Longing For The Desert Lodging Place?

Neal Pollard

The beleaguered prophet, Jeremiah, had had it. He was, in the words of Andy to Barney, “beat to the socks”—and then some! He was surrounded by sin and disobedience. At every turn, he was being disappointed by people he expected so much more from. He was fed up, and he wanted to escape from it all.  Can you relate? Have you seen so much hatred, man’s inhumanity to man, gross immorality, defiance and rebellion, God-less living, and the like that you are done with it?

Jeremiah wrote, “Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place; That I might leave my people and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. ‘They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:1-3). Keep reading and you see a dirty laundry list of other transgressions, like treachery and deceit, immorality, and unbelief (4-8). In fact, God pronounces judgment against that nation for its collective guilt.  So, the astute and informed prophet grieved for the people and longed to escape from this agonizing reality.

Isn’t it wonderful that God has given us refuges from the similar conditions we see around us today? We can choose to consume the salacious, depressing headlines and news stories, monitoring it day and night.  We can engross ourselves in the various activist positions currently advocated in our culture and society. Or…

  • We can increase our daily devotional time.
  • We can set a goal to lead a specific someone to Christ.
  • We can unplug from the endless litany of media-driven bad news.
  • We can do our individual part to strengthen our local congregation (making visits, praying over specific prayer lists, writing encouraging cards and letters to members and visitors, volunteering for needed tasks, etc.).
  • We can deliberately focus more each day on heaven, building our desire to go there.
  • We can go the second mile to be a model citizen in this nation.
  • We can try to find people in our daily lives (co-workers, fellow students, neighbors, and others we see regularly) and build a bridge through acts of love, kindness, and humble service.
  • We can smile and be pleasant more, wherever we are (reflecting the joy and happiness we truly have in Christ).

There are probably quite a few, though lost in spiritual ignorance, who would love to know about this “wayfarers’ lodging place,” not to escape from people but to escape to God. There are brothers and sisters in Christ groping to get to such a place. Perhaps we forget that “there is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God. A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.” Jeremiah was discouraged by his daunting task. We who stand this side of the cross know, whatever is happening around us, “our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Wanna get away?

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A Story With Many Points

Neal Pollard

Several years ago, when preaching in Virginia, I spoke with a sweet, 69-year-old woman who had watched our TV program and wanted to speak to me. During the course of our visit, she told me a story I will never forget. Tearfully, she told me of her 14-year-old grandson, Matthew, who locked himself in his room, took a pistol, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He was rushed to MCV Hospital in Richmond. He survived, but the bullet was permanently lodged in his sinus cavity and he was in constant, relentless pain. The greatest pain, however, was not physical. It was emotional and spiritual. Matthew’s mother and father routinely flew to Las Vegas to gamble, dumping him off with anyone who would take him. They might win a few thousand dollars on some trips, but they invariably lost their winnings and then some. The father had told the son, not long before his suicide attempt, “I wish I’d never set eyes on you!” The boy had told his grandmother, “Nobody loves me.” He had also told her, “I want somebody to take me to church.” When she offered, he said, “I want my daddy to come and sit beside me.” This dear elderly woman lamented that he grandson’s parents never showed Matthew love and affection. In the wake of that, a young man with most of life before him, could not bear the thought of continuing one more day in such a topsy, turvy, loveless circumstance.

I felt a flood of emotions: Pity, for the boy; Anger, for the parents; Sympathy, for the grandmother. Upon reflection, there are several lessons to be learned from Matthew’s plight.

  • Bad decisions often carry awful consequences. Matthew learned this by the single squeeze of a trigger. If the parents weren’t past feeling, they might see the connection between their selfishness and his anguish. Galatians 6:7-8.
  • Sin destroys a proper sense of priorities. The parents were, in the grandmother’s estimation, greedy and selfish. They put themselves above their responsibility to their son. They made it clear they loved money (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10), and they made it clear they did not love their own boy (cf. Eph. 6:4).
  • Homes without love crumble. “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand” (Prov. 12:7; cf. 14:11). How our homes need to be filled with love! Without it, how many children will feel like Matthew did?
  • Parents have a vital role to play in the spiritual development of their children. What did Matthew want? His daddy seated next to him “in church.” Was that too much to ask? He was hungry for spiritual guidance from his parents. What a challenge! How are we preparing our children in spiritual matters?

