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?
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
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?
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
Copyright by Bob Rogers
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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Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I was comfortable in a dark closet
Thinking dark thoughts
Doing dark deeds.
Then a brilliant burst of light revealed
That I’m in a closet of mirrors
I see my ugly, naked body everywhere
I cannot escape in any direction
Every wall is a mirror.
Outsiders can see me through the mirror
But I cannot see them
I wonder what they think and what they see
But I can only see me—
The one person I do not want to see.
I want to cover myself
But I have nothing.
I want to drive a nail through the mirror
But I have nothing.
I fall to my knees, curl into a tiny ball
Wailing, whining, whimpering.
Oh, God, kill me! I have nothing! I need you!
Softly a nail falls by my side, skipping on the glass
Then two…three…ten…fifty…a hundred…
Nails crash down, crack open
Cutting me — and covering me.
But now I have something
I have a covering—a covering of rusty nails.
And the mirror is broken at last.
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Five years ago I started riding a mountain bike a few miles in the morning to work out at the YMCA. I figured with gasoline at $4.00 a gallon, I could pay for the bicycle in gas saved and be exercising while riding. Soon I was addicted to cycling, and started riding longer distances on Saturdays for fun. When I got up to nearly 20 miles, serious cyclists told me I should upgrade to a road bike, and I was blessed to receive one on permanent loan from a friend. Soon I was riding 30 and 40 miles on the weekends on the road bike, which is a lot easier and more fun to ride, with its light weight and narrow tires.
Then my brother, who lives in Louisiana, got into cycling. We decided that we would ride the 41-mile Longleaf Trace (near our parent’s home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi) over the Christmas holidays. Since I had been cycling a lot longer than Todd, I was sharing my expertise with him and comparing notes on Facebook and in phone calls. Soon he was riding 40 miles each weekend. I got up to 52 miles on my longest ride.
A couple of months before the ride, it dawned on me that my brother was going that distance on a mountain bike, while I was riding a road bike. I decided to be fair to him, I should also ride the slower, heavier mountain bike, and I started training again on my mountain bike. I had never been farther than 22 miles on a mountain bike. A couple of weeks before our ride, I got up to 35 miles on my mountain bike, and I thought I was going to die.
I should have seen what was coming, but my pride got in the way. On December 31, our Dad dropped us off in Prentiss at the beginning of the Longleaf Trace, with our mountain bikes. (That’s a picture of the two of us on this page, with Todd on the left, and me on the right.)
The idea was to ride in each other’s draft, taking turns leading one another. I led the first seven miles, with Todd right behind me in my draft. It was largely uphill, and then we took a break. I felt fine, but Todd said my pace seemed slow. He led the next 12 miles. Forget about staying in his draft, after about 5 miles, it was killing me to keep up with him. I had to make a decision: was I going to be in pain trying to keep up his pace, or just enjoy the ride? I decided to enjoy the ride and soon he was half a football field ahead of me, constantly looking back. After the next stop, I was feeling humiliated. I had to put the bicycle in a low gear to handle the slightest uphill slopes, while Todd started meandering on the path, over to the left and then to the right, just to slow himself down and keep from going over the horizon out of my view. Then he started telling me that he needed to reset his music on his mp3 player, and told me to go on ahead and he would catch up. Soon he was flying past me. I felt like the little engine that could, but I wasn’t so sure that I could. The last 10 miles were pure pain and determination. I think I saw a turtle pass me. After five hours and 41 miles on the trail, I finally crossed the line, muttering that I HATE mountain bikes. My brother was circling around the parking lot waiting for me, saying he could go another 5 miles. But I couldn’t be mad at him, because he was trying to be nice about it the whole time, thanking me for riding with him and saying how much fun we had. That evening he went out to a movie. I took ibuprofen and rubbed my sore thighs and knees at home.
The experience reminds me of the way we often see ourselves spiritually. We think we are really good people. We compare ourselves with others, and we look pretty good. But the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we compare ourselves with God, He runs circles around us, and leaves us in the dust. It’s an humbling realization, but an important lesson for us to learn.
That long ride on mountain bikes with my brother taught me that I’m not nearly as great a cyclist as I think I am, and also encouraged me to keep on training. Getting a glimpse of God’s glory should teach us a similar lesson: we aren’t nearly as holy and good as we think we are, but we have a loving God who is waiting on us up ahead, accepting us for who we are encouraging us to do better.
