The Lost Loved By The Lord

Neal Pollard

The prostitute on the street with a painful past who’s made dreadful decisions. The grownup who’s the product of unbelievable dysfunction and endured issues like abuse, abandonment, alcohol, and anxiety.  The teen who has never been shown true, Christlike love. The religious adherent whose idea of God and the Bible has been filtered through a trusted, but false, teacher. There are endless individuals who fall into the category of “lost” by Scripture (see the parables of Luke 15), even if they would not identify themselves with that word.

A particular challenge for those of us who “inherited” the knowledge of the truth from our homes is to recognize our dependency upon God for salvation. We look at our lives which, though littered with sin and shortcomings, do not have the disarrayed appearance of lives like the ones mentioned above. We’re basically “good.”  It is so easy for us to be like Simon in Luke 7:36ff. We know our Bibles. We invite Jesus along. We are aghast at how lost those lost people are. We cannot fathom that Jesus would want them. Then, we find ourselves as the one who loves little because we think we have little to be forgiven of. We do not serve Him like we should, but we feel pretty safe.

By contrast, the lost often do not become Christians because they feel so unworthy of forgiveness or see their past as insurmountable chains though they long for freedom. They don’t know, but they need to know, that God longs for them and wants them. They have immense value in His eyes, and, if they come to Him, He will say, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:48,50). Whereas pride might be our impediment, guilt is often theirs.

Each of us needs to find the balance between self-righteousness and self-loathing. If we are the Pharisee, we need humility. If we are the sinful woman, we need hope. But for that latter category, who we are in constant contact with, we must embrace and share the message that the Lord longs for them and sees their soul as precious enough to die for. They need to know He already did that as proof of His love (John 3:16; 15:13). Do you know somebody who is lost? Let them know the Lord loves them!

Businessman looking at a map spread out on the hood of a car

A NEW WAY TO HANDLE PRODIGAL SONS

Neal Pollard

Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord.  It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10).  His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too.  It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown.  “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).

Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons.  Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant.  There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God.  The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.

How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time!  As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind.  The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father.  Yet, the father allowed the son to depart.  The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home.  The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected.  He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed.  In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.

We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23).  We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness.  We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home!  Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!

774px-albert_anker_-_der_verlorene_sohn

Celebrating Independence Day

Neal Pollard

Scores of people from virtually every nation on earth make the journey by land, sea, and air to come to the United States, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  The day in American history, marked by the signing of the Declaration of Independence during the Revolutionary War with Britain, is considered the birthday of America.  “Independence Day” symbolizes not merely a day, but a way of life and the blessings of living in a free nation.

Mark’s gospel begins with the life of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.  In the passage, Mark tells about the many people from Jerusalem and all the land of Judah who came to be baptized by him.  This immersion, though not the one to which all believers must submit today for salvation (cf. Mark 16:16), was an important precursor to Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Apollos (Acts 18:25) and certain men of Ephesus (Acts 19:1ff) were among those even in the Christian age who had previously undergone it.  The baptism bears a remarkable resemblance to the water baptism of the Great Commission.  It was a baptism involving repentance (Mark 1:4), as is baptism under Christ’s covenant (Acts 2:38).  It was a baptism resulting in the remission of sins (Mark 1:4), as is baptism into Christ today (Acts 2:38).  It was a baptism done in much water (Mark 1:5; cf. John 3:23).  So it is with baptism into Christ (Acts 8:38-39; Romans 6:3-4).  It was a baptism properly submitted to only by those understanding its importance in light of their sin problem (Mark 1:5).  So it is with baptism into Christ (Acts 22:16).

Both the baptism of John and the baptism of the Great Commission share this, too.  Both brought freedom and independence from sin, each in its proper dispensation.  Freedom to vote, own property, and pursue happiness are wonderful, but nothing compares to the Independence Day we celebrate when we are baptized into Christ.

miamifireworks

Can You Imagine Being $53 Million In Personal Debt?

Neal Pollard

USA Today’s Maria Puente is reporting music star Kanye West’s tweet where he writes, “I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt…Please pray we overcome…This is my true heart….” (USAToday.com).  Hearing that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla were going to give away some of their billions to philanthropic causes, West tweeted that he wanted to be a recipient of some of that charity.  Since most of us will probably not make a total of $53 million in our lifetimes, we have a hard time imagining how someone could accrue that amount in personal debt! Perhaps horrible investing, profligate lifestyle decisions, and the like might explain it, but the lack of restraint and wisdom seems appalling. How could one person be so foolish and wasteful? We wring our hands and shake our heads, maybe condescendingly.
Until we consider something.

In a spiritual sense, we all faced a debt infinitely greater. Jesus illustrates this in a parable regarding a slave who owed his master 10,000 talents (Mat. 18:23ff). Biola University business professor Philip Massey did some modern-day math equivalency with that figure and estimates in 21st Century dollars that debt would be $7.04 billion dollars, and according to the 2010 Forbes list of billionaires would need to be at least the 102nd most wealthy person on the entire planet just to be able to pay such a debt (chimes.biola.edu).  Jesus’ point in the parable is to show how utterly audacious it is not to forgive the relatively minuscule transgressions others commit against us in light of how great our spiritual debt is to God.  All the combined wealth of the world is not enough to pay for one sin (cf. Mic. 6:6-8; Mat. 16:26). Colossians 2:14 uses the term “debt” to describe our sin problem, but the same verse tells us that we had someone more powerful and capable than any earthly magnate or mogul to help us pay off our debt.  In fact, “having nailed it [the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us] to the cross,” He provided payment sufficient for the sin debt of every single person in this world.

