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forgiveness Psalms restoration Uncategorized

After Cuts Become Scars

Neal Pollard

David was broken and battered by sin. He would feel its effects from his public life to his private life for the rest of his life. In the aftermath of his actions with Bathsheba and the subsequent cover-up, the wounds of sin left visible scars. Nathan’s accusing words perhaps ringing in his ears, he sits down to pen by inspiration the haunting, but hopeful, 51st Psalm. We often dwell more on the first part, the multifaceted description of sin and the more beautiful pictures of forgiveness. But, to me, the most beautiful part of the psalm is when David starts using the word “then.”

Satan would love for sin to defeat us. He would like the guilt to overwhelm us, to keep us from the restoration David longs for here. David is speaking prospectively, asking for a clean heart, renewed spirit, spiritual fellowship, joy and sustenance from God. But, he asks for it for a purpose. In doing so, he shows us what God wants to do with us and for us after our “cuts” become “scars.”

After the cuts become scars…

REACH OUT TO THE LOST (Psalm 51:13). On the other side of repentance, David was anxious to help others reeling from their spiritual wounds. As we overcome through God’s help, we can be a tool in His hand to relate to and rescue others struggling just like we did. It would be far better to have never gone down the road of sin, but having truly come back we can understand the desperate, dark place transgressors are walking. 

BE A FAITHFUL WORSHIPPER (Psalm 51:14). David, the master musician, had lost his song in the far country. He yearned for joyful song. Worship loses its power and purity in our lives when we are living in darkness. We feel hypocritical and empty, just going through the motions. But, back in His glorious light, we can experience that lifted up feeling once more. David shows us the blessing of restoration, a spirit renewed to enjoy further renewal in faithful worship.

GIVE GOD SACRIFICES (Psalm 51:15-17). David mentions the sacrifice of praise, a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. It is obvious, from context, that these sacrifices would reveal themselves in his service to God and to others. This is not merely guilt-driven service, an effort to make amends for the evil influence of his sin. Having been made whole, David has a clarity of purpose that appreciates better what God wants from him. We can be fruitful and useful to Him, scars and all. 

ACCEPT GOD’S DELIGHT (Psalm 51:18-19). How many times did David relive those moments from the rooftop to the prophet’s visit? How often did he wish he could just go back and undo it all? How long did he wrestle with accepting God’s forgiveness and wondering if God could take him back? He shows an appreciation for the prospect of God’s delight. He rightly feels responsible for others, and he wants to lead them to do what’s right. But, I love what he anticipates. He knows God will be delighted with the offering.  Did you know that? Did you know that God can delight in you again, when you bring him your sin-scarred life and offer your righteous sacrifices? He doesn’t want to discard you. He wants to delight in you!

It must have continued to be hard for David. He had reminders everywhere. He could not undo his past. But, he did the right thing. Having dealt with his past, he focused on the present and looked to the future. That’s what God wants us to do after our cuts become scars!

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forgiveness Uncategorized

I FORGIVE YOU…

Neal Pollard

…But I won’t ever treat you the same
…But I will make sure you never forget it
…But I don’t think you should serve any more
…But I will keep my distance from you
…But I will tell others about your sin
…But I will make you feel like a pariah

The very word “forgive” means to dismiss or release something from one’s presence, to let go and send away and to release from moral obligation or consequence (BDAG, 156). That sounds very different from some of the substitute offerings mentioned above. Have we ever considered all the Lord has to say about our forgiving one another?

  • But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Mt. 6:15).
  •  If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother (Mt. 18:15). 
  • The moral of the parable of the man forgiven much who refused to forgive the one who owed him little: ” And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Mt. 18:34-35).
  • Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him (Luke 17:3-4). 
  • Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32).
  • Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Col. 3:13).