However, there is also a difference. My brother can do nothing to help me, except give encouragement. My God can give me power to do what I cannot do myself. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
I’m looking forward to the ride with God in 2013.
UPDATE: When I got back to Georgia, I noticed that my rear tire was lose and rubbing against the rim, so I took it to my bike repairman. He said the bearings were shot, and he said, “I don’t know how you even finished 41 miles with a wheel in that bad shape.” Soooooo…. maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t in as bad a shape as I thought! Looks like I need to challenge Todd to another ride on the Longleaf Trace!
A large church had a rather large guest preacher one Sunday who made a grand entrance like none other.
The congregation had just heard a concert by a gospel band. The big preacher had been sitting behind the stage, enjoying the music. The music was over, and it was time for him to preach.
Since he was sitting behind the stage, the preacher had to step over wires and chords running to the keyboard, electric guitars and speakers that were used by the band. Unfortunately, as he made his way to the pulpit, his foot caught in one of the wires.
As he lost his balance, the portly preacher stumbled, but did not fall. Almost in slow motion, the preacher prevailed and sailed across the stage, maintaining enough balance to keep from falling, but not enough balance to straighten up. With arms flailing, he finally made it to the edge of the stage, and landed his large frame with a thud upon the keyboard, arms hanging over the keys. A discordant sound of many notes played at once as he landed, sounding even louder against the hushed silence of the congregation.
Slowly raising his head, the preacher looked up at the two thousand worshipers and said, “I have fallen for this church.” By the time they had finished laughing, he had regained his dignity, gained their attention, and began his sermon.
Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” However, it also says, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12), and “Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord holds his hand” (Psalm 37:24).
So like my fellow preacher who so conspicuously fell, don’t think it can’t happen to you or me. But if does happen to one of us, let’s learn from that preacher. Even if you are lying flat on your face in front of thousands of people, if you will humble yourself, God stands ready to lift you up.
Does the Bible encourage hatred toward homosexuals? Much of the problem people have with the Bible on this issue is not what the Bible says, but what people think it says. What the Bible says about homosexuality may surprise you.
I. Homosexuality is not the worst sin
While homosexuality is sin, the Bible does not say it is the worst sin. For some reason, many Christians and churches act as if the sin of homosexuality is the one sin that cannot be forgiven. But the Bible simply lists it along with many other sins. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 lists these sins: “No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.”
Homosexuality is just one of many sins in this list, right alongside thieves, greedy people, drunkards and verbally abusive people, etc. If you cheat on your income taxes, you are just as much a sinner as a homosexual. If you have a drinking problem, you are just as much a sinner as a homosexual. If you yell and scream at your family all the time, you are just as much a sinner as a homosexual.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not denying that homosexuality is a sin. The Bible is very clear on that. From the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 to the law against sex with the same sex in Leviticus 18:22, to Jesus’ affirmation that sex is supposed to be between a man and a woman in Matthew 19:4-6, to Paul’s lengthy passage in Romans 1:24-27 about how unnatural it is for men to be with men and women with women, as well as 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, it is clear that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin.
However, nowhere does the Bible say that homosexuality is the worst sin or the unpardonable sin.
If there is any sin that can be called the worst, it would be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is a denial of the Spirit’s call to follow Christ, according to Mark 3:29-30.
II. Homosexual feelings are not sinful
Many people with homosexual attractions have felt excluded from the church, instead of helped by the church. But the Bible does not say homosexual feelings are sinful. Feelings are feelings. The sin is in how we act on those feelings. For example, Psalm 4:4 says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26 quotes this psalm, again saying, “Be angry and do not sin.” The sin is not the feeling of anger, the sin is what you do with the feeling. Likewise, if a person has homosexual urges and feelings, but decides to abstain from homosexual acts, he has not sinned.
Notice at the end of 1 Corinthians 6:9, it names the sin this way: “anyone practicing homosexuality.” It does not say “anyone with homosexual feelings.” The original Greek refers specifically to partners in the act of homosexual behavior.
This is a very important distinction that has often been overlooked in conservative, Bible-believing churches today. Missing this point has caused many people who struggle with homosexual attractions to assume that they cannot come to faith in Christ. If you are struggling with same-sex attractions right now, please hear me. You can come to Christ. All of us must come to Christ just as we are, and allow God to make us into what He wants us to be.
