Ascending Hearts And Hills

Ascending Hearts And Hills

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

Fifteen consecutive psalms (120-134) are so-called “Psalms of Ascent.” They were given this name because they were songs designated for the Israelites to sing on their way to worship in Jerusalem. Moses had instructed them at the giving of the Old Law, “For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the Lord your God” (Ex. 34:34). You can imagine how especially those who came a long distance to Jerusalem (it’s over 100 miles from Mt. Hermon and Beersheba, for example) might benefit from a reminder of why they were making this lengthy journey. As most would walk, this would help pass the time while preparing their minds. This is not a bad idea for us even on a 10 or 20 minute drive to the church building on Sunday morning. 

There is quite a bit of uneven terrain, mountains and valleys, in the area around Jerusalem, and the temple required a steep climb as there were three valleys surrounding Mount Zion and the temple complex. So, people coming from every direction would have to “go up to Jerusalem” (Zech. 14:17; John 2:13; 5:1). But, it was more than a physical ascent, this trip to the temple. It was more significantly a spiritual ascent, an effort to get closer to God. While we can and should draw near to God daily in our personal devotion, there is still great significance and benefit when we join each other in the presence of God to worship Him and fellowship with Him and each other (Heb. 10:24-25). Each time, this should be an ascent for us! 

Notice the repetitive use of “will” in Psalm 121. The word is used eight times in these eight verses. The word points to the future and indicates either anticipation or trust. The writer is confident, especially of what he expects God will do. Such assurance had to take his heart higher!

I WILL LIFT UP MY EYES TO HIM (1)

He starts with what he will do. The writer will look up to God, seeking help and strength. A heart ready to worship is one who sees things as they really are. I am spiritually destitute and needy, and I depend on God for everything. When that is my mindset, I am prepared to praise, thank, and petition Him!

GOD WILL HELP ME (1-2)

Whatever problems, distractions, struggles, and temptations are weighing me down and wearing me down, God will help me! His power is proven. Just look at the creation (2). He has not lost an ounce of strength from that moment to now.

GOD WILL NOT LET ME FALL (3)

The terrain around Jerusalem is often rocky and uneven. I suppose it is easy for anyone’s foot to slip on those roads up to the holy city. But, spiritually, it is a different matter. If I fall, it will not be God’s fault (John 10:27-29). If I hold to God’s unchanging hand, I will successfully complete my journey.

GOD WILL NOT FALL ASLEEP ON THE JOB (3-4)

Night and day, moment by moment, God is alert. He sees everything I do and everything that is done to me. How comforting to know that the All-seeing eye never droops or closes. He does not nod off, even for a moment. 

GOD WILL GUARD AND PROTECT ME (5-8)

Half of this psalm is devoted to this idea. God is not just passively involved, watching me. He is actively involved, keeping me (5,7), providing me shade (5-6), protecting me (7), and guarding me (8). Our God is not inanimate! He is involved! It is why we pray. It is why we trust in His providence. It is why we serve and obey Him. As we love to sing, “There is a God! He is alive. In Him we live and we survive.” The writer of Hebrews quotes three Old Testament passages (Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5; Psa. 118:6) to convey two promises: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (13:5-6). 

When you enter to worship, enter with the heart and faith of the righteous pilgrims on their way to the temple for one of the annual festivals. Come with your heart ready, and come with a heart full of faith and trust in the object of your worship. You will leave rejuvenated and resolved.

Peace On Earth?

Peace On Earth?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

image

Dale Pollard

Peace on earth? Is that even possible? I mean boy look at this place. 

Could it be that peace and joy mean something else entirely? 

It’s true that for the faithful Christian peace and joy await us, but there are some who believe we can only experience these blessings in heaven. 

  1. We may feel that we are allowed only moments of Joy. 
  2. History shows us only times of peace, but never peace everywhere.

Can we have peace and joy for our life here on earth? 

Let’s look at how this is most definitely possible. Perhaps it’ll make the holiday season that much more enjoyable and hopefully every day after. 

 Real PEACE 

  1. Peace is not the lack of war— we know we’re in a spiritual battle (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
  2. We can have peace knowing that Jesus already won the ultimate war of death and gave us the victory.
  3. Peace comes from confidence in your salvation (Romans 8:31-38) 
  4. God is on our side. He’s bigger than any problem we will ever face— peace comes from knowing what many assume to be the unknown.

Real JOY 

What is joy? 

  1. It’s not happiness 
  2. Like peace, it relies on an understanding of faith and and the appreciation of victory. 
  3. It’s also a conscious awareness that God is active in our lives. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy!” That doesn’t mean when trials tumble in you embrace them with a smile, but it’s an awareness that God is working in the world and that He has everything under control.

What’s there to be joyous about?