Can you imagine anyone refusing help who faced such an insurmountable obligation? Yet, the majority of this world has done and will continue to do so. By refusing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, they continue to pile up their debt. When the Day of Accounting comes, they’ll stand bankrupt and unable to pay. The consequences will be eternal!

Without Christ, we all face a debt that cannot be sufficiently estimated.  We need His blood applied to our sins or our situations are hopeless! How Zuckerberg will respond is unclear. How Jesus will respond is ironclad! Reach out to Him.

kanye_west_at_the_2009_tribeca_film_festival-2_cropped

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 Do We Make Of God’s Second Chances?

Neal Pollard

We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.”  A kid kicked it hard and I caught it.  As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain.  Something wasn’t right.  My parents took me that week to see the local doctor.  He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver.  My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital.  Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was.  Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.

Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view.  I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go.  With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.

All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation.  We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us.  Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.”  We passed from death to life.  More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10).  You may have messed things up badly in your life.  You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you.  Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  God is the God of the second chance!  His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts!  Trust in the Great Physician.  He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!

Picture of me (2nd from left) about a year after the surgery.

“Redemption Is Tailor-Made For The Wretched”

Neal Pollard

If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it.  This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles.  Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison.  Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background.  It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.

The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online).  The New Testament uses the word twice.  Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25).  The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV).  The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption.  One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.

One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it.  Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption.  To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved.  To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background.  Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!

“NO MATTER WHAT” OBEDIENCE

(video by Wes Autrey)

Neal Pollard

I cannot imagine anyone present yesterday morning to witness Janice Lee baptized into Christ could have failed to be touched at a very deep level.  J.J. and Lila Brennan had been studying the Bible with Janice, and she came to the conclusion that she needed to be baptized for the forgiveness of her sins.  So, she came to the front after my sermon and made that desire known.

She was in a wheelchair because she suffers left side paralysis as the result of a stroke.  She is also on oxygen.  Several ladies and a few of us men took special measures to help her into the baptistery.  She could walk, slowly, gingerly, and with much difficulty.  The ladies helped her up the stairs, while we stood in the water to receive her and help her the rest of the way.  Each step was tenuous and required the utmost effort on her part. Once she was finally in the baptistery, we carefully lowered her under the water and brought her back up.  Very quickly, her deeply felt emotions gently bubbled to the surface.  She softly cried, recalling difficult things from her past, and she said, “I forgive those who’ve sinned against me.”  The joy and peace on her face is something impossible to adequately describe.

What did this new sister in Christ demonstrate yesterday?  Resolve!  Afterward, I found out not only that she had to deal with the consequences of the stroke, but she is afraid of water.  Yet, she saw the need of her soul as preeminent over any obstacle she might have cited.  The constant need of oxygen, the paralysis, and the phobia were outweighed by the Lord’s command.  Her faith was so strong that they were not insurmountable barriers.  She refused to let them be!

The difference at the Judgment, in part, will be that some will offer excuses for why they did not obey the Lord while others, through genuine, trusting faith, will not need to make excuse.  They will stand before Christ, who will see His blood covering their transgressions.  What does it take to go to heaven? A “no matter what” obedience!

V__7BB1(Photo taken by Kathy Pollard)

“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!

Bieber’s Baptism

Neal Pollard

It was reported on the news and all I heard was that the pop star turned bad boy, Justin Bieber, was baptized this weekend in the bathroom of a megachurch’s building in New York City.  As has often been the case, this event was surrounded by a sea of controversy involving the 20-year-old singer.  The “pastor” who baptized him said that the act was preceded by a month of intense Bible study.  Bieber sought baptism for cleansing of sin following the release of a racist-filled 5-year-old video featuring the young man. I am not contending in the least that Bieber’s baptism fulfilled the biblical requirements or that he is now, in the New Testament sense, “born again.”

However, it provides a great opportunity to ask what elements must be present in a baptism that does meet New Testament requirements.  First, it must be predicated upon knowledge.  One must understand the significance of the one baptism (cf. Eph. 4:4). Practically speaking, one must either do the personal study or have someone teach what the Bible says about the place of baptism in God’s plan.

Second, baptism must be preceded by sorrow for sin and a desire to have sins washed away.  Sorrow for sin is a part of repentance, which is a change of the mind that results in a change of action (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 2 Co. 7:10).  Repentance is more than sorrow for sin, but it includes such.

Third, baptism must be by immersion to follow the teaching and examples of the New Testament.  We read of baptism as a burial in water (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12).  We see the Ethiopian go down into the water and come up out of it (Acts 8:38).  In the New Testament, baptism took place where there was “much water” (John 3:23).

Though lacking complete knowledge of Lentz’s Hillsong Church, where Bieber was baptized, there is enough on their website to identify them as thoroughly erroneous in their teaching regarding salvation, worship, and various doctrinal matters (women’s role, instrumental music, tongue speaking, omission of baptism as part of what must be done to have forgiveness).  However, it is possible that Bieber and anyone else we would deem spiritual wrecks—which we all are to some degree and in various ways—can be taught as they were in the first century and become what they then became. May we be searching for those who desire to follow Jesus, making disciples of, baptizing, and teaching them (cf. Mat. 28:19-20).