Encouraging Each Other

Encouraging Each Other

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

I Thessalonians 2.17-3.5 proves that Satan will always try to interfere with our work. He will do everything within his power to keep us from encouraging each other. It’s very interesting that of all the things to target, he’s identified our encouraging each other as most threatening to his goals.

He’ll also do everything in his power to destroy our confidence in God. For reasons I don’t fully understand, Satan has it out for the human race. This is pure conjecture, but perhaps jealousy has something to do with it. We know from scripture that angels really wanted to know what God was doing with his plan to save humanity (I Pt 1.12). Angels don’t get any kind of grace when they mess up (Jd 6; II Pt 2). Maybe Satan – as a bad-guy angel – doesn’t like that God gives preferential treatment to inferior living beings.

1 Thessalonians 3.6-13 contains a guide for avoiding burnout in our faith. If we start to run out of steam, we should remember how important our work is. It’s also encouraging to think about the lives we’ve impacted. This is grounding, and it’s a tangible reminder of how important our work is. We also learn that it’s important to focus exclusively on other people. This is even used in behavioral therapy to help manage depression and anxiety–doing things for others is very beneficial for our own mental health.

When we start to burn out, we can also pray constantly. Even though the conversation is one-sided (from our perspective at least), prayer is how we communicate with God. When we get burnt out. God will give us the oomph we need if we just ask for it. Our ultimate goal is to be morally pure when Jesus comes back, and the only way we’ll be able to make that happen is with his help.

Gary Pollard
Fiery Serpents?

Fiery Serpents?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Herodotus casually mentions that there were snakes that would fly from Egypt every year from the Sinai wilderness (Herodotus 2.75-76). This may strike fear in the heart of any snake-fearing person, but it sure is interesting. Marco Polo would also write in his travel log about flying venomous “birds” as well as snakes of gigantic proportions as he explored Asia. 

The Bible records several strange serpents and one passage in particular is especially fascinating. 

In the book of Numbers there’s an account that’s made many readers scratch their heads as they wonder what these fiery serpents are (21:6-9) that God sent to plague the Israelites. 

The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people so that many people died in Israel. So the people came to moses and said “we have sinned because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us. And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard, and it shall come about that everyone who is bitten when he looks at it he shall live. And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard and it came about that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked at the bronze serpent he lived.”

Some commentators have suggested that perhaps the strange description is of a particular kind of venomous snake. Others have made the observation that the Hebrew word for serpent here (Saraph) could be symbolic to indicate their color since it means “burning ones.” Interestingly enough there are bronze colored serpents around today in Australia that are incredibly poisonous. Perhaps there’s something to this based on the Lord’s instruction to Moses to fashion a serpent made of brass. Of course this description could also literally be taken to mean snakes which either breathed fire, or were somehow on fire. God was, after all, punishing a people who had complained of their miraculous meals of manna. 

Though the identity of these fiery serpents may always be a mystery, the lessons taught to us through this event are powerful. The connections John will make (Jn. 3.14-15) as well as the Hebrew writer (12.2) focus on the crucifixion and the concept of looking to Jesus for our salvation. 

The relationship between belief and action here are also telling. Those Israelites that believed were led by that same belief to look— then were healed. If we believe Jesus can and will heal us of our sins, then that belief must lead us to the water (Act 2.38, Mk. 16.16). 

Dale Pollard
What Will Others Say Mattered Most To Me?

What Will Others Say Mattered Most To Me?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

I have preached nearly 100 funerals in my 31 years of full-time preaching. That includes funerals for still-borns all the way up to those 100 years old. It includes services for those who committed suicide or died in accidents, but also a great many who were able to prepare for the process of dying. 

In the course of sitting down with families who have just lost a loved one, it is commonplace to talk about the deceased. Sometimes, I have known and been closely tied to the one whose service I was doing. Other times, I have not known them well and it is not uncommon to perform a service for someone I’ve never even met. Meeting with the family is a great way, especially in these situations, to find out who their loved one was. 

The longer they talk and the more they say, the more clearly they paint a picture of what the dear departed prioritized. The stories center around that theme. All of them want the preacher to know some “faith fact(s)” about them–they were raised in the church, they believed in God, they read (or had) a Bible, etc. Some of them have an abundance of stories about a Christ-centered life. All roads seem to lead back to that: Family stories, work stories, and church stories. 

