The Scandal Of The Savior

The Scandal Of The Savior

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Neal Pollard

On 14 occasions in his gospel record, Matthew uses a word from which we get our English word “scandal.” Arndt and his fellow lexicographers define the word as meaning “to cause to be brought to a downfall; to shock through word or action” (BDAG 926). Jesus was at times the cause of others experiencing anger or shock through what He said and did. While Jesus uses the word to condemn those whose words and actions cause themselves and others to stumble (5:29,30; 18:6,8-9), it more often refers to those who took offense at what He said or did. He was not a poor example or stumbling block. The problem for many was that what Jesus stood for and taught was unpopular, difficult, or contrary to fleshly desires. 

Does living the Christian life ever cause us to run the risk of being scandalous to the world? Share Jesus’ sexual ethics and expectations. Tell others Jesus’ exclusive salvation message. Stand up for His doctrine. Condemn what He would condemn. Any number of social causes celebrated in our society crash against the teaching of Jesus. When you stand with Him, you can expect the world (and sometimes even the weak among God’s people) to “take offense” (11:16; 13:57; 15:12; 26:31). 

We should never be a scandal because of unrighteous behavior (see those passages in chapters 5 and 18). We should never go out of our way to be offensive. But, we should know that walking with Jesus will lead us to scandalize some. What will comfort us is knowing that standing with the Scandalized Savior will keep Him from taking offense at us! Nothing is more important than that. 

Mission Possible

Mission Possible

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Writing to a church filled with multiple ethnic groups, Paul has a broad goal in mind in writing the Roman epistle.  Having dedicated himself to “world-wide” evangelism, as Acts and his letters show, his heart was on more than winning Jews in one small part of the world.

In Romans ten, Paul is reaching the crescendo of the doctrinal argument he makes in Romans 1:15-17 about salvation through faith in Christ.  In the middle of the chapter, he states some principles that are worthy of our attention.  Consider briefly Romans 10:5-17.

Here, we have the message expressed (5-10).  It is the message Paul has been stressing throughout the letter, a message of “righteousness based on faith” (6).  It is a word of faith (8), one emphasizing what the scriptures say (Paul quotes Deut. 30:12, 14, 21, Psa. 19:4, Isa. 28:16, 52:7, 53:1, 65:1-2, and Joel 2:32 just from Rom. 10:6-21), and a message meant to touch the heart (8) and lead one to eternal salvation (9-10).  Thankfully, the same word that tells us to “make disciples” tells us to do that through the divine message of scripture.

We also have the men envisioned (11-13).  Twice, Paul says that “whoever” (11,13) calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  The Lord’s riches are for “all who call on Him” (12).  He makes no distinction between Jew and Greek (12).  That underscores the biblical idea that God wants all men everywhere to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4).  

We have the means executed (14-16).  Paul exalts preaching and preachers.  This is honorable work requiring honorable people.  They are an indispensable part of God’s soul-winning plan (14).  They are divinely sent (15).  They are positively described (15b). They dispense good news (16).  As Paul writes Corinth, preaching is God’s medium for saving men’s souls (1 Cor. 1:18).

Finally, we have the mission embodied (17).  The word of Christ must be heard, and faith results by hearing that word.  People do not teach themselves.  Societies are not won accidentally or incidentally.  There must be deliberate, often sacrificial, activity—preaching, planting seed, and perseverant persistence—to fulfill that mission.

We have mission work to do right here.  We have it to do daily at our jobs and in our more immediate communities and neighborhoods.  Whether you are going across the street or around the world, fulfill your mission! 

