The Christian Decision

The Christian Decision

Carl Pollard

Our family used to hike a lot when we lived in Colorado. There were many hikes that I went on that were straight up miserable. Ive always been the chunky kid, but the worst part about this was that I  was surrounded by a healthy and very active family.. This meant that on every hike I was the one in the back feeling like I was about to pass away. Hiking was never really something I was the best at. There are several times I remember thinking, “I’m not going to make it.” 

We used to hike a trail called “Moffit Tunnel” It was an 11 mile hike that ended with a summit path that gained 3000 feet of elevation in under half a mile. As you can imagine the path was practically vertical, and filled with rocks, mud, snow, and sadness. 

When I think of “a hard path” this is what comes to my mind. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus describes the way to salvation as a path that isn’t for the faint hearted; it’s for the dedicated Christian that is determined to reach eternal life. There’s no denying that the Christian life can be tough. It is filled with persecution, especially for those who aren’t as fortunate to have the freedoms we enjoy in America. The Christian life is tough because we will face persecution, but we are more likely to face rejection in our society today for standing up for some very unpopular teachings. If we are devoted to teaching and standing with God’s Word this means we must defend God’s view on homosexuality, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, baptism, sin, hell, and many more divisive topics. If we are devoted to walking the difficult path we must remain faithful in the rejection, hatred and persecution we will face. 

But the rejection and hate from the world isn’t the only thing hard about this path.

As Christians we are commanded to put ourselves to death. Matt. 10:37-39 say,  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Walking the difficult path means we have put ourselves to death. In doing so we are saying we love Christ more than our parents, our children and ourselves. In order to walk the difficult path we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The cross is an instrument of death. The cross we pick up is the instrument of death that we have used to crucify ourselves on. Once we have taken up our cross we have made the decision to love Christ over anyone and everyone. We no longer serve ourselves because we have died to Christ. 

When we choose to walk the difficult path we are no longer living without purpose. We have a goal, a meaning for our lives. God uses us to spread His saving word to others. We have purpose in everything we do. We are here to encourage each other, to save souls, and to glorify God. One of humanity’s most asked question, “Why am I here?,”is answered by God. How we serve God will ultimately change someone else’s eternal destiny. We are given the true words of life that are able to save our most valuable possession, our souls. We also experience the blessing of having confidence in death. Death is scary. Why are so many scared of death? It’s the unknown, the end of our existence as we have known it. As Christians, when we choose to walk the difficult path, we are given the promise that when we face death we can be confident in knowing our soul is in the hands of almighty God. We know what is coming, and we can find hope in this. 

It was a hard climb, but what a payoff!
Socially Distant from God?

Socially Distant from God?

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Raymond Burke, an American Catholic Cardinal serving in the Vatican, voiced his opinion about the novel coronavirus. He stated that one “cannot consider the present calamity in which we find ourselves without considering how distant our popular culture is from God.” He continued, “It is not only indifferent to His presence in our midst but openly rebellious toward Him and the good order with which He has created us and sustains us in being.” 1

Burke’s comments follow his observation that in times past when plagued by disease, people normally turned to God. Under our current circumstances of trying to mitigate COVID-19, however, we are forbidden from meeting in assemblies of more than 10 persons. Burke went on to say that our homes are “a little Church into which we bring Christ from our encounter with Him in the bigger Church.” Hence, he encouraged Catholics to pray.

From a purely doctrinal standpoint, I am unable to agree with Raymond Burke. Even so, I was struck by the quotation by him which I shared. Right now, we are isolating ourselves from one another to prevent the spread of a virus. Yet, people have been keeping themselves distant from God for years. And not only do they seek to stay distant from God, but they also promote an environment that seeks to distance others from Him as well. Burke sighted those sins like abortion and the perversion of God’s design for sexuality as proof of this distancing from God. I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with that thought.

Yet, it is not just those sins that cause people to become distanced from God. For example, in Isaiah 59, Isaiah reminded those people in a covenant relationship with God under Moses’ Law that God was separated from them by their hands defiled with blood, fingers defiled by iniquity, lips speaking falsehoods, and tongues muttering wickedness (3). He further stated they conceived mischief and brought forth iniquity (4). He said their feet ran to evil (7). Consequently, they made crooked paths for themselves, which deprived others of peace when they traveled upon them (8). Frankly, modern America sounds no different.

And what was the consequence of being distant from God? Isaiah began by saying that God had become separated from them which prevented Him from hearing their prayers or helping them (1-2). Justice was far from them and despite their hope for light, they were ensconced in darkness (9). Indeed, the Israelites were blind men groping along the wall and stumbling during the day as though it were night (10). They were compared to dead men (10).  Truly, without God people are in a terrible position.

