Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Would the Virgin Mary have worn a new red dress?

Commotion erupted backstage of the church Christmas play when a five-year-0ld girl, who was slated to play Mary, refused to wear anything but her new red dress.

The adults backstage pleaded with her, the director spoke to her, and finally her parents talked to her about the need to wear the costume for Mary instead of her new red dress. The little girl would not be moved, and insisted on wearing the dress, or she would not go onstage. The play was already late in starting, so the director stepped to the microphone and announced, "Due to circumstances beyond our control, Mary, the mother of Jesus, will appear tonight in a new red dress."

The congregation erupted in laughter. A voice was heard from behind the curtain shouting, "If Mary had had a new red dress, she would have worn it!"

I agree with her. That little girl understood something that we forget-- although Mary was the virgin mother of the Savior, she was still a real woman with real feelings. Imagine the emotions Mary must have carried that first Christmas: frustration at those who did not understand that her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, fear at what Joseph would think, and amazement at the arrival of shepherds from Bethlehem and wise men from the east. The Bible says that after the shepherds came to see the Christ child, Mary treasured these memories in her heart (Luke 2:19).

Yes, the birth of Mary's son was no sideline show. This was the event that ushered the Savior of the world onto the stage of world history. So I must agree with the little girl in the church play-- if Mary had had a new red dress, she would have worn it!

Copyright 2007 by Bob Rogers

Monday, December 3, 2007

Oops! Did our chuch sign really say that?

One Sunday night a church member eagerly showed me a photograph he had taken on his digital camera of our church sign. I read it and said, "So? It says 'Celebrate Christmas with us.'"
He replied, "No, it doesn't. Read it again."
That's when I noticed the "R" missing from "Celebrate."
I just stared at the photo. "Does it still say that?"
"No, we already corrected it. But I'm thinking about moving my membership," he said with a smirk.
Well, he's still a member, at least for now, but that little error is a reminder that we have to watch out that we don't communicate the wrong message. Especially at Christmas.
People often talk about "the real meaning of Christmas" and then go off on subjects like "spending time with family." Now, I plan to spend time with family myself at Christmas, but that's not the real meaning of Christmas. The real meaning is that God looked down at a messed-up world, and decided to get personally involved with us human beings. He didn't just send down commands to follow. He sent a Person to follow. He didn't just tell us how to live. He showed us how to live. He did it through a baby, Jesus Christ, who went from the cradle to the cross so that we could go from the grave to heaven when we die.
That's reason to celebrate (with an "R").

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The danger of sitting on somebody else's pew

Nearly every churchgoer has seen what happens when a person sits in the preferred pew of a longtime church attendee. Generally, if you see a crochet needle and a soft seat cushion on the pew, or the words "In memory of..." engraved in a brass plate, you would be wise to ask an usher before sitting there.
But one lady in our church got a completely unexpected greeting when she sat in somebody else's pew.
This woman, whom we will call "Tracey" (not her real name), normally attends the 10:30 a.m. service. However, this particular Sunday she was singing a solo at both morning services. So she showed up early for the 9:00 a.m. service, and sat on the end of the second pew from the front. That made perfect sense, except that, unknown to Tracey, it was where "John" and "Carol" (not their real names) usually sat.
When John and Carol arrived at church, the couple had to go separate ways for a few minutes before entering the sanctuary. Carol went to the nursery, since it was her turn to volunteer, but they had not discussed that bit of information. So as John entered the worship center, he expected to find Carol on the pew where they always sat, waiting for him to arrive by her side.
John walked to the second pew from the front, and seeing a woman with dark hair standing and singing where his dark-haired wife Carol usually was, he stepped in next to her. He said “slide over baby,” and Tracey did! Tracey thought, "He must not know that I'm not his wife, but I don't want to embarrass him," so she moved over, thinking John would look up and realize his mistake pretty soon. "If he had tried to put his arm around me, I would have stopped him," Tracey said.
When John placed his Bible on the seat and looked up, he saw that another lady was standing where he thought his wife would be! Embarrassed, he grabbed his things, apologized and quickly moved one row back. This did not go unnoticed and he received quite a few laughs from everyone who saw the incident.
John (and Tracey) graciously agreed to let me tell you their story, and John says to tell you: "Lesson learned, look where you are about to sit before doing so!"
While John's mistake was harmless enough, we all would do well to apply his lesson to life. Sometimes we don't pay attention to where we're going, or sitting, and we end up in places we never intended to be. However, God is watching where we go, and so should we. As Psalm 1:1 (NIV) says, "Blessed is the man who does not ... sit in the seat of mockers."
(Copyright 2007 by Bob Rogers. www.holyhumor.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oh, be careful little, mouth, what you say

