True Discipleship

November 30, 2021

Are you truly a disciple of Jesus? Perhaps a better question is this: does Jesus recognize you as one of His disciples? Many people claim to be His followers, but simply saying it doesn’t make it so. Jesus has told us who His disciples are. “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine’” (John 8:31, NASB) Notice that this is a conditional statement. If we abide in His word, then we are truly His disciples. To abide in the word is to live in it and continue in it. Abiding in His word is to long for the pure milk of the word. It is to meditate on His word. And very importantly, it is to unite what we hear with faith and to obey His word.

It is of utmost importance that we learn to abide in His word in our daily lives. We need to make time to hear and to cherish our Father’s words! It is also of utmost importance that we abide in His word in our classes and worship services. Remember, the word of God will perform its work in us who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The word of God is living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword, and can pierce us deeply in our inner being (Hebrews 4:12). The words of Jesus are spirit and they are life (John 6:63). It is His word, then, that we need to cherish, uphold, and abide in, both in our personal lives and in our assemblies. This is what true disciples of His will strive for.

May we all be true disciples of Jesus and abide in His word! May God help us to be still, to listen, to apply, and to let His word work powerfully in us!

— Scott Colvin


Thanksgiving to God

November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving Day can mean many things… It’s the day we eat turkey and dressing, candied yams, and pumpkin pie. It’s the day family gets together. It’s the day we get to sleep in. It’s the day of the Macy’s Parade watching balloons, floats, and marching bands making their way down Broadway. It’s the day we watch the Detroit Lions play football.

As the story goes, a man was watching his wife prepare a roast. She cut off the end of the roast and threw it away and then placed the remaining meat in the roasting pan. The husband was amazed that part of the roast was thrown away and wanted to know why. His wife replied, “That’s the way my mother did it.” So the couple decided to ask the mother why part of the roast was thrown away. Her reply compounded the mystery. She replied, “That’s the way my mother did it.” So, all three decided to ask the grandmother the mystery of the roast. The grandmother’s reply stunned them all. She said, “My roasting pan wasn’t big enough for the whole roast.”

The story of the roast is a cautionary tale reminding us that the reasons for things can be lost over time. The meaning of a tradition needs to be passed down with the tradition. One dictionary defines Thanksgiving Day as an annual holiday where we celebrate the harvest. Does that really give the complete picture?

The first Thanksgiving Day in our country was declared by Governor William Bradford on December 13, 1621. It was to be a day of feasting and prayer. Certainly it was a day of celebration, but it was also a day of thanksgiving to God.

The first national proclamation of Thanksgiving was in 1789 by President George Washington. About that day he wrote, [it is] “to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be: that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our service and humble thanks for His kind care and protection….”

Thanksgiving Day may mean a lot of different things to us. Our traditional meals and annual activities may vary from family to family. But let us not loose sight of the original intent for the day. Let us give thanks to God for His providential care.

—Russ Holden


Overflowing With Gratitude

November 20, 2021

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” (Colossians 2:6-7, NASB) I love that phrase, “overflowing with gratitude.”  What a lovely image!  As God fills up the cup of our lives with blessing after blessing, the natural result should be a life that overflows with thanksgiving.

Oh, how the Lord has blessed us!  When I think about the gifts God has graciously poured out, I think of the blessings of family.  I think of the blessings of having a warm place to live, and more than enough food to eat.  I think of the church, the spiritual family of God, in which we can find love and encouragement from one another.  And most of all, I think about what God has done for us through His Son.  I think about the forgiveness we have, the grace that He has lavished upon us, and the eternal home that He has prepared for us.  In all of this, how could we not overflow with gratitude? 

Of course, to overflow with gratitude is to overflow with feelings of thankfulness, but it is more than that.  It is also to express our thankfulness to our loving Father.  When is the last time you have approached God simply to pour out your heart in thankfulness to Him?  Heartfelt thanksgiving is a form of worship that touches God’s heart!  I encourage you to do this in your private prayers, and I encourage you in the coming week, as you gather with your family for Thanksgiving, to pause and offer thanks together for all the blessings He has given.

