Happiness Guaranteed!

Neal Pollard

Who wouldn’t find that appealing? Many years ago, Hugo McCord wrote a book entitled, “Happiness Guaranteed.” In it, he wrote, “Is happiness difficult? Yes, to those on the wrong road. Is it elusive? Yes, to those who want it without a price. But to the simple, plain folk of the earth, willing to walk God’s road, willing to pay God’s price, happiness is, like God, not far from every one of us.”  Many spend a lifetime in a desperate, elusive attempt to be happy. What if there was a formula for true happiness? I believe we find it in Psalm 37:23-26. This text tells us what we need to be happy.

We need a direction mapped by God (23). If we make life a self-guided tour, we can guarantee ourselves a life of misery. Even a Christian’s heartaches often stem from our trying to “go it alone” without His guidance. He guides us through the Word (Psa. 119:105,133). He knows everything at the deepest level of comprehension. He understands what kind of life will make us happy and miserable. David says life without God’s guidance is chaotic and disorderly. I read about an optometrist who examined an elderly patient and asked, “Can you read the fifth line of the chart?” “No.” “How about the fourth line?” “No.” “Hmm. Try the second line.” “No.” “Surely you can read the first line.” The old man said, “Truth is I’ve never learned to read.” Have we learned to read? Have we gotten into the regular habit of consulting God’s divine roadmap?

We need a delight in His way (23). In a matter of minutes, you can find out what a person enjoys in life. It could be sports, politics, travel, shopping, mechanic-ing, nature, reading, fishing, horseback riding, or stamp-collecting. Kept in proper place and priority, these can be good, healthy, and legitimate. But way too many people get their thrills in illegitimate ways. They enjoy the unwholesome, filthy, perverted and vulgar. To many, “The word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it” (Jer. 6:10). Solomon adds, “A fool does not delight in understanding…” (Prov. 18:2a). God’s outline for living, when followed, leads to delight. Other ways are paved with the heartache of others who foolishly paved those same paths previously.

We need a dependence on God’s providential care (24-25). Seven times in the Psalms, the writer tells God, “The righteous trust in You” (5:11; 9:10; 17:7; 25:22; 31:19; 55:23; 56:3). Your faith can be built if you trust that God, even when things seem doubtful, will provide what is needed and what is best. Not just materially, but in times when spiritual decisions must be made (cf. Gen. 22:8; Rom. 4:18-21). When we place our future, fears and fortunes in God’s almighty hands, we find true happiness (1 Pet. 5:7). David challenges us to find a case of a true follower forsaken by God. Satan wants us to think God doesn’t care about us. That’s what he wanted Job’s problems to do to Job—make him turn against God. If you are suffering right now, be assured that God hasn’t left you.

We need a duty to others (26). Norman Vincent Peale said, “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised” (The Power of Positive Thinking, 54). Psalm 37:26 mentions two responsibilities we, being richly blessed by God, have to others. The  first, mercy, should express itself through acts of kindness. The second, lending, shows generosity. God ties generosity to true conversion. We give our money, our time, our talents, our heart, and ourselves. Listen to the joyful words from those spend themselves serving others. They say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Lk. 17:10).

We overcomplicate life with needless worry, harmful actions, and heavy burdens. So many people, from a financial, social, and physical perspective, have every reason to be happy but are miserable! The opposite of that is true, too. One may be drained of every resource but faith, but no one can rob them of their joy (Ps. 128:2; Pr. 3:18; 14:21; 29:18)!

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Facing The Storm

Neal Pollard

Springtime in the plains is a notorious time for storms. I was driving through northwest Texas near the time when three storm chasers were killed southwest of me on Tuesday afternoon. They died pursuing the storm, not directly because of it. They were there because conditions were ripe for tornadoes. 17 people were killed by tornadoes in 2016, but 24 have already died in them this year. Hollywood has captured our awe and fascination with them since The Wizard Of Oz. We view storms as mysterious, ominous, powerful, and frightening. They come in so many forms—hurricanes, floods, blizzards, cyclones, and more. But “storms” are synonymous with fear and sorrow.

Wouldn’t you classify some of the major, traumatic events of your life as storms.  They build and threaten, they strike, then they leave aftermath. The storm may take but a moment, but recovery can take days, months, or even years. Not surprisingly, the Bible uses the storm metaphorically to describe such moments in our lives. David wrote, “I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest” (Psa. 55:8). The man we most associate with such figurative storms, Job, laments, “You lift up the wind and cause me to ride; And you dissolve me in a storm” (30:22). Most frequently, the Bible uses storms representatively to describe God’s judgment. But, as Job and David show, sometimes storms strike the innocent and undeserving.