Each week I get to tell a Bible story to the four-year-olds at our church Weekday Ministry child care center. And each week I get a reminder that children think differently from adults.
Children think literally. One time I heard a little girl say, "Jesus is in my heart." Then she pulled open her shirt, poked her mouth and nose inside her shirt, and yelled, "Hey Jesus, are you down there?"
Children also hear things that adults say differently because they don't read as much as adults. Just this week, I told the story of Ruth and Boaz. I asked group of about 40 kids, "Is anybody here named Ruth?"
Nobody responded.
I asked, "Do you know anybody named Ruth?"
One little boy raised his hand and said, "I live under a roof." (I've got to work on my enunciation.)
Children are also very enthusiastic, and brutally honest.
One year after Thanksgiving, I asked the kids in the Weekday Ministry what they had done over the holiday. I asked if they had been shopping, and they all raised their hands. I asked if they had been hunting, and again everybody raised their hands. One boy added aloud, "My daddy shot that ---." I won't repeat the word that he used, but let's just say that it was not the name of an animal. His teacher moved like greased lightning to the end of the pew to keep him from adding any more colorful descriptions.
Reminds me a little children's rhyme, "Oh be careful little ears what you ear, oh be careful little eyes what you see, oh be careful little mouth what you say..."
What influence are you having on the children around you? Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mark 10:14, NIV). My prayer is that I am bringing children to Jesus, rather than hindering them from coming to Jesus.

Copyright 2007 by Bob Rogers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Out of tune" church argues over piano

Churches sometimes divide over music. One church divided over the lack of a musical instrument.
It seems this particular church had no musical instruments to accompany the singing in the worship service. Some members suggested getting a piano. It came up for a vote at the next business meeting. After much discussion, the matter was put to a vote. About half of the membership voted "No," since they had always been worshiping without a piano, thus killing the idea. Or so they thought.
The pro-piano half of the congregation decided on another strategy. They bought a piano on their own, with the expectation that the others would fall in line once they saw how it could help the singing. The next Sunday, however, did not meet their expectations. The anti-piano half were outraged and said they would not come back to church if the piano was even there, let alone played.
The following week was filled with a great deal of verbal back-stabbing over this issue in the community. In anticipation of what would happen, attendance was larger than usual the following Sunday in church. To everyone's surprise, the piano was gone! The pro-piano portion of the congregation was appalled that the opposing group would do such a thing, but the anti-piano people vehemently denied that they had done anything with the instrument. The whole church was in an uproar.
After six months, the piano was discovered. It had not been removed from the church at all. It was in the baptistry, which has not been used in all that time, either!
(Strange as this story sounds, Gerald Daniel of Clinton, Mississippi assures me that this actually happened somewhere in the United States of America.)
Many churches need to go back and read the Great Commission that Jesus gave the first Christians: "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Churches that keep their focus on evangelism do not get sidetracked with issues like the position of the piano or the color of the carpet. Put another way, when you keep your baptistry wet, you don't lose your piano in it.

Copyright 2007 by Bob Rogers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Lutheran who was glad he didn't look like a Baptist

Somebody once told my associate pastor that I "don't look like a preacher." That begs the question: what is a preacher supposed to look like? Is he expected to wear a clerical collar, a black robe and have a stern or "holy" expression on his face? Or is he supposed to have a round, pink face and a round body? I've never thought that I wanted to look like a preacher, until I heard Dr. Laurence White.
Dr. Laurence L. White is senior pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. I heard him speak at an interdenominational pastor's meeting in Washington. Wearing a black shirt and white clerical collar, looked over the crowd, most of whom were wearing business suits, and he said, "I want to say something to you Baptists who have forsaken the traditional garb of the clergy. There are some advantages to looking like clergy." Then he told this story:
Rev. White was late for a speaking engagement in Georgia, and was driving way too fast, when he saw blue lights flashing in his rear view mirror. He pulled over, and the blue light pulled in behind him. The reverend noticed that the trooper who got out of the patrol car was very big. He pulled his belt up around his waist, and walked toward Rev. White's car, his hand on his gun. When the trooper looked in the car window and saw Rev. White, with his black coat and shirt, and white clerical collar, he started to laugh. Rev. White thought, "Oh, no. He's a Baptist deacon. I'm going to jail."
But instead, the trooper leaned in, pointed his finger in Rev. White's face, and said, "Forgive me, father, but you have sinned!" Then he gestured down the road with his hands open wide, and said, "Now go, and sin no more!"
So there can be advantages to looking like a preacher (or priest).
The Bible says that there is a clothing that all of us should wear. Job said, "I put on righteousness as my clothing" (Job 29:14, NIV). The apostle Paul tells us what we should look like: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience..." (Colossians 3:12, NIV).
So the clerical collar can be good and useful. But righteousness is even better.
(Copyright 2007 by Bob Rogers.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Don't Let Worries Kill You