During this pandemic, I have noted more references to God on television. As I’ve heard the discussion of our mental health during this crisis, even news commentators have lauded the role of faith in preventing people from despairing. After all, hope is an anchor. Vice President Mike Pence, in commenting about the deaths from the coronavirus, quoted from 1 Thessalonians 4.13 that we do not grieve like those who have no hope. 2 As refreshing as all of this is, I am afraid that it smacks of waiting until the house has burned down to call the fire department.

If we truly want for God to bless us individually, as the church, or to bless our secular nation, we cannot afford to practice social distancing from God. We must allow for the only name given under heaven among men that saves (Acts 4.12) be always on our lips as we preach and teach to our neighbors (Matthew 28.19-20).

 

References

1 Chapman, Michael W. “Cardinal Burke: Consider Virus in Light of ‘Actual Sins,’ Abortion, Gender Theory.” CNSNews.com, Media Research Center, 27 Mar. 2020, 15:36, www.cnsnews.com/article/international/michael-w-chapman/cardinal-burke-consider-virus-light-actual-sins-abortion.

2 Foust, Michael. “’We Do Not Grieve Like Those Who Have No Hope,’ Pence Says of Pandemic during Easter.” ChristianHeadlines.com, Salem Web Network, 9 Apr. 2020, www.christianheadlines.com/contributors/michael-foust/we-do-not-grieve-like-those-who-have-no-hope-pence-says-of-pandemic-during-easter.html.

“EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A PART OF THE TEAM”

“EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A PART OF THE TEAM”

Neal Pollard

As I committed Georgia Bulldogs fan, I grimace to share this. But, Alabama head coach Nick Saban had a great quote in reaction to the student section leaving the Crimson Tide games early. I’ll quote the second part:

“If I asked that whole student section, do you want to be No. 1? Nobody would hold their hand up and say I want to be No. 4. They would all say No. 1. But are they willing to do everything to be No. 1? That’s another question. You can ask them that. I don’t know the answer” (via Saturday Football, Inc.).

With Alabama’s unprecedented success in the last decade, they’ve drawn the best High School players in the nation and they continue to develop them into seemingly unbeatable teams. Current students and those who have graduated for the last several years have just come to expect that on every given Saturday their team will win. They probably tell all their family and friends with swelling pride that they are part of Tide Nation, but for many of them game day has turned into a “ho hum” experience. Winning may not get old, but staying passionate about it must have gotten hard.

When the church is growing, making a difference and daring great things, it draws a lot of excitement. People are drawn to the active youth program, the decisive direction of sound leadership, vibrant worship, big plans, and ministries that meet pressing needs. There may be a tendency to tell everyone how great the congregation is without being very committed personally. We may show up on Sunday mornings, but not for Sunday and Wednesday nights. We may love all that is going on, but feel that affection from a distance instead of from in the midst with sleeves rolled up and hands busy helping. 

The early church was totally invested. The lot of them was “continually devoted…” (Acts 2:42). Their dedication was even measured “day by day” (Acts 2:46) and “every day” (Acts 5:42). In fact, Luke describes them as “of one heart and one soul” in their commitment (Acts 4:32). This contributed to even greater success, numerically and spiritually. Through this personal commitment, they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, ESV). 

I need to ask myself, “Am I willing to do everything to make the congregation I am a member of ‘number one’ in God’s eyes?” Will I do more occupy a pew for an hour? I know God wants me much more invested than that! There are visitors, shut-ins, sick, college students, teens, new Christians, erring Christians, non-members I can influence, and others who can be reached by members who see themselves as truly part of the team. Paul wrote, “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). Let’s have every individual part working properly to build a great church to the glory of the great God who loves us and gave the very best for us!

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Learning To Pray From A Man After God’s Own Heart

Learning To Pray From A Man After God’s Own Heart

Neal Pollard

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), they were asking the most qualified instructor. However, they had a good teacher from the background of their own heritage in David. The book of Psalms is at times a songbook and at other times a prayer journal. Numerous examples of David’s prayers are contained in this beautiful book of Old Testament poetry. In Psalm 141, for example, we have several characteristics of prayer from a man after God’s own heart (cf. Acts 13:22).

First, David’s prayer was urgent (Psalm 141:1). He writes, “Lord, I cry out to You; make haste to me!” David saw prayer, not as a last resort, but as a first retreat. Since David knew God was able to help, he wasted no time in bringing matters into God’s own hands.

Then, David’s prayer was intense (Psalm 141:1b). He continues, “Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.” You will not hear rote memorization of prayers or lackadaisical lethargy in David’s prayer. David cried out to God. He is pleading with God. These are indicators of a fervent prayer life, which God includes as typical of righteous people of prayer (James 5:16).

