Categories
consequences indifference Judgment Judgment Day pride

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

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

65093899_10156405640240922_1795016641457684480_o

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). 

petra-4945669_960_720
Petra: In the territory of ancient Edom
Categories
millennials self-denial selfishness unselfishness

Denying Self

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Self-denial is tough. Yet, for us to be obedient to God, we must lay our will to the side in order to pick up God’s Will for us (Luke 9.23). But God is not the only One deserving our consideration in this matter. Sometimes, a Christian’s self-denial requires acquiescing to his or her fellow man (Philippians 2.4).

You’ve likely watched the news about young people insisting that they have their spring break despite admonitions to provide for “social distancing” from the threat of the novel coronavirus. When interviewed, these young people said things such as, “I had been waiting for this for two months and wasn’t going to give this up/lose my money.” With youth, we realize that there is a certain feeling of invincibility. More than one spring breaker stated that he or she felt that the entire threat was being overblown. One fellow, however, stated his feelings thusly: “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” 1 Fortunately, Governor DeSantis stepped in to bring an end to this partying. 2 Even so, the consequences may be irreversible.

I’ve heard the statistics. Yes, they do seem to be on the side of young people (i.e. lower death rates). 3 Even so, it is not a matter of the welfare of these revelers. The CDC guidelines are intended to ensure that fewer people contract the virus, especially those at higher risk. By selfishly engaging in risky behavior (beyond that of the typical spring break fare), these young people put themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19. When they return home, they may pass the virus on to an elderly grandparent, despite not showing any symptoms. 4 Suddenly, that spring break that they insisted on partaking of becomes someone else’s problem, a potentially life-threatening problem.

That’s easy to see, isn’t it? But what of other situations where our refusal to humble ourselves and cede our way to another creates other unintended circumstances? For example, Paul says that if the stronger brother doesn’t bear with the weaknesses of the weak, he is just seeking to please himself (Romans 15.1ff).  Paul immediately follows this up by saying that even Christ did not please Himself (Romans 15.3)! Here is the Son of God, Whom Paul said thought it not robbery to be equal to God (Philippians 2.6). (John more plainly states that He is God—John 1.1.) Despite this truth, God decided for the sake of those “made lower than the angels” that His Son would taste death for the greater need of His creation (Hebrews 2.5-9).

Sadly, the flesh wants what it wants. This blinds us to the greater needs of others. When we act selfishly, we are not being like Him Who is our example (Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Peter 2.21). This is why I said at the outset that self-denial is tough. In perilous times, as well as during the good, we may find ourselves asking the Lord to increase our lacking faith. Let us strive to determine to do things not solely based upon its impact or cost to us, but the impact our course of action has upon others. That makes sense not just in pandemics, but when you strive to be a mature member of God’s Family on earth.

 

REFERENCES

1 “US students party on spring break despite coronavirus.” BBC News, BBC, 20 Mar. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-51955362/us-students-party-on-spring-break-despite-coronavirus.

2 Elizabeth-Matamoros. “’The Party Is Over’: Florida Governor Shuts Down Beachgoers.” Washington Free Beacon, Washington Free Beacon, 19 Mar. 2020, freebeacon.com/issues/the-party-is-over-florida-governor-shuts-down-spring-break/?fbclid=IwAR1VNde4flHCtg3dzFvLH4ePKHGTkPYoAo_HNxG2gCNxpOv2B1a1EidzD1Q.

3 Belluck, Pam. “Younger Adults Comprise Big Portion of Coronavirus Hospitalizations in U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-young-people.html.

4 Salo, Jackie. “Ex-CDC Head Tom Frieden Says Kids May Be Secret Coronavirus Carriers.” New York Post, New York Post, 3 Mar. 2020, nypost.com/2020/03/02/ex-cdc-head-tom-frieden-says-kids-may-be-secret-coronavirus-carriers/.

self-denial

Categories
selfishness spiritual maturity

“Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine…”

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

carl pic

(NOTE: Carl is pretty sick today and getting tested in Huntsville–please pray for him. I’m filling in for him on the blog today)

Neal Pollard

My good friend, the late Bill Snell, enjoyed telling a story about a preacher who was staying for several days with a brother in Christ, his wife, and their little 5-year-old son.  Every morning, the woman of the house made a hot breakfast that included the flakiest, fluffiest biscuits he had ever tasted.  Each morning, the little boy would get to the table before the preacher.  As the preacher sat down to eat, the little boy would touch the top of all the biscuits and say, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….”  Finally, the preacher was fed up enough to get to the table just before the boy.  As the boy sat down, the preacher touched the top of all the biscuits and said, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine….”  The little boy smiled impishly, licked the palms of his hands, and said, as he touched the top of each biscuit, “Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours….”

