Thanksgiving to God

November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving Day can mean many things to people. It’s the day we eat turkey and dressing, candied yams, and pumpkin pie. It’s the day family gets together (or at least not more than two families according to the State of Michigan this year). It’s the day we get to sleep in. It’s the day of the Macy’s Parade watching balloons, floats, and marching bands (except this year will be very different). It’s the day we watch the Detroit Lions play football. It’s the day people are planning their strategy for Black Friday.

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

 


Jesus is the Solution to Our Problem

November 17, 2020

Didn’t know you have a problem? All of us sin. We make mistakes. We fail to do what is moral at the time. But the context of these failures is that we and our world are the products of a Creator God. And God is holy. No sin. No moral failures. So, our sin becomes a barrier to fellowship with him. And that is very bad news for us.

But God doesn’t let it end there. He sends his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is sinless. It has to be that way. Someone with the sin problem can’t save people with the sin problem. Yet though sinless, he willingly dies on the cross for the sins of the world. Paul explains this solution with a number of terms (Romans 3:21-31).

It means we are justified. This is a law court word. The charges are dropped against us in Christ, not because we are innocent, but because the demands of the law have been satisfied by our substitute. For those of us who are united to Christ this is great news. And Paul says later in Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV)

It means we have redemption. Redemption is a marketplace term. It means to buy back or release by payment of a price. An Old Testament example of redemption is the buying back of the firstborn male sons of a family (Exodus 13:11-13). The firstborn male animals were to be sacrificed except the donkey which could be redeemed for a price or killed, but it couldn’t be sacrificed. The unfortunate practice of slavery gave another example of redemption. A price could be paid so that a slave was set free.

It means we have a propitiation (“sacrifice of atonement” NIV, “mercy seat” NET, CSB cf. Heb. 9:5). This word comes from the setting of the temple. Propitiation is a sacrifice which averts the wrath of God. Paul makes clear that the wrath of God is revealed again all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18, 2:5, 2:8, 3:5).

Jesus is the solution for our sin problem, but how is the solution applied to our lives. It is applied to “the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). The opposite would be by works (or earning it.) Yet, Paul’s definition of faith is not mere intellectual assent. Paul teaches “the obedience of faith,” that is obedience that is produced by faith and is an example of trust. So, within Romans, Paul mentions a number of things that clearly are not merit but fall under the category of faith/trust: repentance (Rom. 2:4), baptism (Rom. 6:3-4), and confession (Rom 10:10). We must trust in what Jesus had done for us with all that this trust involves.

Jesus is the solution to our problem!

— Russ Holden


The Humor of Christ

November 7, 2020

In the introduction to his book, The Humor of Christ, Elton Trueblood tells of a family devotional. He was reading from the Sermon on the Mount and came to the section where Jesus says: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3, ESV) His young son began to laugh hilariously. Trueblood notes that the child had gotten the joke that sometimes adults pass over. Jesus used a very incongruous picture, a staple of humor, to make his point. Humor often punctures us and gets our attention in ways that a simple declaration fails to do.

We see examples of Jesus’ humor when he speaks of the religious leaders scrupulously concerned about the outside of a cup or plate, but the inside of the cup is full of greed and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25). Or again, the religious leaders are so concerned about ceremonial cleanness that they will strain out a gnat (an unclean animal according to the law), but swallow a camel (another unclean animal). Such incongruent images may have resulted in laughter from his audience. Trueblood notes the value of such humor:

If it were not for the medicine of created laughter, there would be no adequate antidote to pride and vanity among men. God has created us with a self-consciousness which makes conceit possible, but He has also made us able to laugh and thus to provide a balance to our danger. (The Humor of Christ, p. 36)

Recognizing humor in the teaching of Christ is one step in seeing the many facets of Jesus. We get the impression that Jesus laughs, but he also weeps, becomes angry, can be stern, but also loving and gentle. Jesus himself says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, ESV). Jesus helps us see God more clearly. Trueblood remarks:

The deepest conviction of all Christian theology is the affirmation that the God of all the world is like Jesus Christ. Because the logical development is from the relatively known to the relatively unknown, the procedure is not from God to Christ, but from Christ to God. If we take this seriously we conclude that God cannot be cruel, or self-centered or vindictive, or even lacking in humor. (The Humor of Christ, p. 32) 

— Russ Holden


A Cautionary Tale

November 1, 2020

The Book of Judges is a cautionary tale. It recounts a dark period in Israel’s history. It begins with Israel’s failure to conquer the Promised Land completely. Because of this failure, the idolatry of the original inhabitants becomes a snare for Israel. The cycle in Judges is Israel commits idolatry, they become oppressed by their enemies and cry out to God, God raises a judge to deliver them, and eventually the cycle begins again.

The judges were military leaders who brought deliverance to Israel. That is probably not our first definition of a judge, although Deborah did in fact hear cases and dispense justice (Judges 4:4-5). Yet, the judges often demonstrate deep flaws which show them to be men of their times. Gideon makes an ephod that becomes a snare to the people and a temptation to idolatry. Jephthah makes a rash vow, but he also slaughters some in Israel who refused to help him. Sampson seems to make military victories only because of bad choices with Philistine women.

But the book ends with even darker stories. Jonathan, the grandson of Moses, helps steal an idol with the help of armed men and sets up an idolatrous worship site in Dan, which lasts “until the day of the captivity of the land” (Judges 18:30). This is followed by an account of the rape and murder of a priest’s concubine. (Should a priest have a concubine in the first place?) This incident nearly leads to the wholesale slaughter of the tribe of Benjamin.

But these dark stories are not without a point. A refrain that occurs within the books states: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25, ESV). The Book of Judges answers the question of what happens when a people wander away from God. The moral decline illustrated in Judges is a cautionary tale.

It is a lesson that it difficult for modern society to hear. Society doesn’t always want God in the public square. Society often likes its morality to be relative. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” could be our own nation’s slogan.

But then we wring our hands when violence and crime occur. Evil, violence, and crime will always be with us as long as this age lasts. But when a society goes through a moral decline such evil will increase. This is a morality problem that statutes won’t cure. It is not that statutes are unimportant. They represent a social contract which should be based on shared values and common morality. When values and morality differ, statutes become difficult to enforce. Witness the drug problem in our country. In other words, morality and values are the deeper issue.

The safety of my person and property are dependent on the morality of the people in my community. When the moral decline becomes so great, even the authorities cannot stop what happens next. Societies can descend into anarchy. And periods of anarchy are what we see in the Book of Judges. For those willing to hear, Judges provides a cautionary tale.