Off to a Boring Start?

August 31, 2019

A genealogy seems like a boring way to start a book. At least that was my first impression reading the Gospel of Matthew many years ago. When we take a second look attempting to understand the original audience’s point of view, we can detect reasons for beginning with a genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17).

Mathew names Jesus as Jesus Christ. The expression is so familiar that we begin to treat Christ as a last name. It is a title. It means the Anointed One. It is a claim for Jesus to be a king in David’s dynasty. David was the second king of Israel and important because of a promise made to him by God. Suddenly a genealogy begins to make sense. In order to have a dynastic king, he must have the right pedigree. If he doesn’t have that quality, there is no point listening to all his other characteristics. For Jesus to be the Christ, he had to be the son of Abraham and the son of David. These two had received significant promises that involved their seed (see Genesis 12:1-3 and 2 Samuel 7:12-16).

The first section of the genealogy takes us from Abraham to King David. Note the emphasis in the genealogy. Matthew is not content just to say David, but King David. The second section moves from David to Jechoniah and the Babylonian Captivity. This list is a list of kings. The third list begins with Jechoniah because it must continue with who he fathered. (Jewish genealogies could include gaps with significant ancestors being mentioned and some minor figures dropped out of the summary list. The arrangement of 14, 14, and 14 is artificial and possibly helpful for memory.)

The Babylonian Captivity serves an important transition from the second to the third sections of this genealogy. The significance is the captivity brought an end to David’s dynasty or at least a hiatus to the dynasty. Psalm 89 captures the emotion of one wondering where was the promise made to David.

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David? Psalm 89:49 ESV

Isaiah used a powerful word picture for the coming loss of dynasty. The dynasty was like a tree that had been cut down – the stump of Jesse (linking this to David by mentioning David’s father). But Isaiah looked forward to a new shoot or branch coming out of the stump – the Messiah, the Christ.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. Isaiah 11:1 ESV

If we understand the pain of the captivity and the loss of David’s dynasty, we can grasp the significance of the Jesus’ genealogy. Here’s the one who fulfills the promises made to David and to Abraham. Suddenly it’s not so boring anymore.

−Russ Holden

In the Wilderness

August 23, 2019

Even believers may experience times when God feels distant. (He’s not, by the way.) But we feel a spiritual dryness. Our cup feels empty. It is our wilderness experience. Listen to the psalmist’s wilderness experience.

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1–2, ESV)

He goes on to speak of his tears, and people asking him, “Where is your God?” One of the refrains in Psalm 42 is “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5, 11 ESV).

What does David do to combat this spiritual wilderness?

  1. The psalmist is honest about how he feels. He is spiritually dry, and he admits it. His soul is cast down within him. He asks God, “Why have you forgotten me?” (v. 9). 
  2. The psalmist remembers his better days when he went with the throngs to the house of God with “glad shouts” and “songs of praise.” (v. 4)
  3. The psalmist remembers who God is. He remembers his hope in God (v. 5). God is his salvation (v. 5). God has “steadfast love” (v. 8). He is “the God of my life” (8). Note that there is another refrain within the psalm, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5-6a and 11. And it is this closing refrain in verse 11 that gives us the resolution of the psalm.

Why do we have these “wilderness experiences” and feel spiritual dry? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect these test our faith. The moments of dryness in my life seem to have come when I’ve been extremely busy or stressed with difficulties. The question becomes then: will I seek God? I have found that when I pray, read scripture, and worship through the dry spells my cup is eventually refilled. I must like the psalmist be honest in my prayers, remember better days, and remember who God is. Don’t be surprised by spiritual dryness in your life. Scripture warns us and aids us when we are in the wilderness.

— Russ Holden

Mind Control

August 16, 2019

I’ve often described our minds as being like a TV set with a remote control that seems to spontaneously change channels on us. The issue is our power to concentrate, and especially concentrate on good things.

Entertainment has often been a force to shorten our attention spans. Compare a movie or TV show from 50 years ago or more with today’s programming. The pace was slower in the past. Several Christian disciplines help us develop longer attention spans. Reading, especially Bible reading for a Christian, lengthens our attention span. Prayer is another practice where we are concentrating on our relationship with God, and finally, the worship assembly is another place where keeping our minds engaged with worship is important (1 Cor. 14:15). I believe these are learned behaviors that get better as we practice them. And in our practice, we may have to recall our minds to what we are doing whether reading, prayer, or worship. I’m not going to claim that stray thoughts never enter my mind while engaged in these activities, but I’ve gotten better at it over time. We have to keep “changing the channel” back to what we are focusing on. We have to fight for control of our minds.

Another disturbing problem is that our mind can go to wrong thoughts. We deal with wrong thoughts by “changing to the channel” to good thoughts. And we aid this process by not filling our minds with evil thoughts. Paul’s instructions are important.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, ESV)

This is a reminder that “the unknown remote control” isn’t in charge. We are. We replace evil thoughts with noble thoughts.

Prayer also aids us in this challenge. Paul’s statement in Romans 8 is appropriate: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13, ESV).

In prayer we ask God for help in controlling our thoughts and especially for ridding ourselves of evil thoughts. I think God honors this verse and helps us with our weaknesses. With God’s help we learn strategies and gain strength in controlling our thoughts and minds. Christian living involves self-discipline for moral and spiritual mind control.

— Russ Holden