Sadly, others paint a picture of other things predominating their time, passion, talent, and interest. At a time when people are going to say the nicest things about a person, they are also going to give away what mattered most to them–during the visitation, before, during, and after the service, at the graveside, and otherwise. It always happens.

Most days, our funeral is the farthest thing from our minds. We are busy living life. Yet, we are building, day by day and decision by decision, what our legacy will be. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about the many things that are “vanity.” He uses the word 38 times in 30 verses, at times using the phrase “vanity of vanities” to express utter futility and worthlessness. Work, knowledge, pleasure, competition, money, everything, apart from God, is like chasing the wind. 

At the end of his sermon, this wise king says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (12:13-14). What an encouragement to you and me to build a God-centered legacy. That requires embracing what Jesus taught, to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Mat. 6:33). Don’t we want others, most importantly God, to say, our faith defined us? Nothing matters more! 

Neal Pollard
If The Devil Had A Self-Help Book

If The Devil Had A Self-Help Book

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

I recently preached a sermon based on an idea I took from Paul Harvey’s “If I Were the Devil.” My inspiration came from reading in John 15.18-25 about Jesus’ words to His disciples shortly before His betrayal about how the world would hate Christians as much as they hated Him. I immediately thought of Andrew Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, for reasons I can only attribute to my ADHD. God created us to be social creatures. Remember, God said it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2.18). So I expected the devil to twist Jesus’ words to persuade potential converts that their desires should be more like Carnegie’s and less like Christ’s. In other words, he’d write a self-help book about how to make the rest of the world fall in love with you rather than hate you. 

So, if the devil had a self-help book, he’d write, “If you are of the world, the world loves its own.” (Compare John 15.19) Rather than risking the world’s wrath by becoming a disciple, make friends with it. Ignore James’ statement that being friendly with the world makes you an enemy of God (James 4.4). Instead, give in to your flesh’s desires, even if it means separating yourself from God (Romans 8.5-8). Yes, give in to the desires of your flesh, eyes, and pride, and forget that God will destroy this world and its lusts in the end (1 John 2.15-17). The pleasure of sin is yours for the taking if you’re willing to go to such lengths, unlike poor old Moses (Hebrews 11.25). The world will make it worthwhile until you pay for all the fun (Romans 6.23). 

The devil will try to convince readers that serving yourself is better than following another, especially if there are no tangible benefits from subservience, such as better treatment than your master. (Compare John 15.20). So it’s best to go your way, to be free to choose for yourself, without being yoked (Matthew 11.28-30). This restraint is especially true when one considers that Jesus steers him down a “constricted” path (Matthew 7.13-14 NASB). But there is an alternative highway that is easy. And the way must be correct if it seems fitting (Proverbs 14.12). Besides, who needs some dusty old road from a long time ago when men have built newer roads since then (Jeremiah 6.15-17)? So, be your own man or woman; aim to be autonomous. 

Finally, the devil would remind his readers that Jesus revealed that people treated Him cruelly “simply because they could.” (Compare John 15.25) What Jesus did, did not matter. There were just those who despised Him. So, what was Christ’s compensation for being loyal to His Father, healing the sick, and raising the dead? The people crucified Him. Why take the risk that someone will persecute or despise you even though you are doing good? It just seems like too much trouble. Avoid worrying about the welfare of others and focus on your interests instead (Philippians 2.4). It’s the proverbially “dog eat dog” world. The iron rule of “might makes right” is what people practice, not the golden rule (Matthew 7.12). 

Yes, the devil will try to convince you that he has your best interests at heart. The apparent problem with the devil’s self-help book is that it is full of lies and mistruths. Jesus reminds us that the devil is the father of lies (John 8.44). Thus, lies are all that the devil can authoritatively speak. Jesus was honest with us, not discouraging or scaring us away when He gave us His warning about how the world would receive us. And Paul told Timothy that “all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12 NASB). If the world hates us, that is a good thing, as long as their reason for hating us is because we are one of God’s “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2.9 KJV).  