  1. If you’re a faithful Child of God— there’s everything to be joyous about. Your life is one of abundant joy, but you may just need to choose it.
  2. Decide how you will view future trials ahead of time. Now is a great time at the beginning of a new year. 

These are God’s gifts to you that keep on giving— all year long. 

Peace to you and may this new year be the one we all decide to be joyful about the certainty we share in a world full of uncertainty. 

Pointless Baggage

Pointless Baggage

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Daleheadshot

Dale Pollard

On Paul’s third missionary journey he would write to a congregation in Rome. Today this letter is viewed as sone of the most theologically deep books in our New Testament. Some think that there are portions of Scripture that are best left alone, or that only a preacher or Bible teacher can decipher the “code.” When we do some digging into the original audience that Paul was writing to, we see something interesting. He was delivering these deep theological concepts to a church that seemed to be largely lacking in spiritual knowledge. In fact, some of the members of this 1st-century church believed that God was glorified through their sins! Clearly they had some growing to do. Paul didn’t say they needed to stick with simple Christian concepts or the basics; he still tries to teach them the difficult and more complicated aspects of Christianity.

This is a call for us to challenge ourselves in our daily studies. The Bible was meant to be understood, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t take some effort on our part. The book of Romans is a rewarding book to study. In fact, it’s difficult to find another book that can give the Christian more joy and confidence in their salvation. In Romans 8:1, Paul writes, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” At first glance this may just be a verse that many skim past because of how familiar we are with it. When we study the application of such a simple verse, in context, the benefits are incredible.

There’s no need to agonize over our relationship with Christ, if we’re in Christ. Paul simplifies our salvation by telling us that if we have obeyed the gospel and we’re striving to follow Jesus, we don’t have to live in fear of our standing before God. In fact, this phrase, “in Christ,” appears 172 times in the New Testament, but it’s a phrase that is largely misunderstood. Some Christians believe that through the course of their week they bounce from “saved” to “lost” on a daily basis. The idea of being “in” Christ is really describing a spiritual union— much like marriage! You don’t wake up everyday and ask your spouse,  “Are we still married?” and then worry throughout the day that despite your spouse’s confirmation, you’re just not convinced that you’re really married to them. If we haven’t done anything to separate that union with Christ, we can live confidently knowing we are saved.

What a wonderful feeling. The book of Romans is one that helps us to let of any pointless baggage and live a life of peace and joy. 

Making My Lot A Lot Better 

Making My Lot A Lot Better 

Monday’s Column: Dale Mail

image

Dale Pollard

Nothing makes a problem bigger like feeling discontent.
Nothing makes the future dimmer like being discontent.
Nothing buys you happiness, no matter the money spent. 
It breeds greed and disappointment, and above all— the discontent. 

According to Psych Central, discontentment leads to some unhealthy ways of coping with anxiety and depression. It can lead us on a never ending chase of those fleeting and euphoric moments which always leave one feeling empty inside. 

Paul would pen the words, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11b).

He writes to the church at Philippi, from prison. Paul was no stranger to being wrongly charged as a criminal. He spent several nights behind bars throughout his life, but from Philippians 1:20  he seems to know that his time on earth is coming to an end. 

The Romans were notorious for finding the most creative ways of torturing their victims before their final execution and Paul preaches the gospel of a Man who was crucified for His ministry. The agonizing thoughts of a similar death had to have entered into the apostle’s mind. Though the details of his anxieties are not recorded, what is recorded is the awe-inspiring language he uses to describe the kind of faith he owns. He is unafraid of death; he even seems to welcome it! 

In the gloom of a prison cell where there was no doubt a melancholy atmosphere about him, Paul’s mind is thinking on those things which are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. This mindset has led him to be content and at peace. His contentment remained the same regardless of the bleak outside circumstances. 

His life teaches us three basic truths about contentment: 

  1. Anyone can be content through anything— at any time. 
  2. Contentment is a recognized and willful dependence on God.
  3. It is something that has to be LEARNED (4:11).

Being a prisoner of Rome had some negative social stigmas, just as it does today. Timothy even struggled with Paul’s imprisonment, so what made the church at Philippi listen to his letter from behind bars? Paul’s unshakable faith and commitment to the work of Christ had to play a part in inspiring them. A lifestyle that can offer hope and peace that nobody and nothing can take from us— speaks for itself. Paul demonstrates the power of Christ at work in him to the church at Philippi, and to every congregation that’s ever existed since then. 

We have everything we need but don’t deserve because of Jesus— let’s be content. 

meerkat, stack, family, cute, happy, fur, furry, contentment, content |  Pikist
“Satan Wants You”

“Satan Wants You”

Neal Pollard

Mike Vestal was speaking to preachers at this year’s Polishing The Pulpit in Sevierville, Tennessee, on the subject of discouragement. One of his many poignant points was that Satan would dearly love to get to the preacher. He made the striking statement, “Satan wants you!”  This is true of more than the preacher. He is ever after every faithful Christian.  Do you remember that shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus warned an overconfident Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31)? It is sobering to contemplate his ravenous yearning for us (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8)!

