Who Is The “Troubler Of Israel”?

Neal Pollard

Ahab was the most wicked king in Israel’s history (1 Kings 16:30). To top it off, he was married to perhaps the most immoral woman revealed to us during the time of the divided kingdom in the Old Testament. Her name, Jezebel, is still somewhat infamous today. She destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4). The prophets who survived feared for their lives because of Ahab (18:9). Instead, Jezebel kept a stable of false prophets, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (18:19). Read this section of 1 Kings and the first nine chapters of 2 Kings to get the full flavor of who this notorious couple was.

How ironic that when Elijah appears to Ahab before the prophet’s infamous confrontation with the false prophets on Mount Carmel, Ahab’s first words to him were, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” (18:17). There was controversy, division, problems, and trouble in the land, but Ahab’s narrative was distorted. Ahab was like a reckless drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic and blaming a law-abiding pedestrian for being in his way on the sidewalk. Elijah was not the troubler of Israel for daring to oppose the false ways of Ahab and Jezebel. He was doing exactly what God wanted him to do!

In our present, lawless age, there are so many “prophets” who come along with a message appealing to right ideas like peace, grace, unity, and love. Many of them package themselves in the garments of relevance, using our culture as their props and stage. The causes célèbre which our age reveres, some of which are diametrically opposed to the doctrine, ethics, and morality outlined in Scripture, are pushed at God’s people—who are shamed and made to feel unrighteous if they dare protest what is said. In some circles, it is asserted that anyone teaching that the Bible is authoritative, contains a pattern, and is God’s objective truth for all times, is Pharisaical, consumed with self-righteousness, hateful, mean-spirited, and divisive. In short, that they are “troublers of Israel.”

As a quick side-note, there are some who do press their personal proclivities, traditions, and convictions as divine truth. This is as accursed a thing as seeking to nullify what God has bound in heaven (cf. Mat. 16:19; Rev. 22:18-19). Such folks manufacture trouble rather than trouble people by faithfully sharing God’s Word. These occupy unenviable ground, in view of the end of all things.

Yet, anyone who conscientiously tries to follow God’s blueprint for how to share His truth (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Col. 4:6), who takes care to handle Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15), is going to invariably encounter the Ahabs, Jezebels, Baalites, and Asherahists. Teach the singular, undenominational nature of the church (Eph. 4:4), the role of women in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-12), the essentiality of baptism in God’s saving plan (Acts 2:38), God’s plan for marriage and sexuality (Mat. 19:1-9; Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:26-27), and the like, and it will come. The Ahabs will label you the troublemaker and the source of the problem.

In what may sound dark and grim, Paul warns Timothy that difficult times will come (2 Tim. 3:1). He speaks of men immoral in nature and inaccurate in message who succeed with the weak and impulsive (3:6), who themselves are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7), who in fact “oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (3:8). Ultimately, they will not carry the day (3:9). But they will always have their eager followers who “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3-4).

Suppress the victim mentality if you are trying to be an Elijah in this Ahab society. On the job, at home, in the community, within the religious community at large, and even at times within the church, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Do it with great patience and instruction, as Paul counsels. Don’t be a troubler in God’s eyes, but know that you will be seen as one in the eyes of some in this world. Keeping company with Elijah is not a bad thing.

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Misguided Anarchists

Neal Pollard

In her excellent book about the many events leading up to World War I, Barbara Tuchman, in The Proud Tower, spends a chapter talking about the anarchist movements swirling particularly around Europe and the United States. It was the inspiration for several assassinations of important political figures, including one of our presidents—William McKinley. In the wake of the industrial revolution, many immigrant, uneducated, illiterate, and otherwise disadvantaged people, worked an incredibly high number of hours each week for less than living wages. They lived in deplorable conditions and had nearly no prospects of improving their plight or the plight of their children. A growing proposal around the industrialized world was to throw off all government and institute what amounted to a global commune with a total sharing of assets. It was not Communism because it did not want any organization or officials to rule and govern. Those who truly embraced the cause put total faith in man, in every case, to be noble and devoid of base motives like greed, power, and self-interest. It was anti-religious, anti-capitalist, anti-authority of any kind. Other than inspire attacks on famous people, the anarchists never came close to materializing their desired revolution. Rationale people knew there must be order and law.