There are too many young Matthews, empty inside, unsupported, unloved, and unaided. What condition is our home in? Is sin in the way? We should be careful how we walk in front of our children (cf. Eph. 5:15). We want them to do more than value their physical life. We want them to pursue and gain eternal life! May God bless us in that needed pursuit.

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A Strategy The World Never Sees Coming (Poem)

Neal Pollard

How I treat you says much about me
My demeanor and my disposition
It’s my calling card but your memory
Of who I am and my primary mission.

For I treat you as I would treat Jesus
As if He were standing before me
That He came not for ease but to ease us
He was driven by the needs He would see.

If we all were an advocate for each other
More concerned with the good of our neighbor
Moved deeply by each sister and brother
A faithful worker in that needed labor

The world preaches, “Me, mine, and my!”
“For me you must give, serve, and do!”
The world is dead, but we must die
To self and the self-centered view.

Imagine a world where everyone tried
To defer to the people around them
Just walk in love, by the Savior’s side
When they look at you, they will see Him!

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A Divided People

Neal Pollard

As David let flow from his divinely-inspired pen the peaceful refrain, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1), he knew something of the absence of unity.  Though God through Samuel had anointed him king, “there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David”  (cf. 2 Sam. 3-4). This internal strife spanned seven years and six months (2 Sam. 5:5). While he would reign over a united kingdom for the next 33 years, his grandson would cause a rift within Israel that would never be repaired (1 Kings 12). Division weakened them, dividing brother against brother, diminishing their influence and making them more vulnerable. Israel was unique among the nations of world history, being both a physical people and the spiritual people of God. Their division was not just a geo-political problem, but also a religious one.

Our nation has known the pain and injury of division. An entire war was fought that put states and communities at odds with one another.  Currently, we are being reminded of how sharp a difference exists in this nation along so many cultural, philosophical, social, and ethnic lines. It is openly displayed with words and even protests. How that will be resolved only time will tell.

For many centuries, there has been division between people who all profess belief in and allegiance to Christ. “Denominationalism” is a word that inheres division. Because men have inserted their own will and dogma, transposing it onto Scripture, there has been massive division that has been a stumbling block for unbelievers pointing to disunity among those who claim the same Jesus as Lord. Unbelievers have seen division, often shown in ugly and worldly ways.

Among those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity, seeking to be the church of the Bible and be non-denominational or pre-denominational, there has also been so much division. Some have foisted division upon the church by introducing doctrines not authorized by Scripture or in violation of Scripture. Those in such doctrines cease to be Christ’s church so long as they continue in them. Others have created doctrines beyond what Christ has authorized, making themselves the standard and arbitrator of right and wrong instead of recognizing Christ as such. Sadly, these, too, have caused division among God’s people. It is truly difficult to get self out of the way and to be governed only by the will of God.

So it is with every matter that divides us. Self, with all its ugly, blind, poor, and wretched tendencies, so often becomes a wedge making biblical unity difficult. Paul laments that it comes in the wake of lining up behind men and following them (1 Cor. 1:10-13). If ever the world has needed to find repose from rancor, ridicule, and roiling, it is the present hour. If they ever needed a safe haven where they found people who love one another (John 13:34-35), are patient, tolerant, compassionate and forgiving with each other (Col. 3:12-13), and who treat others with respect and kindness (cf. Luke 10:30-37), it is now. Each of us needs to examine our own work (Gal. 6:4). Are we helping our community, our congregation, our friends and our family see the good and pleasant unity found in making Jesus Lord–Lord of our lives, our tongues, our jobs, our classrooms, our social media accounts, our positions, etc.?   This is a stewardship that demands tender care. May we ever be about the diligent work of destroying division! Jesus died to do the same (John 17:20-21).

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Focus, Not Complacency 

Neal Pollard

Whether you are elated or despondent today, you face a serious danger as you absorb the reality of the election results. Prayer meetings for our nation transpired all around our country, even from brethren and friends in other nations. Individuals prayed fervently for God’s will to be done. What that will look like and what that will mean only time will reveal.  For many, relief replaces fear at the prospect of the “other side” winning. For others, disbelief and embarrassment, not to mention shock, have begun to roost.