Further, David’s prayer was sincere (Psalm 141:2). He treated his prayers as if they were actually offerings or sacrifices. He says, “Let my prayers be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” He was willing to lay open his prayers to the All-Seeing eye for His scrutiny. The entirety of this psalm reflects no superficial piety or pretentiousness. David simply laid his heart before God.

David put obvious trust and hope in the power of prayer. He had confidence in God’s ability and he had cognizance of his own dependence upon God’s ability. Never wait to turn to prayer until the need is desperate. The man after God’s own heart made prayer a staple in his religious diet. So should we.

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What To Expect When You Build 

What To Expect When You Build 

Neal Pollard

The old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” seems applicable to time, place, and action. Though the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day stretches back 2500 years and occurred in a totally different culture about 7000 miles from here, it is amazing how what they faced and how they faced it is similar to our world and work right now. What can we learn from the physical building of Nehemiah to help in our spiritual building in the church today? Let’s look at Nehemiah four for the answers.

  • There will be opposition. Then, the opposition was from unbelievers who are introduced to us as those who “mocked and despised” (2:19). They will be driven by emotion (4:1,7). They will actively work to undermine and upset the work (4:8). They will actively work through verbal assault (4:2-3). They will succeed in striking fear in the hearts of some of God’s workers (4:11ff). If we can settle it in our hearts that the devil will never be satisfied until he defeats every faithful work for God, we will expect opposition to exist. The key is not to put the focus on the opposition.
  • There must be devotion. Nehemiah, who narrates much of this Bible book, shows us how you defeat opposition. You depend on God through prayer (4:4-5,8). You trust that God is at work in answer to prayer (4:15,20). You keep the focus on His power (4:14). If we can remind ourselves that “our [great and awesome] God will fight for us,” we can keep going through the most frustrating failures along the way.
  • There must be direction. Someone has to lead people to focus on God rather than His enemies. Nehemiah exemplifies godly leadership. As noted, he led the people to rely on God when doing His work. Notice that he also communicated to the leaders and workers (4:14). He reminded them of their motivation (4:14) and gave them a tangible plan (4:19-20). He also led by example (4:21-23), rolling up his sleeves along with the rest of the people. Such servant-leaders inspire and encourage success.
  • There must be action. Though their success ultimately came about because of God’s power, this did not nullify their need to work. They built because “the people had a mind to work” (4:6). The late Wendell Winkler was known to say, “Programs don’t work. People do!” Walk through Nehemiah four and observe the action verbs. You see them “each one to his work” (15), “carrying on the work” (16, 21), and “doing the work” (17). So it is today.

These were ordinary folks. They faced fear, doubt, and discouragement. They had limitations. But they “built the wall” (4:6). In other words, they succeeded in the task God gave them to do. We are not inferior to them in any way unless it is in execution. We have opposition. We can defeat it with proper devotion, direction, and action. The work God has given us in His church today must be done, but it can be done! Let’s do more than believe that. Let’s embody it!

New Horizons humanitarian assistance in Haiti

FOURTEEN SUGGESTIONS FOR BUILDING YOUR DEVOTIONAL LIFE

FOURTEEN SUGGESTIONS FOR BUILDING YOUR DEVOTIONAL LIFE

Neal Pollard

Maybe you have resolved repeatedly to become a better, more faithful Bible student, person of prayer, or simply one who truly desires to build a closer relationship with God. While a lot of that will be personal and peculiar to you as an individual, you may lack direction about how to get started or give yourself the best chance to succeed in that goal. Perhaps these few suggestions can prove helpful to strengthening your daily connection with your Creator.

  • Adjust your wake up time. 15 to 30 minutes head start will prove the most vital moments of your day.
  • Find a quiet, solitary place. Distraction can equal detraction.
  • Study and pray with pen and paper or computer nearby. This will aid specificity and memory.
  • Do not rush. Better a paragraph or chapter pored over than ten chapters glossed over.
  • Take advantage of the commute. Pray through it or play the Bible on audio, if you can.
  • Pick a book or topic of interest and drill down.  Pick it for its relevance to your weakness, need, ignorance, or curiosity. Drink it in deliberately and carefully.
  • Be specific and transparent in your prayers. In the solitude of prayer, drop all pretense, denial, and pride. He knows it all anyway.
  • Always seek application in the Bible text you are reading. This is not a history lesson or academic exercise. This is spiritual food, armor, and survival.
  • Create a list of ways you can enact the principles you read from Scripture. See yourself in the text of Scripture, and challenge yourself to think, say, do, and be what God desires of you.
  • Ask questions of the text. Don’t pass over what you don’t understand. Don’t skim the surface. Mine for meaning.
  • Build a prayer list. Challenge yourself and add people that many others may overlook in your local circle—widows, little children, new Christians, struggling folks, those facing an anniversary of loss, leadership, missionaries, non-Christians where you work and play, the poor, etc. This ever-expanding prayer list will bless lives in ways you won’t know here on earth.
  • Mean what you say. When you tell someone you’ll pray for them, have integrity. Make an honest effort (write it down, put it in your phone) and honor your word. Ask the people you encounter how you might pray for them, then do it.
  • Review. Revisit prayer lists or notes from Bible study periodically. Make it live on through reflection.
  • Pray for what to study and study prayer. You will find that these two spiritual strength-building exercises are interconnected. This is about relationship with God. Spare no exertion.

