“Immediately”

Neal Pollard

The astute reader of the book of Mark finds the word 40 times in 39 verses (the Greek word most often translated “immediately” in Mark is actually found 44 times). It is a key word found consistently throughout the gospel but especially in the first six chapters. Usually, the word is used to quantify the time between Jesus performing a miracle and it taking effect. The point seems to be to show the power and Divine nature of Jesus. It is also a thread that runs throughout the book to highlight key thoughts and main ideas in this second book of the New Testament. The word is used to highlight the Father’s affirmation of Christ following His baptism (1:10), Jesus’ journey into the wilderness to triumph over the Devil’s temptations (1:12), the disciples’ decision to leave their occupation to follow Jesus (1:18,20), Jesus’ entering the synagogue to show unparalleled authority and power (1:21), the news and fame that followed Christ’s teaching and healing (1:28), and the immediate response of the one healed by Jesus–the first of many uses of the word “immediately” to highlight such (1:29-30). The proof for Jesus’ identity was immediate. The effect of Jesus’ miracles was immediate. The impact of Jesus’ miracles and teachings on friend and foe was immediate. Mark’s use of this word seems to indicate how overwhelming and unmistakable the proof of Jesus was.

This is not to say that one should rashly decide about the Lord. The book of Mark is part of God’s way to convince man about who Jesus is. Take the time to read it and learn of Him. Like the other three gospels, Mark contains the miracles, teaching, claims, and events in Christ’s life at the end of which one must ultimately make a decision concerning who He is. Remember, though, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Weigh the evidence, and then decide. Follow the example of so many in the book of Mark and let the power and person of Jesus have an immediate impact on your life and your soul.

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He Can Carry What’s Too Heavy For You

Poem inspired by this beautiful new song by Jeff Wiant, member at Bear Valley.  Click on the link below to hear it:

CLICK HERE: Jeff Wiant’s “Won’t You Come”

Neal Pollard

We struggle and strain to carry our load
We buckle as it gets heavier on our backs
We fall and hurt on this rough, rocky road
The weight makes us stop in our tracks

Looking around with a face full of pleading
We wonder who is observing our pain
We’re wounded, weary, broken and bleeding
Set to surrender from the stress and strain

Tears flow freely, we have been here before
We know how the journey seems endless
Certain we can’t make it alone to the door
We feel solitude, helpless and friendless

It’s bigger than us, crushing and enormous
And the contents shameful and unsightly
We’ve borne it so long it’s begun to conform us
To a stooped struggler holding on tightly

A voice calling gently, “Bring it over to Me,
I can help you and give you My best,
Your burden is heavy, I know you are weary,
Come to Me and I will give you rest.”

Could you double down, wincing and worn,
Grit your teeth and ignore His free aid?
Eventually, it will bury you after making you mourn
You know an exorbitant price must be paid.

He is able and willing, but waiting for you
To seek what He offers you without reservation
Let Him do for you what only He can do
Give your burdens to Christ with no hesitation.

Think of the journey, partnered with One
Without limits in power, purity and pity
Who’ll stay with you until your journey is done
As together you arrive at His heavenly city.

Dockers de Cap-Haïtien

Is It A “Sign”?

Neal Pollard

I read about the discovery of World War I shells found in the Sea of Galilee, likely dumped by fleeing Turkish ships lightening their load to escape the pursuit of the British. There is a bigger story, though, than a 100-year-old wartime artifact being found in an unlikely place. The shell was uncovered through an unprecedented drought that has left exposed an island in the middle of that sea. Some religious Jews think it presages their long-awaited Messiah, their conviction based on their view of Psalm 66:6, Zechariah 14:8, and Isaiah 15:9. Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and freelance writer, cites various rabbis who say that the present weather anomaly and its consequences are prophesied signs. Yosef Berger, the rabbi of David’s tomb in Jerusalem, says, “Just like in prayer, which is a dialogue with God, our thoughts are taken into account in Heaven, and can bring the desired prophecy into existence… By people believing that the Galilee drying up is part of the prophecy, it will help the Messiah come” (Breaking Israel News).

