“I Don’t Feel Good Enough”

Neal Pollard

How many times have you said that? You may project an air of confidence that would make it hard for anyone to think you felt that way or you may wear it on your sleeves. But, if honesty prevails, we’d all confess to wrestling with that thought. Daily! With Paul, facing the scope of our challenge, we exclaim, “And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). BDAG informs us that “adequate” means “sufficient in degree…large enough; pertaining to meeting a standard, fit…competent, qualified, able” (472). As Paul’s words are in the context of ministry, conscientious preachers who read that statement really get it. We’re fragile pottery entrusted with a perfect, eternal, and divine message (2 Cor. 4:7).  Oh, how we feel our own humanity as we preach the mind of God to others struggling with their humanity. We know our every weakness better than anyone else does.

Yet, the struggle I mention is not just the preacher’s burden. The best Christians I know live each day fully aware of their inadequacies and insecurities. No matter how many good works they do, how faithful in attendance and duty they are, or how actively they seek opportunities to serve God, they struggle at times. May I suggest that this is one of the biggest blessings of living the Christian life. No, we don’t want to live in a shroud of guilt. Not at all! But, consider what happens when we acknowledge our glaring insufficiencies.  We can see our utter dependency on God that much better.

Could Moses have really led the Israelites for 40 years on his own ingenuity and oratory? Could Jeremiah have really faced his audience on his own temerity? Could a renewed Peter have really preached that Pentecost sermon to Jesus’ killers on the merits of his own homiletic greatness? Could Paul have really transformed the first-century world on the foundation of his cosmopolitan experience and top-notch education from Gamaliel University?

Repeatedly, throughout His ministry, Jesus decries the Pharisaical tendency of trusting in self (Luke 16:5; 18:9). Ultimately, it’s a farce anyway. I may struggle with different weaknesses than you, but I still struggle. While that is never an excuse to give up and indulge in sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-2), it is a great, daily starting place to appreciate our need of God’s favor and friendship. We are not going to make it through this world on our own merits. As the beautiful old song suggests, “I need Thee, oh, I need Thee, every hour I need Thee….”

Here’s the beautiful thing that happens when we recognize our shortcomings and inabilities. We become an empty vessel that God can fill to accomplish His work. God will open doors of opportunity for us to do, by His might, what we could never have hoped to do without Him. Whether doors of service (teacher, elder, preacher, deacon, etc.), lives of holiness, or works of obedience, we will live in amazement of His power. Or, as Paul put it, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:20-21). Take heart, Christian! You’re not doing this alone. You can’t! But, what can God not do? That thought is exciting and thrilling. With that in mind, no mountain is too formidable. He’s got this!

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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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Coping With Thorns

Neal Pollard

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:

  • The reality of the thorn (7)
  • The reproach of the thorn (7)
  • The reason for the thorn (7)
  • The result of the thorn (7)
  • The response to the thorn (8-10).

Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.

No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.

Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.

Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,

As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.

Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!

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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.

Oise-Aigne American Cemetery Plot E

Neal Pollard

My brother and fellow preacher, Brent Pollard, finds the most interesting historical facts—an ability which makes his preaching illustrations most interesting.  He sent me an article about the Oise-Aigne Cemetery in northern France.  Though I have actually visited that cemetery, I had no idea about the existence of an auxiliary burial plot known as “Plot E.”  While the 6012 military personnel buried in the four main burial plots lost their lives in World War I, the 94 interred in Plot E are infamous, disgraced soldiers who died for their crimes during or after World War II.  These men either murdered fellow soldiers or raped and/or murdered 71 people in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Algeria.  “No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road” (warhistoryonline.com).

These men were supposed to be fighting for the freedoms and rights of American citizens, but instead they were most dramatically undermining the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of the unfortunate ones who crossed their paths.  For their crimes, they not only paid the ultimate penalty but were buried in disgrace and immortalized with infamy. They are remembered as “the dishonorable dead.”

The book of Revelation refers to the “book of life” (20:12), implying that it is possible for one’s name to be blotted out of it (3:5).  However, those whose names are not found in that book will be “cast into the lake of fire” (20:15). Those who take away from the words of this revelation—and by application any other (cf. Gal. 1:6-9)—“God shall take away his part of out of the book of life” (22:19).  More specifically, John says, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).  For the ungodly and disobedient, John lays out in apocalyptic terms how unthinkably horrible it will be to die unfaithful to Christ.  He says, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…” (14:10-11a).

Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).  The faithful will receive glory and honor and reward (Mat. 25:34-40).  The unrighteous, however, will go away into everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46).  No one will deserve heaven, but will go there thanks to God’s amazing grace and his or her conscious effort to walk in the light (1 John 1:7-10). Those who know not and obey not the gospel will endure something eternally worse than a firing squad, a hangman’s noose, or blameworthy burial (2 Th. 1:8-9).  Though the world may believe less and less in the reality of hell, the Bible’s position on the matter has not changed. Knowing the terror of the Lord, may we persuade others and, ourselves, be persuaded (2 Cor. 5:11).

