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consequences indifference Judgment Judgment Day pride

“Who Will Bring Me Down To Earth?” God!

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The shortest book of the Old Testament is dedicated to revealing the coming punishment of a nation which descended from Esau. Edom, also called Teman (for Esau’s grandson, Gen. 36:15),  faced “the day of the Lord” (a frequent Old Testament term meaning coming, divine punishment) along with all the nations. Well over a thousand years after Esau lived, his descendants betrayed God’s people, Judah, by helping the Babylonians loot Jerusalem during the time of the captivity and exile. God took notice and the book of Obadiah is proof that He planned to take action. 

While that is the background of Obadiah, it’s the way that Edom saw itself that has been imitated by many nations in subsequent times. One of the consequences of forgetting and denying God is that the most frequent substitute put on the throne of one’s heart is self. How sweet to embrace the thought that “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psa. 33:12). What a contrast to the frequent lamentation in Scripture about nations who forget God (Psa. 106:21; Deu. 32:18; Jud. 3:7; Jer. 3:21; etc.). 

Is it possible for people today to imitate the mindset of the Edomites? If so, how does God feel about that? How will He respond to that? It seems that at the heart of this book, we find:

THE SOURCE OF THEIR SECURITY (3-9)

Obadiah says they are arrogant and put their trust in their hiding places and their lofty places. They thought they had built a pretty impregnable defense and impenetrable destiny. This earth and world provide no such guarantees. Jesus would call this building upon the sand (Mat. 7:26-27). What do I place my confidence in? The stock market? Material prosperity? Military might? Higher education? Recreation? Retirement? None of these things are inherently wrong, but they make poor foundations for our lives. 

THEIR SIN (10-14)

It appears that the three overarching problems God has with Edom is that they did nothing when their brother (the nation of Judah) was in need (10-11), they rejoiced over their brother’s misfortune (12), and they even participated in his suffering (13-14). When we list out the “worst sins” mankind commits, where do we place apathy? God puts it at the top of His list here. Sometimes we call them “sins of omission.” Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” On Judgment Day, the Lord will place on His left hand those who saw the needs of others and didn’t meet them (Mat. 25:31-46). Obadiah depicts three stages of one spiritual cancer: indifference, gloating, and collusion. John’s sobering words are appropriate here, as he asks, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). How helpful to see our brothers–those through Christ or Adam–as God sees them.

THEIR SENTENCE (15-20)

Nine times in five verses (10-14), Obadiah refers to “the day” God visited Judah for her sins. It was the day of their disaster, distress, destruction, and misfortune. Because of Edom’s sinful response described above, God had a day set aside for them, too. They would reap what they sowed (15-16). They would suffer (18). They would lose it all (17,19-20). The future looked bright for God’s faithful remnant (17-21), but not for those who had built their lives upon the sand. 

This book has application for our world, our country, for the church, and for each of us as individuals. Frequently, life will come along and shake our confidence. How we do on the other side of that distress depends on our foundation. That is a prayerful process. We can be fire or stubble (18). May we find the strength ascend Mount Zion and the kingdom (21; Heb. 12:22-29). 

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Petra: In the territory of ancient Edom
Categories
David division motivation Old Testament pride

A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Civil war has broken out in the kingdom after Saul’s death. David is a patriot who loves his people so he offers to treat Saul’s followers well after Judah crowns him as king. However, a man named, Abner, takes matters into his own hands and he defies God’s chosen king. He sets up Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, as their new ruler instead. Abner, who was the general of Saul’s army, along with the servants of Ish-bosheth, make their way to the pool of Gibeon. This was a large pool carved out of rock by Saul’s father. Once they arrive they sit down. On the opposite side of the pool, Joab, David’s nephew, and his servants meet them and sit as well. Behind them, two armies stand in formation, ready for war— brother against brother. Abner, perhaps to prevent the death toll that a larger battle would bring, suggests that their servants fight for them. Joab agrees, but this idea quickly leads to a slaughter. Each servant grabs the other by the head, clinching hair in a tight fist, and cuts each other down simultaneously. This short altercation doesn’t provide a victor, so both armies charge each other. It’s a battle that is fought with so much passion, but God grants David’s army with the win. I imagine the Man After God’s Own Heart did not take joy in this victory. The chaos of war has already taken so much from him, including the life of his best friend, Jonathan.

