Aren’t You Being Judgmental?

July 3, 2020

If you stand for Christian values, you will likely hear someone say, “Aren’t you being judgmental?” I like the story of Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu philosopher. He came to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. In his address to the delegates, he said, “We [Hindus] accept all religions to be true,” and “[it] is sin to call a man [a sinner].” Of course, in making the statement, he himself has called someone a sinner (i.e., the one who calls another a sinner). I find it amusing. The charge of being judgmental is always a boomerang.

But what about “Judge not, that you be not judged”? Doesn’t that forbid judging. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1-6 has three parts. The middle part uses the image of getting a speck out of someone’s eye. The image of getting a speck out of someone’s eye is a way of talking about counseling or confronting someone about sin in his or her life. This isn’t forbidden, but we are first to get the beam out of our own eye. Jesus is concerned about hypocritical judgment.

But what about “Judge not, that you be not judged’? It is indeed a warning about judgment in a section that confirms we will indeed make judgments. What is Jesus’ point? The point is found in the explanation that starts with “for.”

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2, ESV

Jesus is warning us about unmerciful judgments. If we want mercy from God, then we need to extend mercy to others.

Finally, Jesus warns about uncritical judgment, a failure to evaluate a situation and its dangers. Holy things are not to be given to dogs, and pearls are not to be thrown to pigs, because pigs trample, and dogs attack. Wisdom can know ahead of time how certain things and people will be treated by others. Jesus is warning us of an uncritical judgment in the face of persecutors.

Jesus is not opposed to us making judgments. He is giving us warnings about unmerciful, hypocritical, and uncritical judgments. It is impossible to live the moral life without making judgments.

The charge of being judgmental is always a boomerang, because it too is a judgment. The question in such cases is do we have an agreed upon basis for moral decision making. If we are both Christians, we should in the moral teachings of the Bible. If we don’t have a common basis for morals, then the problem is likely not judgmentalism regardless of the charge, but our competing ways of deciding what is moral. Both of us have the right to attempt to persuade the other, but in the end, if we can’t agree on the basis, we may have to lovingly disagree and wait for God, the Judge.

— Russ Holden


What Is Freedom of Religion?

June 26, 2020

As we celebrate our country’s independence this week, it is good for us to contemplate one of our country’s cherished values that is found in Amendment I of The Bill of Rights.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first thing to notice is the amendment restricts government not religion. “Establishment of religion” which congress is not allowed to do, in the context of the eighteenth century meant creating a national church. Some states at the time did have state churches, although the support for state churches was abandoned by 1833. But what is the free exercise of religion.

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in which describing Amendment I he used the phrase: “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” That phrase continues to be debated. What is clear though is the church is being marginalized more and more today. It is leading to erosions of what I think the free exercise of religion really is.

Freedom of religion has historically had several components. I have the right to my beliefs about religion. I can assemble with others and worship as I believe without disturbance. But I must also be able to share my faith and convert others. I must be able to bring my religious values into the public square. It is in this last category that we are seeing problems with the current political situation.

To illustrate the problem, a blind woman in Rhode Island was banned form a public park and library for sharing her Christian faith. The accusation is she “accost(ed) patrons by ‘stopping’ and ‘giving them religious pamphlets.’” She was giving out copies of the Gospel of John. Her version is “I do what the Pocket Testament League urges … Simply offer them a Gospel of John, the Word of God. No arguing.”* It sounds like what she was doing was fairly innocuous. You have to believe that religion should not be in the public square at all to take offense. After all, patrons could easily walk on by this woman and not take a copy of the Gospel of John. Religion must be in the public square if we are to truly have religions freedom. But that is indeed the challenge in the United States today.

Religious freedom includes the right to believe in God as we choose, the right to assemble for worship without interference, and the right to talk about our faith in public, to attempt to convert others, and to bring our values into the public square as we discuss the issues of the day. Egypt grants these first two to some Christian groups, but you can’t convert Muslims. I pray that this country’s religious freedom remains greater than that.

— Russ Holden

*https://www.foxnews.com/us/christian-woman-rhode-island-park-discrimination-lawsuit


A Father’s Legacy

June 19, 2020

What is a legacy? Its primary meaning is money or property left in a will, but in its usage, it often goes beyond physical things. Proverbs is concerned about a Father’s legacy: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22 ESV).

The primary meaning of this proverb deals with property. Their world was one in which the land had been divided among the tribes. It was important to pass the land to sons so that it could be passed to grandsons. The proverb acknowledges that this process will not necessarily go right for the sinner, and the context acknowledges that things can sometimes go wrong for the good because of oppression (Proverbs 13:23). Leaving a well-managed farm will be a benefit to more than one generation — “to his children’s children.”