Selfishness may seem childish, but it is not just a problem for children, is it?  Too often, we allow others to provoke us into childish actions.  We lower ourselves to their level, but we come out looking just like them.  In the book of Philippians are several, well-known statements warning against the follow and hurtfulness of selfishness.  Paul writes that some preached out of selfish ambition (1:17). He further says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (2:3). Some “seek after their own interests” (2:21).

James warned, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (3:14-17).

However cute you did or did not think that little boy was, selfishness is anything but adorable.   It is evil and chaos.  It is arrogant and dishonest.  May we ever strive toward a spiritual maturity that does away with this sort of behavior.

Categories
attendance church attendance Hebrews worship

Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.

Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.

Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.

Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.

For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).

Hebrews 10.25 states, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”

It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.

What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 6.49.56 AM

Categories
David division motivation Old Testament pride

A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Daleheadshot

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. 

2459098871_43ba15f5f3_b
photo via Flickr
Categories
comfort God God (nature) stability

“AND HE WILL BE THE STABILITY OF YOUR TIMES”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

In a world facing ever-changing circumstances, we need to be reminded of some truths about God. A great text that can help us do this is found in the writings of the Messianic prophet, Isaiah. He tells us some exciting facts about God in Isaiah 33:5-6.  In brief, Isaiah reminds us of God’s transcendence (“exalted…on high”), His trustworthiness (“has filled Zion with justice and righteousness”), and His treasure (“a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure”).  In the midst of upholding God’s perfect character, the prophet makes this reassuring statement: “And He will be the stability of your times.”

In part, here is what that means to us today

  • There is no minimum distance we have to keep from Him under any circumstance (Jas. 4:8).
  • There is no restriction or limit on our access to Him and His blessings, on prayer or His Word (Phil. 4:19). 
  • There is no chance that you will look for Him and He will not be there (Psa. 50:15).
  • There is no possibility that you will learn that what was true of Him yesterday is not true of Him today (or tomorrow)(Heb. 13:8)
  • There is no cancellation policy at the throne of grace for the child of God (Heb. 4:16).
  • There is no threat or danger that can keep you from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).
  • There is no earthly thing to nullify the truth that “the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid” (Heb. 13:6). 
  • The more we expose ourselves to Him, the healthier we will be.
  • There is zero chance that you will go to Him for healing and have it fail (Jer. 8:22; Luke 5:31).

Scripture calls Him the Rock (Deut. 32:4), the shield (2 Sam. 22:31), my protection (Isa. 27:5), my shield, stronghold, and protection (2 Sam. 22:3), and a strong tower (Prov. 18:10). As Nebuchadnezzar understood, “all His works are true and His ways just” (Dan. 4:37). 

Take heart. Take on the day. Take comfort and refuge. “And He will be the stability of your times.”

pollard weddingDJ 410a
Random great photo: courtesy Baker Street Photography
Categories
Coronavirus Covid-19

Reminders For Us All During This Time…

Neal Pollard

–Be careful not to be this guy: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…” (Luke 18:11). Remember, “He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (9)
–Let us respect the autonomy and judgment of congregations (and elderships)(Titus 1:5-11) who are having to make tough calls about assembling during this time without making this a faith matter.
–Perhaps this global situation, which awakens people to the possibility of death and reality of mortality, will turn people to Christ and the hope of eternal life. When they search, will they find loving (John 13:34-35), faith-filled (1 Peter 1:3) lights on a hill (Matthew 5:16) or condescending, mean-spirited people who repel the searchers and slap the hands of those reaching out for the Bread of life?
–However we respond, may we remember this: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). These folks faced the threat of death for their faith, and God expected them to respond this way. How much more in the present circumstance?

2871-2560x852-1

Categories
Christian living church growth faithfulness

DAFFODILS THAT DON’T BLOOM

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Like the robin, daffodils are a harbinger of spring. They begin blooming in late winter and create anticipation for the pretty spring flowers following. We planted our place in Appalachia with daffodils nearly 30 years ago. Today, we get few flowers in places where we planted them. We do have healthy-looking, green blades but no blooms. By their nature, a single daffodil bulb becomes an entire colony of bulbs within a few years because it reproduces by dividing at the bulb. Once so many bulbs are packed into a small space, the plant cannot receive enough moisture or nutrients to produce the desired flower. So, on the one hand, it’s great because just a few daffodil bulbs can yield an entire daffodil garden in a few years. On the other hand, to keep daffodils flowering one must periodically dig up these new bulbs and space them out so conditions remain conducive to their overall health.

