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.

 


The Ultimate Screening Test

June 11, 2021

During my student days when I worked as a gas station attendant (and yes, we pumped people’s gas back then), I had to sign an agreement that I would be willing to take a lie detector test. The company wanted to protect itself from employee theft, and the lie detector was one way of screening employees when problems arose. When I applied to graduate school, I had to take a psychological profile test — it was one way the school had for screening applicants and alerting the school to potential problems. Currently, most employers will have new hires take a drug screening test.

These illustrations confirm that a variety of screening tests exist which provide all kinds of information about us, whether we want them to or not. But an ultimate screening test also exists. We frequently fail to think about it, and the result is that we live our lives carelessly. What is this ultimate screening test? God searches the hearts and minds of all of us.

We may make excuses to ourselves and to others that deep down we know are flimsy. Billy Sunday said, “An excuse is the skin of reason stuffed with a lie.” We need to remind ourselves that all excuses are known by God who searches minds and hearts. Listen to what the Bible says:

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2, ESV)

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:10, ESV)

And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15 ESV)

Will I feel guilty when I face such truths? Possibly, but God provides a way of handling guilt. He has paid the price for our sin. He invites us to repent and confess. If there is any place where we should be honest about ourselves it is in our prayers to God, because God knows the truth about us.

We may hide from others, but we can’t hide from God. Knowing that I am being tested helps me to avoid carelessness. Honesty with God is the best policy. God knows our hearts. May we live to pass the ultimate screening test.

— Russ Holden


Eyes on the Goal

June 4, 2021

Imagining heaven is not easy for us. I suspect trying to describe it to us is like
describing New York City to an aborigine. You might say a skyscraper is like a giant hut
one hundred huts high, but the reality of a skyscraper is still greater than the
description. Joseph Bayly captures some of this dilemma in his book, The Last Things
We Talk About. He shares a parable:

I cannot prove the existence of heaven.
I accept its reality by faith, on the authority of Jesus Christ: “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

For that matter, if I were a twin in the womb, I doubt that I could prove the
existence of earth to my mate. He would probably object that the idea of an earth
beyond the womb was ridiculous, that the womb was the only earth we’d ever
know.

If I tried to explain that earthlings live in a greatly expanded environment and
breathe air, he would only be skeptical. After all, a fetus lives in water; who
could imagine its being able to live in a universe of air? To him such a transition
would seem impossible.

It would take birth to prove the earth’s existence to a fetus. A little pain, a dark
tunnel, a gasp of air–and then the world outside! Green grass, laps, lakes, the
ocean, horses (could a fetus imagine a horse?), rainbows, walking, running,
surfing, ice-skating. With enough room that you don’t have to shove, and a
universe beyond.

Despite our difficulties in imagining it, heaven is real. In some ways, more real than the world
in which we live because it will be eternal, while this world is temporary. Paul reminds
us of this: “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is
seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Let us keep our
eyes on the goal.

–Russ Holden


Remembering

May 28, 2021

Memorial Day is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. John Logan, a U.S. Congressman and Union General during the Civil War, began the memorial. As commander in chief of a Union veterans’ organization he urged the members to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers on May 30th. Eventually it became a national holiday and extended to all U.S. war dead. Memorial Day is marked by the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. With the current war on terror, I suspect that we are keenly aware of what soldiers sacrifice.

My memories of Memorial Day growing up are quite vivid. For a small child, it wasn’t fun for the most part, although we did cook out at the end of the day The day was spent with my parents, my Grandma Holden, and my great-aunt. They would pick peonies from the yard and make bouquets. Then we would spend much of the day driving to cemeteries and placing these bouquets on the graves.

It seems like there were at least four cemeteries that we went to, and they were miles apart from each other. For a child, it was being cooped up in a car on a nice day in May. For the adults, it was a day of remembering and sharing family history. It was a day of honoring those who had died as soldiers. It was as the name of the day implies a day of remembering.

If you count all of the wars the United States has been involved in, we have lost 666,441+ soldiers in combat and another 673,929+ soldiers who died from accidents, privation, disease or as prisoners of war. As a child, I was witnessing adults who had lived through WWI, WWII, or both. I think I understand why they took the meaning of remembering so seriously. Those two wars represent 52% of all the combat deaths.

I wish that I could say I could find all of those cemeteries and graves, but the truth is I only remember the location of one of the cemeteries. Some family history has been lost, but an impression was made on me. As enjoyable as it was to cook on the grill at the end of that day, Memorial Day was important to them for remembering.

—Russ Holden


A Man Who Didn’t Trust God

May 21, 2021

Jeroboam son of Nebat was a man who didn’t trust God. He was an official under Solomon and rose to the position of being in charge of the whole labor force of the house of Joseph. One day the prophet Ahijah met him. Ahijah tore his new cloak into 12 pieces and gave Jeroboam 10 of the pieces. Ahijah prophesied that Jeroboam would become King of Israel. He would rule over the ten northern tribes. Jeroboam was given this promise from God:

And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. (1 Kings 11:37–38 ESV)

Jeroboam had to flee from Solomon who made an attempt on his life, but after Solomon’s death, he returned from Egypt and became King of Israel just as God had promised. Yet, Jeroboam worried that he would loose his kingdom because the people must worship in Jerusalem. Because of his lack of trust in God’s sure promise, he rebelled and set up the golden calves in Dan and Bethel and commanded the people to worship there. He established an alternate feast and an alternate priesthood, using men who were not Levites.

