P.A.I.N.

Neal Pollard

Problems aren’t inherently negative.  Will you remember that? The middle-aged man with the persistent pain goes to the doctor, who discovers the malignant mass and gets him to the surgeon. The man’s life is saved by pain. The teenage Christian girl who endures the hurt of breaking up with the boy who is ungodly but who she loves feels pain. Eventually, though, as she raises her four children and enjoys marriage with a strong Christian man, she thanks God for that former pain. Illustrations of this point are endless.

How do you view your pain? By human nature, we tend to view suffering as the very worst thing that could happen to us. The anxiety of the medical test, the chronic disease that impacts every portion of our day and life, the permanent loss of a loved one through whatever events, or a rift in the family all can seem unbearable.

Will you remember that, as with the physical body and the emotional makeup, pain in our spiritual lives can have a positive benefit? We can learn from the painful thing. Pain can cause us to grow. Pain can serve as a spiritual refinery. After all, problems aren’t inherently negative. It is how we respond to the problems that makes all the difference. If we give up due to the problems we face, it’s devastating. If we sin in response to our pain, we fail and inflict damage on ourselves and others. If we blame God, we are in danger of allowing our pain to conquer us.

Despite those possibilities, though, none of these things have to occur. The encouraging thing is that how we respond to our problems is fully under our own control. We can be the example, in our suffering, that leads a lost soul to Christ or an erring Christian back home. We can be the role models others remember when they go down the road of trouble. We can bring glory to God by faithfully enduring such things.

Problems aren’t inherently negativeThank God for this.

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“He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains”

Neal Pollard

This statement in Psalm 104:10 is spoken literally of God’s physical provision for His creatures. But, have you ever thought about how that is true for you and me when we find ourselves in the valleys of life? In between the mountaintops of successes and happy days, we can find ourselves seemingly down in the valley of the shadow of death (cf. 23:4). I am so thankful that in those moments that might seem dry and thirsty, God sends forth springs in the valleys of life. Whatever creates the valley for us, it can seem like a deep place hard to climb out of. How does God send forth spiritual and emotional springs for us, even in the valleys of life?

  • The church is a spring in the valleys of life. Other Christians lifting and encouraging us can be the medicine we need to take the next step through the valley. No wonder the church is such an expression of God’s wisdom (Eph. 3:10-11).
  • Prayer is a spring in the valleys of life. Pouring out our hearts to a God who understands us and knows our situation perfectly strengthens us.
  • Our family can be a spring in the valleys of life. Those of us who have Christian parents, siblings, children, and other relatives have a double blessing, family twice over. They can be the support and encouragement we need to keep moving.
  • Spiritual blessings are a spring in the valleys of life. Ephesians 1:3 says in a general way what the rest of the New Testament enumerates in a specific way. God is blessing us in so many ways because we are in His Son. Never do we appreciate that more than when we struggle.
  • The Bible is a spring in the valleys of life. There is wisdom and insight on every page, guidance for our journey. God has revealed the road map to help us traverse the narrow way to heaven. The narrow way will not keep us from traveling through valleys, and often it has valleys the broad way does not.
  • Faith or trust is a spring in the valleys of life. Like Paul, who often camped in the valleys of life, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). My eyes may be wet with tears in the valley, but my eyes of faith see with crystal clarity.
  • Hope is a spring in the valleys of life. It anchors the soul (Heb. 6:18-19), but it also helps lift us up. Because I face the future with confidence, no setback will keep me discouraged but so long. Tomorrow will be a brighter day!
  • Christian service is a spring in the valleys of life. Maybe nothing leads me through the valley any more than finding a fellow sojourner to help out of their valleys. When I focus outside of myself on other strugglers, I soon forget my unpleasant experience.

Many years ago, I heard Franklin Camp talk about the valleys of his life and how he overcame. His young daughter accidentally burned to death in a brush fire. He faced other huge losses in life, but brother Camp through it all was a man who had his eyes fixed on the ultimate mountaintop experience. In the valleys of life, let us look for the springs God sends. They will refresh, renew, and relieve us until our journey is complete.

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Facing The Storm

Neal Pollard

Springtime in the plains is a notorious time for storms. I was driving through northwest Texas near the time when three storm chasers were killed southwest of me on Tuesday afternoon. They died pursuing the storm, not directly because of it. They were there because conditions were ripe for tornadoes. 17 people were killed by tornadoes in 2016, but 24 have already died in them this year. Hollywood has captured our awe and fascination with them since The Wizard Of Oz. We view storms as mysterious, ominous, powerful, and frightening. They come in so many forms—hurricanes, floods, blizzards, cyclones, and more. But “storms” are synonymous with fear and sorrow.