— Scott Colvin


The Last Word

November 17, 2021

I prayed with her in the hospital. She donated a kidney to the father of one of her students, a man from our church. She was a cheerful, kind person. I was glad that I had the chance to meet her. A day or two after going home from the hospital, she was murdered. The news was shocking. Such a selfless and sacrificial act followed by someone’s act of cruelty and injustice.*

Emotionally, I understand the atheist’s rage against the problem of evil and pain. The atheist argues that if God is all good, loving, and powerful, then evil and pain should not exist. Since we are surrounded by evil and pain, the argument continues, God must not exist. Yet the atheist’s argument has an unstated premise. It assumes that an all good, loving, and powerful God would always immediately and preventatively deal with the problem of evil and pain. But what if there is a reason for delay? What if the last words stamped across human history are justice and mercy?

That after all is the Christian message. There is a reason for delay. If God had dealt immediately with the problem of evil, the Bible would end at Genesis chapter 3 and humanity would be lost. God has been at work in history to save, redeem, and reconcile. The world had to continue with the consequences of sin and death. The march of history had to include human free will, even the will to do great evil. God ultimately entered into human history in the person of His Son to die on the cross to provide the solution.

The cruelty of the cross demonstrated how malevolent sin is, and Christ’s substitutionary death proved God to be both just and merciful. The demands of justice were fulfilled so that mercy could be abundant. Our sin problem is cured by God’s forgiveness. Our sin problem is treated by sanctification, the transformation of character that comes from living close to God. And we await Christ’s return. As Peter stated: “…[W]e are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, ESV).

Yet, we live in between the times of Jesus’ first and second comings. I must admit that there are times when pain and evil strike that we may feel like we’ve been sucker punched in the stomach. We reel with the problems that evil and pain create in the world around us. We wrestle with our faith that points us beyond to the ultimate solution even though we are left to tread through the valley of the shadow of death.

Intellectual arguments are not the salve for broken hearts. We must weep with those who weep. Love, patience, kindness, and service are a balm to the hurting. Yet, service is prompted by faith. The anguished cry of the atheist is not the last word. God has the last word, and because He does, we live and serve in hope.

– Russ Holden

*The murder of Renee Pagel was brutal. I met her days before due to her donating a kidney to man who was member of our church. His daughter was Renee’s student. I went to her funeral because of this family’s closeness to the situation. And it happened, one of the detectives on this case was also a member of our church. I remember the day he texted me to say that Renee’s estranged husband had been arrested. It took fourteen years. We are confronted by evil in this life, and I believe Christianity has the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual answers. But there is still pain. We must weep with those who weep.

https://www.woodtv.com/news/kent-county/14-years-later-husband-sentenced-for-renee-pagels-murder/


Come Out of Her, My People

November 14, 2021

In Revelation 18 we see a vision of the coming destruction of Rome (referred to figuratively as “Babylon”).  The city had become filled with sensuality, immorality, deceit, arrogance, and self-glorification. Because of this, God was about to bring the city down in fiery judgment.  In the vision of coming judgment, John heard a voice from heaven warning the people of God: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:4-5, NASB)

I think about this verse often, and the words of God often ring out in my mind:  Come out of her, my people!  Look around.  Do you see similarities between our society and that of Rome?  Is our society becoming dominated by sensuality, immorality, deceit, and arrogance against God?  Aren’t we bombarded by these things on a daily basis?  Will God rise up and judge our nation one day?  I do not know the plans of God, but I do know that we need to heed His warning:  Come out of her, my people!  There needs to be a serious effort by each one of us to distance ourselves and create a firewall between ourselves and the ways of the world around us.  There is a great danger that we would participate in their sins, and therefore be partakers of their judgment.  Of course, this is not to say that we should not befriend and have a great love for people outside of Christ, but we must not participate in the things of this world.

What concrete steps are you taking to come out and be separate?  Many of us may need to take a much more radical approach to separate living.  Our God is holy, and He expects us to walk in holiness.  He called us out of the realm of darkness, and He expects us to be separate from it.  He expects us to be different!  To be set apart!  Let us not participate in the ways of the world.  Let us strive for holiness so that no matter what may come, we will stand safely and securely on the side of our God.    

— Scott Colvin


Vanity

November 9, 2021

I had a very good reader (think Ph.D. in literature) say to me, “I’ve just read Ecclesiastes, and it didn’t make sense.” She had read the NIV. I personally don’t like the NIV’s translation “ Meaningless, Meaningless.” I gave her information on the Hebrew word, hebel, which is traditionally translated “vanity.” She reported a meaningful second reading of the book.

The Hebrew word *hebel* (הֶבֶל Strong’s Number H1892) occurs 38 times in Ecclesiastes. Here are the major translations of the term.

