags over their heads and called the team the “Aints.” The other photo was taken in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, and fans chanted, “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” What a difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!
Scripture gives us a powerful example of the difference in success and failure in the story of Joshua and the Israelites in the first and second battle of Ai. After their great victory over Jericho, when the walls came tumbling down, The Book of Joshua, chapter 7, tells the story of how they went up to the small city of Ai with only a small army of 3,000 men, and were soundly defeated. When Joshua cried out to the Lord in prayer, the Lord told him that the entire nation was suffering the consequences of the sin of one man, Achan, who had hid for himself some of the loot from Jericho which was supposed to be sacred to the Lord.
Joshua and all of the Israelites took drastic action, destroying Achan and his family, and then went up a second time to fight Ai. The Book of Joshua, chapter 8, tells how this time, they involved the whole Army, and devised a battle tactic that tricked the men of Ai into chasing a small Hebrew army. When the men of Ai abandoned the city to pursue the Israelites, a larger Hebrew army of 30,000 attacked the city, burned it down, and then both armies attacked the men of Ai from both sides, catching them in the middle with nowhere to run. It was a total victory– all of Ai was destroyed. Afterwards, Joshua took the people to Mt. Gerizim and Ebal and read to them to law of Moses and had them repeat the blessings and curses that Moses had told them to repeat.
For many years, my father, U.S. Army Chaplain Robert H. Rogers, preached a message on this passage called, “The Difference in Success and Failure.” Here are some important lessons that this story teaches us about the difference in spiritual success and spiritual failure:

HOW TO FAIL SPIRITUALLY

1. Belittle the task God gives you. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “Don’t send all the people… since the people of Ai are so few…”
2. Leave God’s work to a few people. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “but send about 2,000 or 3,000 men to attack Ai… don’t wear out all our people there.” The attitude of spiritual defeat says, “I don’t need to share the gospel or minister; that’s what we pray the preacher to do.”
3. Rest on past laurels. Victory at Jericho did not guarantee victory at Ai. Just because you have experienced spiritual victories in the past does not guarantee victory in the future. Celebrate the past, but don’t linger there.
4. Do no more than necessary. They were lazy, trying to get by with minimum effort to conquer Ai. Spiritual losers are apathetic like that, lacking passion for the word of God.
5. Ignore the slide into sin. This is very important. Notice the gradual slide into sin in four steps. Achan confessed in Joshua 7:21: “I saw,” “I coveted,” “took,” “concealed.” First he saw the gold and silver, then he desired it, then he took it, and after he took it, he hid it. This is exactly what I did in major sin in my past. I saw something, then I desired it, then I acted on that desire, and then I tried to hide my sin. People rarely plan ahead to get addicted to drugs or commit adultery and embezzle funds. Instead, they fall slowly into temptation. We cannot ignore those early warning signs against sin.
6. Ignore sin in your midst. This final caution is one that we Americans struggle with, because America is highly individualistic. We red in Joshua 7:1, “The Israelites… were unfaithful… Achan… took some of what was set apart, and the LORD’s anger burned against the Israelites.” How is it that God held all of Israel accountable for one man’s sin? This is the Biblical concept of corporate sin. Because we tolerate sin in our midst, and turn a blind eye, we are all complicit. Don’t you think somebody saw Achan hid the loot in his tent? If we fail to address sin in our own families, our own churches, and our own nation, we we fail spiritually.

HOW TO SUCCEED SPIRITUALLY

1. Become deeply concerned. When they were defeated by Ai, Joshua 7:6 tells us how Joshua responded: “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell before the ark of the LORD…” We, too, must become deeply concerned about sin and spiritual apathy.
2. Depend upon prayer. Joshua 7:7 tells us that Joshua expressed his concern by prayer. He didn’t run out and get the latest book on “10 Easy Steps to Church Growth.” Instead, he knew it required the hard step of humble prayer. This is a lesson he had to learn again, as we read in Joshua 9:14 that he and the Israelites failed to inquire of God in prayer in the matter of Gibeon, and they were deceived. We must depend on daily prayer to succeed in the daily spiritual battle against sin.
3. Remove sin from your midst. Joshua 7:10-11, 24-26 tells the graphic details of how they discovered that Achan was guilty, and they stoned Achan and his family to death in the valley of Achor. The judgment seems harsh to the modern reader, but it is a reminder that sin cannot be taken lightly. Jesus warned that if the right eye causes you to sin, to gouge it out, and if the right hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Matthew 5:29-30). Yes, the wages of sin is death– that’s the harsh reality of sin. But the good news is that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
4. Follow Godly leadership. After facing the sin, it says in Joshua 8:3, “So Joshua and the whole military force set out…” Joshua chose to be obedient to God, and the people chose to follow his godly leadership.
5. Enlist everyone for God’s work. The word “all” is repeated frequently in these two chapters. Joshua 7:25 says, “all Israel stoned them…” Joshua 8:3 says, “the whole military force set out to attack Ai.” Joshua 8:11 says,“All those who were with him went up…” At the first battle of Ai, they sent a small army of 3,000 against a city of 12,000 and were defeated. At the second battle, they went over 30,000 to ambush the city from behind, while an army of 5,000 attacked and withdrew, then attacked again in a well-planned tactic to entrap Ai. This required the involvement of all of the people. Families and churches that involve everybody in the spiritual battle will win every time.
6. Re-commit to God. Joshua 8:30-35 tells how they went to Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal and renewed their covenant with the Lord, to obey His laws. If we wish to see a lifestyle of continual spiritual victories in our own lives, we too must continually return to God’s Word and pledge ourselves anew to faithful obedience. The end result for them was the conquest of the Promised Land. What will it be for you and me?

