KNOCKING DOWN THE WALLS OF JERICHO

KNOCKING DOWN THE WALLS OF JERICHO

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

God had promised the land of Canaan as early as Abraham (Gen. 15:18ff). The first city of Israel’s conquest was Jericho (Josh. 6:1). The word about and reputation of God’s people preceded them, so Jericho “was tightly shut because of” them. Despite this, the LORD told Joshua that “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:5). Israel followed God’s unorthodox battle plan and “the wall fell down flat” and “they took the city” (6:20). Though they’d suffer a setback because of one man’s disobedience, this was the dramatic start of what would be the accomplishment of the land promise made to Israel.

God also promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This was fulfilled through Christ (Gal. 3:28). One of the ways Jesus proved that He was the Christ was “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” in their midst (Acts 2:22). He started His ministry in Galilee (Mat. 4:17) and ended it in Jerusalem (Mat. 16:21), but near the end He had His own Jericho triumphs. He had not one, but two that are recorded by the gospel writers. One involved Him performing one of His many miracles, gaining a victory over sickness, but the other was a triumph of a different kind gaining a victory over Satan. 

Luke indicates Jesus was approaching Jericho when He encounters a blind beggar (Luke 18:35). Matthew and Mark also seem to record the same miracle, identifying this man as Bartimaeus, and showing perhaps “that the Saviour went in and out at the same gate of the city, and that the miracle falls into two parts” (Lange 282). But Jesus’ knocks down the wall between the haves and have nots, the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable, when He has mercy on him and gives him his sight (Luke 18:37-43). Immediately after Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jericho and passes through (19:1). Now, he knocks down the wall between the righteous and the sinner (19:7). He went to be a guest in the house of Zaccheus, who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. The end result of this encounter is “salvation” (19:9). 

Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew name for Jesus is “Joshua”? Isn’t it also interesting that Jesus performs these miracles in proximity to the walls of Jericho? The walls that Jesus knocks down are important to us today. They tell us that the gospel is for the poor, the hurting, the needy, the seedy, the rejects, and the sinner. Wasn’t God preparing us for this when Joshua spares a harlot and her family in the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-23)? 

Jesus was certainly about knocking down the walls we can be quick to build. Who does Jesus want us to be taking the gospel to today? Certainly, He’s not against those who are financially blessed (Zaccheus was). He’s not against those who are socially well-connected (many Christian converts in Acts and the epistles were). But, here is where Jesus is revolutionary. As Paul puts it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5). 

What should His church look like today? The gospel transforms lives and lifts people morally and spiritually higher. But, He’s interested in the Rahabs, Bartimaeuses, and Zeccheuses of our day! Jesus wants to break down barrier walls (Eph. 2:14). He wants you and me using the gospel to do the job for Him today! 

Kathy in Jericho, March, 2018
“Soft Civil War”

“Soft Civil War”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

It is no secret that we are politically divided in this country. Larger cities are typically progressive, while the majority of a state’s rural populations are conservative. This has even dictated what kind of news we watch! If you watch CNN, you fit in with progressives. If you watch Fox News, you are most likely conservative. Both approach reality with their own highly specific bias in order to appeal to their respective audiences. As a result of this, we have entered into what is being called a “soft civil war.” Liberals speak with extreme hatred against conservatives. Conservatives speak with great hatred against liberals. It may be a soft civil war right now, but it would not take much at this point to become a full-fledged war.

As a church, we are a kingdom. Our king is Christ and the citizens of this kingdom are Christians. Sadly, the church is not immune to soft civil wars. In Philippians 4, Paul strongly rebukes Euodia and Syntyche because their argument was destroying the church. How easily we can become heated and hateful over matters of opinion! The way we handle differing opinions on matters not pertaining to salvation determines whether we will be unified as a church or whether – like Euodia and Syntyche – we will be a force for division. The greatest tragedy of the American Civil War was that families fought on opposing sides and killed one another. As the body of Christ, let us continue to handle our differences with godliness, love, and patience.

What Does The Bible Say?

What Does The Bible Say?

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters.  Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation.  How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?

Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12).  Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust.  Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort.  Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right.  Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).

