Trip to New Zealand

August 27, 2011

I’ve had the privilege of making trips to New Zealand about every two years since 1998 — that’s six trips so far. The trips have been to be supportive our missionaries, David and Mary Nelson, and to teach at the South Pacific Bible College.

The school does an important work in the South Pacific, and its reach goes into Asia. David and Mary have made vital contributions to the school and the local church. It is a testament to the quality of their work that they have been in New Zealand (this second time) since 1997. They have even gained dual citizenship (USA and New Zealand).

The school has grown from being housed at the Otumoetai congregation’s building to having a beautiful and functional facility of their own. The school has a great faculty and staff, but they have always used visiting teachers to supplement that staff. I’ve had the joy of being one of those teachers.

My current assignment is World Faiths. It has caused me to do reading in world religions that I might not have ever done (like reading the Koran all the way through). If you want to know some current things I’m reading, the list includes The Great Arab Conquests by Hugh Kennedy and The Bhagavad Gita.

In the past few trips, I have used my professional expense funds instead of doing fund raising. This year that category was cut from the budget. I’m in need of raising funds again. I’ve always been amazed at people’s generosity. The trip will cost about $2000. If you can help, please make your check out to the Grandville Church of Christ and note that it is for Russ Holden’s New Zealand trip.

Grandville Church of Christ

3725 44th St SW

Grandville, MI 49418

Plans are for me to teach in their fourth quarter of this year. Thank you for considering support of this trip, and please keep the South Pacific Bible College, David and Mary Nelson, and this trip in your prayers.

Reach Them When They’re Young

August 19, 2011

Barna Research did a three year study of children and ministry. What did they find?

A child’s moral foundation is formed by the age of nine. A child’s outlook on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, morality, and ethics is formed early. After the first decade of life, morality may be refined, but there is usually not a dramatic change.

A commitment to faith in Jesus Christ is usually made before age eighteen. The majority of Americans make a lasting determination on the meaning and significance of Jesus by age 12.

For most people, spiritual beliefs are formed by age thirteen. What you believe about the nature of God, the existence of Satan, the reliability of the Bible, life after death, the nature of Jesus Christ, and how to be right with God will stay with you through adulthood. That does not rule out the possibility of those who make a dramatic conversion later in life. This is dealing with statistics of what happens in the majority of cases.

Four out of five who become church leaders later in life were involved in ministry to children before the age of thirteen. The reality is that the church leaders of tomorrow are in Sunday school today.

Despite the above facts, a large portion of church-going people drops out of church between the ages of 18 and 24. What is the difference between those who stay and those who drop out? Barna notes that the difference is parents. Children who become mature Christians grow up in a situation where the parents and the church are partners. The parents are concerned with spiritual development at home, but they also make certain that their family is part of the life of the church. The church encourages the parents in raising their children. The children receive instruction in Bible school, and they receive instruction and reinforcement of spiritual training at home. It takes both the church and the home.

What shall we conclude? We all need to take our Sunday and Wednesday Bible classes seriously. The activities that we provide our children are important, whether a service activity or a fun get together. As families, we also need to live the faith at home. Christian living is 24/7/365, so is training our children. The bottom line is that we need reach them when they’re young.

Barna Research , “Research Shows That Spiritual Maturity Process Should Start at a Young Age” (November 17, 2003)

Wages or Gift?

August 16, 2011

Tom likes to think of himself as a good person. He works hard, pays his taxes, and raises his family. People like him; he’s a good neighbor. Oh, he has his moral lapses. Doesn’t everybody? He lies on occasion—mostly little white lies. He swears like a sailor when he’s stressed—like last weekend when he hit his thumb with a hammer. But usually he watches his language around his kids. He’s honest, although he’d almost forgotten that time as a teenager when he shoplifted the cigarettes on a dare.

When Tom thinks about the bad things he’s done, he immediately reminds himself of the good things he’s done. He’s just not that bad. He is certain that his good deeds outweigh the bad. He has gone out of his way to help people. He’s even done some volunteer work and made charitable donations. Why last week he stopped and helped an elderly lady with a flat tire.

Tom isn’t into organized religion, although he still believes in God. Admittedly he’s never read the Bible—he really doesn’t know anyone who has. But he’s sure that some of the things in the Bible are true. Tom is just convinced that a good God couldn’t send him to hell. After all, his good deeds outweigh his bad deeds.