“Freedom Is Not A Luxury. It Is A Necessity”

Neal Pollard

Earlier today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint-session of the United States Congress. It was an impassioned plea, from beginning to end, as he spoke in his broken English about the trials his people have endured for many months now.  He gave poignant examples of brave men who were killed for their courageous stand against ruthless enemies.  One of his imploring calls for help invoked our own past path as a nation and our pursuit of liberty.  It was about then that he exclaimed, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

Poroshenko was speaking not of the Ukrainians but of the Russian people, who he believed had been fed the idea that freedom is a luxury that they should not necessarily expect to enjoy.  He rebutted such a view.  We have such a hard time in our nation comprehending life in a land where freedom is such an elusive commodity. But, for those people, it is a daily battle!

In the spiritual sense, this stated idea is most true and important. Sin is a horrible dictator and master, brutalizing and bringing death to those who are under its power. Eternity is in the balance for us.  Will we leave this life as free men and women or as slaves?  What makes this so much more paramount is that it is harder to discern spiritual bondage than physical bondage.  We may think ourselves perfectly free all while toiling in the chains of darkness!

Paul made his own impassioned plea to the saints at Galatia.  He wrote them, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1).  Can you imagine a nation or even an individual who had endured torture and seen loved ones murdered now enjoying the rights and privileges of freedom but volunteering to return to that former way of life?  It is unthinkable, unless we speak in the spiritual sense.  People continue to run toward and embrace the enslaver of souls.  To any one, we would implore, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

Have We Misunderstood Grace?

Neal Pollard

Perhaps the subject of grace has been neglected in some pulpits and congregations.  Undoubtedly, it has been misunderstood and improperly taught since the first century (cf. Rom. 6:1; Gal. 5:4).  It is vital to properly emphasize and explain such a huge concept within the gospel message.  Why? Because of what it is—the completely free and undeserved expression of God’s lovingkindness and favor toward mankind, because of what it does—brings salvation (Ti. 2:11; Eph. 2:5) and comfort and hope (2 Th. 2:16), and because of what it cost to make available (2 Co. 8:9; Heb. 2:9).  Perhaps some try to restrict God’s grace, making the requirements of Christ more stringent than Scripture teaches.  If we forbid what God permits, we are distorting grace.

However, our age tends toward the other extreme.  Far more try to make God’s grace extend further than Scripture teaches.  This is not novel to our times.  From the time of the early church, some apparently wanted to make God’s grace embrace things it simply does not cover.  Jude contended against some who attempted to have grace cover excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure (Jude 4). By leaving Christ’s grace for another gospel, teachers contradicting the gospel message distort not just the gospel but also grace (Gal. 1:6-9).  Paul also contradicts the idea that continuing in sin, without repentance, is abiding in God’s grace (Rom. 6:1).  Passages like these serve as a warning not to make God’s grace cover what it simply will not.

Grace will not cover willful disobedience, a refusal to repent, a lifestyle or habit, or relationship that violates the expressed will of God.  Some in adulterous marriages defend the relationship, trying to hide behind grace. Some feed addictions, sure that God’s grace will sweep away the guilt of it.  Some refuse to follow God’s plain plan of salvation, claiming that they will ultimately be saved by grace on the day of judgment.  Such ideas and claims are tragic misunderstandings and ignorance of revealed truth.  The source of grace is Divine.  So are the explanation and terms of it.  Paul’s teaching is definitive when he says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).  The life in Christ is a new life (Rom. 6:4), a life characterized by turning away from sin, lust, and unrighteousness (Rom. 6:12-13).

Let us never restrict God’s grace.  By the same token, let us never redefine it—especially to excuse or validate a lifestyle of sin.  How that disgraces and cheapens the act that brought grace, Jesus’ painful sacrifice.  May each of us grow in knowledge and appreciation of this great Bible doctrine!

DID CLAIRE DAVIS’ FATHER FORGIVE HER MURDERER?

Neal Pollard

Claire Davis’ father spoke at a memorial service honoring his daughter, an Arapahoe High School student shot by a classmate who was angry with his debate team coach.  In the course of his extremely emotional, but poignant talk, Michael Davis said, “My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson for what he did.  We would ask all of you here and all of you watching to forgive Karl Pierson. He didn’t know what he was doing” (http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24829368/). This young man entered the school with a shotgun, 125 shells, a machete and three homemade bombs (ibid.).  He ended his own life.  Despite all these facts, Davis says that he forgives Pierson.  Is that possible?

