Categories
evangelism prejudice

Avoiding The Samaritans

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength


Brent Pollard

I recall a decision in 1999 to take the “scenic route” home from the Richmond (Virginia) metropolitan area, where I had attended a lectureship, to my home in Coffee County, Tennessee. West Virginia and Kentucky indeed proved to be beautiful states, but I added about three hours to my trip. I was exhausted. I decided to stick to the fastest route in the future.

In New Testament times, there were many routinely taking the longer route. No, they were not enjoying the scenery. According to Charles F. Pfeifer, author of Baker’s Bible Atlas:

“Prejudice was so great that many Jews chose to detour across the Jordan and travel through Peraea, rather than go through the land of the despised Samaritan, when making trips from Galilee to Judah.”  (Pfeifer 1)

It appears a trip through Peraea was more palatable since it was a district inhabited by Jews during New Testament times. I wonder how many hours this detour added to their journeys?

Jesus made a point by traveling through Samaria on this one occasion. What was that point?  Everyone needs Him. I imagine this point seems less significant compared to the “meatier” portions of John 4. Typically, we focus on His discourse with the woman at the well. Yet, note verse 4. Translations vary in the wording, of course, but the gist is that Jesus had to travel through Samaria.  (I do not deny that His rationale may have been logistical, to save time. Regardless of the exact reasoning, however, Jesus intended for the Samaritans to hear the Gospel. We see early Christians taking the Gospel there in Acts 8. Therefore, Jesus provides an example by speaking to the Samaritan woman, showing Samaritans deserve the Truth.

That the Gospel is for all was a hard lesson for even the Apostles to learn. Consider the example of Peter. The Lord chose Peter to preach to the first Gentile convert to the Faith (cf. Acts 10.9-15,28). Even so, Paul had to later rebuke Peter for avoiding the company of Gentiles for the Jews who had recently come from Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 2.11-14). Can this not also be a hard lesson for us? In our era of identity politics, it is easy to feel uncomfortable among those who do not share our demographic. Thus, we go out of our way to avoid others with whom we share less in common. We avoid others because they have more or less melanin in their skin. Socioeconomic difference likewise becomes a justification for avoidance. Maybe we don’t want to associate with someone less educated than ourselves. Whatever the reason, we may go out of our way to avoid such persons.

It is time for us to stop the unnecessary detours we take to avoid contacting those making us “uncomfortable.” Everybody needs Jesus. The Lord expects that you and I must go through Samaria too!

Sources Cited:

1 “New Testament Palestine.” Baker’s Bible Atlas, by Charles F. Pfeiffer, Baker Book House Co., 1961, pg. 191. 

Categories
life providence suffering trust

A Message From The Rattling Bones

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

Six hundred years before Christ would make His providential appearance, a righteous man finds himself in captivity. While exiled, Ezekiel, was able to witness the spirit of God in a very intimate way (Ezekiel 1). Even so, he was still living under the thumb of the Babylonians like every other Israelite with him. While under these unideal circumstances though, he is privileged to see awe-inspiring visions from God. Have you ever paid attention to the eerie sensations described throughout this book? In Ezekiel 1:4 the prophet feels a great and stormy wind on the bank of the river Chebar. The wind brings with it a massive cloud with fire flashing around it and a substance like glowing metal in the center of it. The wings of the creatures he saw (verse 24) made sounds like that of roaring waters. The voice of the Almighty was like the sound of a great army camp. What sights he was able to see! This great connection to God didn’t take away his pain or sorrow, though.

 Chapter 19 is one long lament as Ezekiel cries over his hardhearted Israelite brothers. Why won’t they listen to him? Even after Ezekiel performs some radical visual illustrations like eating his bread over dung and laying on his side for an entire year, they won’t respond to the “invitation.” How frustrating is that, preachers? God never abandons His faithful servant, but His confused prophet is still left to wonder what God is going to do about the mess which makes up his reality. A familiar feeling for many faithful Christians today.  