Wouldn’t you classify some of the major, traumatic events of your life as storms.  They build and threaten, they strike, then they leave aftermath. The storm may take but a moment, but recovery can take days, months, or even years. Not surprisingly, the Bible uses the storm metaphorically to describe such moments in our lives. David wrote, “I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest” (Psa. 55:8). The man we most associate with such figurative storms, Job, laments, “You lift up the wind and cause me to ride; And you dissolve me in a storm” (30:22). Most frequently, the Bible uses storms representatively to describe God’s judgment. But, as Job and David show, sometimes storms strike the innocent and undeserving.

What do we do when facing a storm? We heed precautions. We take shelter.  We wait and endure. We ask for and trust God’s protection.

The world is full of people riding out storms today. That includes Christians. These storms are assaulting their bodies, bank accounts, relationships, spiritual strength, and spirits. Some feel safely sheltered, while others feel as if they are barely holding on. How do we face our storms?

* Seek help from others (Heb. 12:12-13; Ecc. 4:9-10).
* Search for possible benefits from it (Psa. 66:10; Rev. 21:3-4; Js. 1:2-4; etc.).
* See God’s power to help in it (Psa. 18:19; Rom. 8:28-38; 2 Pet. 2:9a).
* Shelter in the place of safety (Exo. 33:22; Psa. 91:1; Mat. 7:24-27).

God doesn’t cause evil or sin, but He allows it. We will always struggle with the “why” of this. But, we can grow our dependence on our great, perfect God when we are being battered. He is faithful. He wants to help. Lean on Him through your storms!

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Expectation Versus Euthanasia

Neal Pollard

She was born the year after the Civil War. Her mother died when she was three. Her father dropped her and her newborn sister off at the home of the widow of an army friend. Unable to care for the girls, the widow ultimately transferred care to a sweet, religious couple in the community. The girls spent happy years through their school days, but the older sister came to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager. It steadily grew worse until she could not walk. Their adopted parents died within months of each other, and the young women were poor and had little prospect of earning money for themselves. Before her affliction, she had developed aspirations as a concert pianist and shown great promise as a poet and writer. Arthritis robbed her on the musical dreams, but she flourished as a poet and hymn writer. Rather than seek relief from her pain through suicide, she channeled her suffering into beautiful writing that continues to comfort others as it did in her lifetime. Ravi Zacharias summarized her suffering, saying, “Her body was embarrassed by incontinence, weakened by cancer, and twisted and deformed by rheumatoid arthritis. She was incapacitated for so long that according to one eyewitness she needed seven or eight pillows around her body just to cushion the raw sores she suffered from being bedridden” (“The Cry For A Reason In Suffering,” np; other information from The Story of Annie Johnson Flint, Rowland Bingham). Her poetry and songs are not riddled with bitterness or even soul-wrenching questions of why. You’ll find titles like “The Grace Of God,” “Not Down, But Through,” “Rest, Tired Heart,” “Grace Sufficient,” “He Giveth More Grace,” “He’s Helping Me Now,” and on the hopeful, positive compositions flow.

We have only one of her hymns in our song book, and it is entitled, “The World’s Bible.” These familiar words include the lines, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way….” I appreciate the living testimony Ms. Flint was of the way one who believes in Christ ought to respond to the tragedies and difficulties that can strike in this fallen world. I pray that I will never be wracked by such suffering, but if I do I would want the world to see the spirit in me that so many saw in her. Her life was one of trust in God’s sufficiency and strength through the darkest moments of life.

Our state (Colorado) was one of a few that has passed physician-assisted, right to die legislation in the recent election cycle. Besides the ethical slippery slope of people, even doctors and patients, selecting when to end life, there is in such an effort a failure to see the intrinsic value of life as well as God’s sovereign right over His creation. Ms. Flint’s situation makes us cringe in discomfort at first blush, but we see the refined beauty of a trusting heart to impart profound comfort despite life’s harshest turns. To persecuted Christians, Peter offers this hope for all strugglers when he writes, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10; cf. 1 Pet. 1:6-7). Whatever the trial, we can choose life instead of death, trust in God rather than trust in our own thoughts. Let us live in triumphant expectation, no matter what we may have to endure for the moment (Rom. 8:38-39; Psa. 30:5).

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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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The Suffering Of Jesus And Commitment

Neal Pollard

Jesus died an awful death. Ruthless assassins, terrorists, sadistic and serial killers, savage and perverted criminals have all received much more humane treatment than He received that day. What Jesus endured at the cross can only be described as vicious. Consider the violent aspects of His crucifixion.

There was physical torture. He was scourged, beaten with a jagged whip (Mat. 27:27). He was fitted with a crown of thorns (Mat. 27:29). He was hit on the head repeatedly with a staff (Mat. 27:30). The soldiers struck Him with their hands (John 19:3). He carried His heavy cross until it fell on Him (John 19:17). He was nailed to that cross (John 20:25).