  • Vanity KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB 1995
  • Futility NASB 2020, CSB
  • Futile NET
  • Meaningless NIV

But what does hebel mean? It means vapor or breath.* So the question is how does this word function metaphorically within the book of Ecclesiastes. The first thing we think of with vapor is that it is transient. Vapor comes and goes quickly. In the winter when we see our breath, it is momentary. When we watch the steam rise from our tea kettle, it dissipates quickly. So vapor is a fitting image for the transitory. We see it in the famous line from the Letter of James.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
(James 4:14, NASB)

Now that I’m older I’m noticing how fleeting life is. By virtue of my age, I’m keenly aware that the time ahead of me in this mortal life is smaller than the time I’ve already experienced.

The second aspect of vapor is that it obscures our sight. During Covid-19, we have all worn masks at some time or another. For those of us who wear glasses, we’ve had the additional experience of our glasses fogging up. It is just vapor, but for a moment I can’t see. Or maybe you’ve had the windshield of your car fog up? And if you have experienced fog, you know how vapor can keep you from seeing things clearly. Life is like that. We can’t see everything clearly even though we want to. Things happen in life that leave us with questions. For instance in Ecclesiastes, we read:

There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. (Ecclesiastes 7:15, ESV)

We would like answers to all of life’s questions. It is not that we have no answers. Ecclesiastes gives us some important answers. But we will always have questions where the answers seem obscured by the fog of this physical world.

Ecclesiastes struggles with the brevity of life and the fact that we don’t always see things clearly. In reading it, we wrestle with our limitations and are brought to worship the Eternal God who has the answers.

— Russ Holden

*BDB, s.v. “הֶ֫בֶל,” 210.


Whitewashed Living

November 5, 2021

Cemeteries have a certain beauty in their own way, don’t they?  They are quiet.  They have well-manicured grass and beautiful flowers.  There are many beautifully carved stone monuments scattered about the grounds.  And yet, even though cemeteries are beautiful on the surface, we don’t go there just to enjoy the afternoon or to have a picnic, do we?  That’s because we know what lies under the surface. 

Jesus made this point when talking about the scribes and Pharisees.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 NASB) What do we learn from Jesus’ statement?  People, even Christians, can be just like a cemetery—beautiful outwardly, but full of death and decay inwardly.  The scribes and Pharisees went through the right motions.  They read and memorized the scriptures, they faithfully attended worship services, they carefully tithed all that they had, they said all the right things, and yet Jesus told them that they were dead inside!  Jesus knew what was under the surface.  It was all a veneer.  They were just like whitewashed tombs. 

You and I need to be careful that we do not fall into this way of living.  We need to be careful to surrender our inner lives completely to God.  We need to be careful that we’re not just going through the motions so that we appear righteous to others.  We can fool people with a coat of whitewash, but we can never fool Jesus.  He knows our hearts, and He wants to be Lord of our hearts.  If we will surrender our hearts to Jesus, He will make our inner selves radiant and beautiful, and that beauty will flow outwardly into our lives and make us truly beautiful in the eyes of God. 

— Scott Colvin

 

P.S. This is Scott Colvin’s first post on whiletoday.com. Check out his bio under About. I’m glad to have him joining me as a writer for this blog. — Russ Holden

            


“Chronological Snobbery”

November 1, 2021

In my previous post, I listed online Bible study sites that are for the most part free. But the reason they are free is that most of these books are in public domain. Since they are no longer under copyright protection, they are free to copy. That can be a plus to students of the Bible especially if you have a limited personal library or no personal library.

Old books can be valuable. C.S. Lewis warned people against “chronological snobbery” in his book, *Surprised by Joy*. It is the fallacy of thinking that new books are always better. Owen Barfield was the one who argued with Lewis on this point changing Lewis’ mind. Lewis writes:

In the first place he made short work of what I have called my ‘chronological snobbery’, the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realisation that our own age is also ‘a period’, and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions.

I read those words early in my life, so I have read both old books and new books. I have profited from Lewis’ wise advice.

However, when using public domain books for Bible study, there is a caution. It is possible for something old to be discredited as Lewis noted. In Biblical studies, the areas where old books may be discredited arise from archaeology, increased knowledge of the Biblical languages, or increased knowledge about manuscripts of the Bible. For example, Smith’s Bible Dictionary is in public domain on a number of sites. This dictionary says that Dagon was a fish god. But from archaeology, the Philistine god is now known to have been a god of grain. Older scholars had made an incorrect assumption about the identity of Dagon from the etymology of the Hebrew word *dag* (fish).