How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text?  So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions.  Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views.  Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind.  How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live!  That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”

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God is Protective of His Church

God is Protective of His Church

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Many have heard, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals” (I Corinthians 15.33). It’s not difficult to understand the concepts in this verse. If our closest relationships are with worldly people, our ethics and behavior will reflect this. Fun fact: the word for company here is ὁμιλία (homilia). The first part of the word sounds a lot like “homie,” so it’s easy to remember. 

I want to look at the word “corrupt” a little more closely. At first, I thought it might be similar to Ephesians 4.29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…” But that word is completely different and more closely describes decomposition. “Corrupt” in I Corinthians 15.33 means, “To cause deterioration of the inner life” (BDAG 1054). 

Paul uses this same word earlier in the book. In I Corinthians 3, Paul talks about the church and her foundation (as in, her foundation is God and not men). By verse seventeen – still addressing the church – he says, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (emp. mine). 

“Destroy” is usually ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi) or λύω (luo), but in this verse it’s the same word that’s translated “corrupt” in I Corinthians 15.33. 

So what does this mean for us? It’s an extremely solemn warning to those who are corrupting or dividing the church today. At Corinth, the division was due to worldliness and basing their Christianity on prominent men like Paul or Apollos. 

If our conduct is dividing the church, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17. 

If what we’re talking about corrupts the bride of Christ, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17. 

If we abuse the influence we have in the church, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17. 

If our opinions, preferences, political views, or behaviors are in any way eroding the family of God, we have to quit them. A bad argument was enough for Paul to tell Euodia and Syntyche to, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12). Their argument was hurting the church at Philippi, so Paul told them to get it together or their souls would be lost. 

If love for the church does not motivate us to pursue unity, then it is time for us to cultivate a healthy fear of what negative actions can do to our souls. The church is eternally important and infinitely precious, so what could go wrong if we’re always looking out for others? 

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Chasing Calm In The Chaos Of Conflict

Chasing Calm In The Chaos Of Conflict

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Conflict stinks. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable, and far too easy to do poorly. Conflict is a delicate game balancing a desire to achieve a certain outcome without causing unnecessary escalation.

We live in a world where evil is alive and well. No one wants evil to exist, but it does because of sin. Both good and bad people sometimes do evil things. Those people should be held accountable and justice meted. Our country has had a consistent pattern of civil unrest after an injustice. We no longer know how to have healthy conflict. 

  • Do you want to perpetuate hate? Use the actions of an evil person as an excuse to harm others, burn businesses, and contribute to civil unrest. 
  • Do you want to stifle positive change? Share polarizing rhetoric. It will flawlessly push either side more firmly into their ways. 
  • Do you want to keep a rift between entire groups of people? Play the blame game instead of holding those responsible accountable. And, when those responsible have been held accountable, continue to accuse others of complicity. 

Every single person on the planet is guilty. Every single person on the planet is hopeless without God. Every person on the planet would die lost if not for Jesus and the forgiveness He offers. Not one person is perfect. 

  • Do we want peace? Be good to all people (Galatians 6.10). 
  • Do we want to eradicate prejudice? Unite within the family of God (Galatians 3.28). God created people, not factions. 
  • Do we want to eliminate hatred? Be patient, kind, humble, not jealous, not self-centered, not easily provoked, not a grudge-holder, not someone who relishes in dysfunction, love truth, not retaliatory, and be full of hope (I Corinthians 13). 

We must face the fact that the only way to have true stability, love, acceptance, and goodness is to go through God. Only when we look to an objective standard – one that cannot change simply because man’s threshold of tolerance has – will we have peace. 

“Happy are the peacemakers, because they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). 

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Walk With Me Through The Crowd

Walk With Me Through The Crowd

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.

You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness.  He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.

Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!

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Some Beautiful ‘Truths About Race

Some Beautiful ‘Truths About Race

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

I wonder if we’ll ever live in a world free of racial turmoil, tragedy, inequity, and bigotry. Whenever we make assumptions, blanket statements (or beliefs), or judgments about people based on something so literally superficial as skin color, we miss the deeper possibilities–love, relationship, and unity, just to name a few. One thing we can never legitimately do, when seeking to prop up racial prejudice, is to lean on the Bible to do so.

Scripture highlights the racial tensions that existed on both sides of the Jewish-Gentile divide in both testaments. Yet, instead of endorsing it, the Bible–especially through Christ–seeks to transcend and destroy it. Consider some beautiful truths it teaches about race.