Never underestimate the hand of the Almighty. This truthful statement can be pulled from Ezekiel 37, when the prophet is taken up and then placed in the middle of a dark valley. Ezekiel is surrounded on all sides by heaps of dry human bones and he’s probably wondering why in the world God has taken him to such a place. The text answers the question by asking a question. God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Can these dry bones live again?” What an odd thing to ask. However, Ezekiel responds, “Only you know, O Lord.”

 It’s always when we’re deep in the valley’s of life that we’re forced to answer the difficult questions about God’s abilities. When we’re surrounded by darkness, the question we have to ask is, “Does God have the power to see me through this?” If you remember, Ezekiel has become frustrated with the fact that Israel just won’t listen to him or Him. He’s lost hope in their ability to change— they’re just too far gone. However, God demonstrates to His prophet in a dramatic way that NOTHING is impossible for Him. 

He doesn’t bring the bones to life in the blink of an eye, but we know He could have. Instead, He allows Ezekiel to hear those bones rattle and to hear the sounds of fibers and flesh sticking together. He wanted to leave an impression on Ezekiel to demonstrate the might of the Almighty. Ezekiel had no idea how those bones came to life, but he knew one thing for certain. God did it. You may not understand why God has allowed you to enter your valley, but you can be certain that He has the power to see you through. You are standing on your two feet because God has given you the strength to do so. God has promised His faithful servants a heavenly light at the end of our tunnels and whatever God says— He will always accomplish (Ezekiel 37:14). 

Categories
comfort fellowship God (nature) love of God

Walking with God In a Fallen World

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

God’s desire from the very beginning of creation was to walk with man. Scripture tells us that He would walk in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). This was all undone when sin entered the world and created a chasm between God and mankind.
The theme of the Bible is the salvation of man, through Christ, to the glory of God. From the moment sin entered the world, God has been proactive in seeking a relationship with His creation. Through the perfect sacrifice of Christ, that relationship has been restored, and we are once again able to walk with God.
Even though we have peace with God again, at times it feels like we don’t have peace in our everyday lives. We turn on the news and watch as courthouses are set on fire, and a widespread virus continues to harm and kill people that we love. Yes, we have peace with God, but where is the peace in our own lives?
These are questions that most everyone has asked. But there’s one question I want us to focus on for a few moments; how does God want us to react to the events that are going on today? Let’s examine three encouraging verses that tell us how we are to conduct ourselves each day.
Proverbs 15:3. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” God sees the violence, the grieving families, the struggling Christian. But God also sees how His children respond. God is in every part of His creation, at every moment in time. We may feel like He doesn’t see, or that He is indifferent to what’s going on, but His eyes are on the evil and the good. We respond in love because we know that God is watching.
Psalm 23:4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” God not only sees what is going on, but He is with His children. The greatest of Christians still struggle with feelings of loneliness (Elijah in 1 Kings 19). Even though we walk through the shadow of death, we don’t fear the evil that we encounter because God has promised that He will be with us. We may see the hate, the hurt and the helplessness of mankind, but the comfort of God gives hope to His people.
Matthew 28:20. “…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is a promise first given by Jesus to His apostles, a promise that we as Christians sometimes fail to remember. The world isn’t perfect because sin has corrupted what God has made perfect. People will do you wrong, they’ll hurt you, and they’ll do whatever they feel like doing. We have a command to fulfill, and it can only be carried out with the presence of God.
Showing love to a world that’s full of hatred can seem impossible at times, but if we will remember who we are and Whose we are, we can and will get it done. Remember that God loves you, and the church loves you. Let’s be an example to those who are without this love.
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Categories
comfort refuge rest Uncategorized

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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Categories
encouragement Uncategorized

Not Enough Room On A Short Pew

Neal Pollard

I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew.  The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews.  They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.

I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was!  This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.

It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.

What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it.  Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!

Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).

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Categories
character study Old Testament prophet Uncategorized

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.