Consider these “jump starters.” You will come up with more and far better ways to help yourself to a closer walk with God. These days, we’re being pulled in every direction and most lead away from Him. You will have to be deliberate to swim against the tide. May God bless you as you let Him bless you through a vibrant devotional life!

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19 WAYS TO TANGIBLY IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TODAY

19 WAYS TO TANGIBLY IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TODAY

Neal Pollard

  • Try to spend 5 minutes of prayer in which you do nothing but praise Him.
  • Do something for Him that requires you to step out of your comfort zone—initiate a conversation with a stranger, give a tract to a co-worker you’ve been talking with, etc.
  • Have a devotional with your family.
  • Call a shut-in or stop by and visit a widow(er).
  • Write a missionary, expressing appreciation and giving encouragement.
  • Anonymously give a sacrificial amount of money for a family in need or someone dependent upon support (school of preaching student or teacher, missionary, etc.).
  • Contact an elder, asking him something you could do to help them in their work.
  • Make a list of at least 20 blessings God has given specifically to you.
  • Speak to someone at church services you have never spoken to before.
  • Invite a family from church you don’t know well over for dinner.
  • Put a packet with bottled water and granola bar, along with a tract, into a Ziplock bag to give to the person at the intersection asking for assistance.
  • Pick out a Bible book you are unfamiliar with and start breaking it down, looking for key words, purpose statement, and other clues to better understanding it. Take copious notes.
  • Pray for someone you are having problems with, an enemy, critic, or one who has offended you.
  • Alone or with your spouse and/or children, sing several songs of praise and admonition.
  • Carry a meal to a young mother who has had a difficult day.
  • Give a big smile and warm greeting to a fellow shopper or employee at a store or restaurant.
  • Ask the secretary for a list of last Sunday’s visitors and send them each a warm, brief note.
  • Think of an area for spiritual improvement in your life and ask God to help you focus on it, being transparent and sincere as you petition Him.
  • Ask the person closest to you (parent, spouse, sibling, etc.) something they need for you to pray for on their behalf.

Can you think of additional ways?

“What Have You Done For Me Lately?”

“What Have You Done For Me Lately?”

 

Neal Pollard

This is not just something Janet Jackson once wondered.  The late summer and early fall of each year, college football programs have alumni, boosters, and fans asking head coaches the same thing.  Companies ask the same of employees, and stockholders ask it of companies.  While it can be an unfair question, it cannot be unfair if God asks it.

God has a perfect view of our lives, knowing not only what we’ve done for Him in our past but what we are doing now.  As He looks into our lives, could He be wondering, “What have you done for Me lately?”

  • “Have you won a soul to Me lately?”
  • “Have you been in My Word lately?”
  • “Have you been to My throne room in prayer lately?”
  • “Have you and I been close lately?”
  • “Have you been involved in My Son’s work lately?”
  • “Have you been the spiritual leader of your family lately?”
  • “Have you watched your example and attitude lately?”
  • “Have you been the source of unity in My Son’s body lately?”
  • “Have you encouraged a hurting, lonely soul lately?”

These and other questions are ones He has already asked in principle, when He addresses our hearts (Mat. 15:8-9), teaches us our responsibilities (Mat. 7:21), talks about our relationship with Him (Mat. 22:37), and examines our lifestyles (Mat. 5:13-16).  We may have studied with several people in the past, taught a Bible class at some point for a long period of time, and been very close to and in love with God in days gone by.  But how is it now?  Is that really a thing of the past or does it describe the current state of things?  The wonderful news is that you can start right now, building a better relationship with Him and serving Him more effectively.  Today is as “lately” as it gets.  If your zeal is zapped and your fruit has shriveled, get busy right now restoring that.  Obviously, God will see it and He will bless you for it!