What do we do when facing a storm? We heed precautions. We take shelter.  We wait and endure. We ask for and trust God’s protection.

The world is full of people riding out storms today. That includes Christians. These storms are assaulting their bodies, bank accounts, relationships, spiritual strength, and spirits. Some feel safely sheltered, while others feel as if they are barely holding on. How do we face our storms?

* Seek help from others (Heb. 12:12-13; Ecc. 4:9-10).
* Search for possible benefits from it (Psa. 66:10; Rev. 21:3-4; Js. 1:2-4; etc.).
* See God’s power to help in it (Psa. 18:19; Rom. 8:28-38; 2 Pet. 2:9a).
* Shelter in the place of safety (Exo. 33:22; Psa. 91:1; Mat. 7:24-27).

God doesn’t cause evil or sin, but He allows it. We will always struggle with the “why” of this. But, we can grow our dependence on our great, perfect God when we are being battered. He is faithful. He wants to help. Lean on Him through your storms!

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Struggling Through Our Troubles

Neal Pollard

Have you ever had a problem or struggle that started out small but kept growing until it was larger than life? Did it come to consume your thoughts, keep you up at night, and become an overwhelming obsession? Maybe you devoted a lot of emotion to it.

Just by virtue of living on this earth, we will struggle (Job 14:1-2). Job knew struggle and turmoil! He lost one thing after another. His life seemed to unravel before his eyes.  Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying, “When you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” Have you ever found yourself struggling at the end of your rope of faith? You are certainly far from alone in that. We certainly see Job dangling there, asking, “Why was I ever born?” (3:11) and “Why can’t I go ahead and die?” (3:20-22). David was there (Psa. 22:1). So was Jeremiah (ch. 37-38).

Of course, trouble takes on many forms and comes from many directions. Any number of passages can help us cope with the struggle of trouble, but consider Psalm 10. It refers to the wicked seven times and to the afflicted four times. It also speaks synonymously of the wicked as the greedy (13), evildoer (15), and those of the earth (18). It speaks of the afflicted as the unfortunate (8,10,14), humble (14), the orphan and oppressed (14,18). We know that our trouble can come from the wicked, but it can also come from no one source we can identify though it hurts just the same. Consider this Psalm about our troubles and what we can do about them.

Our perception in times of trouble (1-11). Our vision can become blurry by tears or rage, but our point of view is altered when trouble comes. The psalmist goes through this. He sees God as being distant (1). He saw the wicked as being in control or prospering (2-11). God seemed far away and life seemed unfair. The majority of every generation is wicked, and each generation of God’s faithful must reconcile the seeming success of the wicked and oppression of the affilicted righteous. We don’t begrudge the psalmist for his struggle to see through spiritual eyes. We can relate.

Our prayers in times of trouble (12-15). The psalmist admits his own struggle, then he shows us how to overcome it. His first response is to pray. He asks God to deliver (12). He asks God to remember (12-14). Finally, he asks God to vindicate (15).

Our praise in times of trouble (16). Before the prayer he’s perplexed and indignant. Afterward, he has insight, peace, and greater confidence. He springs from his knees with new perspective. Doesn’t prayer do that for us? The psalmist acknowledges God’s nature—“Lord” (Jehovah, five times in the Psalm), position—“King”, and duration—“forever and ever.” Do we spend more time focusing on the source of our troubles than on the solution?

Our proper perspective in times of trouble (17-18).  The psalmist is confident at the end of this psalm, saying, “you have heard” and “you will strengthen and listen.” Do you approach God that confident in His ability and desire to do what is best? We can be as confident as he is that God hears and helps when we hurt.

What is the greatest trouble we can face in this life? A disfiguring accident? Financial ruin? Loss of a parent, spouse, or child? The deterioration of health? The fall of our nation? Through Christ, none of these are too difficult to overcome. This Psalm reminds me that God still cares and He won’t abandon me. You and I can look at the cross and the church and be reassured of that. We know we can trust God (Rom. 8:28). God is able and willing to help us through every trouble.

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WHY TODAY IS AN EXCITING DAY (poem)

 

Neal Pollard

From sea to sea, He is the same
No man can change His essence
From year to year, His eternal flame
Show His power and effervescence.

Whoever sits upon a throne
Or reigns a group or nation
We must that One make fully known
Through tireless proclamation

For all mankind must know that One
Who is changeless and transcendent
They must to Him yield before life’s done
And acknowledge on Him they’re dependent

Fickle, transient trends and times
Can’t blind us on this matter
The church’s mission in fair or foul climes
Is to take the Kingdom seed and it scatter.