I appreciate any people who believe in the truth of the Messiah, and I see any such looking and longing of a transparent sincerity. However, these well-meaning Jews are 2000 years too late. The kind of Messiah they seek is not clearly stated, but their forefathers rejected the kind of Messiah Jesus Christ was and is. The Old Testament prophesies of His birth, ancestry, forerunner, earthly ministry, opposition, crucifixion, resurrection, and church were fulfilled in the time of Jesus. The New Testament often looks back at prophesies and show how Jesus fulfilled them.

The Jews of Jesus day stopped their ears and shut their eyes to the signs and miracles He did, repeatedly proving to the open-minded observer that what such revered men as Moses, David, Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi, and others wrote concerning the Messiah was fulfilled by the nature, birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Luke 24:44-47; John 20:30-31). Their lack of faith cost them at Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It will cost them eternally, if they do not believe in the Christ who has already come.

The drought-stricken waters of Galilee are a sign of a lack of sufficient rain, but nothing more. Those still awaiting the One who already came should instead learn of Him and follow Him. Because His second coming will be without signs (cf. Mat. 24:36ff). May we all be ready for that day!

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The Reality Of Jesus Christ

Johnson Kell

He was born of a virgin and when He was about thirty years of age He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. And being full of the Holy Spirit He began His ministry walking the dusty roads of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, performing miracles and preaching the gospel. And He did go out carrying His own cross toward Calvary, and He did hang there for hours writhing in anguish and pain. And He did cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He did die there, shedding His blood for the sins of the world.

But there was a resurrection and He spent forty days with His apostles providing many proofs of a bodily resurrection–the tomb was found empty. And after forty days He spoke to them for the last time and as they watched intently He disappeared through the clouds on His way back to heaven. Some time later, when Stephen was being stoned to death, he cried out, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”

And so we have the assurance that our Savior is at His Father’s side making intercession for each one of us. And we can recall in the letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Colosse, where he cried, “Christ in you the hope of glory!” So as we are born-again children, we, too, can say, “Christ in us the hope of glory!”

This was and this is the reality of Jesus Christ.

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Can You Imagine Being $53 Million In Personal Debt?

Neal Pollard

USA Today’s Maria Puente is reporting music star Kanye West’s tweet where he writes, “I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt…Please pray we overcome…This is my true heart….” (USAToday.com).  Hearing that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla were going to give away some of their billions to philanthropic causes, West tweeted that he wanted to be a recipient of some of that charity.  Since most of us will probably not make a total of $53 million in our lifetimes, we have a hard time imagining how someone could accrue that amount in personal debt! Perhaps horrible investing, profligate lifestyle decisions, and the like might explain it, but the lack of restraint and wisdom seems appalling. How could one person be so foolish and wasteful? We wring our hands and shake our heads, maybe condescendingly.
Until we consider something.

In a spiritual sense, we all faced a debt infinitely greater. Jesus illustrates this in a parable regarding a slave who owed his master 10,000 talents (Mat. 18:23ff). Biola University business professor Philip Massey did some modern-day math equivalency with that figure and estimates in 21st Century dollars that debt would be $7.04 billion dollars, and according to the 2010 Forbes list of billionaires would need to be at least the 102nd most wealthy person on the entire planet just to be able to pay such a debt (chimes.biola.edu).  Jesus’ point in the parable is to show how utterly audacious it is not to forgive the relatively minuscule transgressions others commit against us in light of how great our spiritual debt is to God.  All the combined wealth of the world is not enough to pay for one sin (cf. Mic. 6:6-8; Mat. 16:26). Colossians 2:14 uses the term “debt” to describe our sin problem, but the same verse tells us that we had someone more powerful and capable than any earthly magnate or mogul to help us pay off our debt.  In fact, “having nailed it [the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us] to the cross,” He provided payment sufficient for the sin debt of every single person in this world.

Can you imagine anyone refusing help who faced such an insurmountable obligation? Yet, the majority of this world has done and will continue to do so. By refusing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, they continue to pile up their debt. When the Day of Accounting comes, they’ll stand bankrupt and unable to pay. The consequences will be eternal!

Without Christ, we all face a debt that cannot be sufficiently estimated.  We need His blood applied to our sins or our situations are hopeless! How Zuckerberg will respond is unclear. How Jesus will respond is ironclad! Reach out to Him.

