Another Heroic Sacrifice

Neal Pollard

Heather Christensen, a 33 year old music teacher from Spanish Fork, Utah, contributed the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of dozens of band students on October 10, 2009. The bus driver, bringing back the band competition winners from Idaho State University, slumped over in his seat and Christensen left her seat and grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to keep the bus from crashing. While there were still several injuries, there was only one fatality. The 44 students on board were treated but released from the hospital. The 50 year old driver also survived. Only Christensen, partially ejected in the bus’ rollover, died.

It melted the hearts of an entire community that Heather was willing to lose her life in an attempt to save and rescue everyone on the bus. A gymnasium full of people at American Fork High School honored her at a Sunday night vigil. She was hailed as a true heroine.

The future of 45 people was dramatically changed by Heather’s decision to act. The obvious reaction of these students’ friends and family was to honor her sacrifice. It would be shameful to ignore it!

Jesus Christ deliberately decided, from eternity, to die on a cross in an attempt to save all mankind. His was a completely selfless act, requiring Him to take the place not of one but of all. Tragically, the majority of humanity for whom He offered Himself ignore His sacrifice. It does not move or touch them, and it certainly does not motivate them to do what they should do. Yet, for those of us who have obeyed the gospel and are Christians, we come together–not once–but once every week to commemorate His sacrifice. Each day we live, we live mindful of what He did in our place and for our sins. May our hearts stay soft to this supreme act of heroism!

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LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACE FOR JESUS

Neal Pollard
Periodically, we read or hear of “sightings” that unbelievers have a field day with. I refer to “Jesus sightings,” people are claiming in such things as clouds, Cheetos, dental X-rays, cooking utensils, windows, walls, and trees. Wikipedia even has an entry for it (“Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena”). People vehemently defend the idea that these are intentional, divinely sent images. Meanwhile, secular and agnostic witnesses to such claims gather up baby and bathwater together, using such superstitiousness to show how deluded those in Christendom really are. Yet, while responding to superstition in religion would be a fitting use of time, another thing comes to mind when hearing these sad stories. It is a reminder that people are looking for Jesus in all the wrong places.
They want some heavenly sign, some overwhelming feeling, some sensory sensation, and some sort of religious fireworks to create or validate their faith. While God has embedded plenty of these in the marvels of nature and creation, through the product of answered prayer that defies logic or explanation, and by the amazing process of transformation that occurs when people follow Christ, He calls on us to seek for Him in a much less electrifying and cataclysmic place.
When we pick up God’s Word and regularly, intently read, meditate, and study (cf. Psalm 1) it, we see Jesus come alive in powerful, sustaining ways! When we walk with the Lord each day, the resulting relationship built on His character and our trust in Him is powerful! When we actively serve Him and others and put into practice what He teaches us through the Bible, we see Jesus in a vivid way. Daily Christian living, the longer we practice it, brings Jesus into unmistakeable, clear focus. Maybe that is what these “seers” truly desire, and what they need is our help to truly find Him. Let us take that as a challenge and help people really “see Jesus” (cf. John 12:21; Heb. 2:9).

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A Wonderful Savior!

Neal Pollard

Since I was a boy, “A Wonderful Savior” has been one of my favorite hymns. A multitude of reasons are cited in this beautiful song, all of which builds my adoration for the Lamb of God! Let me suggest three reasons why I think Jesus is a wonderful Savior.

He has a wonderful nature. Jesus is Divine and eternal. He possesses all the traits of Deity without qualification or limitation (Col. 2:9). That means He has the power to save “to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25). Not only does He, as God, have the power, but He has the love (1 John 4:8). He has not only the power and the will, but also the desire.

He demonstrated wonderful love. Again, what could drive the perfect God to die for woeful, sinful, and wicked man? There was nothing in us deserving of love, so this says everything about Him and nothing about us. He loves me because HE is wonderful (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; cf. Rev. 3:9).

He has opened wonderful doors of opportunity. Paul loved using this terminology. He told Corinth in two letters about the Lord opening such doors for him (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). He told the church at Colosse (4:3). He reported as much to the church at Antioch at the end of the first missionary journey (Acts 14:27). We cannot separate these opportunities from the Savior. Who do we seek to promote? What is our message? Who is the object of hope? He opens doors because of who He is. The Godhead, when we pray and seek His will, opens the doors through divine providence. How enriching and rewarding when we step through those wonderful doors!

Fanny J. Crosby had in mind the event up on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments and the Lord descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there. It is a beautiful picture of a God who condescends to lowly man. That’s what Jesus did! He lowered Himself for us (Phil. 2:5ff). Thank God for such a Savior as we have!

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ARE YOU ON THE LIST?