One thing that has been emphasized in the days and weeks leading up to this historic election is that, no matter what, the church must step up and increase its militancy and evangelism. We must work and serve in bigger and greater ways. That has not changed. The kind of change and improvement this (and every) country needs most can only come from Christ. People of both (or neither) political parties still live in view of the Second Coming, the Judgment, and an eternal destination in either heaven or hell.

After warning about the futility of trusting in earthly governments, militaries, and the like, the Psalmist instructs, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You” (Psa. 33:18-22). May that forever be the anthem of the people of God!

The only thing that is over is a political election. The church’s mission is as daunting, daring, and divinely-directed as it has ever been. However you view the national decision, please continue to see the heavenly vision. We are not here to make America great again, though most of us would desire that. We are here to help reconcile the world to Christ (2 Cor. 5:20; Mat. 28:18-20). I love the way my son, Dale, said it yesterday: “After the election, after the selection, I’m still thankful there was a resurrection that gives us direction.” That is the focus that must keep us oriented to our reason for being on this earth.

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WHY TODAY IS AN EXCITING DAY (poem)

 

Neal Pollard

From sea to sea, He is the same
No man can change His essence
From year to year, His eternal flame
Show His power and effervescence.

Whoever sits upon a throne
Or reigns a group or nation
We must that One make fully known
Through tireless proclamation

For all mankind must know that One
Who is changeless and transcendent
They must to Him yield before life’s done
And acknowledge on Him they’re dependent

Fickle, transient trends and times
Can’t blind us on this matter
The church’s mission in fair or foul climes
Is to take the Kingdom seed and it scatter.

And, so, we shall live and by such find peace
No matter the climate of our homeland
Leaning on God, who doesn’t change or cease
The trustworthy Rock upon which we stand!

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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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Do You Believe In Goats?

Neal Pollard

With the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908, which year was near the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s second presidential term when there were only 46 United States and the first that Mother’s Day was celebrated in America, diehard fans believe a World War II-era “curse” has been lifted. Chicago tavern owner, Billy Sianis, “put” the curse on the Cubs when he and his goat were asked to leave game four of the 1945 World Series against the Tigers (imagine a goat even getting into a Major League park today). Fans point to strange, “inexplicable” events through time—most famously Steve Bartman in 2003—to support the “fact” of that curse (see more here: http://www.billygoattavern.com/legend/curse/).

For most of us, this is a fun and playful distraction that makes sports, particularly baseball, that much more fun. Superstition is a nuance that shows up in so many places: pitchers stepping over the foul line going back to the dugout, players not washing and re-wearing underclothes and uniforms, pre-game and post-game meals, etc. I would guess precious few actually believe there is real power in these rituals (on a personal note, my continuous practice of having to wake up wearing UGA apparel on football game days—begun in 1980—was once and for all broken in the midst of a bad 2016 season).

All joking aside, goats get negative attention in a place much more important than Wrigley Field. In Scripture, Jesus, in the last of five parables of preparation in Matthew 24-25, likens the lost to goats (Mat. 25:32-33). Commentators tell us that “their normal dirty state, it might even have been considered wise to leave it to the skilled shepherd to distinguish with confidence the sheep from the goats” (Nolland, NIGTC, np). In fact, throughout the Old Testament, sheep and goats were mostly interchangeable for milk, meat, sacrifice, and general use (ibid.). But, for the purpose of Judgment, Jesus is skillful and discerning enough to know with perfect discernment whether every individual is “goat” or “sheep.” No one is inadvertently mislabeled or misplaced. He will perfectly divide the saved from the lost.  Placement at Judgment will not be influenced by looks, wealth, popularity, education, or any other criteria the world embraces as success. Jesus tells us who both the goat and sheep are (Mat. 25:31-46).

Billy’s goat was not responsible for a “Cubs curse.” Yet, we should understand in a day when the world and even the religious are less inclined to label any activity goat-like, i.e., soul-condemning, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus has not lost any such ability to discern. In fact, He tells us most will be placed in the goat column (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). Let us love and respect God’s Word enough to avoid the curse He came to undo (Gal. 3:13; Rev. 22:3).