When we think about Jesus’ parable of the sower, we likely think of the various soils presented therein. We pray we find the good soil as we go to plant the seed but realize since few are finding the strait gate and narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14), most of our seed falls on the other three poor soils. Of those poor soils, Jesus highlighted a group in whom the seed never produces fruit since they become choked by thorns (Luke 8.14). These thorny-soiled hearts didn’t recognize how detrimental their thorns were since they took the form of the cares and riches of the world. In like manner, we don’t see the problems posed by a bunch of healthy-looking, green blades where our daffodils ought to be. We keep hoping they will put on blooms, bringing us the testimony of God’s wondrous creation. Yet, conditions underground won’t allow for that.

Might I suggest those possessing thorny-soiled hearts can have a similar problem as the daffodil? It may be they don’t just wither and die (i.e. fall away). It may be they are sitting on the pew, where we planted them, looking as if they hold promise, but never producing blooms. Why? It may be their fruit is being crowded out by conditions at their root. We see no prickly thorns gathered around them. Yet, there are cares and concerns on the inside choking out God’s Word all the same. It is confounding since they may even greet us with a smile on their faces while being inwardly consumed by such things as anxiety.  If we do nothing, though, the results will be the same as if it were thorns.

It may be we need to lift these unproductive Christians to help them settle in a better environment conducive to their growth. We need to help them remove all the things choking their heart. We need to nurture them. Though we’re more considerate of the newborn in Christ, the overcrowding of the heart is a challenge potentially taking place even in the one who obeyed the Gospel years ago. Be your brother and sister’s keeper (Galatians 6.1; James 5.19-20). If you see a pretty green blade that never flowers, dig a little deeper. If one’s heart is being crowded out, help him find the space to bloom (Hebrews 3.13).

5262209_c01205ab

Categories
confidence future hope optimism

Longing For Hope

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

IMG_0806

Carl Pollard

We’ve spent three weeks looking at a few areas where the world is desperate. They long for guidance, purpose and finally, hope (1 Pt. 5:10).
We have abused this word. We say things like, “I hope there’s some food at the house” or, “I hope the weather is nice tomorrow,” and “I hope my team wins the super bowl.” The hope that’s mentioned is scripture has a completely different definition.
The word in Romans 15:13, for example, is the Greek word “elpis. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This word is defined as, “looking forward to something with confidence” (BDAG 319).  It is an expectation that we have as Christian. We have hope because we call God our Father.
The world does not and because of this they have nothing to hope in. If they look forward to anything it’s pay day or the weekend or vacations. Every one of these come to an end and once again they are left with no hope.
Don’t get me wrong, we look forward to these things too. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but this isn’t what we look forward to solely. We know that there is more to life than vacation.
1 Peter 5:10 is an incredible verse that describes the hope we have. It says, “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.”
This is true hope. This is the God of the universe Himself that will do this for each one of his children. We may not see it every day, but the world is lost and desperate. We have what they need. They’re desperate for guidance because they’re lost. They’re desperate for purpose because they have none. They’re desperate for Hope because the world offers nothing to those who are struggling.
God has entrusted us with the answers to life, so what are we doing with this knowledge?
66510003_10156443547920922_292784965630820352_o
Categories
discouragement encouragement speech words

σαπρός (Unwholesome)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

20638721_440919206307154_5479040032968788217_n

Gary Pollard

 

Yesterday Carl and I smelled something absolutely awful in his house. Bailey, his trouble-making Carolina dog, had just been let back in; she had evidently rolled around in the remains of an animal that recently reached putrefaction and it showed. We were gagging and gasping for air while attempting to find the source of the odor traumatizing our olfactory lobes. The deceased animal outside was found (kind of) and Bailey was forced into the bath. The sheer power of that stench was incredible.

Our words can have the same effect on a person’s ears that the decaying body of roadkill has on the nose. Ephesians 4.29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only words good for encouragement according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

I want to focus on the word “unwholesome” here. When we hear “unwholesome,” we might think of a dirty joke, curse word, or some other graphic form of speech. That can be included in this word, for sure, but we need to take a closer look at what it means in scripture.

The word is σαπρός (sapros) which means, “to be of such poor quality as to be of little or no value,” or, “bad or unwholesome to the extent of being harmful.” It generally described something that was rotten or decayed and completely useless. That really widens the range of words we can describe as being unwholesome. In modern Greek, σαπρός means “putrid” and is used to describe the same putrefaction process Bailey unfortunately rolled in. It was awful to smell, and putrid words are awful to hear.

The next time we speak to someone, let’s put our words through a simple filter. Let’s ask ourselves, “Is this rotten? Is it going to be beneficial to the person hearing this? Does it encourage?” If our words are closer to rotting flesh than graceful encouragement, we must rethink them before they escape our lips. It’s not just a good idea, it’s certainly imperative to godly living.

82191052_10220859791302717_8552934994933186560_o