Some say that this is not Mr. Davis’ right nor is he able to do so.  I disagree.  Mr. Davis says that he did and I have no reason to disbelieve him.  His forgiving Pierson cannot effect the young man’s eternal destiny.  He does not have the power to absolve or wash away Karl’s sins.  Only the blood of Christ can do that.  But Mr. Davis’ incredible, magnanimous step is not only possible, it is vital.  Taking the step to forgive someone who has sinned against us is a crucial part of healing our own hearts and preventing ourselves from spiritual struggles like bitterness, anger, hatred, malice, and vindictiveness.

A heart ready to forgive is something that must characterize the Christian, for sure.  He or she may be hurt or violated in some way by a person who is impenitent and brazen.  While the Bible does not suggest that we allow ourselves to be hurt and sinned against repeatedly and without recourse or protection, God’s child eagerly hopes for the best and stands ready to extend forgiveness to others.

Mr. Davis is to be admired for his gesture.  It will not bring his daughter or even that young man back from death, but it may be key to his own mending.  Many who have been sinned against and have stood ready to forgive have found this to be beneficial to themselves.

The Father in heaven will not forgive those who are not abiding faithfully in His Son, but who doubts that He stands ready to welcome the vilest sinner who truly comes to Him?  That disposition could not be more worthy of our adopting.  Even in tragedies like that involving Miss Davis we can be reminded of the power of forgiving!

72 Hours And 100 Feet

Neal Pollard

By now, many have heard the incredible story of Harrison Odjegba Okene, the Nigerian cook whose incredible survival and rescue from the tugboat where he served as cook has been made public. He was actually rescued near the end of May, 2013, but video of the rescue has just recently hit the internet.  Okene rose early on the morning of May 26 at about 4:30 A.M. and was in the toilet when the tugboat keeled over and sank, eventually drowning the 10 Nigerian crew members and Ukrainian captain.  Okene groped in the dark until he found a cabin where there was an air pocket.  He spent the next three days, certain no one would look for or could find the small boat but still praying, reciting psalms his wife sent to him each day, and reflecting on his entire life.  His rescue, by a Dutch diving crew who happened to be working at an oil rig 75 miles away, was as much a shock to divers—considering this strictly a recovery effort— as it was to him, but disbelief quickly gave way to joy.  In a space of about four square feet, 100 feet from the surface of the vast Atlantic Ocean, Harrison Odjegba Okene, lived to tell this incredible tale (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/12/04/man-survives-60-hours-at-bottom-atlantic-rescued-after-finding-air-pocket-in/).

There will likely never be a story of rescue more incredible than this unless we are thinking in spiritual terms.  From that perspective, each person who is saved by God is an incredible, unlikely rescue.  In a world of darkness, each of us finds ourselves groping along and heading toward almost certain spiritual death.  Most will not make it through “alive” (Eph. 2:1).  Yet, Paul speaks of (Col. 1:13) and Peter implies (2 Pe. 2:7) a heavenly rescue mission.  The difference between our story and that of Okene is that we can choose to be rescued or, as most do, elect to perish.  It should humble us and strike us with awe that we have had access to His saving plan and that we can submit to it and be saved.  Most incredible is the length to which God was willing to go and the price He was willing to pay to find us and save us.  May I suggest that salvation from sin is a bigger story than surviving in a capsized, tiny boat for 72 hours 100 feet deep? One forestalls physical death for a time, but the other eliminates spiritual death for eternity!

 

Can He Accept Me As I Am?


Neal Pollard

Can God accept me as I am?  I know me better than I know anyone else—my thoughts, feelings, motives, intentions, desires, temptations, and attitudes.  I know I have sin in my life, and I have for many years.  I know I struggle today and I will continue to struggle until He takes me home or He comes again.  Can He accept me as I am?

No!  Not without a heart of resolve or an attempt to please and serve Him.  Not without obedience to the best of my ability.  Not without submitting to His Word and His plan.  Not if I am defiant and self-ruled.  Not if I continue to serve sin in order to get more grace.  Not if I am trying to write the rules or make it on the basis of my righteousness.  Not if I feel I can somehow earn His acceptance or do enough good or avoid enough bad to force His hand and make Him accept me.  Can He accept me as I am?

Yes!  He made the plan.  He set the promises and defined the conditions.  His Son offered the sacrifice.  He has the power and ability to cleanse my sins as I walk in the light.  After I have lived the way He wants me to, to the best of my ability, He provides the grace that bridges the gap between my best and perfection.  He refers me to Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the Prodigal Son, the woman who was a sinner, Peter, Saul of Tarsus, prostitutes, and sinners, the tax collector praying in the temple, the rabble, and the rest, and He says this is what is possible for you!

Can I accept that He can accept me?  Perhaps that is the question that needs addressing first.  His grace and my obedient faith is the roadway to divine acceptance.  Heaven depends on my accepting that!