Periodically, a similar movement rears its head even within the body of Christ. Christianity, in their view, is reduced to a single, undefined maxim: “Love Jesus.” While it can seem appealing, when it is viewed uncritically, it is unsustainable and self-defeating. When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment in the Law, He replied by saying it was a total love of God. He added that the second greatest command was loving others. Yet, throughout the gospels, Jesus expressed so many other specific commands for His followers that build upon that vital foundation. The men to whom He delegated authority to reveal His will and commands (John 14:26; 16:13) revealed His expectations of His followers. Pulpits and leaderships that deemphasize, avoid, or attempt to nullify these commands may be acting from high motives and noble desires, but they are more harmful than those anarchists of over 100 years ago. They encourage more than civil disobedience. They encourage disobeying the God who will one day judge mankind. Human governments may rule from corruption, self-service, and oppressive intentions, but God’s Word never does. What God commands for us is only for our good. How should we respond? We should humbly, reverently, lovingly, and totally submit to His reign and rule in our lives. May that be our highest aim!

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The Dilemma Of Discipleship: Doctrine Or Duty

Neal Pollard

Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”

Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).

We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.

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But, They Were Certain!

Neal Pollard

Have you ever been absolutely sure about something, only to find out you were wrong? Maybe, it was the name of the band that sang your favorite song or the name of the third baseman on your favorite team when you were in elementary school. Sometimes, the stakes are higher and being wrong more costly than that.

Erik Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, is about a man and an entire bureau’s certainty that cost probably 6,000 their lives. And because they were so certain that a hurricane could not strike Galveston, Texas, a lot of people made fatal choices based on their own certainty—they were certain of houses that would stand, trains and tracks that would get them to their destinations, and that the slope of the coast would deter tidal waves and storm surges. Yet, in September, 1900, on Saturday and Sunday, probably the worst hurricane in modern history struck the exposed, helpless booming Texas city.

Some have been so certain about spiritual matters, but were wrong. They have been certain about what to bring God to worship (Gen. 4:2-3), about how to be saved from death (2 Kings 5:11-12), and about how to carry out God’s command (1 Sam. 15:13ff).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of some who seemed certain, but were certainly wrong. Depicting the Judgment scene, Jesus preaches, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mat. 7:21-23). These folks will have done religious acts in Jesus’ name. They will haven been certain they were on the right path, but Jesus says they will have been mistaken. They will not have done the will of the Father.

How many people will this ultimately describe? They have confidence in a preacher, a teaching, a tradition, a feeling, or a belief. Sadly, they have not even questioned whether or not it might not be what the Bible says on the matter. Jesus ends His sermon by talking about storms. This storm is more powerful than the one Larson writes about. It determines destiny (Mat. 7:24-27). We must base our certainty on the Rock!

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Ursuline Academy in Galveston, Texas, before the hurricane.

The Logical Progression Of The Line

Neal Pollard

Suddenly, it has become imperative that bathroom concessions be made for those who are struggling with gender identity issues. The comprehensively consuming coverage it has garnered, the blistering backlash against any opposing of this baffling blurring of the lines, and the preeminent priority this has become for a problem pestering a puny percentage of the population is actually not surprising. At least, it should not be.

The premise behind “transgender rights” is the same as that behind gay rights, but also the “right” to choose abortion, the “right” to become sexually active before marriage, the “right” to divorce and remarry at will—as well as the “right” to commit adultery. Neither does this clamor for rights reserve itself to matters identified in scripture as sexual sins. The watchwords of our culture include “feel,” “want,” “choose,” and the variants of “I,” “me,” and “my.” Self has been enthroned and each call to express, practice, and flaunt each co-opted right is expected to be not just tolerated by everyone else, but wholly embraced by them.