The Legacy of Moral Example and Instruction. Many view Proverbs 13:21-25 as a unit, so I don’t think it is unfair for us to consider other legacies. We read in verse 24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24 ESV)

This verse is difficult in our current cultural climate. It definitely refers to corporal punishment, but not abusive punishment. As parents, we used it for rebellious behavior. Jordan Peterson suggests a flick in the palm as a solution to inflict enough pain to gain attention and correction. But the proverb is about correction. The ESV’s “diligently” could also be “to be early or prompt in disciplining.” As James Smith notes, “This emphatic form suggests that the discipline would come either (1) in the morning of life before the bad habits are firmly fixed; (2) immediately after the offense; or (3) diligently.*” Fathers must model morality, instruct in morality, and discipline for morality in their children.

The Legacy of Work and Preparation for Work. Proverbs commends being industrious so that we can take care of our needs. But this also means preparing out children to do the same. In the ancient world, it would be teaching the sons to farm or do a trade. Daughters would have learned about food, clothing, and domestic duties necessary for survival. We raise children to leave home. We’ve even coined a verb out of the noun, adult. A son or daughter who adults has learned to behave in a responsible way and live on their own.

The Legacy of Faith and Spiritual Life. The daily wisdom of Proverbs is in fact the wisdom of God. It is spiritual. It involves a life lived for God. The greatest legacy I’ve received has been a spiritual one. Faith was modeled for me. Faith was instructed to me. As a father, I want my children, grandchildren, and descendants to have the salvation that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Fathers, what is your legacy?

— Russ Holden

*James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 562.


The Oasis

June 12, 2020

Once upon a time, there was an oasis in the middle of a desert. The desert was a dry wasteland where the sun burned hot. The heat rising from the blistering sand wearied many a traveler. But the oasis gave hope of refreshment to weary souls.

In the oasis was an artesian spring that gave the clearest, bubbling cool water that man has ever tasted. So much so, that its fame spread far and near. Travelers would come to the oasis just because they had heard of the refreshing spring. They drank deeply from its waters and found refreshment and contentment of soul.

Those who frequented the oasis decided to build a cistern near the spring. They used the finest materials and filled it with the pure water. They made the area around their cistern pleasant and comfortable, so that people began to prefer drinking from the cistern than the spring itself. At first no one noticed the difference.

But in time, the cistern became contaminated and leaked. The people began to drink smaller and smaller amounts. Having grown so fond of their cistern, they did not notice that they were weary and faint. They continued to go to the cistern acting as if they had forgotten the spring. Some grew weaker, and others perished in their journeys overcome by the desert’s heat.

for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)

–Russ Holden


Regeneration

June 5, 2020

Regeneration means to be born again. In the context of the New Testament, it is the spiritual rebirth associated with receiving the Holy Spirit. Some argue that regeneration occurs first and then is followed by faith. Others argue that regeneration differs from person to person. Some argue that a person becomes a Christian and then one must seek the Spirit to receive Him. By definition, regeneration must be God’s act, but we still ask when does regeneration take place? What is the evidence of the New Testament?

  • John 7:37-39 “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” ESV Evidence: belief > regeneration
  • Galatians 3:2 “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” ESV Evidence: hear > faith > regeneration
  • Acts 2:38 “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” ESV Several things suggest that “gift of the Holy Spirit” refers to the gift which is the Holy Spirit. It is certainly one of the grammatical possibilities. This grammatical possibility seems to make the best sense in the light of the New Testament’s teaching that Christians receive the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:9 and 1 Corinthians 6:19). Evidence: repentance > baptism > regeneration
  • Acts 5:32 “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” ESV Evidence: obedience > regeneration
  • John 3:5 “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” ESV Grammatically, the passage is talking of one birth with two aspects: water and the Spirit. Given the context of the New Testament, the water in this passage most likely refers to baptism. Evidence: water and regeneration
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” ESV Evidence: baptism and regeneration
  • Titus 3:5 “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” ESV Clearly baptism and regeneration are linked together in other passages. This makes the reference to washing most likely a reference to baptism. Evidence: washing and regeneration

When taken with all the New Testament evidence, becoming a Christian involves faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and regeneration. Regeneration before faith does not fit the evidence. Neither does the idea that the reception of the Spirit is long after becoming a Christian. And although there is a variety of ways of expressing things, as the above list demonstrates, the variety is not inconsistent. A pattern emerges from the evidence when taken as a whole. Have you been born again?