Death was not the end for Jesus, and He assures us that it will not be the end for us, either. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was able to endure the cross and disregard its shame because of the joy set before Him (i.e., His return to Heaven)—Hebrews 12.2. So likewise, there is no reason for us to sorrow regardless of what may occur. And those of us in the United States have yet to put our lives in danger as a result of practicing our faith (cf. Hebrews 12.4). At most, men may take our lives, but they cannot take our eternal reward (Matthew 10.28). And for those facing physical persecution as those of olden Christians, we take heart from Paul’s words to the Corinthians:  

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4.7-11 NASB95). 

If you want to make friends and influence people, stick with the Bible. It truly is the best book on the subject. And, wherein his principles find a Scriptural foundation, also consult Mr. Carnegie’s work for the business world. But avoid those books on the subject written by the adversary (1 Peter 5.8). Instead, he writes self-help books that are how-to guides for self-immolation (cf. Revelation 20.14-15). 

Brent Pollard
Understanding Truth

Understanding Truth

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Some things just don’t mix. Milk and orange juice, taxes and freedom, Coca cola and Mentos. But there is one particular mix that can sometimes be fatal. Blood pressure medicine can be a great thing, but when mixed with Advil/Ibuprofen it can harm your body and even give you a brain hemorrhage. If you mix rubbing alcohol and bleach you create chloroform. It’s safe to say that some things in life just don’t mix.

20-30 years after the ascension of Jesus, Paul wrote to a group of Celtic Christians in Galatia warning them of the dangers of mixing two teachings. We find the establishment of these Galatian churches in Acts 13-15 (Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia). In 15:1 Some people came down from Judea teaching that circumcision was required for salvation. This occurred right after Paul had converted them. They are new Christians, and Paul had a “great debate” with them there. In Acts 15:5, the Pharisees who “had believed” were the ones commanding this of Christians. Fast forward a decade, and these teachers are back in Galatia teaching that circumcision is required for salvation.

In Galatians one, the question Paul is trying to answer is, “What is required for a person to be saved?” Forget circumcision, forget additional teachings, what does GOD say? Paul gives his answer by basically saying, “We need nothing other than what is contained in scripture to walk in the light.” There is only ONE gospel. In Verse 6 Paul says, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.” He uses the word “amazed” or thaumazo. 

These were Christians who should’ve known better. Their quick acceptance of this addition to the gospel amazed Paul in a negative sense. In Acts 4:13, this same Greek word is used to describe the scribes and Pharisees’ reaction to the apostles’ teachings. Again in Mark 5:20, we read that people were amazed by Jesus’ teaching. Paul now uses this word to describe his reaction to these Christians deserting the gospel! This word could be accurately translated as “deeply disturbed.” 

If there is anything added to that which is necessary for the maintaining of your walk in the light, it is not necessary for salvation. These Christians should’ve known better, but sadly sometimes we are the same way. We know what’s right and wrong and yet we still choose poorly (speech, actions, thoughts). 

The message that these Christians were to accept was that of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the correct way to be saved. Any requirement outside of the plan of salvation is a false doctrine that must be condemned. If that other requirement is the sinner’s prayer, it must be condemned. If that other requirement is a “new wave of salvation,” as some denominations teach, it is to be condemned. If that other requirement is a tradition not necessary for salvation yet is enforced as such, it is to be condemned. We are only compelled to follow what is contained in God’s Holy Word. 

Let’s be careful as Christians to follow and teach solely what God has required of us. 

Carl Pollard
Our Motives, Mission, And Message

Our Motives, Mission, And Message

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

I Thessalonians 2.1-6 reminds us that our motivation for staying faithful shouldn’t be selfish. We’re not here to gain a following or expand a financial portfolio. Those things aren’t intrinsically wrong, but using Christianity as an opportunity for financial gain is terrible. We’re faithful because it’s what God wants, and because we want to live with him forever. 

The application of 2.7-12 is that God expects us to tell people about his son’s return, even if we have to do it alone. This means we don’t expect financial help as a condition for service. This means we teach with great patience. It means we share our time generously. It means we work hard. It means we invest all of our emotional resources into the work. 

2.13-16 teaches that our message originated with the creator. It has a powerful effect on people who believe it. It also draws negative attention from people who find it too otherworldly to accept. For the most part, people find it difficult to accept the idea of a God. Beyond that, most find it even harder to believe that this God will destroy the planet, and will only rescue those who follow him. To most it reads like science fiction. As with other things that don’t fit a naturalistic narrative, our worldview is attacked as bring fringe or fantasy or irrational. But God will handle those who try to stop his message from spreading, so our job is to keep at it until our time is up! 