We have a wealth of books at our finger tips on the Internet. Public domain books may be used with profit, but also note the warning that some information may be out of date.

— Russ Holden


Online Bible Study Resources

October 8, 2021

I’ve been collecting Bible study resources since I was a teenager. I’ve purchased lots of books and electronic books over the years. But I also know what it is like starting out with very little to help you. I’ve pondered whether I could afford a particular book. So free online Bible study resources can be beneficial to people who don’t have a large library at their disposal. Here are a few that I like.

https://www.biblegateway.com

It allows you to read and search multiple translations including some foreign languages along with Greek and Hebrew. Some translations also have audio available. In the commentaries it also provides the IVP New Testament Commentary for free. They also have a paid level which grants access to other, newer commentaries.

https://biblehub.com/

Bible Hub has commentaries, concordances, dictionaries,
topical studies, Greek and Hebrew resources, and a way of viewing multi
translations at once. It also provides interlinear Bibles in Greek and Hebrew.

https://bibleproject.com

This site provides free videos on books of the Bible plus other topics. They are very well done and well worth looking at as you begin to study a book of the Bible or a specific topic.

https://www.biblestudytools.com

This site has online Bibles in various languages. It also has the Society for Biblical Literature’s Greek New Testament, the Septuagint, and Latin Vulgate. It can do parallel Bibles. It can do interlinear Bibles in the KJV and NASB. It has commentaries, concordance searches, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and topical Bibles. Check the site for a list of other resources.
Note: since this is free, the Bible study works will be older commentaries that
for the most part are in public domain.

https://biblia.com

Biblia is an online source by Faithlife (the company which makes Logos Bible Software). You can sign up for a free account and will receive access to a number of Bibles and resources. 

https://www.ccel.org Christian Classic Ethereal Library

A large site of public domain works of interest to Christians.

http://www.para-gospel.com

This site provides the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John side by side. It will display a variety of translations.

https://www.studylight.org/

Provides commentaries, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and concordances.

https://bestcommentaries.com

Their tag line is rotten tomatoes for biblical studies. It is a review site for commentaries and other books in biblical studies. This can be a good site to check when considering what commentary you wish to buy. It will let you know whether the commentary is technical, pastoral, devotional, or special study. It will also give you an idea of the viewpoint of the author: critical, Roman Catholic, evangelical, Pentecostal, or Lutheran. It also lets you know whether the commentary is available in three major software packages: Logos, Accordance, and Olive Tree.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything on these sites. In fact, the owner’s of some of these sites state they don’t agree with everything on their site. But books provide the opportunity to think through passages with other students of the Bible. Test everything by scripture. Sola Scriptura!

These sites are worth exploring. May you be blessed in your study of the Bible.

— Russ Holden


Life on Loan

October 1, 2021

The parable was told in response to a request; a request that Jesus refuses. A man asks for Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance dispute. Having asked the rhetorical question who made me a judge or arbitrator over you, Jesus concludes with a warning: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15, ESV). Then Jesus tells the story of the rich fool.

The rich fool has a problem – a problem that many of us would like to have. He has so much that he is struggling with where to put it all. What do you give the man who has everything? Answer: storage containers. The rich man decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. That is where many modern readers struggle to understand the story. We hear the word barn and think a large, red wooden structure. Barns in the ancient world were often underground granaries that were plastered or bricked. “Tear down” likely refers “to the deliberate taking down of the barns in such a way that the material can still be used.” This rich man has abundance, and he plots a way to keep it all.

The parable gives the rich man’s inner dialogue.

 …and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (Luke 12:17–19, ESV, emphasis added)

It is interesting to count the number of times the words, “I” and “my,” occur. If all the world’s a stage, this man acts if he is in a one man play.

But the rich fool has his exit. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:20, ESV). The word for “required” is interesting. It means to demand something back or as due as in the case of a loan. Jesus has given us the image that our life is on loan from God.

What happens when I view my life as on loan from God? It changes everything. My life, my time, and my resources are matters of stewardship. I will have to give an account. I must view things from God’s perspective and priorities.

This changed perspective makes the warnings understandable. The abundance of possessions is not the most important thing; God is most important. If I haven’t laid up treasures in heaven, I have nothing that will ultimately last. God will demand my life back someday. My life is on loan.

— Russ Holden