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THE PATTERN FOR MARRIAGE

Neal Pollard

Matthew 19:1-12 records an incident where, because the Pharisees are trying to test Jesus (vs. 3), He has occasion to reveal His will about marriage.  As we analyze this text, we find several notable facts about marriage. These verses show us the mind and will of God on an institution that is increasingly under assault. Consider four facts about this great passage of Scripture.

This is from the Christ. One of the more common arguments made even by supposed biblical scholars is that Jesus never condemns homosexuality. But what does He do? He defines marriage (4-5). The law of exclusion says that what God doesn’t authorize in His Word is forbidden in doctrine and practice. The Lord has authorized marriage as an institution between man and woman. He did not have to say, “…but not between a man and two or more women” and “not between a man and an animal” and “not between two people of the same gender.” He makes clear what He sees marriage as being.

This is from the creation. Other passages tell us Christ is actually the Creator (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2). So not only does He, as Deity, designate what marriage is—He designed it in the first place. Jesus reaches behind changes made to God’s marriage law under the Law of Moses and cites how God designed it “from the beginning” (4). Anything that does not conform to His pattern in this text runs counter to God’s original intent. You may not that this excludes more than same-sex marriage. It excludes adulterous marriage (vs. 9) as well as sex outside of marriage (this is implied here: “joined to his wife,” not “girlfriend”; of course, “fornication” or “sexual immorality” is dealt with explicitly in many other New Testament passages). Jesus goes back to the creation to state the pattern for marriage as being one man and one woman for life.

This is a command. It is not a command that you have to be married, but if you do get married you must conform to Christ’s will concerning it. We see this in the force of Jesus’ “but I say unto you.” He is exerting His right of authority, even showing His law trumps the Law of Moses. A person who is looking to be married must make sure their relationship conforms to His command.

This is controversial.  It is not just the homosexual community who balk at Jesus’ words here. I have close family members (and so do you, probably) whose marriages are at odds with what Jesus commands in this context. Jesus Himself forewarns that this is a difficult and narrow teaching (10), a rejected teaching (11), and a teaching that calls for extreme sacrifice (12). I dare say there is as much blowback from the heterosexual community as the homosexual community where this passage is clearly taught. In either case, it comes down to whether we will follow the command of the Christ, the Creator. Our submission or rebellion cannot change the immutable (i.e., unchangeable) nature of Divine truth.

Marriage is a beautiful gift given by a loving God. Though society may corrupt it and seek to redefine it, but the will of God stands forever. May we have the courage, humility, and strength to take Him at His word and conform our lives to it—on this and every subject.

WHO KILLED CUSTER?

Neal Pollard

There’s quite the controversy over who killed General George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana on June 25, 1876. There is even a book by the title, “Who Killed Custer?,” authored by Bruce Brown. There are so many mysterious and hard-to-document events that made up this notorious battle that symbolizes the “Indian Wars” of the late 1800s.  Brown, analyzing eye witness accounts, gives an interesting top three suspect list:  (1) an Oglala Sioux warrior named White Cow bull, shooting him near the beginning of the battle, (2) Custer himself, committing suicide as he dashed away from the battlefield near the battle’s end on his horse Victory, and (3) Brave Bear, a Southern Cheyenne warrior, given the honorary title of “Custer’s Killer” at an Indian council in 1909 (www.astonisher.com/archives).  About ten years ago, the Helena Independent Record revealed the long-circulated, but secret oral history of the Northern Cheyenne Indian storytellers, crediting a woman, Buffalo Calf Trail Woman, for striking the fatal blow (helenair.com).

It is fitting that a man surrounded by so much controversy and whose reputation and achievements are incredibly enigmatic would have such a mysterious cloud hanging over his death. His killer is upheld by many as a tangible standard-bearer of justice and righteous revenge. For others, it is simply a matter of historical fascination.  There are even those who lamented his death, as the brash and rash Custer was widely viewed as a “war hero” by his U.S. contemporaries in the years immediately following his death. Yet, one thing we know for sure.  Custer was killed.  Two fatal bullet wounds loudly testify.