I Dare You To Jump Off This Wall

I Dare You To Jump Off This Wall

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Peer pressure was a topic that I was taught a lot as a teen. Many have the false assumption that only teens struggle with peer pressure. While it is true that as a young person it is easier to be persuaded, adults and mature Christians can fall for peer pressure just as easily.
While there are many personal illustrations I could use of times that I fell for peer pressure and did something dumb, I’m not going to use them because I like my job at Hebron. But, there is one that I will tell because it’s a great illustration on the power of peer pressure.
Back when I was 12 years old (I was young, perfect and innocent) I fell for peer pressure and I’ll never forget the life lesson that I was taught. At the Bear Valley church there was a wall outside that the teens would sit on and hang out. This wall was about 10 feet tall and at the bottom was a bunch of rocks and bushes. I remember watching all the teen guys jump off the wall and land in the bushes below. I wanted to jump off so bad, but I knew I’d get in huge trouble if I did. All the cool kids would go out after church and see who could do the coolest jump off this wall. I remember one of the guys saying, “This is how you prove you’re a man.” And so of course I had to prove I was a man. I didn’t want them to think that I was a chicken. So one evening after church I went and sat on top of the wall and got ready to jump. Everyone was watching and I knew there was no turning back. I sat on the wall for a good 15 minutes trying to build up the courage to jump off what seemed like a 30 foot drop. I finally took the plunge and jumped…and fell like a sack of rocks onto the drainage pipe below and broke it clean in half. A feeling of dread washed over me when I realized what I had done. One of the deacon’s kids ran and told his dad…who told the elders…who told my parents…who told me that I was grounded from going outside after church for the foreseeable future. Every Sunday and Wednesday I was forced to stay with my parents in the auditorium until we left. I learned a very valuable lesson that day. Peer pressure is dumb. And the only thing that you gain from it is trouble.
Being pressured to jump off a wall probably won’t ever happen to you, but there’s a choice that each one of us will have to make at some point in our lives. That’s the choice of who we will call our friends and companions. This choice will shape who we are, how we live, and where we will go in the next life. The foundation for this subject is built by looking at a comparison between the righteous and the wicked. We can build our character by choosing righteous company, but what does righteousness look like?
In Psalm 1, we are given this comparison. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (1). There is a progression of temptation laid out here: blessed is the man who…Walks not in the counsel of the ungodly (the one who sees the sin and keeps walking) Nor Stands in the path of sinners (sees the sin and stops to watch out of curiosity) Nor sits in the seat of the scoffers (sees the sin and sits with them to join in).
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (2).  Rather than walking next to sin, standing with evil, and sitting with evil company, his delight is in God’s Word and not in the sin of his fellow man. This man is blessed because he chooses to mediate on the Law of the Lord rather than dwelling with those in sin.
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (3). Once the righteous man has chosen God’s Word over sin, we are given the result of this choice. He’s healthy. He produces fruit. He’s well nourished. He’s blessed in what he sets out to accomplish. This happens as a result of choosing godliness over evil company.
“The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (4).  Those who choose evil deeds over God’s Word are worthless. They are described as chaff. Chaff is the husk on the outside of a wheat kernel. You can’t eat it, and it basically doesn’t do anything. You have to take it off before you can make anything with the wheat. How they would do this is they would throw it up in the air and it would seperate from the kernel and the wind would blow it away while the wheat would fall back down.
The wicked are useless to God. When it comes to choosing friends, we have just two choices. The righteous (that are blessed in what they do) or the wicked (the ones that are useless to God). The choice should be an easy one for us, and yet Christians will fail to make the right decision.
A piece of advice: Don’t jump off the wall. Choose to hang with those that are concerned for your well being. Choose the righteous friend that will look out for your soul.
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Who Is God to Me? (Psa. 46:1-2)

Who Is God to Me? (Psa. 46:1-2)