Neal Pollard

I recently heard D.C. Brown, illustrating proper conduct, mention a list I’ve seen at times in my adult life. The list he mentioned was of people whose personal checks the cashier was not to take. The offenders apparently wrote “bad checks,” checks they did not have sufficient funds to cover. The names, as is typical, were bold and legible to the customer as well as the employee. Multiple purposes are achieved through such a list—warning, shaming, identifying, and the like. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that someone’s name might accidentally land on the list.

Throughout our lives, we may find ourselves looking to see if we are on this list or that. When I was in school, they would publish the honor roll list, depth charts in sports, casts for plays and who was chosen for what part, and those who were selected for the Beta Club or Honor Society. The advent of the internet has slowly replaced paper lists with electronic ones, but the concept is still intact.

The Bible talks about a “list.” It is a list every thinking and feeling person should yearn to have their name written on.  The setting is the great day of judgment, recorded by John in Revelation 20:11-15. Jesus is sitting in all His majesty on His throne. Everyone, great and small, stood before that throne. They were judged by God’s Word and what they did with it. In a sobering text, here is the climax: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was throne into the lake of fire” (15). Jesus preached on earth that the majority of all people will not be on that list (Mat. 7:13-14). They will have neglected or rejected the will revealed in the Bible (cf. John 12:48). If never before that moment, at that threshold of eternity they will have never wanted anything like they will want to have their name on that list. But, then it will be too late. Now is the time to submit ourselves and our lives to that divine will and, by grace through faith, have our name written there.

Some lists we would wish to avoid in this life. The list, in Revelation 20:12, is not one of them. What a joy it will be to hear our name “when the roll is called up yonder”!

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The Gift (POEM)

Neal Pollard

 

The manger scene was sweet and mild,
But it was only a part of the plan,
The gift was not given by the swaddling child,
It was paid by the blood of the Man.

His Bethlehem birth was a crucial cog,
Without which His death could not be
But the people who spit, the soldiers who flog
And the pagans who nailed Him did not see

That by God’s prescient sight they helped complete
A present He meant for all men,
Unwitting, unwilling, they led down that street
The Hero who paid for our sin.

The gift was not delivered when He said, “It is done,”
We are miserable if He yet lies in the tomb,
He rose on that Sunday, this victorious Son,
As He’d come from the virgin’s blessed womb.

The gift has been given, this great grace of God
And He asks every person to receive it.
Those who obediently respond with salvation are shod
What a gift it is for all who believe it.

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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A Tale Of Two Crosses

Neal Pollard

“Tell us father, were you really there that day?

Did they make you take His burden the rest of the way?”

“Son, I stood in the crowd when I got my painful commission,

And they thrust it on me without asking my permission.

He was staggering and bloody and gripped by exhaustion

I was pressed into service, whether expediency or precaution.

The skull-shaped brow scowled back from a distance,

As I offered that Sufferer my lowly assistance

I was far from the lush valley that cradled my idyllic town

In the bustling, boisterous crowd full of heckles and frowns

Taking outside of Jerusalem this rough-hewn beam

Accompanied by His friends and more foes, what a curious team

Every step in the cacophony of the heckling hateful

When I got to the spot, I was wearily grateful

To cease my assignment and be through with this affront

But I stayed long enough to see men with a malice so blunt

Take the man I relieved and affix Him securely

To the implement I’d carried so slowly but surely

With frightening precision they attached Him with nails

To the cross which they lifted, oblivious to any wails

For the pain, sons, I know must have been unrelenting

As I watched this plain gentleman hang, with no champions dissenting.

No, the crowd with their clamors. bloodthirsty and wild

Made a contrast with this Man, His face loving and mild.

He hung for six hours, and during that ordeal,

Things happened that day, both incredible and surreal.

At the end, after the torture and the mockery were through,

He’d said, “Father, forgive these who know not what they do.”

Now He offered the Father Himself, His own spirit,

I wonder how many of the rabble there could hear it.”

Alexander and Rufus, the sons of this infamous servant

Had a father involved in a task he did, whether feckless or fervent.

We know him today, though we know not what became of the man.

Did it cause him to follow or, like Pilate, to wash his hands.

Was the Rufus of Romans Simon’s son, whom Paul adored?

Was Alexander the villain Paul scornfully deplored?

We won’t know on this earth just who all these men were,

Though we’d like a clear picture in place of the blur,

But we know on that morning, when we gained by Christ’s loss,

That this Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross.

Today we are called to assume a great load,

Not His cross, but ours, is the burden that’s bestowed.

The cross of self-denial, we must kill our self-rule

And be His, day by day, until our journey is through.

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“I Know Who You Are!”

Neal Pollard

A rich detail in the study of the gospel of Mark is the testimony of the unclean spirits about Jesus. 

  • Mark 1:24—A man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
  • Mark 3:11—“Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’”
  • Mark 5:7—The man with the unclean spirit named Legion said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!”