Sometimes churches say things that fail to communicate what they mean.
A friend sent me a photograph of a church sign that had on its marquee, "Don't Let Worries Kill You-- Let the Church Help."
When I was in college, my pastor was telling a story during his sermon about his visit to the Hoover Dam. As he described his visit, he said, "I looked over the whole dam project." Nobody said a word, but when he realized how that sounded, his face turned red, and he immediately said, "I mean, the whole project of the dam." When he corrected himself, the congregation burst out laughing.
Once when I was pastor in a different place and different time zone, I was going over the church bulletin. I noticed that the secretary had typed the title of a hymn that looked strange. I showed the bulletin to the music minister, and he said that he had not connected the lines of his "K" and the secretary mistook his handwriting for the letters "IC." That explained why the bulletin said that we were going to sing, "Come Thou, Almighty Icing." (Maybe the secretary heard there was going to be dinner on the grounds with cake after church.)
One Sunday years ago, I was about to preach, when a deacon offered this prayer, "Lord, help us make it through Brother Bob's sermon." I don't know if he had stolen a look at my sermon notes and decided it was going to be a tough one to survive, but he told me later that his prayer came out wrong.
All of this confusing communication serves to illustrate an important way that you can pray for those who preach the gospel. In Colossians 4:4, the apostle Paul makes this request: "Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should."
The plain gospel is that we are all sinners, in need of a Savior, but Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin, and the only way we can get to heaven is by faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, churches can sometimes get that message garbled. They may say there are many different ways to heaven. But Jesus said, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, NIV). They make salvation a matter of good deeds rather than faith alone. Yet the Bible says, "For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).
So the next time you pray for your pastor's sermon, add a request that he makes the gospel crystal clear. I promise, it will help you make it through his message.
(Copyright 2007 by Bob Rogers.)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Mississippi squirrel

About twenty years after Ray Stevens wrote “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” something very similar actually happened.
The famous song told about visiting Mississippi and experiencing “the day the squirrel went berserk in the First Self-Righteous Church in that sleepy little town of Pascagoula.”
Ironically, a squirrel really did go berserk in the First Baptist Church in the sleepy little town of Poplarville. Although it does not rhyme with “hallelujah,” Poplarville and Pascagoula are both in south Mississippi, and since Poplarville, with 2,500 residents, is about ten times smaller than Pascagoula, it well qualifies as a sleepy town. And what happened there made Ray Stevens sound like a prophet.
I was pastor of First Baptist Church of Poplarville from 1991 to 1999. A few months before I moved to Georgia, we were having problems with squirrels around the church. One day a deacon and I chased one into the choir room, where he purchased his freedom by flying out of the window and landing on the street two stories below. On another occasion, a squirrel got in a transformer and sacrificed its life to put the church in the dark.
After I moved to Georgia, Butch Knight became pastor of the church in Poplarville.
During Brother Butch’s ministry, Poplarville had “The Great Squirrel Incident.” He says that it all began on a Sunday morning in January 2002, about three minutes before the beginning of the worship service. The pastor noticed several choir members standing up and looking at something. Then he heard a scream, and he saw a squirrel leap up on top of the grand piano. His bushy tail waved, and he held his little hands in front of himself, as if he was greeting the congregation.
The men of the church went after him, taking off their suit coats and sport coats, and throwing them at the squirrel, with no thought that if they captured the squirrel, he might shred their expensive coats to pieces.
The squirrel started making laps in front of the choir loft, trying to escape. One man in the choir aimed the deadliest missile he could find at the squirrel: a hymnal. As it missed the creature with a loud thud, the pastor wondered how he was going to tell his children’s sermon on the sacredness of life by explaining why they killed a squirrel in church.
Then the squirrel ran up the American flag pole. Next, he ran across the front of the church, and ran up the Christian flag pole. Since the men were trying to throw their coats over him, he high-tailed it toward the back of the church, running under pews. Although the pastor could not see the creature, he could tell where he was, because it looked like the congregation was doing the wave as people were jumping pews and shouting from the front pew to the back. Some people were laughing and saying aloud, “Are we in Pascagoula?” (Do I hear a hallelujah?)
At one point, the squirrel ran back into the grand piano, and they closed the lid, trapping him inside. But how could they have church with him inside the piano? So they let him out and he fled again.
At last, a fellow wearing a winter coat managed to throw it over the squirrel. The darkness inside the coat calmed the squirrel, and he grew still. The man was able to take him outside and set him free. The pastor looked at his watch. It was 11:15, and they had spent 18 minutes chasing a varmint in church.
Did the church break out in revival, as in the Ray Stevens song? Brother Butch says they mostly broke out in laughter. But since some folks were going through difficult times, it was what they needed at the time.
Some time later, the church secretary’s 9-year-old son was playing at the church, and he chased a squirrel into the worship center, where it perched on top of the flag pole. It was a weekday, not a Sunday, and nobody was there except the boy and the squirrel. The boy picked up a rubber ball, and managed to hit the squirrel on the nose. The animal fell to the floor, motionless. The little boy felt terrible, but it was too late-- the squirrel was stone dead.
Whether or not the squirrel that died that day was the same squirrel that went berserk in a Sunday service, nobody will ever know. But I do know this: you can run wild for a time, but eventually you die. The Bible says that we’re all destined to live, die, and face Judgment Day (Hebrews 9:27). As Amos 4:12 says, “prepare to meet your God.”
So if your life is going nuts, take a lesson from a squirrel. Trust in Jesus to save you from sin, and you’ll be ready for whatever life throws at you. And when that happens, your fight for survival will break out in revival, and you’ll shout “hallelujah.”
Copyright 2006 by Bob Rogers