–“He made from one man (literally, “from one”; some versions say “one blood” and others “one ancestor”) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26). As many have put it, “We’re all related through Adam.” Malachi rhetorically asks, “Do we not all have one father?” (2:10). There is biological unity among the races.

–“Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26). The Godhead declares this at the creation, when making that first man. Every person of every race shares this marvelous, identifying trait. No human should suffer an identity crisis, in the ultimate sense. We’re made in the image of God! There is existential unity among the races.

–With no qualifier, Scripture says “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There may be different genetic predispositions or conditions that strike each of the races of humanity, but this inevitable ending awaits us all. There is corporeal or physical unity among the races. 

–Among so many passages that relates a similar principle, Solomon writes, “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13). Each individual has a particular makeup, whether we speak of extroverts or introverts, moodiness or even-temperedness, expressiveness or reservation, or the like, but all of us have an emotional makeup. There is emotional unity among the races. 

–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Each one of us has unique struggles, weaknesses, and temptations. Ultimately, none of us escapes this reality. There is spiritual unity among the races. This extends to the fact that One man died for all sinners (2 Cor. 5:20). Then, beautifully, because of this, He places every obedient believer in Christ in one body (Eph. 2:16). As Paul declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is [a]neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Men will try to stoke and foment division. The carnal will embrace and inflame such baseness as racial prejudice, with its fear, assumption, and blind ignorance. But let all who do so step away from the Bible and away from the cleansing blood of the Savior. For neither cover such sin! Instead, let us answer the call of Scripture to strive toward unity in every area God sets forth. 

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Tyler King studying the Bible with a truth seeker. 

A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Civil war has broken out in the kingdom after Saul’s death. David is a patriot who loves his people so he offers to treat Saul’s followers well after Judah crowns him as king. However, a man named, Abner, takes matters into his own hands and he defies God’s chosen king. He sets up Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, as their new ruler instead. Abner, who was the general of Saul’s army, along with the servants of Ish-bosheth, make their way to the pool of Gibeon. This was a large pool carved out of rock by Saul’s father. Once they arrive they sit down. On the opposite side of the pool, Joab, David’s nephew, and his servants meet them and sit as well. Behind them, two armies stand in formation, ready for war— brother against brother. Abner, perhaps to prevent the death toll that a larger battle would bring, suggests that their servants fight for them. Joab agrees, but this idea quickly leads to a slaughter. Each servant grabs the other by the head, clinching hair in a tight fist, and cuts each other down simultaneously. This short altercation doesn’t provide a victor, so both armies charge each other. It’s a battle that is fought with so much passion, but God grants David’s army with the win. I imagine the Man After God’s Own Heart did not take joy in this victory. The chaos of war has already taken so much from him, including the life of his best friend, Jonathan.

After the battle of Gibeon has ended, David’s nephew, Asahel, takes off after the fleeing Abner. Asahel was known for his speed and agility, with it being likened to that of a gazelle. This speed allowed him to pass the others that were also in pursuit and he finds himself on the heels of Abner in no time. His swiftness will bring him a swift death. While Abner is not as quick, he is older with more experience. Twice Abner asks Asahel to stop this foolish attempt to take his life, but Asahel doesn’t take this advice. This is when Abner thrusts his spear behind him and the butt end of the spear goes through Asahel’s stomach and out the other side, killing the young warrior. 

This is probably an account you never heard in Vacation Bible School, but there is so much we can learn from this event found in 2 Samuel 2:12-24. We notice how deadly pride can be. First, there is the pride of Abner in rejecting David as king, and then there’s the pride of Asahel. He was famous for being quick on his feet, but clearly slow in thought. Preachers and teachers can become well known for their ability to speak and proclaim God’s word. This fame can also be their own spiritual downfall if they begin to think more of themselves than they should. When we post scriptures, baptisms, or other good deeds on social media for our own praise and admiration, God may be the only One that sees your heart. Those are the only eyes that matter since they belong to the One that will be our final Judge.

We also learn from this story that serving a dead king is futile. As Christians we serve the King of Kings, God’s anointed son. Those standing with Him will always win. Those that chose to take matters into their own hands are fighting a losing battle.