In addition to these encounters, the gospel repeatedly shows Jesus’ power over the unclean spirits—He gave authority to the apostles over the unclean spirits (Mark 6:7), He healed the little girl with the unclean spirit (Mark 7:25), and He cast out the unclean “deaf and mute” spirit from the man’s son (Mark 9:25). Reading just those few accounts of Jesus’ power over them, no wonder they testified about Him! Who knows what they had seen of Him in the spirit realm that people on earth had not seen?  

Consider a few observations about these believing, confessing evil spirits we read about in the gospel record. 

Their faith exceeded the faith of the apostles, disciples, and religious leaders.  Jesus rebukes the absence and littleness of faith in the people who encounter Him, even those who were His closest followers. In Mark 8:28, so many were wrong about who He was. The disciples showed fear instead of faith or they missed the point on occasions where faith would have made things clear. How humbling for them that unclean spirits were crystal clear in their knowledge about Jesus. 

Their faith did not benefit them.  James’ epistle drives this point home. He writes, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (2:19). These unclean spirits were working against Christ. Just knowing who Jesus was did not save them nor did it make them submissive to Him.

Their faith is presented as a prominent proof of Jesus’ identity.  The miracles, wonders, and signs performed by Jesus help the apostles and disciples ultimately figure out who Jesus is. Peter would preach this (Acts 2:22ff). John would write this (John 20:30-31). Reading about this in the Bible, countless men and women through the centuries have believed based on the record about Jesus that includes His power over the spirit world. Mark presents these encounters to establish the fact confessed by Peter: “You are the Christ” (8:29).

How does this apply to us today?  First, let’s not let the world live with greater faith and understanding than we do. Second, let’s understand that merely understanding and believing the identity of Jesus will not save us. Faith must be accompanied by works. Third, may we allow the various proofs about Jesus to build and grow our faith and trust in Him, and by this yield a foundation which stands up to the fiercest storms (cf. Matt. 7:24-25). Let’s not merely say to Jesus, “I know who You are!” Let’s show Him!

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Laying Aside “Every Weight”

Neal Pollard

I try to write very seldom about my favorite hobby, running, which I picked up when our baby, who Pooh Duke has dubbed “Carlnormous,” was still in the womb (This is Carlnormous).  Running produces so many wonderful benefits, physically, psychologically, and mentally.  Yet, as I have heard said, exercise is only about 20% of weight management.  Therefore, until I have recently begun beefing up my “push back” exercises from the dinner table, I have been running at over 200 pounds for much of those 17 years.  I am 15 pounds lighter than I was this time last month, and Strava does not lie.  Today, I logged a 10K at a pace of 8:19/mile (Strava is cool), while listening to a mellow “Fleet Foxes And More” playlist from Amazon Music (Will Fleet Foxes reunite?)—not exactly heart-pumping exercise music.  This time last month, I was about a full minute slower per mile.  Since today I’m inevitably older than I’ve ever been, the difference has to be the fewer pounds I’m dragging around.  Hopefully, I’ll drop more weight, and if I do I anticipate that my pace may quicken and I’ll feel even better doing it.

New Testament writers use the running analogy on several occasions, but consider what the writer of Hebrews says:  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:1-3). The NASB says “encumbrance” (NKJV, “weight”), and the word means “that which serves to hinder or prevent someone from doing something—‘hindrance, impediment’ (Louw-Nida, 13.149). While the implication is “of an athlete stripping himself of clothing which would impede his performance” (Ellingworth, NIGTC, np), how much more does something like 15 pounds “impede”?

This passage encourages endurance with at least three ideas.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Meaningful. It helps one with endurance as it helps eliminate obstacles to a successful run.  It shows up in a better quality of life. It impacts more than just the run you are on that day.  The effects are enduring and they impact such vital areas as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.  So it is spiritually.  This is about defeating sin, staying faithful, endurance, and overcoming.  In line with the thrust of the whole letter of Hebrews, it is about not falling away and leaving Christ!  We do not want to hang on to anything that interferes with that eternal prospect.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Measurable. I can tell the difference in myself when I have or have not lost that extra weight.  Certainly, the same is true spiritually.  When something is weighing me down, distracting, depressing, deceiving, or drawing me away, I can tell.  I can see it in my devotional life, it shows up in my speech, my attitude, my ethics, and countless similar ways. Other people can see it, too.  I know that God sees every bit of it!

Laying Aside The Weight Is Motivational.  By laying aside the encumbrances and entanglements, I feel better and improve my physical quality of life. The Hebrews’ writer tells us about a transcendent motivation which follows lightening our spiritual loads of sin problems.  Removing the impediments, I am better able to fix my eyes on Jesus and His example while not growing weary or losing heart.

Past experience tells me that weight can be picked up even easier than it can be laid aside.  This is an ongoing discipline.  But it is so worthwhile!  Oh, that I can remember that as I run the course of earth toward eternity.