God warned Jeroboam. A prophet predicted that Josiah would someday offer Jeroboam’s priests on the altar at Bethel. A sign was given that altar would be split apart and the ashes would be poured out. Jeroboam ordered that the prophet be seized, but when he stretched out his hand it shriveled. When the prophet interceded for him his hand was restored. To top it all, the sign came true as well. Certainly, this should have made Jeroboam change his ways, but it didn’t.

Jeroboam had evidence of great blessing in his life, and God’s sure promise if he but obey. Yet, he turned away–he was a man who didn’t trust God.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)


Is God a Killjoy?

May 15, 2021

Is God a killjoy? No. God has created our senses and the wondrous world in which we live. God has created pleasure, and he is no slacker in doing so. Our world is filled with wonderful experiences.

Sin simply takes a God given pleasure and distorts it “at times, or in ways, or in degrees He has forbidden.”* Proverbs even notes this allure of temptation.

“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Proverbs 9:17-18, ESV

The problem is sinful pleasure has harmful consequences. Sin separates us from God that’s one consequence, but sin often brings other consequences into life, and these consequences can be painful. Unrestrained license can cause your life to read like a soap opera or even an obituary.

Yes, pleasure has proper place in our lives. Ecclesiastes notes this:

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, ESV

Paul gives a similar assessment:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4-5, ESV

Pleasure is a good thing unless we make it the chief thing. Even morally good things could harm us spiritually if we make that pleasure the most important thing in life. We are not to be lovers of pleasure (Isaiah 47:8, 2 Timothy 3:4). Pleasure is to be enjoyed, but our love should be directed toward our Creator. To mistake this would be akin to my saying to my wife, “I love your apple pie more than I do you.” It would not endear me to my wife, nor would it be a particularly good strategy for getting more apple pies. It would be harmful to the more important relationship. How much worse is this to say to our Creator who made everything which we enjoy!

It is as if this world is God’s house. He has said, “You may enjoy all that I’ve created, but there are certain restrictions that are for your own good” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). If we can live in a relationship with him and respect his boundaries, he has something even more wondrous to share with us.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11, ESV

God is not a killjoy. Pleasures are a part of Christian living, but they are a part of the things added to you when we first seek the kingdom (Matthew 6:33). If we listen to God, we are on a path to even greater joy – “pleasures for evermore.”


Foreigners in Our Native Land

April 9, 2021

Peter tells his readers that they were ransomed from the futile ways passed down from their forefathers (1 Peter 1:18). Later in the letter, he says:

With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery… 1 Peter 4:4, ESV

The word “surprised” is intriguing because it has literary connections in the letter that are not obvious in English. The word translated “surprised” is based on the xeno root which means stranger or foreigner (as in xenophobia, the fear of strangers or foreigners). The standard Greek lexicon defines the word used in this way.

to cause a strong psychological reaction through introduction of someth. new or strange, astonish, surprise*

This connects with a theme within 1 Peter. Peter addresses his readers as “exiles of the dispersion” (1:1). In 1:17, he tells them “to conduct yourself with fear (or reverence) throughout the time of your exile.” In 2:11, he writes:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11 ESV

Since we are redeemed from futile ways, we will be different from the world around us. We will seem like foreigners even in our native land, because we are citizens of heaven. This surprise on the part of others should not catch us off guard. It means we are preparing ourselves for another world.

−Russ Holden

*A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p.684.


The Seven Sayings from the Cross

April 3, 2021

Crucifixion was designed to be an excruciating and humiliating death. It was a chaotic scene of Roman soldiers, dying men, and passersby hurling insults. In the midst of this, Jesus speaks.

Prayer — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, ESV). Jesus had been beaten, scourged, mocked, spat upon, and nailed to the cross. Yet there is no bitterness, anger, or rage at his attackers. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

Promise — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, ESV). Passersby ridiculed him. The chief priests and religious leaders mocked. Even the criminals on either side joined in the abuse, but one repented. To him Jesus offered a gracious promise.

Provision — “Woman, behold, your son!…Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26, 27, ESV). In the midst of his own agony, Jesus thought of his mother and her care. He provided for her by putting her in the care of the disciple whom he loved.

Petition — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, ESV). Jesus was crucified at about 9 a.m. At noon, darkness fell upon the land. He died about 3 p.m. at about the same time as the evening sacrifices in the temple. It was a lonely job dying for the sins of the world. The cry of dereliction as it is often called were words from Psalm 22:1. Even with the feelings of abandonment, the psalm expressed trust and hope.

Pain — “I thirst” (John 19:28, ESV). Hanging by the arms, the pectoral muscles became paralyzed and the intercostal muscles were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but not exhaled without raising yourself up, which meant fighting against the searing pain of the nail in the feet. Catching each breath was exhausting work. Jesus’ thirst witnessed to the pain of the cross and Jesus’ humanity.

Purpose — “It is finished” (John 19:30). W.T. Hamilton wrote: “All that he had come to do was done. Prophecies fulfilled; atonement made; law fulfilled (Matt. 5:17); sufferings over. This is a statement of victory.” The purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth was fulfilled.

Prayer — “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46, ESV). Again the words of a psalm (Psalm 31:5) were on Jesus’ lips. It was a cry of faith. Death will not conquer.

As you ponder the cross, what do you see? What do you hear? What is your response?

—Russ Holden