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

We are obsessed with our phones. A new study has found, that the heaviest smartphone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day. Now that’s the top 10 percent of users, so we would expect it to be high, but even the average smartphone users still tap their phones almost half that many times a day. This means that some of us will touch our phones a couple million times a year (Adam Alter study).
The majority of the time we are on our phones is spent on social media. A place of fake relationships. We spend hours being “social” but this time spent never builds true relationships. The world is hungry for true and meaningful relationships. They waste hours online trying to get close to someone, but it always leaves them emptier than when they began.
As Christians we have a relationship with each other because of Christ, but even more, we have a relationship with God. The creator of this world. Let’s spend some time looking at this relationship we have with God. Who is God to me? Psalm 46 is a psalm of encouragement. The psalmist tells us to trust in God, to have hope in the relationship we have with Him, but this psalm also answers the question, Who Is God to Me?
He’s My Refuge/Strength. Verse one says, “God is our refuge and strength…” In my relationship with God, He’s my refuge. A place I can run to in times of need. He’s my strength, giving me more than I could ever have on my own.
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, a famous strongman, recently broke the world record deadlift pulling 1,104 pounds, breaking the previous record by 2 pounds. When I think of strong, this is what I think of. Lifting half a ton from the ground up to your waist, as mind boggling and impressive as this is, Hafþór still isn’t strong enough. None of us will ever have enough strength on our own. We may be physically strong, but spiritually God is the only one strong enough to help us walk the Christian walk.
The Hebrew word for refuge conveys the idea of a protective shelter (HALOT 571). God is a place of safety, a shelter that no one can break into. Thieves will break In and steal our possessions, but no one can ever take away our relationship with God. He’s our refuge, a place of safety. The word “strength” further builds onto the description of God. God is a strong refuge. And even more, He gives us that strength and refuge to help us in our walk. The strongest man is weak when compared to God. The most impenetrable of places pales in comparison to God. Who is God to me? He’s my strength and place of refuge.
He’s My Help. Verse one continues to say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Trouble is something all of us will face. We run into opposition in almost every area of life.
“Good help is hard to find.” You’ll hear businessmen say this all the time. It’s a struggle that every restaurant, business, and church will run into. Who can we count on? We want people that are reliable. That’ll show up to work, get their job done, and be responsible. We need help. And the psalmist here tells us that God is our help.
God’s help is not hard to find. It is a help that is always there for us when we need it. Even more, God wants to help us. We all know people that when you ask for help, they’ll help you, but they really don’t want to. God wants to help his children, and that’s who God is to us.
He’s My Courage. Verse two says, “Therefore (because he is our refuge, strength, and help) we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” God is my courage because He helps me not fear what happens to me.
According to the DSM, specific phobias typically fall within five general categories: fears related to animals (spiders, dogs, insects), fears related to the natural environment (heights, thunder, darkness, fears related to blood, injury, or medical issues (injections, broken bones, falls), fears related to specific situations (flying, riding an elevator, driving), and other (choking, loud noises, drowning) (University of Pennsylvania study).
The world is full of fear. It is an ever present problem. I can’t stand heights and it all started when I had a nightmare where I was stuck by a belt loop at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Ever since I’ve been deathly afraid of heights.
My relationship with God gives me the choice to have courage instead of fear, hope instead of dread, joy instead of worry, and peace instead of anxiety. Though the earth gives way, though our world falls apart around us, we have courage instead of fear.
How does this help us? We need courage in so many areas: evangelism (we have a loving God to proclaim, but it isn’t always easy), confrontation (no one likes to call out a brother living in sin), family (courage to lead them to heaven, to make the hard calls), as a church (since we are called to live like Christ, we will make enemies), and Christian living (living righteously takes courage).
Who is God to Me? He’s my refuge, my strength, my help, and my courage. We spend hours each day on our phones, trying to be social or just wasting time. If our relationship with God was turned into a survey, how many times would we contact him? God wants a relationship with us, and sadly we tend to spend more time on social media than we do building our relationship with Him. Who is God to you? Is He your strength? Do you turn to him for help? Building and strengthening our relationship with God is the most important thing we will ever do.
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The Secret Message 

The Secret Message 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

If he was nervous, it was clear that the king’s palace guards couldn’t tell. They checked his left thigh for a weapon, and when they were satisfied they allowed Ehud to enter the throne room chamber. Ehud is just steps away from going down in history as the man who delivered the Israelites from the Moabite oppression. If he can pull this off, he and his people will enjoy eighty years of peace. It was a big job, and if you know this account, it was a big in more than one way. Hanging from his right side, unknown to anyone but him, is an eighteen inch double-sided sword. It was a weapon made for stabbing, and Ehud planned to use it for it’s created purpose. The guards stationed outside the chamber open the door for him. The room is filled with servants and more armed security, but this is probably not the first thing to catch your eye. There, in the middle of the room on the throne sat an extremely obese man. He’s been the ruling power over God’s people for eighteen years now and as king, he clearly took advantage the royal food supply. His name was Eglon. He, along with the sons of Ammon and Amalek, defeated the Israelites and then claimed the city of palm trees, Jericho.

Ironically, the palm tree was considered a symbol of peace and victory. Many years later, people would lay the branches of these trees down before Jesus the Nazareth as He enters Jerusalem. It seems reasonable to assume that Eglon was glad when he saw Ehud walk towards him. After all, Ehud was the man in charge of gathering Israel’s tribute and delivering it to him. With these funds, the king was free to continue living his life of gluttony and leisure. However, this time God was about to give a gift to the Israelites— Eglon’s life.

Ehud begins to look for the perfect opportunity to kill the king. He says to Eglon, “I have a secret message for you.” At this, Eglon clears the room. Now it’s just Ehud and the king. They’re alone in Eglon’s roof chamber. Ehud continues, “It’s from God.” This is out of the ordinary, and the king seems to have some level of respect for Jehovah, because he then stands up. I would imagine, a man of his size didn’t usually make a habit of standing unless it was absolutely necessary. Ehud pulls from his right thigh the hidden sword and quickly thrusts it into Eglon’s belly. The fat closes over the blade, and his insides spill out. Ehud locks the door and makes his escape. The guards assume Eglon is relieving himself in the coolness of his roof chamber. They wait until the point of embarrassment before opening the door, only to find their king dead. Ehud manages to rally the Israelite troops— slaying ten thousand mighty Moabites. Peace fell on the land for the next eighty years until the children of Israel once again fell away from God.

