Forever Life

March 26, 2021

“For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes… All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls…” These are biblical metaphors for the brevity of life. Our physical life is fragile. Death has no minimum age requirement, but this isn’t the entire story.

Two different eternities stretch out before us depending on our choices in life.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6–8, ESV)

We must understand the “patience in well-doing” of the previous passage as pointing to faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-31). Jesus makes all the difference.

Jesus is also our reason for believing in life after death. We have several lines of evidence that converge: the Old Testament prophecies and the eyewitness testimony of the gospels. The alternate explanations – growth of legend, hallucinations, stolen body, wrong tomb, and Jesus merely swooning on the cross and not dying – fail to convince even many skeptics. As someone has observed, we need something the size and shape of the resurrection to explain the dramatic transformation of the disciples and the conversions of James and Paul.

So we have someone who can speak authoritatively about life after death – Jesus, the Risen One. We have two different eternities stretching out before us depending on our choice about Jesus.

Jesus used a number of images to describe hell – “outer darkness, unquenchable fire, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.” Whatever surface contradiction is contained in these words is resolved in human experience excluded from God. Even in the worst moments of this life, there are snatches of beauty and glimpses of goodness. To be excluded from God is truly death.

A marriage banquet of the Lamb, a glorious Jerusalem, and an exalted Garden of Eden with Trees of Life aplenty are the images of eternal life with God. Love, goodness, and beauty are God’s gifts and tokens of his presence. If two eternities stretch out before us, give me that which can truly be called forever life.


Life Is Fragile

March 19, 2021

 

 

A time existed as innocent children when we knew nothing of death. It never occurred to us that animals died, or worse, that we die. It intrudes on us at the first sight of a dead animal, and we ask our parents our first questions about death.

Awareness of death may come at the death of a family member. The childlike questions of why don’t they get out of that suitcase are met with adults straining to give an answer – to find just the right words.

If death came to the aged and infirm only, death might be easier to explain. Yet, a grim reality exists: life is fragile. It is fragile to all of us regardless of age or station in life. Youth may be the time of life when we feel invincible, but such feelings are mistaken. I’ve been to funerals of children and the elderly and those in between. Death knows of no minimum age requirement.

If death came only after a very long life, death might be easier to explain. Although I’ve known ninety year olds who still wanted more of the gift of time, somehow, we take comfort when the deceased has had a long and full life, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

None of us can say to God, you owe me so many years. Even the 70 or 80 years found in Psalm 90 are but round numbers not guarantees. That means each day of life is a gift from God. I’m not trying to be morbid reflecting on the frailty of life. I simply want to be aware that each moment is precious. Each moment is a gift.

The gift of life also has purpose. God grants me this wonderful gift so that I might know him and glorify him. We each have an expiration date. Usually we don’t know when it will be. We are not like gallons of milk with it printed on our sides. That gives urgency to spiritual things.

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)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30–31, ESV)

Life is a gift. Life has purpose. Life is fragile.

−Russ Holden


The Value of Jesus

March 12, 2021

The aroma of very expensive ointment filled the house. While Jesus reclined at table, a woman had poured the ointment on Jesus’ head. It was a lavish gift. The anointing of a guest’s head with oil was customary, but not like this. The expense was extraordinary. One gospel placed the value of the ointment at 300 denarii – the pay of a common laborer for 300 days (Mark 14:5).

The objections came. It could have been sold and given to the poor. But Jesus said it was a beautiful thing. She had prepared Jesus for burial. We don’t usually sit at the dinner table, while the undertaker prepares us for our funeral. Jesus’ words would have struck them just as odd. The cross unspoken lingered like the aroma of the expensive ointment. Yet, he said to them that her deed would be proclaimed to the whole world wherever the gospel is proclaimed.

Judas, one of the Twelve, plotted with the religious leaders, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” The price was thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). The betrayal price set in motion the events that led to the cross. It was a large amount, but not nearly as large as the expensive ointment. How odd those thirty pieces of silver gained was a terrible loss, and “wasted,” expensive ointment was a wondrous gain!

It is as if the woman in the story said, “Jesus, I love you so much that I give you this ointment and so much more, I give you myself.”

It is as if Judas said, “Jesus, I don’t love you enough to pass up thirty pieces of silver.”

Two juxtaposed stories (Matthew 26:6-13, 26:14-16) both contain something of value. In both the valuable things say something about the participants and reveal spiritual priorities. Both stories foreshadow the cross.

Wherever these stories are told, an uncomfortable truth follows. We must make the same sort of decision. We will either be like the woman and say, “Jesus, I love you so much that I give you this and this and even my very life,” or we will be like Judas and say, “Jesus, I don’t love you enough to pass up this or that” as we name our price: jobs, family, possessions, pleasures, or thirty pieces of silver.

We all put a price tag on Jesus either to follow or reject. In your life, what’s the value of Jesus?

−Russ Holden


Cancel Culture

March 5, 2021

The book, When Harry Became Sally by Ryan Anderson, was removed from Amazon.com’s website. The book challenges some of the current transgender policies of our government and does so with science. The book was published in 2018 and had hit number 1 on some of Amazon’s charts. Its disappearance from Amazon is viewed as an example of cancel culture. The left’s attempt to silence voices that disagree with them. Amazon certainly has lots of books that the left would disagree with, so we wonder about this book being targeted. In fact, I don’t know of a bookstore that I’ve entered where there wouldn’t be books with which I would disagree.

I value free speech. I think the original American ideal was a marketplace of ideas where proponents of competing ideas reasoned about different viewpoints and attempted to win others to their own point of view. I said reasoned discourse. Much discourse today is emotional and highly charged. It is unfortunate that so many people’s attention span has been shorted to sound bites. Sound bites are not reasoned discourse.

Following Jesus has always meant traveling with the few on the narrow road rather than the broad road with the many. Jesus pronounced this blessing in the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12, ESV

Speaking for Jesus has always had consequences. Jesus made clear that to be pleasing to him we may have to withstand harmful words and deeds that are against us. Cancel culture is not new. We only need to read the second century A.D. correspondence between Pliny the Younger and Trajan.*

With Covid-19 churches everywhere quickly embraced Zoom or streaming video. This has been a blessing in this difficult time. Our prayer is that people will be converted, but this more public presence may come back to bite. We could become the target of cancel culture. I’m not suggesting that we tailor our message on the Internet so that we are not criticized. I’m just warning that we may be targeted for what we say online as well as in real life, and we must be courageous.

I’ve reflected on the fact that if you are looking for evidence to convict me of being a Christian, I’ve left plenty online that would do so. Cancel culture can’t cancel us among fellow travelers of the narrow road. Cancel culture can’t cancel us in the eyes of God. Jesus has pronounced his blessing on the persecuted. But it also means we need to pray for boldness and perseverance.

— Russ Holden.

*https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/pliny-trajan1.asp