When we read about events like this in the Bible it should also make us thankful for the day when we will enjoy a place where there is no heartache, bloodshed, or wickedness. Even David had to endure his share of trials, but now he’s with the God he modeled his heart after— and, we can assume, Jonathan. No matter what struggle we may find ourselves tangled up in, let’s place our focus on that heavenly reunion. 

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photo via Flickr

Who Will You Listen to? (1 Kings 12) 

Who Will You Listen to? (1 Kings 12) 

Wednesday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

I remember it like it was yesterday, I was standing in my brothers’ room while they were trying to convince me that I had swallowed a marble. After enough talking, they finally convinced my 3-year-old self that I had swallowed a marble. A couple of hours later we left the ER after being told by the doctor that there, in fact, was no marble in me. What on earth happened? Well, I’ll tell you what happened. I listened to my brothers and their prank went a little farther than they thought it would. 

This reminds me of an account that is recorded in 1 Kings chapter 12, where Rehoboam listens to some unwise advice from his brothers. The people come to him asking their new king to lower the taxes his father Solomon had placed on them. So Rehoboam reaches out to those who served with Solomon, and they tell him to lower the taxes; but Rehoboam didn’t like this answer. In fact, he wasn’t looking for that answer. So he goes to his friends, the guys he grew up with, and this is what they say, “‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’”(1 Kings 12:10-11). Rehoboam takes the advice of his younger council, and because of this the kingdom of Israel split. 

When it comes to who we take advice from, it is always best to come at it with all biases aside. Rehoboam was talked into doing something that split the kingdom. The next time we have a decision to make, we must not make the mistake Rehoboam made or what I did in listening to my brothers. Let’s be wise and make our decision after praying with a heart which honestly seeks God’s will. 

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Knowing What D.C. Stands For

Knowing What D.C. Stands For

Neal Pollard

Inasmuch as we don’t want laws or policies enacted that violate God’s Word and we want precious freedoms, especially religious ones, preserved and protected, we can really get into what is going on in Washington, from Capitol Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue. Many know that “D.C.” is an abbreviation for “District of Columbia,” an area of land created at about the time of our nation’s founding under the direct jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress that is not a state.

However, as politics has vied for sports and entertainment as an idol in our culture, it has become the source of unnecessary and even immoral strife between Christians. Blind support and allegiance for one major political party or the other can do more than make us inconsistent. It can make us a stumbling block. It seems to me that D.C. can stand for some dangerously different things.

Distracted Christians. Search high and low in your New Testaments, written during the time of the wicked, often unfair-to-Christians, Roman Empire.  The disciples were about the business of evangelism (Acts 8:4) and growing the church (Acts 6:7). Can the rumblings and drama from the nation’s capitol get us so transfixed that we cannot see past it or through it to our individual and collective mission as God’s people? He has us here to get people into the Kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Everything else is secondary. 

Divided Churches. For as long as I’ve been preaching, I’ve seen politics come between brethren in the local church. Thankfully, it does not usually become significant enough to trouble the entire congregation but I have seen it do so. What’s more, I’ve seen brothers and sisters become so confrontational and flagrant about politics–especially through the relatively recent medium of social media–that it has been a stumbling block to new and weak Christians. Perhaps the political world in our country has never been so intensely divisive as it currently is, and what typically troubles the world troubles the church. But, when souls are negatively impacted, God will hold the offenders accountable. 

Devil’s Cauldron. Please don’t misunderstand. Politics, like money, is a neutral matter. But, like money, it can become the root of all sorts of evil (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10)–enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, and factions (Gal. 5:20). Just prior to this list of activities that are the carrying out of the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), Paul warns, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14-15). Who benefits when things like politics distract and divide Christians? It is not the lost, the church, or the Lord!

I can think of a least three godly, wonderful Christians who are public servants in political office and making a profound impact for good–Bill Reiboldt, Sheila Butt, and John DeBerry. They demonstrate that God’s people can devote themselves to politics without sacrificing their faith and example. For those of us “on the outside looking in,” in our love of country and freedom, may we never allow our attitude, words, or actions to betray our highest calling. The more effectively we reach lost souls, reflect the mind of Christ, and reveal the hope of the gospel, the better our nation (and world) will become. What will that make us? Disciples of Christ!

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From my last trip to Washington, a few summers ago.