There is another mystery, one with far weightier and eternal implications.  Who killed Jesus?  He is the most enigmatic figure in human history.  He was viewed contemptuously as a blasphemer and traitor by the religious leaders of His day. He was viewed with depraved indifference by the masses who switched from adoration to execration in a matter of days.  He is viewed even more diversely today, 2000 years after He died on the cross.  The power and proof of the resurrection is a matter to write about another day (see, for example, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/644-resurrection-literal-or-merely-symbolic).

But, there is another vital question surrounding the death of Jesus.  Who was really responsible?

  • Was it the devil? Yes!
  • Was it the Jewish leaders? Yes!
  • Was it the onlookers that day? Yes!
  • Was it Pilate? Yes!
  • Was it the Roman soldiers? Yes!
  • Was it God? Yes!
  • Was it you and me? Yes!

How could all of these be mutually responsible for the death of Christ? There is no controversy.  The devil desired Jesus’ death, through which he longed to defeat the Lord’s purpose (cf. Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:4ff). In this, he failed (Heb. 2:14). The people that day were instruments in the hands of God, who accomplished His eternal plan of salvation through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:23; 3:18; etc.). We are responsible because we sin (Rom. 4:25) and He had to be made sin for us (2 Co. 5:21). The good news is that the death of Jesus was not the defeat of God’s plan. It accomplished the plan.  However, for the plan to be effective, we must properly respond to it.  The fact of His death does nothing for us, if we do not respond to it the way Scripture tells us to.  Thus, there is a much more important question than, “Who killed Jesus?” It is, “Who will follow Jesus?”

Why Christ Became Flesh

Neal Pollard

The writer of Hebrews exhorts that Christ should be faithfully served, not abandoned, because He is a superior messenger to all other heavenly messengers (chapter one). Then, he gives another reason for holding fast to Him in chapter two. His readers were apparently struggling in their faith and gradually slipping back into the religion they had left. They lacked incentive, but the epistle gives reason after reason for why it should be restored.

In chapter two, he refers to Jesus’ humanity. Through it, He perfectly fills the role of High Priest in a way no Levitical priest could do under the old law. He enumerates the reasons why Jesus became flesh, and each reason was for each of us as individuals.

  • He became flesh to taste death for every man (9). He exercised God’s grace on our behalf. He was willing to make God’s understanding of our frailties empirical (experienced by human senses) by tasting death in a human body.
  • He became flesh to render the devil powerless (14). Before the cross, where Jesus gave up His physical body in death, the devil had the power over man. All mankind sinned and there were various sin offerings provided by God in the different ages. Yet, they could not “take away” sin (10:4,11). But, when Jesus died and was raised from the dead, He rendered the devil powerless over those who faithfully obey Christ and remain faithful unto death.
  • He became flesh to deliver the enslaved (15). Knowing no hope of deliverance from the horrible state of sinfulness makes for a miserable experience (Rom. 7:25). Christ came to deliver us from the awful slave master of sin (John 8:34).
  • He became flesh to become a merciful and faithful High Priest (17).  12 times in Hebrews, Jesus is called the Christian’s High Priest–the High Priest of our confession (3:1), in Heaven (4:14), sympathetic and sinless (4:15), appointed by the Father (5:5), without predecessor or successor (5:10), who went before us (6:20), holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (7:26), seated at the Father’s right hand (8:1), an offering priest (8:3), and offering His own blood (9:11). His service in administering His blood on our behalf is merciful (kind, forgiving, protecting) and faithful (trustworthy and sure).
  • He became flesh to come to the aid of the tempted (18). He well remembers what it is like to suffer in a human body. Not just that greatest moment of suffering, up on the tree, but the daily discomforts (Mat. 8:20), abandonment (John 6:66), and betrayal (John 18:27; Mark 14:45). Therefore, He can help me right now with my problem. Nothing is too big, too mysterious, or too difficult for Him.

Five reasons from Hebrews two are given for why Jesus became flesh, but all of them are for me (and for you)! What a thrilling though. Let’s serve this wonderful Savior!