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Unity Candle Crisis

The month of June is known as the beginning of the hurricane season and the height of the wedding season (not that the two are necessarily related).
One wedding that I conducted, while not stormy. was nearly disunified.
The bride had already come down the aisle. The vows had begun. However, the wedding director was horrified, because the unity candle had not been prepared.
If you are not familiar with a unity candle, it is a candelabra with a large center candle and two smaller candles on each side. The custom is for the bride's mother and groom's mother to light each of the smaller candles before the service. After the bride and groom exchange vows and rings, they use the two small candles to light the large center candle, representing the coming together of two families to make one. The only problem was that the two smaller candles were not lit before the service began.
The wedding director had little time to decide what to do. Plan A would be to walk up to the candelabra, which was beside the minister, and say to the wedding party, "Excuse me, could you pause right there at 'for better or worse' and let me light these candles before things do get worse?" No, she decided that plan A was too much of a distraction.
So she activated plan B.
The wedding director grabbed a candle lighter and ran upstairs to the second floor level behind the pulpit area, looking for an entrance to the choir loft. Since this was not her home church, she was not familiar with the building. Several times she opened doors to closets. She could hear the vows continue, and she knew that if she did not hurry, soon the couple would be up a candle without a lighter. Finally, she found a door from the second floor to the stairway that descended to the choir loft. She descended the stairs and slowly opened the door to the choir loft and motioned to the photographer. He was sitting on the floor behind the choir railing, taking pictures by a remote control of various cameras that he was monitoring. He was out of view of the congregation, but he was right there on the other side of the choir railing from the unity candle.
The photographer turned white as a sheet when he saw a woman lying on her stomach, peering out of a crack in the door to the choir loft, poking a stick at him. But he caught on quickly.
I was unaware that any of this was going on. All I remember is that as the groom was placing the ring on the bride's finger, out of the corner of my left eye I noticed a person rise up from behind the choir railing, light each of the two side candles, and then disappear again behind the choir railing. I didn't even know there was a crisis, but the photographer came to the rescue, just in the nick of time!
God likes to show up just in time. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, God waited until their feet were in the water before He opened dry ground before them (Joshua 3:15-16). Even Jesus Himself showed up just in time. The Bible says, "But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman..." (Galatians 4:4, New Living Translation). God is always on time; He's never too early and never too late. Isn't it time that you trusted in Him?
Copyright 2007 by Bob Rogers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Welcome to Holy Humor!

Welcome to Holy Humor! This is the website for Bob Rogers's weekly newspaper column, "Holy Humor."
You can read recent "Holy Humor" columns on the web page of the Effingham Herald at www.effinghamherald.net. At "Churches," select the drop-down box that says "Holy Humor."
You can also read selections of old "Holy Humor" columns from the past four years on the web page of First Baptist Church of Rincon, Georgia at www.fbcrincon.com. Click on "Holy Humor."