Poem: “Pinned and Wriggling”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

PrayJAlfredPrufrock

Oh! Beastly burdened groan

Piercing pain in my side

Blood dribbling from my mouth.

 

I shot the arrow and missed the mark

Boomerang cutting back at me

I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.

 

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

 

The incomprehensible creature comes

To pull our arrows out

But what will it be like?

I have grown accustomed to chopped flesh

No! I will keep my arrow

How else can I keep close contact with the wall?

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What the greatest men in the Bible have in common

Copyright by Bob Rogers

Peter-weeping   If somebody asked you to name the five greatest men in the Bible, other than Jesus, who would you name?

Most people would name Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Paul.

It occurred to me that there is something surprising that all five of them have in common: failure.

Yes, they all failed. Blew it. Messed up big time. Did things so bad that if we did them today, we might consider our lives destroyed, over, kaput.

Let’s review, class. First, we have Abraham. He agreed to the foolish request of his wife Sarah to make love to her servant Hagar and try to leave a legacy through the servant girl, since it seemed like God would never fulfill His promise for Abraham and Sarah to have a son. Major mistake. Caused all kinds of problems: jealousy, broken hearts, abandonment, and ultimately, hatred between the Arabs and the Jews. And it just gets worse after Abraham.

Next up is Moses. He gave us the Ten Commandments, but he was already guilty of what most of us would consider the worst violation of the commandments. He murdered an Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. When his crime was discovered, Moses ran for his life, and went from being an Egyptian prince to being a herdsman in the middle of nowhere.

Third, we have King David. He not only murdered a man named Uriah, but did so to cover up his adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When the prophet Nathan confronted him, he turned white as a sheet and could only weep and confess he was a sinner.

Turning to the pages of the New Testament, we come upon Simon Peter. He denied the Lord Jesus. Yeah. Even used profanity. When he was confronted, he went out and wept bitterly.

And last but not least, we have Saul, later known as Paul. He assisted in stoning to death the first Christian martyr, and then went all over Israel and even to Syria to drag Christians out of their homes by the hair and throw them in jail. When Paul was confronted, he went blind.

The fact that all five of the greatest men in the Bible failed so miserably gives me incredible hope and encouragement. Abraham went on to become the father of Isaac, and a nation, and is considered the father of faith. He was called the friend of God. Moses saw God face to face, and set his people free from slavery and gave us the Ten Commandments. David became the greatest king of Israel, the ancestor of the Messiah, and was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” Peter became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem, forgiven by Jesus and charged by Christ to “feed My sheep.” Paul became the greatest missionary and theologian of the early church, who was sent to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and wrote half of the New Testament.

Could it be that part of the reason for their success was their failure? Could it be that the experience of painfully facing their own weakness caused them to depend more completely on the power of God– perhaps more so than people who think that they have it all together and they could never fall? As Paul said, God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Let that be a reminder to all of us who are burdened by our sinful past and who feel that our lives are failures. God uses broken people! As David wrote in his great prayer of repentance, “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.” (Psalm 51:17).

So if your spirit is broken and your heart is humbled, if you feel that you can’t go on anymore, just open the pages of the Bible. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, God shows how He often accomplishes His greatest successes through people we would consider great failures. (And I didn’t even mention how God used the prostitute Rahab, the unwilling missionary Jonah, the bad girl Mary Magdalene, or tax collectors and cheats like Matthew and Zacchaeus.)

If God can use them, then need I state the obvious? He can also use you and me, if we will put ourselves into His hands, and trust Him.

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The Closet of Mirrors

Mirrors

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I was comfortable in a dark closet

Thinking dark thoughts

Doing dark deeds.

Then a brilliant burst of light revealed

That I’m in a closet of mirrors

I see my ugly, naked body everywhere

I cannot escape in any direction

Every wall is a mirror.

Outsiders can see me through the mirror

But I cannot see them

I wonder what they think and what they see

But I can only see me—

The one person I do not want to see.

I want to cover myself

But I have nothing.

I want to drive a nail through the mirror

But I have nothing.

I fall to my knees, curl into a tiny ball

Wailing, whining, whimpering.

Oh, God, kill me! I have nothing! I need you!

Ting…ping…ping…ting…

Softly a nail falls by my side, skipping on the glass

Then two…three…ten…fifty…a hundred…

Nails crash down, crack open

Cutting me — and covering me.

But now I have something

I have a covering—a covering of rusty nails.

And the mirror is broken at last.

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