THE MASTER’S MATERIAL

Neal Pollard

A while back it was popular in the religious world to talk about Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis has often been on the disciples’ experience. I believe the biblical emphasis is on the character of Jesus. The disciples are contemplating Him even as they encounter Him. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Notice three reasons why He was so mighty in word before all the people.

JESUS KNEW HIS MATERIAL. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Truly His knowledge is perfect and ours is not, but there is no excuse for failing to study–both on our own and for a class we are teaching or sermon we are preaching.

JESUS KNEW HOW TO RELATE ITS MEANING EFFECTIVELY. The men journeying to Emma’s, after walking with Jesus, said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The dismal method of too many Bible classes is to essentially read and paraphrase in verse by verse fashion. Preaching can too often be disorganized in delivery or vague in message. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV).  Robertson says of “rightly handling” that it means “cutting straight…Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor?” (Vol. 4, 619). As presenters of truth, tell what it meant then and in context, and then apply it!

JESUS KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE MATERIAL LIVE IN HIS STUDENTS. Luke 24:45 says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is just what we are after as teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of the Word. We are not just fact-reporting. We are trying to get into the heart. Remember that Jesus sought to change lives with His teaching.

Only Jesus was the perfect teacher. But we can always be better and great. Let us mimic the Master’s approach to His material!

FAITH IN PEOPLE

Neal Pollard

There are some people with “trust issues.”  They are stuck in a negative frame of mind, believing the worst in others with little expectation that they will improve.  They may even castigate anyone who would encourage you to put faith in people.  Certainly, our greatest faith must always be in God.  He never fails, forsakes, or leaves us (Heb. 13:5-6), but people invariably do those things.  We cannot put more faith in people than God, listening to and following them when they contradict His will. That’s a false, wrong extreme, but so also is a cynicism that fundamentally, inherently distrusts people to do the right thing.  This does not mean that there are people in our lives who do not struggle with sin because we all do (Rom. 3:23).

Let me encourage you to have faith in God’s people. Why?

  • Jesus did.  He selected twelve men, salty fishermen, shady tax collectors, strident nationalists, and selfish materialists.  While the latter let Him down, the other eleven grew and accomplished much.  Jesus entrusted His mission to them (Mat. 28:18-20), having faith that they would accomplish it.  But, Jesus also had faith in others—the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, and so many others.  Some He put faith in failed Him and even left Him, but that did not ever stop Him from investing that faith in others.  Do you remember what He said to Peter after He had failed? “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32; emph. mine).  That was faith in Peter!
  • It empowers others.  When somebody expresses faith in your ability to accomplish something, how do you respond?  When you are given responsibility with the explicit or tacit understanding that the giver believes in you, don’t you give it your all to live up to that trust?  2 Timothy 2:2 seems to imply this reaction is a natural consequence of being entrusted with something.
  • People live up (or down) to our expectations.  Have you ever had someone in your life who handled you this way:  “You’re no good!”; “You’ll never amount to anything!”; “You’re hopeless!”?  Maybe they don’t say it, but they convey it.  Preachers and teachers communicate the word through such a pessimistic prism. Leaders convey it in ways both spoken and unspoken.  Love “believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
  • It brightens life.  Would you like to maintain a PMA (possible mental attitude)?  Never lose the ability to believe in others!  A glass half full approach is necessary to retaining an optimistic, hopeful way of life. I’m not saying to be delusional, but you can improve your own quality of life with a fundamental belief that most people, when they know what’s right, want to do what’s right.
  • It is biblical.   Paul had confidence in Philemon’s obedience (Phile. 1:21). He had confidence that Corinth would do the right thing (2 Cor. 2:3). He had confidence in Galatia’s doctrinal resilience (Gal. 5:10). He had confidence in Thessalonica’s continued faithfulness (2 Th. 3:4).  What an example, and oh how we should imitate him in this!

Teresa of Calcutta is often associated with certain verses found on the wall of her children’s home, even credited for authoring it. Kent Keith is the likely author.  In the composition, “Do It Anyway” (aka “The Paradoxical Commandments”), he notes that people will criticize and be petty.  He encourages doing good, loving, and serving anyway.  You can choose how you will spend your life, expecting the best or worst of others. May I urge you to have the most faith in God, but leave room for faith in people—especially God’s people! You will not regret it.