Conversion to Christ does not mean that homosexual urges will immediately vanish, any more than other immoral sexual urges will vanish when a heterosexual is converted, but it does mean that the homosexual, just like the heterosexual, is called to abstain from sexual relations that are not between a man and a woman married to one another.
III. Homosexuals can change!
Our culture constantly says that homosexuals are born that way. They say that the homosexual did not choose to be that way. They say that it is simply genetic. Is that really true? If all homosexuals were born that way, then shouldn’t nearly all identical twins have the same sexual orientation, since they have the same genetic makeup? Yet research shows that only about half of the time when homosexuals have an identical twin is that twin also homosexual (exodus-international.org/exodus_faqs.shtml).
First Corinthians 6:9-11 lists “practicing homosexuality” as one of the sins that do not inherit the kingdom of God. But the passage also says that homosexuals can change. Notice that verse 11 says, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Did you hear that? Paul said, “Some of you used to be like this.” But they had changed! Some of them used to be thieves, but they stopped stealing. Some of them used to be verbally abusive, but they quit yelling at their wives. And some of them used to engage in homosexual acts, but they stopped!
A female Christian counselor I know in Macon, Georgia, shared with me how she talked to a young lady recently who was struggling with same-sex attractions, and the counselor saw God completely and radically transform her. Asked how this happened, the counselor simply said, “by taking her by the hand and walking her to the Redeemer.”
A male Christian counselor I know in the Florida panhandle told me that he has counseled many homosexual men, and he begins by letting them know that he loves them, not in a sexual way, but just wants them to know that he loves them. He says many of them have never had an appropriate love shown to them by a father or another man. He helps them see that our Heavenly Father loves them, and can change them, and he often sees men break down and weep in his office, desiring a change.
If you would like help with same-sex attractions, visit the website of the Restored Hope Network: http://www.restoredhopenetwork.org/.
I knew a man who lost his job and lost his family because he was caught in a homosexual act. He was a believer in Jesus Christ, but he struggled with the gay lifestyle. We had a mutual friend who referred him to me, not so much for counseling as for accountability. He wanted to change, but he needed a healthy relationship with a male friend to encourage him in that direction. So we would meet for breakfast or lunch, and talk, and talk on the phone sometimes. It was hard for him, because he found that the people who accepted him the most were homosexuals, when he needed Christians to accept him and help him to change! Although it was hard, he managed to abstain from the gay lifestyle, got another job, and began to rebuild his life. When he got a better job that required him to move out of state, he brought me a plaque with a rope on it, and said, “Thanks for being there for me when I was at the end of my rope.”
If you are at the end of your rope, the Bible has good news for you. Hang on. Jesus is ready to help you when you are at the end of your rope, if you will trust your life to Him.
If you see a video ad below this post, please be aware that I have no control over what ads show up, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
On Friday of Holy Week, Jesus was crucified for our sins. The crowd cried “Crucify Him!” and so Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did exactly that. They flogged Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and crucified Him. Mark records six times that Jesus was mocked: once by the Sanhedrin (14:65), twice by the Roman soldiers (15:18, 20), by those who passed by (15:29), by the religious leaders (15:31), and by the criminals crucified with Him (15:32). Six is the number of evil in the Bible. But Jesus overcame evil by his sacrifice on the cross. Luke records that Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, and one of the criminals was apparently so moved by Christ’s forgiveness that he became repentant (Luke 23:39-43). John records that as He died, Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Jesus paid the price for sin and won the victory over evil. When he saw how Jesus died, the Roman centurion declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)
While Good Friday inspires us to live sacrificial lives, our primary response is one of faith. By sacrificing Himself for our sin, Jesus did what none of us can do for ourselves, and no religion can do for us. It’s no longer about religion; it’s about a relationship based on faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. We can’t pay for our sins; we must trust in the payment already made by Jesus upon the cross.
British preacher Dick Lucas recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her neighbor in Rome.
“Ah,” the neighbor says. “I hear you are religious! Great! Religion is a good thing. Where is your temple?”
“We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our temple.”
“No temple? But where do your priests work and do their rituals?”
“We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our priest.”
“No priests? But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?”
“We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our sacrifice.”
“What kind of religion is this?” sputters the pagan neighbor.
And the answer is, it’s no kind of religion at all. (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 45-46)
Friday, the day of sacrifice, teaches us to believe in Jesus to find forgiveness and eternal life.