Tom isn’t alone. According to a Barna Research poll: “Half of all adults (50%) argue that anyone who ‘is generally good or does enough good things for others during their life will earn a place in Heaven.’”1

Unfortunately, that Bible so many haven’t read paints a different picture. Paul states, “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a, ESV). One sin—any sin leads to death or separation from God. Why? Because God is completely holy and without sin. Any sin severs the relationship with God, and no amount of good deeds ever balances the scales.

But Paul’s statement doesn’t end there, “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b, ESV) There is hope, but it is not found in just doing good deeds. It is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus is our sacrifice. He’s the one who pays the price for us. He experienced death, so that we might have life.

Half the people in this country misunderstand a basic point. Being a good person is not enough. We can’t balance the scales. We will face God with either wages or His free gift. Which will it be for you?

1 “Americans Draw Theological Beliefs From Diverse Points of View” (October 8, 2002)

Where Manasseh Means Moses

August 6, 2011

The stories at the end of the Book of Judges are shocking. It is hard to find a “good guy” in them. Why are we told such stories? They illustrate how bad things become when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

One such story is of Micah and the Levite. Micah steals silver from his mother. She places a curse on whoever stole her silver, so Micah returns it. On the return of the silver, Micah’s mother makes an idol. With possession of the idol, Micah also makes an ephod (the outer garment for a priest) and sets up one of his sons as priest (however Micah is from the tribe of Ephraim). Micah now has his own homemade temple.

A Levite shows up looking for a place to stay. Micah makes him his priest. Now, Micah has everything including a Levitical priest.

A scouting party for the tribe of Dan arrives at Micah’s house. The tribe of Dan has failed to capture their allotted territory, so they are in search for a new place to live. They learn of Micah’s “temple” and priest. When the tribe of Dan returns in full force, they steal the idol and entice the Levite to become the priest of a whole tribe instead of one man. The story ends with this startling revelation:

And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. (Judges 18:30, ESV)

The grandson of Moses is an idolatrous priest, and the idol remains in the city of Dan until the captivity.

Now some translations will say “son of Manasseh” (KJV, NASB, NKJV) instead of “son of Moses” (ASV, ESV, NIV, NET). There is only one letter difference between Moses and Manasseh in Hebrew: Mšh vs. Mnšh. Support for reading “Moses” is found in many Hebrew manuscripts and some manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate.

How did the two readings arise? In many Hebrew manuscripts that have Manasseh, the letter nun (the Hebrew equivalent to the letter “n”) is suspended over the first two letters of the name. This likely means that the reader is to pronounce aloud “Manasseh” while realizing that it is “Moses” in the text. It was a scribal way of protecting Moses’ reputation. This is a place where Manasseh means Moses.

As a grandfather I ponder what I want for my grandson. The most important prayer is that he will become a man of faith. This passage warns that it hasn’t always happened. We must be intentional for faith to transcend generations (Psalm 145:4-7).

The Uncertainty of Life

August 1, 2011

Life has always been uncertain, yet that troubling lesson has always been hard to learn. James confronts a secular attitude when he writes:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.James 4:13–16, ESV

Is it wrong to be in business and make money? No. Is it wrong to make plans? No. However, it is wrong to go about life and not acknowledge God. It is wrong to place our trust in our business, our money, and our plans. James reminds us of the brevity of life and the certainty of God.

The regularity of our next breath and the next sunrise sometimes lulls us into complacency. James’ teaching has counterparts elsewhere in scripture. Ecclesiastes gives these startling words.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV

Why is mourning beneficial? Because it reminds us that life is brief, and we should make the most of our time. The end of Ecclesiastes encourages us to remember our Creator when we are young (12:1), but if not then, we should seek God before our death “before the silver cord is snapped” (12:6, ESV). Why?

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, ESV

Should the uncertainties of life handicap us and cause us to live in fear? No. We must live life completely and fully. We must be grateful for today. We must place our trust in God. Only God can bear the full weight of our life’s trust. Anything else can break under the load. Only God can be the stronghold of my life (Psalm 27:1). The uncertainties of life are answered in the certainty of God and His promises.