—Russ Holden


The Good Mystery

May 15, 2020

When you hear the word mystery, what comes to mind? Do you think of something esoteric and incomprehensible, or do you think of a whodunit crime novel? For Paul in Ephesians 3, mystery means something that God had not previously made known or made clear but has now revealed. We could not arrive at this mystery by reason or observation alone. The good mystery was revealed by God.

God’s plan was progressively revealed. We see a hint of it in the curse on the Serpent in Genesis 3:15 and in the promises to Abraham and David. The prophecies of the Old Testament point to it. But the mystery was not fully revealed until it was revealed to the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5). Yes, the mystery when revealed was a bit of a shock to some Jews. But Paul assures us: the good mystery was revealed to the apostles and prophets.

What is this good mystery? It is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the same body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6). God’s plan was to create a new humanity in Jesus “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Everyone can share in the inheritance. Everyone can be a part of the body. Everyone can partake of the promise. The good mystery is that the gospel is for all.

That means the good mystery is preached. Paul became a minister of the gospel “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:8-9). Paul makes clear that the church is an integral part of the plan.

… so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord … (Ephesians 3:10–11, ESV)

I suspect that we struggle a bit thinking about spiritual beings observing the church to see the wisdom of God. But what they should see is a new humanity in Christ Jesus. They should see is both Jew and Gentile formed into one family of God. They should see people, regardless of nationality, race, culture or language, being united in Christ and transformed into Christ’s likeness.

The good mystery is revealed by God. It has been revealed to the apostles and prophets. We read about it in our New Testaments. The mystery that Paul preached is that the gospel is for all.

—Russ Holden


A Mother’s Instructions

May 8, 2020

A mother’s instructions are important. Proverbs speaks of that importance.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
(Proverbs 1:8–9 ESV)

My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
(Proverbs 6:20–21 ESV)

Every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles the law was to be read to all Israel including the men, the women, the little ones, and the sojourners (see Deuteronomy 31:10-13). Mothers in Israel were to know moral and spiritual things just like the fathers. Mother’s instructions were important, and so it should also be with Christian mothers.

A child’s moral foundation is formed by the age of nine. Their outlook on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, and morality are formed early in life. Not much can change this outlook except the power of the gospel, so mothers have an important role by their instruction to form this moral foundation. The famous quote from Francis Xavier speaks to the persistence of this early moral training, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.”

Batsell Barrett Baxter was a well know preacher among us over 40 years ago. He was also the chairman of the Bible Department at David Lipscomb when I was a student. I had him as a professor and as my course advisor. In his biography, *Every Life a Plan of God,* he speaks fondly of his mother. She read or taught him Bible stories as a child, and that teaching influenced the course of his life. Mothers have an important role in teaching the Bible.

Children are fact absorbers. They memorize easily. They remember the stories we tell them, especially the stories we repeatedly tell them, and the good news is they like stories repeated. Childhood is a time we can teach them lots of information about the Bible. A child’s mind thinks concretely. Concrete thinking is very fact oriented and literal.

Abstract thinking in children usually begins between the preteen to mid-teen years. Abstract thinking sees the significance of ideas and not just the facts. It understands concepts and figurative language (of which there is an abundance in the Bible). All the facts we have taught our children will be processed as they begin to mature mentally and engage in abstract thinking.

Mothers are also on the frontline of manners. This may not be as important as moral and spiritual instruction, but I’m certainly grateful for that instruction too. We are likely to hear mothers saying, “Sit up straight.” “Use your fork not your hands.” “Chew with your mouth closed.” “Say please.” “Apologize to your sister.” “Say thank you.” It is because of this persistent instruction that we are not barbarians when released upon the world as adults.

Mothers are important, and at least one of the reasons for their importance is their instruction in morals, scripture, and manners. I for one am thankful for my mother’s instructions.

— Russ Holden

 

 


Eagerly Desire the Day

May 1, 2020

Peter makes an intriguing appeal “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:11-12, NIV). Of interest is the word that the NIV has rendered “speed.” A quick survey of translations indicate two possibilities: (1) hasten or speed the day or (2) eagerly desire the day.

  • “hastening” (ESV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and NET), “speed” (NIV), 
  • “eargerly” (NIV margin, Hugo McCord), “earnestly desiring” (NRSV, ASV), “earnestly desire” (HCSB), “look forward” (NCV)

The Greek word “speudō” has both meanings. Those who favor “hastening” point to Jewish background, although the IVP Background Commentary notes that the rabbis were divided on the issue of whether Israel’s repentance and obedience sped up the day. “Hastening” would suggest that we speed the coming of that day by our repentance, evangelism, and prayers. Those who favor “eagerly desire” find it the simpler solution because it doesn’t involve human behavior affecting the timing of the end. Although I’ve tended to favor the second choice, I must confess the difficulty of the options.