Perhaps in our zeal (or defensiveness) to remind the offender that their sin has consequences, we add to those consequences through choices we make in response to their repentance. A penitent sinner is already struggling with guilt and accepting God’s forgiveness. The last thing we should do is make it harder for them to overcome. When they do try to put their spiritual lives back together again, we should rejoice for them and help them any way we can. Whether their sin is known to only a few or to everyone, we must handle it the way the Lord teaches us to. Jesus teaches that we can be guilty of sin ourselves by mishandling the challenging discipline of forgiving. May He help us as we strive to do it. 

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compassion forgiveness grace Uncategorized

A NEW WAY TO HANDLE PRODIGAL SONS

Neal Pollard

Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord.  It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10).  His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too.  It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown.  “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).

Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons.  Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant.  There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God.  The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.

How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time!  As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind.  The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father.  Yet, the father allowed the son to depart.  The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home.  The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected.  He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed.  In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.

We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23).  We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness.  We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home!  Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!

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forgiveness repentance restoration Uncategorized

THE BOY WHO STAYED HOME

Neal Pollard

When we think of the parable in Luke 15, we inevitably think of the younger son who left home for the far country of sin. We appreciate God giving us the prodigal (reckless; wastefully extravagant) son in this parable to illustrate hope, love, and forgiveness, no matter what we may have done. Then we think of our favorite character in this story, the father. He represents God and reveals God’s eagerness to embrace and restore a sinner who repents. He gives the undeserved, unexpected, and unanticipated (cf. Eph. 2:4-8).

Then, there’s that other main character in the story. How does he strike you? After all, his brother has been reckless and irresponsible and his dad lets him off scot-free and even throws him a party. He robbed his father blind, and he isn’t even punished one bit. How do you see the brother who stayed home? Let at the text more closely and see how God sees him.

  • He was guilty of self-righteousness. He complains to the father about the reception his brother received (29). With self-righteousness, there’s an exaggerated view of our own goodness. There’s an exaggerated view of the other guy’s badness. There’s a comparison where we come out on top of the other guy. There are often judgmental assumptions made about the other guy. Let’s not forget that Jesus condemns self-righteousness (cf. Luke 18:10-14). If the Father walked up on some of our condescending conversations, He would spoil our fun since the spirit of self-righteousness is so far removed from the spirit of a loving Father who longs for His wayward children to come home.
  • He lacked self-control (28). He appears quick-tempered, not waiting for an explanation. We have the conversation between the younger son and the father, and the older son and the father. Where is the conversation between the two brothers. Didn’t he claim to be the good, righteous one? There was no self-control in the way he talked to his father or about his brother. “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (Js. 1:26).
  • He was selfish. Why did he wring his hands about the younger brother’s wasteful spending? The father, who knew this son, answered, “All that I have is yours.” There is no evidence that the older brother was concerned about his formerly depraved brother or his once-grieving father. He seems more interested in how these things impacted him. He appears faithful to his father, but for the wrong purpose. What difference would it have made if the older brother saw the prodigal as someone to serve rather than slam?
  • He had an unforgiving spirit. His brother has sinned against him, but he was unwilling to forgive him. One of the servants called him “your brother” (27), the father calls him “this brother of yours” (32), but the only time he directly refers to him he calls him “this son of yours” (30). Behind these parables, the Pharisees and scribes grumble at Jesus receiving sinners. In the first two parables, people sought the lost. In this last parable, the older brother made no effort to go after his brother. God implies as early as Cain and Abel that we are our brother’s keeper (cf. Gal. 6:2; Js. 5:19-20). Not only did he not search for his brother, but now he won’t forgive him.
  • He was jealous. He thought the father was better to his erring brother (29-30). You can almost hear him saying, “You love him more than you love me.” He couldn’t stand to see his brother honored. How contrary to the way God wants His children treating each other (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:31-32). The older brother was making accusations and he hadn’t even spoken to him. He thinks the worst of him and is utterly lacking in brotherly affection.
  • He was not humble, but rebellious against his father’s will.  He wanted to tell the father how to run his house. Do you notice the younger son respectfully addressing his father (21)? There’s little if any respect from the older son (29-30). The Bible condemns self-will. Peter condemned those despising authority and the self-willed (2 Pe. 2:10). Some people are loyal to the church as long as they can have their own way.

