May 28, 2021

Memorial Day is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. John Logan, a U.S. Congressman and Union General during the Civil War, began the memorial. As commander in chief of a Union veterans’ organization he urged the members to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers on May 30th. Eventually it became a national holiday and extended to all U.S. war dead. Memorial Day is marked by the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. With the current war on terror, I suspect that we are keenly aware of what soldiers sacrifice.

My memories of Memorial Day growing up are quite vivid. For a small child, it wasn’t fun for the most part, although we did cook out at the end of the day The day was spent with my parents, my Grandma Holden, and my great-aunt. They would pick peonies from the yard and make bouquets. Then we would spend much of the day driving to cemeteries and placing these bouquets on the graves.

It seems like there were at least four cemeteries that we went to, and they were miles apart from each other. For a child, it was being cooped up in a car on a nice day in May. For the adults, it was a day of remembering and sharing family history. It was a day of honoring those who had died as soldiers. It was as the name of the day implies a day of remembering.

If you count all of the wars the United States has been involved in, we have lost 666,441+ soldiers in combat and another 673,929+ soldiers who died from accidents, privation, disease or as prisoners of war. As a child, I was witnessing adults who had lived through WWI, WWII, or both. I think I understand why they took the meaning of remembering so seriously. Those two wars represent 52% of all the combat deaths.

I wish that I could say I could find all of those cemeteries and graves, but the truth is I only remember the location of one of the cemeteries. Some family history has been lost, but an impression was made on me. As enjoyable as it was to cook on the grill at the end of that day, Memorial Day was important to them for remembering.

—Russ Holden

A Man Who Didn’t Trust God

May 21, 2021

Jeroboam son of Nebat was a man who didn’t trust God. He was an official under Solomon and rose to the position of being in charge of the whole labor force of the house of Joseph. One day the prophet Ahijah met him. Ahijah tore his new cloak into 12 pieces and gave Jeroboam 10 of the pieces. Ahijah prophesied that Jeroboam would become King of Israel. He would rule over the ten northern tribes. Jeroboam was given this promise from God:

And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. (1 Kings 11:37–38 ESV)

Jeroboam had to flee from Solomon who made an attempt on his life, but after Solomon’s death, he returned from Egypt and became King of Israel just as God had promised. Yet, Jeroboam worried that he would loose his kingdom because the people must worship in Jerusalem. Because of his lack of trust in God’s sure promise, he rebelled and set up the golden calves in Dan and Bethel and commanded the people to worship there. He established an alternate feast and an alternate priesthood, using men who were not Levites.

God warned Jeroboam. A prophet predicted that Josiah would someday offer Jeroboam’s priests on the altar at Bethel. A sign was given that altar would be split apart and the ashes would be poured out. Jeroboam ordered that the prophet be seized, but when he stretched out his hand it shriveled. When the prophet interceded for him his hand was restored. To top it all, the sign came true as well. Certainly, this should have made Jeroboam change his ways, but it didn’t.

Jeroboam had evidence of great blessing in his life, and God’s sure promise if he but obey. Yet, he turned away–he was a man who didn’t trust God.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)

— Russ Holden

Is God a Killjoy?

May 15, 2021

Is God a killjoy? No. God has created our senses and the wondrous world in which we live. God has created pleasure, and he is no slacker in doing so. Our world is filled with wonderful experiences.

Sin simply takes a God given pleasure and distorts it “at times, or in ways, or in degrees He has forbidden.”* Proverbs even notes this allure of temptation.

“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Proverbs 9:17-18, ESV

The problem is sinful pleasure has harmful consequences. Sin separates us from God that’s one consequence, but sin often brings other consequences into life, and these consequences can be painful. Unrestrained license can cause your life to read like a soap opera or even an obituary.

Yes, pleasure has proper place in our lives. Ecclesiastes notes this:

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, ESV

Paul gives a similar assessment:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4-5, ESV

Pleasure is a good thing unless we make it the chief thing. Even morally good things could harm us spiritually if we make that pleasure the most important thing in life. We are not to be lovers of pleasure (Isaiah 47:8, 2 Timothy 3:4). Pleasure is to be enjoyed, but our love should be directed toward our Creator. To mistake this would be akin to my saying to my wife, “I love your apple pie more than I do you.” It would not endear me to my wife, nor would it be a particularly good strategy for getting more apple pies. It would be harmful to the more important relationship. How much worse is this to say to our Creator who made everything which we enjoy!

It is as if this world is God’s house. He has said, “You may enjoy all that I’ve created, but there are certain restrictions that are for your own good” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). If we can live in a relationship with him and respect his boundaries, he has something even more wondrous to share with us.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11, ESV

God is not a killjoy. Pleasures are a part of Christian living, but they are a part of the things added to you when we first seek the kingdom (Matthew 6:33). If we listen to God, we are on a path to even greater joy – “pleasures for evermore.”

— Russ Holden