However, I don’t want to get lost in the “trees” of this passage and miss the grandeur of the “forest”. As you read 2 Peter 3, it is apparent that Peter wants us to be prepared for the Day. It will arrive “like thief in the night.” We know it’s coming, but we don’t know when. This world will be destroyed, but Christians hope for better things. In the meantime, we must live holy lives knowing that our future home is where righteousness dwells.

Yet what may be most challenging to 21st century American Christians is the eager anticipation of that Day. What is apparent in the chapter is an eager anticipation regardless of translation choice in 3:12. First century Christians were excited with longing for Jesus’ return. It didn’t mean they checked out from this world. Preparations needed to be made. People needed to be reached. As C.S. Lewis has aptly quipped, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

We are in need of reminders to aim at heaven. The busyness and comfort of this life may cloud our vision. Would we pray with Paul, “Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22)? Or would our lifestyle proclaim, “O Lord, wait!”? Our attitude to the day has an effect on our lifestyle. Somehow, the companions of eager desire are holinesses and reverence. May we eagerly desire the day of God!

–Russ Holden


Once, Now, and If

April 24, 2020

They are two adverbs and a conjunction — once, now, and if. You may not be able to label parts of speech in a sentence, but you know how English works. These three words reveal the structure of Paul’s thought in Colossians 1:21-23. Once speaks about the past. Now speaks about the present, and if speaks about a potential, conditional future. It is good for us to ponder once, now, and if as we think about Paul’s message

With the word “once,” Paul points to the past, the pre-Christian past of his readers. They were once alienated. This is an objective statement about status outside of Christ. Christians can and should be welcoming to non-Christians in the assembly. But just as tourists can be welcomed in a foreign country and yet not have the privileges of citizenship until they have moved from the category of aliens to citizens, the same is true for those outside of Christ.

But Paul has two more descriptions of the past: hostile in mind and doing evil deeds. The classic statement that says our way of thinking is different from God’s is Isaiah 55:8-9.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8–9, ESV

The more alienated we are from God, the more our thinking is going to be off, and the more our thinking is off, the more our behavior will be wrong, even evil.

“Now” indicates the present. The Christian’s present is different from the past. Now we are reconciled to God by the death of Christ. Reconciliation means that the broken relationship that was once hostile and alienated has been made right. We have been brought near. This is done so that we might be presented holy, blameless, and above reproach before him. There is the justification sense of this. Because I am in Christ, “there is now no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus”. There is also the sanctification sense. Because I am in Christ, I am actually growing more holy in life and conduct.

Finally, there is the big “if”. Paul says that we must continue in the faith. Although translations differ here (“the faith” ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV and “your faith” NIV), I think “the faith” is preferable, although both statements would be true. The Greek text does have the definite article (i.e., the), and it seems to link up with what was heard and proclaimed in the latter part of the sentence.

Paul wants us to be stable, steadfast, and not shifting from the faith, the apostolic message. If we do that, we will stand before God blameless and above reproach.

Paul gives us a glimpse into our past, present, and future with once, now, and if.

-Russ Holden


The Meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection

April 10, 2020

How can we express what the resurrection means?

It means vindication. Jesus really is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who fulfills the promise made to David. The chief priests had rejected him. The crowds had cried, “Crucify him!” Peter preached that the resurrection gives us the certainly “that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

It means forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. God warned against eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, ESV). The sacrificial system of the Law of Moses was a pointer to what God would some day do on the cross. Life was in the blood. A life was accepted in exchange for the life of a sinner. “He (that is God) made him who did not know sin a sin offering in our behalf, in order that we may become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, my translation*).

It means reconciliation. Adam and Eve had walked with God in a way that it is difficult for us to imagine. Our only hint is in Genesis 3 when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and they knew what the sound meant, so they hid themselves because of their sin. Paradise was lost. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden. Yet, God has sought to reconcile the world to himself. Because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. As Christians, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit. We look forward to once more having access to the Tree of Life and walking in God’s glorious presence.

It means transformation. Yes, I need to be forgiven of my sin, but I also need a moral makeover. I need to become a better person. Following Jesus and putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit is the process of that moral transformation. God’s desire is that we be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

It means eternal life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead anticipates and is the basis of the resurrection at his coming. Death has been conquered. Yes, we may still have to experience physical death, but those who are in Jesus have life and hope of eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11, ESV).

How wonderful and marvelous — He is risen!

—Russ Holden

*The word “sin” is frequently used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) for “sin offering, so I’ve rendered it that way here for it makes the passage clearer.