If you think our society lost its collective mind overnight, you have not been paying attention. If you think that this sickening syndrome was born in the 21st Century, you are likewise mistaken. We are seeing the spoiled fruit of sinister seed planted by mankind in every generation since the first generation.  There is a moral ebb and flow in every civilization and generation, but the issue is ever-present. The majority succumb to the temptation to crown our desires and condemn the declarations of Deity.

It was an illuminating moment, looking at Mark 8:34-35 last night during Teens In The Word. Michael Hite pointed out a thread used by Mark that’s summed up in those two verses. Several times, Mark speaks of what individuals “want” or “desire.” Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist (6:19). Her daughter wanted his head as payment for the dance which pleased Herod so much (6:25). Herod did not want to refuse her (6:26). People did whatever they wished with John the Baptist (9:13). Jesus speaks of those who desire to be first (9:35). James and John wanted a position of prominence (10:35). Jesus warns about those who desire greatness (10:43-44). But, if we desire to come after Jesus—to be His disciple—we must put self to death! This is a radical idea, one completely rejected by the world. Instead, the world says to keep moving the line to wherever you want it. You decide! You’re the boss. Discipleship acknowledges that God and His Word determine where the lines are drawn. We follow Jesus and stay behind His lines.

But Jesus does not ask us to do what He did not do to the greatest degree. Facing His imminent death on the cross, Jesus prayed in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). All these words, variously translated “desire,” “want,” and “will” in Mark’s gospel, are from a single Greek word meaning “to desire to have or experience something; wish to have” (Louw-Nida, BDAG). Jesus followed His Father’s will and denied His own. In essence, He says to us in Mark 8:34-35, if you want My salvation, you must do the same thing. The world doesn’t get that, but we must! This life is not about getting everything we want. It’s about self-denial, murdering self-will, and following Jesus. It’s about staying within His lines when it comes to everything. That’s a message we must gently share with a world bent on a self-destructive, self-guided journey!

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HOW BAD DO YOU WANT THE TRUTH?

Neal Pollard

Do you want the truth as bad as Jiang Xulian wanted a six-karat diamond from Thailand?  The 30-year-old woman stole the jewel from a jewelry fair in Nonthaburi, swallowed it, and tried to smuggle it out of the country.  CCTV caught the heist and an X-ray in Bangkok revealed the diamond in her large intestine.  Eventually, a surgeon removed the gem, worth $392,000, and Xulian faces three years in prison (read more here).

In successive parables, Jesus compared the search and pursuit of the kingdom of heaven to treasure, the first unspecified valuables and the second pearls (Mat. 13:44-46). David calls the law of the Lord “more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold” (Ps. 19:10; cf. 119:72, 127). Solomon adds his inspired counsel to “buy truth, and do not sell it” (Prov. 23:23).  Repeatedly, the Bible lays out the superiority of spiritual treasure above not only physical treasure but all else (Mat. 6:19-21).

  • Some do not stand in the truth (John 8:44).
  • Some question even the existence of truth (John 18:38).
  • Some suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).
  • Some exchange the truth for a lie (Rom. 1:25).
  • Some do not obey the truth (Rom. 2:8).
  • Some are not straightforward about the truth (Gal. 2:14).
  • Some do not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved (2 Th. 2:10).
  • Some do not believe the truth (2 Th. 2:12).
  • Some are self-deprived of the truth (1 Tim. 6:5).
  • Some have gone astray from the truth (2 Tim. 2:18).
  • Some are always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7).
  • Some oppose the truth (2 Tim. 3:8).
  • Some turn their ears away from the truth (2 Tim. 4:4; Ti. 1:14).
  • Some lie against the truth (Jas. 3:14).
  • Some stray from the truth (Jas. 5:19).
  • Some malign the truth (2 Pet. 2:2).
  • Some do not practice the truth (1 Jn. 1:6).
  • Some do not have the truth in them (1 Jn. 1:8; 2:4; etc.).