There was mental anguish. His countrymen hatefully yelled for His death (Mat. 27:25). Soldiers mocked Him and pretended to worship Him (Mat. 27:29). People hurled abuse at Him (Mat. 27:39,40). Religious leaders mocked Him (Mat. 27:44). The Heavenly Father left Him alone (Mat. 27:46). His disciples followed Him, mourning and wailing (Luke 23:37). Earlier, all His disciples forsook Him and fled (Mark 14:50).

There was social embarrassment. They stripped Him (Mat. 27:25). He was spit upon (Mat. 27:30). The soldiers gambled for His clothes (Mat. 27:35). He was watched like a sideshow (Mat. 27:36). They jokingly put an elegant, purple robe on Him (Luke 23:11). He endured great shame (Heb. 12:2).

The sheer brutality of the crucifixion tells one how serious sin is! The proposal from heaven is, “Stop sinning and serve the Savior!” In the light of the cross, examine Heaven’s every demand, command, and reprimand. What expectation from the Father or requirement from the Son is too great? Before answering, look back at the cross!

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Disturbed

Neal Pollard

The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider.  If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity.  The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.

Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ?  It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established.  We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts.  We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11).  Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment.  Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2).  He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14).  Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).

The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith.  Consider a few highlights:

  • We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
  • Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
  • Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
  • Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
  • It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
  • It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
  • We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
  • The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).

I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances.  Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials.  Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).

What’s My Excuse?

Neal Pollard

Mark Speckman is an interesting story. He was a High School star linebacker, played Junior College then at a four-year NAIA college at the same position, and then coached college football for 20 years (he followed Dan Hawkins at Willamette in 1998).  He can write, type, use a cell phone, drive, play racquetball, and play trombone (USA Today, 10/4/05).  What’s so unusual about that?  Speckman was born without hands!  He has never let that stand in his way, but has used the handicap to inspire and motivate others.

Each of us will enjoy advantages and suffer some disadvantages throughout life, regardless of our age, income, citizenship, looks, and background.  While some seem to have greater challenges than others, the greatest determining factor seems to be attitude, focus, and determination.  Do I use my “handicaps” as an excuse? Am I full of self-pity? Do my problems cause me to give up and check out?

We will not know on this side of time what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know it tormented him (2 Cor. 12:7), drove him to his knees three times in prayer about it (12:8), and was a weakness for him (12:10).  He writes this after detailing the many trials he faced for doing what was right, preaching the gospel (2 Cor. 11:23-33).  Yet, he never fell back on any of this as an excuse for failing to reach, teach, serve, and help others.  Apparently, as he hurt within and worked through his own limitations, he kept his focus on doing the Lord’s work through his Christian service.

The question is not whether you suffer and struggle or even if you have a thorn to contend with.  In your own way, you probably will and on an ongoing basis.  Will it be a crutch or a catapult?  Will it hold you down or launch you higher?  That depends on you.  What will you do about it?

Our Brethren Are Suffering

Neal Pollard

The United Nations’ very conservative estimate is that well over 2,000 people have died in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine in fighting between that nation’s government have clashed with separatists.  So many of the towns and cities in the region have congregations of God’s people, many of their preachers trained in our foreign extension school that for years was in Kramatorsk and of late has been in Gorlovka. One of our graduates reports that two gospel preachers have been kidnapped this month, though one of them has since been released.  Our brethren in Ukraine have been facing the terror of daily bombing and shooting as well as fear for their safety when they assemble.

The ebola outbreak is an ongoing health concern and it is not yet contained.  Nations affected include Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and even Nigeria.  One of two Americans on medical missions in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly, is a member of the church.  While its not clear whether any of our native brethren in these African nations have gotten sick or died, they certainly feel the threat and concern of a disease that claims between 50 and 90 percent of those who contract it. 

Around the world at any given time, we have brothers and sisters who face health scares, hunger, harm, and hatred.  Persecution, natural disaster, famine, and war are no respecter of persons, and “our people” are often affected.  How they need our constant prayers as well as whatever assistance we can prudently provide.

On our pews in the local church, though without the drama and press coverage, there are always those who are struggling with hurts, heartaches, health, home, and hardship.  They may not trumpet their complaints or even publicly ask for encouragement, silently suffering.  As we interact with each other, let us keep in mind the potential hidden concerns and burdens being borne.  

Paul encourages us, in the spirit of unity, to “have the same care for one another” (1 Co. 12:25). He tells Colosse, “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). He tells Philippi to to look out “for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:4).  Are we busy and bothered by our own concerns? Certainly! But may we ever cultivate greater sensitivity toward the silent suffering of our spiritual family, both near and far.

Members of the Slavyansk church of Christ (including a BVBIU graduate from our first class) holding bomb shrapnel that exploded near the church building. Photo Credit: Jeff Abrams.