The Difficult Thing about Wisdom

September 24, 2021

The book of Proverbs was written to make us wise. Yet Proverbs itself indicates that more information is insufficient to produce wisdom. For example, wise words, a rebuke, and even a proverb on the lips of a fool may be to no avail.

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. Proverbs 23:9, ESV

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. Proverbs 17:10, ESV

Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Proverbs 26:7, ESV

So what is so difficult about wisdom?

Proverbs lays the foundation for wisdom and identifies the difficult thing for us. We must trust God more than ourself. We must fear/respect/reverence God, so that we go His way rather than our way.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8, ESV

More information won’t help if the attitude is wrong. It’s like the Tree of Life in the center of the garden all over again for each of us (see Genesis 3). Will we listen to God, or will we listen to our own lusts and the Serpent’s call?

Someone has noted the different approaches people take to the Bible, God’s word.

Some people accept none of it.
Many people accept part of it.
A few people accept all of it.

Some people live none of it.
Many people live part of it.
A few people live most of it.

Which approach describes you? It’s precisely at this point that Proverbs and the rest of the Bible challenges us. The difficult thing about wisdom is that it requires us to trust the Lord with all of our heart. The prerequisite for wisdom is faith.


The Bruise

September 16, 2021

I bruised myself. It was a deep purple bruise, the size of a half dollar on the inside of my right wrist. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I think I know what I was doing when I got it. Three days later I broke the fifth metatarsal bone in my left foot.

It took a week before I saw the orthopedic doctor for my foot. Although my foot hurt some, it was my right knee that was the most painful from walking as to protect my foot. I saw the orthopedic doctor in about a week and viewed the damage in an X-ray. He even took an X-ray of my old arthritic knee. An injection in my right knee helped that pain to go away in a few days. I was put in a boot for the duration. The bruise didn’t seem to get better for about two weeks. During that time I was pretty laid up with my foot and knee. The pain lessened at the end of my second week.

Then the bruise began to heal. It was slow at first, and then the evidence of the bruise began to disappear. And then the bruise was gone. I took comfort in the bruise. It was evidence of the God-given, healing properties of my body. The healing I could see on my wrist, I could trust was also going on in my foot.

Five weeks after the break, I am out of the boot with pain as my guide to activities. I saw the second X-ray, and it was much different than the first one. It reminded me of the body’s marvelous ability to heal. I had a retired dentist friend who I used to visit. He would always greet me with Psalm 139:14 “… for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And the psalm is true.

The broken foot gave me a couple of difficult weeks with the pain. I’ve faced difficulties before. But I’m also aware of the many blessings even in those difficult weeks. You can take comfort even in a bruise.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7, NIV)

— Russ Holden


Cain

September 10, 2021

What was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice in Genesis 4? The honest answer is that we don’t know for sure. We are told what Cain and Abel sacrificed, and we are told that God accepted Abel’s and rejected Cain’s. What we don’t know is whether God had given any commands about sacrifice, and if so, what they were. Later reflection in the Bible provides few clues.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4, ESV

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 1 John 3:12, ESV

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. Jude 11, ESV

Some have speculated that the problem was that Cain didn’t offer an animal sacrifice, but even under the law there were grain offerings, and we aren’t given enough information to know if this is the problem. Josephus speculated:

They had resolved to sacrifice to God. Now Cain brought the fruits of the earth, and of his husbandry; but Abel brought milk, and the firstfruits of his flocks; but God was more delighted with the latter oblation, when he was honored with what grew naturally of its own accord, than he was with what was the invention of a covetous man, and gotten by forcing the ground… Josephus, Antiquities 1.54.

Somehow, I don’t buy his explanation, but it illustrates that speculation could be endless. Maybe it was a matter of his heart. Maybe it was in the kind or quality of his sacrifice. Maybe it was both. What is important for us to know is that Cain could have pleased God but didn’t.

What was the mark of Cain? The honest answer is we don’t know. The mark served its purpose in sparing Cain from vengeance, but there is no reason for us to assume that a mark on Cain would have been passed on to his descendants. In fact, that would seem to counter its purpose. I’m old enough to have even heard some racist interpretations of the mark of Cain. Such speculation really comes to a dead end when we realize that after the flood, humanity traced its genealogy through Noah back to Seth not to Cain. Racism is evil, for we are all one in Adam, and we can all be one in the Second Adam – Jesus Christ.