After the battle of Gibeon has ended, David’s nephew, Asahel, takes off after the fleeing Abner. Asahel was known for his speed and agility, with it being likened to that of a gazelle. This speed allowed him to pass the others that were also in pursuit and he finds himself on the heels of Abner in no time. His swiftness will bring him a swift death. While Abner is not as quick, he is older with more experience. Twice Abner asks Asahel to stop this foolish attempt to take his life, but Asahel doesn’t take this advice. This is when Abner thrusts his spear behind him and the butt end of the spear goes through Asahel’s stomach and out the other side, killing the young warrior. 

This is probably an account you never heard in Vacation Bible School, but there is so much we can learn from this event found in 2 Samuel 2:12-24. We notice how deadly pride can be. First, there is the pride of Abner in rejecting David as king, and then there’s the pride of Asahel. He was famous for being quick on his feet, but clearly slow in thought. Preachers and teachers can become well known for their ability to speak and proclaim God’s word. This fame can also be their own spiritual downfall if they begin to think more of themselves than they should. When we post scriptures, baptisms, or other good deeds on social media for our own praise and admiration, God may be the only One that sees your heart. Those are the only eyes that matter since they belong to the One that will be our final Judge.

We also learn from this story that serving a dead king is futile. As Christians we serve the King of Kings, God’s anointed son. Those standing with Him will always win. Those that chose to take matters into their own hands are fighting a losing battle.

When we read about events like this in the Bible it should also make us thankful for the day when we will enjoy a place where there is no heartache, bloodshed, or wickedness. Even David had to endure his share of trials, but now he’s with the God he modeled his heart after— and, we can assume, Jonathan. No matter what struggle we may find ourselves tangled up in, let’s place our focus on that heavenly reunion. 

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photo via Flickr
Categories
humility poetry prayer pride Uncategorized

From The Pollard Poetry Archives (III)

Two Prayers In The Temple
Neal Pollard

Up high and proud my boasts I declare
I brag and I crow with my head in the air
Til I look in the corner and see him down there
Why is that poor sinner locked up in despair?

I abstain from eating two days every week
I give money too freely, Thy thanks I now seek.
Why is that man crying, the tears stain his cheek
He’s beating his chest, must be some kind of trick.

Lord, I’m not like the swindler, the philanderer, the cheat,
Or even like that tax collector with whose prayer I compete,
I’m walking out now, Lord, my preening’s complete,
But I’ll see You here next time my boasts to repeat

While scarcely detected a man whispered his plea
His face to the floor, if not on one knee
All the sinner could say was, “Be merciful to me!”
And he left more justified than the proud Pharisee.
(Luke 18:9-14)

(prayJune 8, 1997)

Categories
pride self service

What Is “Selfism”?

Neal Pollard

I came across the term “selfism” in Dick Meyer’s 2008 book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.  He defines it as “American individualism redefined by the age of marketing, self-help, moral relativism, and the belief that the “self” is something that can be deliberately found or made” (36).  He warns that “it is different than the older, can-do, self-made-man American spirit because it substitutes feeling for doing” (37). Later in the chapter, Meyer ties this hyper-emphasis on self  to a growing belligerence in society.  He writes, “On the Internet, belligerence can be anonymous, faceless, and hence risk-free. In schools and offices, for example, the Web is a problem, because parents and workers say nasty things in e-mail that they would never say in person. Chat rooms, blogs, and online comments are clogged with vitriol and hate-mongering…the need to make others wrong has turned into an addiction” (44).  One of his points in the chapter is that the elevation of self is not just a problem of narcissism, but it has become commonplace to vaunt self by stepping on, insulting, and ridiculing others to do it.  We are witnessing an ever-growing game of “King of the Mountain,” where in a rush to get noticed we are shoving off anyone who might eclipse or overshadow us.

Selfism is Satanic rather than sanctified behavior, but each of us must wrestle with it.  The temptation to join them rather than “beat” them through Christlike humility is ever-present.  What is “one-upmanship” if not an effort to present self as above another? In certain circles, the ability to respectfully and civilly discuss differences has been assassinated by hired killers like vanity, self-importance, animosity, and contempt.

Do we have a more difficult task than obeying Jesus’ command to deny self (cf. Mat. 16:24)?  When Paul urges Philippi to eliminate selfish ambition and conceit while esteeming others as better than self (Phi. 2:3), do we appreciate the polar opposite this is to the cultural arch-hero of selfism?  Jesus came into this world to show us the selfless life.  It is scary to live that way, especially in a world full of adherents to the cult of self.  We fear that being selfless with selfish people will lead to being walked over, preempted, or mistreated.  What will help is developing the faith to trust that living the way God commands leads us to the best life possible.  The best life possible is one where self is suppressed in deference to Christ and others.  Such a life will be noticed as a beacon in our choppy seas of selfism!