Gary Pollard
WHAT BIBLE TRANSLATION IS BEST?

WHAT BIBLE TRANSLATION IS BEST?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

In some circles, the quickest way to begin an argument is to bring up the topic of “Bible translations.” While this article won’t reveal the best version that everyone should use, it will provide a guide to help one select their preferred version. There’s no way to write about this particular subject without a degree of personal bias, but the principles are very much Biblical. 

How Many Translations Are There Anyway? 

Since William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526, there have been innumerable versions produced with some estimates ranging anywhere from 450 to over 900 additional English translations. Updated versions as well as brand new versions seem to be produced on an annual basis so we can expect that diversity and growth to continue for years to come. 

How Can I Find The Most Accurate Translation? 

Though this question may seem to be a complicated one, it’s not so difficult to answer. To begin, here’s a sample of a couple of odd newer versions that have been produced.

The LOLCat Bible (Published 2007) 

“In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez an da Erfs n stuffs” (Gen. 1:1).

The Cotton Patch Gospel (Published 1984) 

“This guy John was dressed in blue jeans and a leather jacket, and he was living on corn bread and collard greens. Folks were coming to him from Atlanta and all over north Georgia and the backwater of the Chattahoochee. And as they owned up to their crooked ways he dipped them in the Chattahoochee” (Matt. 3.4). 

Anyone who is even somewhat religious can see how unreliable and ridiculous these translations are. In fact, if read aloud in most Bible classes or quoted in a sermon— there would likely be confusion and maybe some conflict. That’s understandable. Let’s consider a simple formula to help us funnel our focus to find a Bible that’s worth a serious study. 

What’s A Good Bible?

One you can easily understand. The Bible, particularly the New Testament, was mainly written in Koine Greek. The word “Koine,” meaning “common” is also the root word of “Koinonia,” which means “fellowship” (ancientlanguage.com). Simply put, Koine Greek was the language of the people— or the common tongue. Today, just like old Latin– the language is dead. God’s foresight ensured that His universal life message to mankind would be everlasting and unchanging in two ways. 

  1. The use of Koine would be easily understood by common people in the ancient world 
  2. and with the death of this branch of the Greek language in the mid 6th Century, God’s word would not evolve like all living languages do today. 

This is a major help for Christians and people seeking His Truth today. We know that God wants us to plainly understand His message and Bible scholars can still translate with confidence and certainty. Your Bible should be one that clearly communicates His original meaning and for many that means the version that speaks clearly in a modern tongue. William Tyndale translated the first English version by using the vocabulary that was widely understood by people in the 1500s. As time passed the King James and the American Standard Version were revised (updated/altered) editions that changed with the era. 

For example, the King James (KJV) made use of the word “betwixt” (Phil. 1.23) while the New International (NIV) communicates this word with a phrase “torn between the two” in the same passage. While there are some who have grown up reading the KJV and are familiar with Old English terms, a great many will appreciate the clear interpretation used in the NIV. 

Which Is Right For Me? 

The answer will change somewhat on an individual basis. However, most modern translations that are true to the original message and express that message in an understandable way will be the most profitable. There are some who believe it’s best to use multiple versions for maximum clarity but there are also other  resources that are readily available and can aid in putting the dedicated Christian at ease. 

Tools for Truth Seeking 

  1. LOGOs Bible Software is an excellent but potentially expensive computer program that can translate English words into the original language with a simple click of a button. The user will also be able to see various uses of any particular word across the entire biblical text. This program has a free version with more limited capabilities, but it has enough power to get the job done. 
  2. BlueLetterBible can be accessed online and can do much of what LOGOs is able to do without taking up space on your phone or laptop. 

Programs and tools like these are two of the author’s personal favorites, but there is an abundance of help currently available to anyone looking to take their personal study of His Word to the next level. 

What Version(s) Can I Trust? 