–Russ Holden

 


Archaeology’s Fraction

September 3, 2021

Archaeology provides significant insights to our understanding of the Bible. Insights into culture can help bring a passage to life. Yet, archaeology has limits. Many people, places, and events of the Bible will be unnoticed by archaeology. That should not be surprising, because our knowledge of the ancient world is very limited. Archaeologist Edwin Yamauchi explains that fragmentary nature of the evidence with a number of facts.

  • Archaeology deals with material remains, which include writings, daily items, buildings, utensils, etc. Only a small fraction of these materials remains exist due to erosion and the destructive nature of human beings. Further, theft has stripped many archaeological sites.
  • Palestine had 300 known archaeological sites in 1944. That number grew to 7000 by 1970. Yet archeologists have surveyed only a fraction of the sites available.
  • Of the sites that have been surveyed only a fraction have been excavated. Palestine had 5000 sites in 1963. Of those, 150 had been excavated in part and 26 had become major sites.
  • Of the sites that become archaeological digs, only a fraction of the site is actually excavated. This is due to the enormous costs, the amount of time, and also to preserve the possibility of future archaeological research. Hazor is a site of 175 acres. Yigael Yadin estimated that it would have taken 800 years to clear the site.
  • Only a fraction of the discovered material has been published. For example, 25,000 cuneiform texts were discovered at Mari, but only 3,500 to 4000 have been published.

Grant Osborne summarizes the above survey, “Yamauchi estimates that being supremely optimistic we could have one-tenth of the material in existence, six-tenths of that surveyed, one-fiftieth of that excavated, one-tenth of that examined, and one-half of that published. This means that we have only .006 percent of the evidence.”* The above exercise is not to minimize archaeology, but to interject some humility into discussions about what moderns know.

The Bible itself is a major source of information about the ancient world. We can appreciate the insights that archaeology provides, but we can’t expect it to confirm all the details of the Bible. The absence of archaeological information about a particular person, place or event doesn’t mean that the person or place did not exist or the event did not happen. Our knowledge of the ancient world is valuable but partial and but a fraction of the past.

–Russ Holden


The Widow’s Might

August 28, 2021

The scene was likely in the court of the women also known as
the court of prayer in Herod’s Temple (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4). It was
an area with a simple colonnade on three sides. Along the colonnade were
thirteen trumpet shaped chests for placing contributions. Jesus observed the
rich depositing large sums, but it was a poor widow that he commended. She gave
two copper coins (the King James renders as “two mites”). She gave out of her
poverty. She gave all that she had to live on.

The widow’s gift reminds us of the faith of giving. I can
see my checking account balance. I can see my car. I can see my house, my
possessions, and my investments. But to store up treasures in heaven is to put
my trust in the unseen. It is to claim that the unseen is lasting while the
things of this world are temporary. It is to say that God’s cause is more
important than the things I can touch. It is also to trust God to provide for
the future. Will what I give up today be needed tomorrow? Or can I trust God
that if I seek first His kingdom, all these things will be added also?

The widow’s gift reminds us of the sacrifice of giving. The
rich had given larger sums of money, but the widow had made the greater
sacrifice. Jesus says that she gave her whole life. The word, “life,” was also
used for the things sustaining life, so our English versions will say, “all she
had to live on.” But the point of giving her whole life is significant; she
gave herself completely to God. Like the Macedonians who “gave themselves first
to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5, ESV), the widow also gave out of poverty but
with great generosity. The Lord knows how much we have and how much we give.
Generosity is measured by the sacrifice of our giving and not the size of our gift.

The widow’s gift reminds us of the joy of giving.  Although the widow’s joy is not mentioned in the text, I can’t imagine her walking away in sorrow about those two coins — “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). I suspect she thanked God that she had something to give. There is joy in being a part of something bigger than ourselves. There is joy in being a part of God’s work. It gives meaning and purpose to our lives. Scripture teaches that joy and giving go together (2 Cor. 8:2). “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, ESV).

The story of the widow’s mites reminds us of the widow’s
might. She has left a mighty example of the faith, sacrifice, and joy of
giving.

—Russ Holden



“Not…to the Right or to the Left.”

August 13, 2021

When God gave Joshua his orders for conquering the Promised Land, He also gave encouragement about scripture:

Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success (Joshua 1:7-8, NASB emphasis added).

One of the themes within the book of Joshua is Joshua’s faithfulness to do all that was commanded.