The point of Scripture is that these are people who not only do not want the truth but are trying to avoid it.  They lack sufficient hunger and desire for the will of God or the rule of God in their lives. It is not something they treasure.

What about us?  Do we want God’s truth so badly that we are willing to sacrifice, pursue, and strive to obtain it? Its value is without comparison! Its reward is beyond comprehension. Let’s encourage each other to be truth-lovers, willing to pay whatever price is necessary to have it.

METH-FLAVORED MILKSHAKE

Neal Pollard

It allegedly happened in 2014, but now Fred Maldonado is taking In-N-Out Burger to court for what he said he found at the bottom of his cup.  While their is some “fishiness” to his story and the restaurant “will vigorously defend [against] these baseless claims,” Maldonado “found a napkin and two capsules in the bottom of his milkshake cup” and “later testing revealed that the capsules contained methamphetamine” (from “Businesstech” article).

Search the internet a little and you will find more stories than you can probably stomach about what people have found in their prepared or packaged food and drinks.  As a consumer, the thought of such is enough to make you grow everything you eat and never eat out again.  In the supposed “meth” incident, add danger to disgust!  There is a certain amount of faith and trust one has that those responsible for getting his or her food (or drink) will give them what and only what they paid for.

Tragically, every Sunday in churches across the globe, people sit down to receive what they sincerely believe to be the “bread of life” (cf. John 6:35) and the “water of life” (John 4:10). They trust that the one who is delivering it to them, maybe one they consider a friend and a spiritual brother, is giving them exactly what is claimed—the Word of God. Yet, Scripture warns that there are those who taint the message with something far more appalling and dangerous than anything else could be.  Instead of truth, they get myths (2 Tim. 4:4). Instead of the sure word of Scripture, they get destructive heresies (2 Pet. 1:19-2:1). Instead of light, they get darkness (John 12:46). Instead of Christ, they get philosophy, empty deception, tradition of men, and elementary principles of the world (Col. 2:8).

Paul wrote that divine judgment awaits any who “did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thess. 2:12).  The hearer has a responsibility to check what the teacher says, to make sure it is right and true (Acts 17:11).  God will hold everyone responsible for what they did with His Word. Even though teachers face a stricter judgment (cf. Jas. 3:1), He holds you and me responsible for avoiding dangerous, disgusting doctrine.  It takes practice to have our “senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).  Take charge of your own spiritual nourishment, from what you hear on Sunday to what you read every day!

The Holocaust: What Can Be In Men’s Hearts

Neal Pollard

Though mankind can construct a fantasy to explain our origin and propagate it in places like The Natural History Museum, we have a harder time skirting around our moral outrage at the atrocities committed by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945.  I made my third ever visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and, more than ever, I was dumbfounded at how anyone could perpetrate torture and treatment like the European Jews received at their hands.  Words like “wrong,” “immoral,” “evil,” “wicked,” and “barbaric” flow freely from the mouths of the visitors who see pictures or watch videos of the organized pogroms and the aftermath of the death cities they called concentration camps. Witnessing such depravity makes it easier to understand how men could take an innocent man like Jesus and be hardened enough to have Him crucified.  It also helps us appreciate how necessary that sacrifice was.

Hitler, if he worshipped anything, worshipped the occult.  He seemed not to truly acknowledge the existence of God, using His name only as a shield to defend his dictatorial policies.  His regime is an extreme example of what men, apart from God, are capable of doing.  With no sovereign standard to submit to and no transcendent truth to believe in, men become their own gods and write their own laws.  They so often do so without regard for the welfare and lives of other people.  They do as they please and what pleases them so often destroys them but also others.