Consider that Satan wants your:

  • Soul
  • Influence
  • Effectiveness
  • Energy
  • Money
  • Stages of life (youth, prime, golden years)
  • Heart
  • Family (spouse, children, parents)
  • Passion
  • Time
  • Worship
  • Body
  • Speech
  • Confidence
  • Assurance
  • Attention

When we break down the totality of his voracious appetite for each of us individually, we can see just how viciously and actively he is pursuing us. He can work through the more obvious avenues like sexual immorality, unrighteous conduct, and overt worldliness. He is as content with more subtle channels like attitude, strife, grudge bearing, dishonesty, greed, and gossip. The Bible makes it clear that as long as he can make headway into the heart and life, he’ll take it.

The thrilling news is that he cannot make us or take us without our permission. Furthermore, Jesus empowers us to prevail through His sacrifice and resources. Hebrews 2:14 shows us that Jesus rendered him powerless against the children of God.

The greatest news of all is that God wants you! He has gone to the greatest lengths to prove it. If we will give our lives to Him, it does not matter what the Devil attempts. He will fail!  Resist him with the power of God (1 Pet. 5:9; Jas. 4:7-8) and he will flee from you! Just don’t let your guard down! Keep your faith up!

5602666514_64b59ec5c1_m

 

Confident And Unafraid

Confident And Unafraid

Neal Pollard

Some are afraid of death because they’re uncertain of where they are going, but others are afraid of death because they are certain of where they are going! Paul was confident even in the face of death (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He could see his end coming but he embraced it. While it is possible to have a false hope and confidence about eternity (cf. Mat. 7:21-23), the faithful New Testament Christian should be confident and unafraid of death. By looking at the last words we have from Paul, we can learn from him how to face death. How could he be so confident even in the face of death?

He was going to face Jesus as judge (1). Our relationship with Christ makes the difference. If I don’t know Jesus and haven’t made Him Lord, I don’t want to face Him in the judgment. But if I’m in Christ, there are several reasons why I long to face Him there.

  • He understands us (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15). Even before Christ came to earth, God was “mindful that we are but dust” (Psa. 103:14). When I stand before Christ, He will know what it was like to be me. He will have experienced temptation and be sympathetic and merciful.
  • He will be fair (2 Tim. 4:8—He’s the righteous judge). This means in accordance with what God requires. That means He won’t be more lenient than He’s promised, so I can’t expect to disobey His will in this life and hear Him say, “Claim your eternal inheritance in My Father’s house.” If I never obey the gospel, when I face Christ at the judgment He’ll be fair. If I obey the gospel but become unfaithful, when I face Him at the judgment He’ll be fair. But if I’ve tried to walk in His light, though I sometimes fell short, He’s going to be fair (1 Jn. 1:7-9). He knows I’ll be struggling with sin up until the day I die, but if He sees me struggling, He’s going to be fair. More than that, He’ll be merciful and faithful to atone for my sins!
  • He’s told us by what we’ll be judged (2 Tim. 4:2). It’s why we must faithfully present it in spirit and in truth “with great patience and instruction.” Jesus said His word will judge us in the last day (John 12:48).

I can face death confidently because it won’t be just any man judging me. Like you, I’ve had some people judge my actions and motives pretty harshly and unfairly. They may have thought they knew my heart or every fact, and they were ready and seemingly eager to pronounce me guilty. That’s not going to happen with Jesus! He’ll be consummately fair!

He spent his life doing good (5). This verse is the measuring stick of every gospel preacher, who asks, “Was my mind, endurance, work, and ministry as God wanted it to be?” No preacher wants to go through life and have these answers to be no. But in a broader sense, that’s a question every Christian needs to ask. Paul could look at his life with spiritual confidence (7). Three times, Paul, in essence, says, “I have” lived a faithful Christian life. You’ll remember that the first part of Paul’s life was spent not doing good, but from his conversion to his death he did good. Think about his missionary journeys in Acts. Think about all he went through for Christ that we read about in 2 Corinthians 11. What about the trials he mentions in Philippians 1? You may have a past you are ashamed of. Even as a Christian, you may have some regrets and things you wish you could change. But, if you’ve tried to walk in the light of Christ, you can face death and the judgment with blessed assurance.