The metaphor of not turning to the right or to the left expresses the concern to follow God’s word carefully.  In fact, this phrase, “not … to the right or to the left,” occurs 10 times: Deuteronomy 5:32, 17:11, 17:20, 28:14, Joshua 1:7, 23:6, 2 Kings 22:2, 2 Chronicles 34:2, Proverbs 4:27, and Isaiah 30:21. The passage in Isaiah is likely messianic. It is the Teacher who calls, “This is the way, walk in it,” when the people are turning to the right or to the left.

So, it is not surprising that Jesus, the Messiah, said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it”
(Matthew 7:14, NASB). His graphic word pictures seem to expand on the figure of speech, “not…to the right or to the left,” that we have already seen in the Old Testament. We must seriously listen to God’s will to find the blessings of eternal life.

Two problems seem to confront our culture. One is ignorance of God’s word. Many simply do not know when they have turned to the right or to the left and gone beyond God’s will. The second problem is unbelief. Many do not take God’s word seriously enough to allow it to be a constraint on their behavior even when they know what it says. God’s way appears to them to be too narrow.

Yet despite all of this, we are still faced with two paths–one is narrow, and one is broad. One leads to life. One leads to destruction.

May we not turn to the right or to the left!

                                    –Russ Holden


It’s a Small World

July 23, 2021

Have you ever met a perfect stranger and after a bit of conversation find out that you have a mutual acquaintance? Or, maybe in the conversation you find out that someone you know knows someone they know.

Psychologist Stanley Pilgrim did a study on such coincidental meetings. He selected two groups of people at random. He gave people in the first group a letter to be sent to one of the people in the second group. The second group was chosen at random from people all across the country. The instructions were that the first group were to mail the letter to someone they knew that had the greatest chance of knowing the target individual. The first group didn’t know the actual addresses. That person was to follow the same instructions until the letter reached its destination — the target individual in the second group. How many such mailings do you think it would take to reach the target? It only took from 2 to 10 with 5 being the common number.

John Allen Paulos in his book, Innumeracy, suggests that there is a 1 in 100 chance when we meet a stranger that we will have a common acquaintance. But there is a 99 in 100 chance that we will be linked to one another by a chain of only two intermediates.

It’s a small world. We are linked to one another more closing that we may realized. We need to remember the teaching of Jesus:

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:46–48, ESV)

May we show kindness to all we meet. May we demonstrate the love of the Father in all aspects of our life.

Who knows what may come of a chance encounter, we may find connections we never expected. But more importantly, we may be that person’s connection to hearing about Jesus.

Let us not be afraid to share our faith. After all, it is a small world.

— Russ Holden


Peace Like a River

June 25, 2021

What are God’s requirements to be compared to? Is God like a cosmic-Simon-says who is attempting to trip us up? Or is God more like a parent setting limits for the protection of His children? Listen to this passage from Isaiah.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.
Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea… (Isaiah 48:17–18 ESV)

Israel was going to pay for their stubbornness by Babylonian captivity. Judgment was coming against them, but it would not have been this way if they had listened. They could have had peace like a river. Righteousness could have characterized their life so that it was like the abundance of waves on the shore.

What about us? Do we stubbornly go our own way only to reap the consequences of our sinful decisions, or do we have peace like a river? Let us discover the blessings of a humble walk with God.

–Russ Holden


The Transgenerational Father

June 19, 2021

It is easy to recognize that a father influences his child. That’s one generation influencing the next, but a grandfather or great-grandfather also influences his grandchildren or great-grandchildren either directly or indirectly. The power of fatherhood is transgenerational.

A grandfather or great-grandfather may have an opportunity to directly influence his grandchild or great-grandchild, but regardless, he has had a powerful influence indirectly, because he has helped raise the grandchild’s father or mother or the great-grandchild’s grandfather or grandmother.

As a father’s influence becomes more indirect, it also becomes more widely felt. There is a reason we call genealogies a family tree. From two people come many branches — that is the widening of influence. Families grow by multiplication not simple addition.

The Bible recognizes this influence of one generation upon another.

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Psalm 78:5–8, ESV)

Psalm 78 recognizes the transgenerational power of fatherhood. This influence may be for better or worse. The psalm advocates the influence for the better, but it illustrates the influence for the worse.

Stu Weber in his book, Tender Warrior, quantifies a father’s spiritual influence.

When the father is an active believer, there is about a seventy-five percent likelihood that the children will also become active believers. But if only the mother is a believer, this likelihood is dramatically reduced to fifteen percent.*

What kind of influence do you want to have on the generations to come?

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)
—Russ Holden

*Stu Weber, Tender Warrior, p. 143.