There’s no such thing as a perfect translation, but good and even great translations are likely to be in your collection already. Some of which are: 

New International (NIV) – Reading Level; 7th Grade 

New King James (NKJV) – Reading Level; 9th Grade

English Standard (ESV) – Reading Level; 8th-10th Grade 

New American Standard (NASB) – Reading Level; 11th Grade 

Excellent Casual Reading Versions 

Easy To Read (ERV) – Designed for the deaf and those with learning disabilities 

New Living (NLT) – Reading Level; Middle School 

Dale Pollard
He Goes Before Me

He Goes Before Me

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Pioneers are fascinating, whether Gutenberg and the printing press, Jenner and vaccinations, or the Wright brothers and flying. Whether travel and exploration or inventions, people who went first or paved the way for us are people we may never think about but who we owe so much to. Even our highway systems, with paved roads that go through tall mountains, took people to make a way when there was no way.

Hebrews 6:20 uses a word only found in that verse–“forerunner.” The word had a diverse usage. It was used in athletics, of one who runs forward at top speed. It was used of one who went in advance of others, like horsemen or guides ahead of the army. In Alexandria, Roman ships heavily loaded with grain, were led out by a small guide ship. It was used in botany of the first green shoot, tree, or flower of Spring. Metaphorically, it was used of a “precursor” like the apostles or John the Baptist. 

The idea in Hebrews 6:20 is that Jesus has gone behind the curtain before us into God’s presence. We can join Him there because His death made it possible for us (Heb. 5:8-9). But we also have unrestricted access to God’s presence now because He prepared the way. The writer tells us that this is our sure and stedfast anchor of hope that allows us to take refuge. 

It is beautiful to think that Jesus has gone before us and paved a way for us. This is a theme the writer addresses throughout Hebrews. He shows us how Jesus has done that in the past, is doing it now, and will do it in the future.

He went before me in the creation (Hebrews 1). In the most elementary sense, Jesus went before me in that He brought me into being (Heb. 1:2). He made us knowing that He would someday become one of us, with a human body (Heb. 10:5). He made the circulatory system, the nervous system, the respiratory system, the skeletal  system, as well as every other system, cells, tissues & organs, knowing He’d experience them. He was here on earth before most, if not all, the recipients of Hebrews and certainly before all of us—but He paved the way for life on this earth for all of us. He provided for my material needs (Mat. 5:45; 6:25-32; 1 Tim. 6:17), my emotional needs, my social needs (Gen. 2:18; Prov. 17:17), and my spiritual needs–He created me with a desire for worship, fellowship, and discipleship and guides me in the proper expression of each of them. 

He went before me in my salvation (Hebrews 2:10). Your version probably says author, captain, founder, or even pioneer. The original word was used of one who founded a city, gave it its name, and became its guardian. Or it was used of a head of a family, a founder of a school, or military commander. The context of Hebrews 2:10 is that Jesus came to earth to experience humanity firsthand, but He’s called the author of our salvation. He does the sanctifying and we’re the sanctified (11). His death freed us from the one who had the power of death (14-15). He made forgiveness for our sins (17). 

Hebrews uses “salvation” seven times, but also speaks of sanctification, propitiation, purification, and the like. The letter is full of blessings He gives now because of our salvation–assistance when tempted (2:18), assurance (3:14), bold approach to the throne (4:16), hope (6:19), mercy and forgiveness (8:12), confidence (10:19), nearness (10:22), endurance (12:1), and an unshakable kingdom (12:28). I get a clear sense that He wants me to make it through this world spiritually alive!

He has gone before me in my eternal destination (Hebrews 12:1-2). The writer draws to his conclusion, pointing us to “the race that is set before us.” Everyone of us is still in the race, running toward some conclusion. The writer says to look away from all other things to look at Jesus. He took the lead and is setting the example at the front of the pack. In fact, He successfully finished this race and is waiting on us to finish and join Him in a victory celebration. The only way to lose this race is to stop running, but if we keep our eyes on Christ we won’t stop. Jesus is our leader, inspiration, and goal we are running toward in our race.

The Hebrews’ writer says judgment is coming, but Jesus has paved the way for us. Throughout Hebrews, he tells us we can have confidence (4 times), assurance (4 times), and hope (7 times). Jesus is the basis for all of that. 

Jesus made the hard choice. He left heaven and came to take the punishment we deserve so we could receive the reward He died to give us. He could have chosen to save Himself and let us die lost and without hope, but He made the unselfish choice. What about us? Are we willing to sacrifice now, so that we can ultimately receive the prize? We can do it! Jesus showed us how!

Neal Pollard