He knew that he had a crown waiting (8). When we stop to think about death, it contains many variables that tend to make us anxious if not fearful. But Paul could look to death with the idea of its reward. The crown Paul speaks of is described in many ways in the New Testament:

  • It’s perfect (2 Tim. 4:8).
  • It’s permanent (1 Cor. 9:25).
  • It’s payment (Jas. 1:12).
  • It’s preeminent (1 Pet. 5:4).
  • It’s personal (Rev. 3:11).

But there’s not just one crown or a few crowns available. There’s one for “all who have loved his appearing.” If you sincerely desire it, you can receive it.

He knew that God would be with him (16-18). At the time he wrote, Paul knew betrayal and abandonment. Good friends had left him (10). At times, he had no one to stand with him. But he knew that One was always there (17). He was even confident of the future. Being delivered didn’t mean escaping physical death, but it meant rescue in the eternal sense.

You and I can live with the same blessed assurance of Paul. We’ll never go through anything alone (cf. Mat. 28:20). We may be pilgrims and strangers on earth (1 Pet. 2:11), but we aren’t one this journey by ourselves. The Lord will preserve and deliver us, as He did Paul.

I want to remain on this earth to enjoy family, friends, and brethren. I want to be as useful as I can be for as long as I can. But, like Paul, I can look forward to dying (cf. Phil. 1:21-24). We can be confident, even in the face of death!

leap_of_faith3

Jahaziel’s Comforting Message

Jahaziel’s Comforting Message

Neal Pollard

Jahaziel would have been a man of interesting and diverse talents. As a Levite, he would have served with the priests in the temple. As one of the sons of Asaph, he would have either been a literal descendant “or more probably [one of] a class of poets and singers who recognized him as [his] master” (Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible dictionary 1893 : n. pag. Print.). But on the occasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, Jahaziel would have been a “seer” or prophet. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him during the reign of Jehoshaphat, a righteous king of Judah (2 Chron. 20:14). Judah has been invaded by the Moabites and the Ammonites (20:1). Jehoshaphat’s response is righteous, seeking the Lord, proclaiming a fast, and leading a prayer service (20:3-13). Entire families, men, infants, women, and children were all assembled, “standing before the Lord” (13). Then, it happens. Jahaziel is the man God chooses and uses to respond to the touching prayer of the king.  What can we learn from Jahaziel’s message?

  • It was predicated upon the Lord’s power to deliver (15). He says, “The battle is not yours but God’s.” They were helpless alone and the message was that God was able to deliver them. The power belongs to the Lord. How we need that reminder today! In our personal battles with sin and trials, we so often are guilty of going it alone. Isn’t it thrilling to know that we have help in our fiercest battles (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13)?
  • It was precise in its instructions (16). Jahazael told them a specific time (“tomorrow”), a specific action (“go down against them”) and a specific place (“at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel”).  God wanted His people to know exactly what to expect and exactly what He expected them to do.  What comfort it is to know that God has laid out His instructions precisely and plainly. He’s not trying to trick us. He has told us what we need to do and what is ultimately coming when all is said and done (cf. Heb. 9:27).
  • It pointed to the salvation of the Lord (17).  The height of comfort might be this phrase: “station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.”  From the proper position, we can see the salvation of the Lord on our behalf. The hard-hearted, indifferent, bitter, and negative person is spiritually blind to it, but we should see it! When I am stationed at the pinnacle of prayer, the citadel of Scripture, the lookout of the Lord’s Supper, the gate of gratitude, or the fortress of forgiveness, I see the salvation of the Lord. Like gazing intently at a masterpiece, the longer I look the greater the nuances, details, and expertise emerge from the canvas of His work in my life. We can turn nowhere besides Calvary to see the clearest demonstration of the Lord’s salvation on our behalf!
  • It promised divine assistance (17). Jahaziel’s conclusion is profound. He ends, “the LORD is with you.” Sure enough, “The Lord set ambushes” (22), “the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies” (27), and “the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel” (29). The result was peace and rest (30). Are you confident of that? Whatever you are going through now and whatever lies ahead, do you believe that He is with you (cf. Mat. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6)? He has never failed and by His perfect character He never will!
  • It provoked praise and thanksgiving (18-19). From the top down, reverent worship and loud praise followed the mighty message of Jahaziel. This was faith in action! They believed the Word and proceeded as if it had already happened. Shouldn’t we be so confident in God’s promises that we respond in the same way? What struggle will you face that’s bigger than the promise of God?

Just like that, Jahaziel fades back into the woodwork of obscurity! His minute of sacred fame came and went, but how masterfully the Master used Him. However anonymous or average you may believe yourself to be, God has a greater message for you to share than He did for Jahaziel! As you faithfully share it, you can help produce an even greater outcome in the life of somebody you know. Perhaps He will use you to save someone from spiritual rather than physical death!  Be on the lookout for that opportunity today and share God’s comforting message.

beracah-valley_fjenkins_05192010_037sm
The wilderness of Jeruel