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The wilderness of Jeruel

Categories
Bear Valley church of Christ Daily Bread Neal Pollard Pollard blog Uncategorized

“SACKCLOTH UNDERNEATH”

sackclth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neal Pollard
The first time I recall understanding the significance of the story in 2 Kings 6:30 was sitting in a class taught by Wendell Winkler. He called the lesson “Hidden Cares.” He told us to remember that sitting in the audience each week we preached would be any number of folks carrying around hidden cares. In over twenty years of full-time preaching, I become more aware of that every day. Recently reading about the woman in Mark five who had been suffering for twelve years, I was reminded of this as I thought about the faces of individuals I see all the time suffering in a variety of ways. While we usually know some of the burdens our brothers and sisters are bearing, there are still many others whose troubles are not as widely known.

Jehoram is no Old Testament hero, but is rather a wicked Israelite king. He does not make the cut for the Hebrews eleven list and he does not even behave properly regarding Elisha after the event mentioned in the verse above, but he does illustrate the many who walk around with hidden cares. The verse reads, “When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes-now he was passing by on the wall-and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body.”

The sackcloth was coarsely woven cloth, often made of goat’s hair. It was worn to show mourning and submission to God. No doubt, wearing one of these for any length of time would bring itching, irritation, and discomfort. The garment was apparently meant to reflect outwardly the feelings of the heart and affliction of the spirit of the wearer.

Whether we are preaching or teaching or simply dealing with one another, may we keep a few things in mind. At any given point, the person with whom we are dealing is likely wearing their own “hidden sackcloth.” We may not be able to tell this by looking at their facial expressions or through any verbal cues when we converse. Further, the hidden cares they carry may affect the way they respond to us. Let us not assume they are upset with us or that it is even about us at all. Finally, keep in mind that people cope with their hidden cares in different ways. It is no reflection on the quality of our friendship or relationship if they do not share it. Each of us must determine how, when, and with whom we disclose these things. Let us pray for family, church family, coworkers, neighbors, and others with whom we have relationship as they wear these unseen cares.

To those with sackcloth underneath, remember that God has made us family. There are those you can trust to help bear the burdens. Pray about this and then act. Let these cares refine your relationship with God and sharpen your focus on the place where there will be no such cares. Remember that God is gracious and will not give you more than you can bear. This may seem doubtful at times, but on the other side of the sorrow it will be clear.

No matter how “spiffily” or “slobbily” one is dressed, be aware that underneath may be that figurative sackcloth. May this drive us to be more compassionate and understanding in our dealings with one another.

Categories
Bear Valley church of Christ Daily Bread Neal Pollard Pollard blog Uncategorized

His Name Meant “Comfort”


Neal Pollard

Whose name meant “comfort”?  Noah’s! Lamech says as much.  When Noah was born, Lamech proclaimed, “This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (Gen. 5:29). The NIV and KJV, among others, puts the word “comfort” for “rest,” Lamech was optimistic that Noah, would help alleviate the labor pains of farming in cursed ground.

Have you stopped to think about the meaning of Noah’s name and the mission of Noah’s life? What was his task? He was to build the ark, but he also preached (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5). Now, as to how many people Noah preached to, the Bible is silent. One might assume that he preached as far and as widely as a man engaged in such an enormous building project could. Or, one might say that he preached by the example of his righteous life (cf. Gen. 6:9).  The best understanding of 1 Peter 3:18-21 may be that Christ preached to the disobedient ones through Noah’s efforts prior to the flood.

If Noah did preach to the disobedient, and/or admonished and exhorted onlookers and scornful neighbors to get on board the ark, he still was seeking to provide comfort. The thing to understand about giving comfort is that it does not always mean speaking soothing words, placating people, or telling them what they want to hear. That is, at times, a very appropriate and needed response–especially when people are suffering or trying to stay faithful. Yet, comfort can also be the fruit that only comes after a warning or rebuke. When a person is on a self-destructive course, they are destined for something inconceivably awful! What can a compassionate Christian do but try with tremendous effort to steer them back on course? That may be the only way that wayward sinner comes to the place where eternal comfort is once more a possibility.

Remember Jude’s teaching. He said, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). Sometimes, comfort is in the product and not in the raw material or the manufacturing. Always being loving, let us risk offending now so that eternal comfort can be had later! The Christian’s name, nature, and business centers around that real, spiritual comfort, both for the Christian and those whose lives he or she touches (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16).