Jesus warned of such a mindset in Luke 16, speaking to the Pharisees, saying, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (15).  He warned on another occasion that “what comes out of a man defiles a man” (Mark 7:20), including “evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, theft, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, [and] foolishness” (21-22).  When men try to negate the nature of God and escape the existence of God, it leads to the perishing of people and the harm of humanity.  The answer is simple, if demanding: “‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12-13).  Either way, it’s a matter of the heart! May our hearts get right and stay right.

MIKEY, LIFE, AND POP ROCKS

Neal Pollard

Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s remember the infamous Life cereal commercial featuring “Mikey,” the finicky little boy who liked the taste of that cereal.  Somewhere along the way, the story got out that Mikey—whose real-life name is John Gilchrist—ate Pop-Rocks candy, washed it down with a Coca-Cola, and had the resulting chemistry experiment explode in his stomach, killing him.  How many mother’s absolutely forbad their children eat Pop-Rocks and drink Coke thanks to this story?  It turns out to have been a hoax, urban legend, or whatever you’d like to call the fabrication.  Today, Gilchrist, who appeared in a total of 250 commercials, is sales director at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Who knows how these silly rumors get started?  It has been said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” (stated by banker David Hannum rather than P.T. Barnum, as is popularly thought, by the way; R.J. Brown, editor-in-chief, historybuff.com). The idea is that people are gullible and many are trusting to a fault.  Cynicism is its own problem, and gullibility can be amusing.

Too many, however, have bought into ideas that could not be more destructive.  Consider the following sentiments:

  • “One church is as good as another”
  • “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere”
  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “Anything’s permissible between two consenting adults”
  • “Truth is whatever you think it is”
  • “If it feels good, do it”

Obviously, the list is rather long but these are illustrative of the point. How remarkable it is that such lies are nearly as old as the world itself.  The serpent lied to Eve, selling her on the belief that she would surely not die if she ate fruit forbidden by God (Gen. 3:4).  Jesus taught a group notorious for changing God’s Word, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Who are we listening to? Are they telling us the truth?  “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

THE ULTIMATE “HATE SPEECH”

Neal Pollard

A couple of days ago, many of the major conservative news outlets broke the story of former Navy SEAL and current chaplain Lt. Col. Wes Modder who was removed from duty and threatened with expulsion from the military.  An office assistant, a young lieutenant junior grade officer, showed up last December with two “Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain” (foxnews.com). The officer, who turns out to be homosexual, had constantly drilled Modder with questions about his views on the matter. The ensuing handling of the case appears very unfavorable for a person in a position of spiritual guidance trying to use the Bible as the guide in helping people with right and wrong on such matters as sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.

Time will tell how this plays out, but we are living in different times.  It appears that one of the more unconscionable crimes against society is to promote an objective standard of right and wrong which dares to call specific behaviors and lifestyle choices “sinful.”  Readers of my blog have written me and told me they have seen posts of mine occasionally labeled as “hate speech” (I would invite the reader to peruse my archives in search of inflammatory, derogatory, or unkindly written articles).  I have seen writers who would profess to be Christian and/or religious who are caustic, obnoxious, and unnecessarily offensive in tone and manner.  Such hurt the cause of Christ and do not reflect His spirit.  Hateful speech is, by biblical standards, sinful speech.  Scripture speaks against it (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8).  It also exalts godly speech: “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21), “Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6), “In speech…show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12), and be “sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Ti. 2:8).

But, when we let the world—without knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches—define “hate speech,” we will often get things turned upside down.  We will have evil called good and good called evil (Isa. 5:20).  We need to remain convicted in the belief that nothing could be more hateful toward a person than to have the opportunity to tell them the truth about anything God has revealed in Scripture and speak lies, whether to comfort, avoid offending, or to validate what God will not condone.  We must reach out to anyone who rebels against the will of God in love, but what could be more hateful than encouraging anyone along a path that leads away from Him?  Any word of false comfort and hope is the ultimate hate speech!