Some of us may find ourselves in the position of the prodigal. None of us will ever be in the position of the father. May we never find ourselves in the position of the boy who stayed home. If we do, we may lose our place in the father’s house!

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forgiveness redemption salvation Uncategorized

Devil Anse: A Sinner Redeemed?

devil-anseNeal Pollard

I just finished reading best-selling author Lisa Alther’s book, Blood Feud: The Hatfields & The McCoys, The Epic Story of Murder & Vengeance. It chronicles the often-confusing causes and effects, crimes and consequences between these two families. While it was neither the longest-standing nor bloodiest feud of its kind in 19th-Century America, it, probably thanks to T.C. Crawford’s stereotyping, contemporary book about the hillbilly feud, is by far the most famous. Alther, related by an ancestor’s marriage to the McCoys, includes a great many fascinating facts concerning the feud and its aftermath. None interested me more than something she mentions several times throughout the book. Long after the feud, an elderly Devil Anse Hatfield, the patriarch of the Hatfield side of the fight, was baptized by Dyke Garrett, a former Civil War chaplain, and Devil “went on to found a Church of Christ congregation in West Virginia” (142; cf. Hatfield and Spence, Tale of the Devil, 97).  I do know that a member of the church where I preached in Virginia, transplanted from West Virginia, was a direct descendent of Devil Anse, but I did not know about his baptism.

The Christian Chronicle did a feature on this in 2012, authored by Bobby Ross, Jr.  Ross interviewed Doug Foster, church historian at Abilene Christian University, who seemed doubtful that the Hatfields were anything other than primitive Baptists. However, Foster confirmed that Garrett was a member of the church of Christ. A genealogical site managed by Charles Douglass Brown echoes Alther’s report that Hatfield helped establish a church of Christ in an unspecified West Virginia location (https://www.geni.com/people/William-Anderson-Devil-Anse-Hatfield/6000000006903464087). A man taught by Alexander Campbell, Alexander M. Lunsford, is said to have converted Dyke Garrett in the 1870s. “Garrett began his ministry near Crooked Creek in Logan County on December 14, 1878” (http://blueridgecountry.com/blogging/hatfields-mccoys-revisited-blog/hatfields-and-mccoys-revisited-week-4religion/). One year soon thereafter there were nearly 100 conversions in Logan and Boone Counties, and growth continued to occur in the area built on the foundation of their work (ibid.).

All of this lends credence to the multiple reports that Hatfield, goad of so many McCoy murders, responded to the gospel call about a decade before his death. How sincere he was at the time or how faithful he was thereafter is difficult to tell. But, if he was, there is truth to Ms. Alther’s tongue-in-cheek designation of Hatfield as “a sinner redeemed” (p. 171). What Scripture makes clear is, that a sinner who sincerely turns from sin and obeys from the heart (cf. Rom. 6:17) follows Paul’s example. The apostle wrote, “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). If so, what a redeeming end to a tragic, tragic tale. Certainly, whatever our past, obedience to the gospel brings triumph where there was once tragedy! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

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forgiveness grace mercy salvation

What Do We Make Of God’s Second Chances?

Neal Pollard

We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.”  A kid kicked it hard and I caught it.  As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain.  Something wasn’t right.  My parents took me that week to see the local doctor.  He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver.  My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital.  Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was.  Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.

Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view.  I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go.  With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.

All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation.  We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us.  Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.”  We passed from death to life.  More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10).  You may have messed things up badly in your life.  You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you.  Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  God is the God of the second chance!  His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts!  Trust in the Great Physician.  He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!

Picture of me (2nd from left) about a year after the surgery.
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forgiveness redemption

“Redemption Is Tailor-Made For The Wretched”

Neal Pollard

If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it.  This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles.  Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison.  Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background.  It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.

The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online).  The New Testament uses the word twice.  Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25).  The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV).  The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption.  One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.

One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it.  Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption.  To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved.  To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background.  Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!