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Two Tales Of One Child

Neal Pollard

He was a smiling, energetic little boy with a gleam in his eye and big dreams in his heart. But, there was no one to mentor, inspire, challenge, mold, guide, and encourage him. He knew nothing of his potential or opportunities. He was ignored, if not put down. Listlessly, he drifted along. Ultimately, along the way, those with dishonorable, self-serving objectives, saw in him the perfect pawn for their untoward plans. He was initiated into crimes and misdemeanors (if only ethically and morally), growing more expert and hardened in them over time. Once the raw material for greatness, this rudderless ship not only ran himself aground but recruited other rudderless ships, once potentially productive and positive like himself.

He was a smiling, energetic little boy with a gleam in his eye and big dreams in his heart. But, there were mentors to inspire, challenge, mold, guide, and encourage him. He became driven and determined to make use of his potential and became productive and a positive force in this world. Not only was he wildly successful, but he found others to discover their direction and dreams.

No, I am not telling the story of one child. This is the composite of every child. Children come into this world in complete innocence, a clean slate whose story is written with the help of the influences each one encounters. What a powerful stewardship we have been entrusted with. While our primary charge are those children born to our own homes (Pr. 22:6), how short-sighted to end our mission just there. .In Matthew 18, Jesus turns our focus on little children. He says to become like them, receive them, protect them, and not despise them. How are you doing in your stewardship? As you look into the sweet faces of the young and influential, do you see your legacy and your influence for good in them? Do not ignore them or leave them to someone else. Lead the little ones to Jesus.

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Hymenaeus Was A Low Man

Neal Pollard

Only two verses call his name, but he is as infamous a Bible character as you will fin. A school teacher once told us, “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all!” The Spirit led Paul to no such congenial approach to Hymanaeus. The figurative cup on the man’s life was so filled with wickedness that it toppled over and spilled its insidiousness all over Ephesus. He apparently was viewed by God as a godless sinner. Why would God choose to include so stained a soul, if not to teach us key lessons about forsaking Him and the price of ungodliness?

This was a man who ran with wicked companions. He was a co-worker with Alexander (2 Tim. 4:14), with whom he blasphemed god (1 Tim. 1:20). He left the faith with his cohort, Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Maybe the downfall of Hymenaeus began with his poor choice of associates. Undoubtedly, these choices impact our own morals (1 Cor. 15:33).

This was a man who had a blatant disregard for the name of God. The Bible treats this offense most seriously (2 Tim. 3:2; Mk. 3:28-29). How spiritually degenerate must one be to ridicule and slander the name for God? Paul says that this man should be handled in the same way as the infamous Corinthian Christian who had his father’s wife (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5). What would have happened to the Ephesus church if a couple of men were allowed to spread disrespect for God and falsehood without rebuke and discipline? The same devastation happens in any church that allows the rebellious to operate unchecked.

This was a man whose teaching was compared to gangrene. Consider the graphic imagery Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:16-18. The word of Hymenaeus and Philetus, with others like them, would “spread like gangrene.” A gangrenous infection makes amputation, in the threat of death to the entire body, a necessity. Likewise, the poisonous teaching of Hymenaeus and his partner would cause great harm to the body of Christ. Their false teaching was that the resurrection had already occurred (18). The result of their doctrine was that it threatened to upset the faith of some!

In context, the only way to guard against false teaching like Hymenaeus was doing is by diligent study of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). Like Hymenaeus, many have and will both personally err from the truth and overthrow the faith of others. Our task is to fight, like Paul did, the cancerous spread of “profane and worthless talk” (16). The result of disrespect for Bible truth is increasing ungodliness (16). How tragic! We must oppose the Hymenaeus’ of our day.

Hymenaeuses live and die, and they drag others down with them. Their influence wanes, but the damage they do has an eternal impact on those duped by their doctrines. As we keep our focus on the cross and our zeal to convert the lost, may we keep up our fight against the cankered! Let us pray that modern Hymenaeuses will turn from error and come back home to a God who waits with His mighty arms outstretched!

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