This account is found in Judges 3, and it’s an interesting, perhaps disgusting account, of how God delivered His people. Believe it or not, there are a few takeaways for us today. Sometimes Christianity involves bravery on our part. God was with Ehud, and He’s still with us today. Even so, humans still face very real fears. Whether you’re asked to lead a prayer in worship, or you’re thinking about talking with those in your social circles about Christ, or making an uncomfortable hospital visit, faithful service requires courage. It’s always been that way. Another lesson we can learn from this account is that God strengthens our faith by testing that faith. Just look at how zealously Ehud conquers the strong and valiant Moabites after Eglon’s death. When we can witness how God has worked in our past, it can build our faith in God’s ability to assist us in the future. If God is for us, who can be against us? Absolutely nobody. 

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The Art of Excuses (Jeremiah 1)

The Art of Excuses (Jeremiah 1)

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Someone once said, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far.” Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” 

Jeremiah had a complete list of excuses ready when God called on him to be a prophet to the people of Israel. Many times the excuses of Jeremiah become ours when we are called on to proclaim God’s Word to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return. 

First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” Jeremiah 1:5 says, ““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is God speaking to Jeremiah, and notice what He says, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The task ahead is difficult, so Jeremiah gives off a list of excuses for why he isn’t the one for this job. God gives a promise for Jeremiah’s excuses. He says, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew that Jeremiah was the one for the job, even if Jeremiah didn’t think so. 

Second, Jeremiah said, “I don’t have the talent.” Jeremiah 1:6 says, “Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” Many times people blame their cowardice on a lack of talent. They say that it isn’t natural to them, that there are others more suited for the job. But God knows Jeremiah and the great good he can accomplish. In Jeremiah 1:9, God promises that He would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth.  

As Christians today we have these same promises for our worries and excuses. Let’s not blame our cowardice on a lack of talent or the difficulty of the task. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. He has promised that He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that. 

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I Met A Soul Today (POEM)

I Met A Soul Today (POEM)

Neal Pollard

A lonely soul was crying out
For someone to direct
Their mind to know the will of God
But I chose to deflect.

An edgy soul was acting out
Intimidating and coarse
Yet they were searching for the truth
I recoiled with too little remorse.

A hopeful soul was reaching out
And attended our worship service
But I was busy, too much to do
To connect, plus I was nervous.

A hurting soul, in time of loss
Crossed my path today
I felt so bad that he was grieved
But still I hurried on my way.

A lost soul was needing Christ
She is destined for eternity
I was busy, nervous, no zeal for her
Guess I was too caught up in me

The next soul that I come upon
Lord, may I try with zeal
To share your grace and teach your Word
And your matchless love reveal.

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The Fight Between The Skunk And The Snake

The Fight Between The Skunk And The Snake

Neal Pollard

Some time ago, I wrote, “I passed by a skunk and a snake, fighting tooth and nail. I didn’t stop and pet either or take sides. I got out of there as fast as I could.” That was metaphorical rather than actual, though I’ve had encounters with each animal individually. My point had to do with some of the “fights” that regularly occur on social media about some of the most unnecessary causes.

The common ground of these posts and articles are their extremely polarizing effect, drawing a multitude of allies and opponents. So often, they relate to matters that, of themselves, will not effect a single person’s eternity (though the poor stewardship of time, emphasis, tone, and attitude might imperil more than a few).

I have been tempted to weigh in on probably a thousand of these spats and civil wars, but I do not. It’s not that I do not have decided views on nearly all the debates. Instead, I try to project myself into the future. Will it expand my influence for Christ for good? What will my comment add to the spirit of brotherly love, magnanimity, unity, and church growth? Will I truly be helping struggling souls? Will it elevate the view of Jesus’ bride in the eyes of the lost, the weak, and the wayward? 

After reflecting, the answer is always the same. I cannot answer that for my interjecting brethren. Nor am I one to avoid preaching or personally discussing matters because they may be unpopular or alienating. However, because social media is more impersonal and lacking in the interpersonal dynamics of face-to-face interaction, we run a much greater risk of being misunderstood. 

Today, controversy can be created in real time. As a good friend of mine put it, “Everybody has a megaphone now.” What really requires courage is stepping out from behind a computer or phone and personally interacting with someone we disagree with in civil, loving discourse. It may not foster page views, mass reactions, and reams of online comments, but in the end it may reach more hearts and minds. 

In our current culture, dividing people into camps against each other is incredibly easy. But is it wise? Is it right (Proverbs 6:19b)? 

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The Courage To Try

The Courage To Try

Neal Pollard

About nine months ago, a man walked into our building a day after being immersed into Christ. He had been searching diligently for the truth, a man whose hunger for the Bible caused him to study his Bible for hours every day (including on audio at his job as a metal fabricator). He continues those habits today.

A man whose life is as interesting as his name–Roberto Yrey–has been a blessing to us at Bear Valley.  One of the reasons I’ve grown to love him so much was on full display last night. Each Wednesday, a different man delivers a 90-second devotional talk. Last night, Roberto spoke. Don’t misunderstand. He writes devotions, short sermons, and articles all the time in order to articulate his understanding of a Bible chapter or topic he has been studying. He changed his mind multiple times before settling on the one he delivered last night. If you were there, you know that Roberto was nervous. He has told several of us how difficult public speaking is for him. His only previous public speaking opportunity was a Scripture reading during a devotional back during the holidays.

What he chose to speak about last night so aptly reveals a mindset that makes him so endearing. His message was that you don’t have to know everything to study with someone. Don’t be afraid to tell someone, “I don’t know.” It’s OK if you don’t know or understand everything. He encouraged us, “Say, I don’t know but let me ask someone who might know. Or let’s fellowship and find the answer.”  But his message was to not let the fear of not knowing keep you from talking to someone about the Bible.

I admire the fact that Roberto had the courage, as a babe in Christ, to speak to a room full of people some of whom have been preachers and teachers for decades, teachers in our Bible school for many years, and are mature, seasoned Christians. But I admire him even more for practicing what he was preaching. In our midst last night were two visitors–Estevan (there for the first time) and Sean (who’s become a regular attender with Roberto for several months). He had the courage to invite them. Today, we baptized Sean into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. A young Christian has already brought a friend to Jesus. All it took was the courage to try, to do what anyone can do who is moved by simple, trusting faith to just do what God has told us to do. I don’t know about you, but Roberto’s example helps me have the courage to try harder!

 

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(L) Sean being baptized today by Allen Javellana, who studied with him. (R) Roberto preaching at Bear Valley last night.

Grocery Bag In A Bush

Grocery Bag In A Bush

Scott Phillips

My girls recently modified the game of Slug Bug in order to make it more exciting and faster-paced. A couple of months ago, with the whole family in the car, we were introduced to it when we heard the words “gocery bag in a bush” shouted three times in rapid succession followed by “wow! three in a row” from one of the other girls.

The modification was simple. Instead of calling out VW Beetles, we all began to call out grocery bags that were snagged up in a bush alongside the road. We would also accept “tree.”  A grocery bag caught in a tree was also acceptable. Turns out, “Grocery Bag In A Bush” is much more exciting and fun than Slug Bug. Tons more action! I’ve never seen so many grocery bags in my life! And you should hear the squeals and laughter when one was spotted so far up in a tree that we all knew that it wasn’t coming down until the tree did.

Good times.

I’ve thought about Grocery Bag In A Bush many times since that day, and have made many observations about it. I’d like to share three of them.

Observation #1
The grocery bags have always been, and will always be, there. I just never “saw” them before. I don’t recall seeing a single slug bug while playing Grocery Bag In A Bush, even though they were probably there.

Conclusion #1
I will see that which I look for. Matthew 7:7-8 says,  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Observation #2
Grocery Bags don’t belong in a bush or a tree. It’s not what they were created for, but somehow they have found themselves hopelessly ensnared. They will most likely remain ensnared until someone cares enough to pick them up, or a violent storm rips them away from the unreachable limb where they are trapped. And if no one stops and picks them up, they will most likely drift away until they find themselves ensnared in another bush.

Conclusion #2
While we may excel at “stopping to say hello” when a brother is in the way, we should not let the business of “rolling our gospel chariots along” keep us from our responsibility to the lost to “stop and pick them up”.

Observation #3
We all financially support a vast army of sanitation workers through taxes and fees. We even personally pay for these services out of pocket so that they will come by our house each week to take our trash, and grocery bags, to where they belong. And yet, the grocery bags are everywhere.

Conclusion #3
Christianity cannot be outsoursed. It’s not enough to pay for, or support others, to do the work for us. This world is not our home, but it becomes a more beautiful place when each of us can see those around us who are ensnared in sin, and gently help them get to where they belong.

Feel free to make your own observations from this parable. It’s not perfect, and I’m certainly not equating those trapped in sin with trash. But before we start asking God to provide us with more opportunities, we might first ask ourselves if we are really in the  game. Because once you know what to look for, the opportunities are everywhere.

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[Scott Phillips serves as a deacon at the Bear Valley church of Christ. He and Tammi have a son and 7 daughters!]