And, so, we shall live and by such find peace
No matter the climate of our homeland
Leaning on God, who doesn’t change or cease
The trustworthy Rock upon which we stand!

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Remarkable Statements, In Historical Context

Neal Pollard

AD 30—Tiberius, who became cruel and mad, was the Roman Emperor when the church was established. Under his reign, right around the time of Pentecost, Rome was filled with terror after the murder of his once trusted advisor turned traitor, Sejanus (tribunesandtriumphs.org). Sanderson Beck comments that he was “preoccupied with sexual and sadistic perversions” the last several years of his life (he is believed to have been murdered)(san.beck.org). Jerusalem was directly governed by Rome. Acts, though probably written in the 60s, begins its historical chronicle around AD 30.

  • Acts 2:41—“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
  • Acts 4:4—“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
  • Acts 5:14—“And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.”
  • Acts 6:7—“The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
  • See also Acts 12:24 and Acts 19:20,

AD 62-63—Nero, described as licentious, cruel, tyrannical, murderous, criminal, arson, vain,  perverse (tribunesandtriumphs.org) and, by historian Donald Wesson as a “cross-dressing exhibitionist” (ancient.eu), spearheaded the first organized persecution of Christians (N.S. Gill, ancienthistory.about.com). Tacitus says he blamed the Christians for his own burning of Rome. Many are the accounts of the cruel ways Nero put them to death (eyewitnesstohistory.com). Eusebius reports that Nero put both Paul and Peter to death (Church History, Book 2, Ch. 25). Before his death, Paul would report of such rapid growth throughout Nero’s reign. Peter’s outlook could not have been brighter.

  • Colossians 1:23—“if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

AD 90s—Domitian, best remembered as “the evil emperor who murdered thousands of Christians” (tribunesandtriumphs.org), reigned when John wrote his epistles and the book of Revelation. He was notorious for his cruelty and detachment from reality. John writes Revelation in large part to steady the Christians to withstand the onslaught of persecution caused by Domitian. His message to the Christians during the reign of Domitian was consistent:

  • 1 John 4:4—“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
  • 1 John 5:4—“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
  • Revelation 1:6-7—“He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

How bad did things look, from an earthly perspective, during the reigns of evil rulers like Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian? The thing is, the early Christians did not look at things from an earthly perspective. As those trying to walk in the footsteps of New Testament Christians, will we imitate their faith and that perspective?

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Some Powerful Promises

Neal Pollard

“You Will Have…”

—Treasure in heaven if you follow Jesus (Mat. 19:21; Mk. 10:21).
—Honor in the sight of all if you are humble (Lk. 14:10).
—Praise of rulers and authority if you do good (Rom. 13:3).
—An answer for the sinfully proud if you are persuaded about the Lord (2 Cor. 5:12).
—Brief tribulation if you are faithful, but then the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

“You Will Be…”

—Judged in the way you judge (Mat. 7:2).
—Hated by all for Christ’s name (Mat. 10:22).
—Justified or condemned by your words (Mat. 12:37).
—Sons of the Most High by loving unconditionally (Lk. 6:35).
—Repaid for charitable kindness at the resurrection of the righteous (Lk. 14:14).
—Free indeed if freed by the Son (Jn. 8:36).
—Saved by faith in Christ (Ac. 16:31).
—Saved by confessing Christ (Rom. 10:9).
—Able to overcome any temptation (1 Co. 10:13).
—Enriched by being generous (2 Co. 9:11).
—Able to stand firm against the devil’s schemes if you put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11ff).
—A good servant of Christ Jesus by pointing out His Word (1 Tim. 4:6).
—Tested (Rev. 2:10).

“You Will Not…”

—Enter the kingdom of heaven without a righteousness surpassing the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20).
—Enter the kingdom of heaven without being converted like little children (Mt. 18:3).
—Carry out the desire of the flesh if you walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
—Grieve like the hopeless if you face the death of a faithful Christian (1 Th. 4:13).
—Grow weary and lose heart if you consider Jesus’ example of endurance (Heb. 12:3).

“You Will See…”

—Others faults more fairly when you look accurately at your own (Mt. 7:5).
—The Majesty and power of Jesus if you look with spiritual eyes (Mt. 26:64).
—The glory of God if you believe (Jn. 11:40).
—The King some day (Jn. 16:16-19).

“You Will Know…”

—Teachers by their fruits (Mt. 7:16,20).
—The emancipating truth (Jn. 8:32).
—The hope of God’s calling through faith in His revealed will (Eph. 1:18).
—How to respond to every man if you use gracious, well-seasoned speech (Col. 4:6).
—How to conduct yourself in the Lord’s church if you consult God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:15).

“You Will Receive…”

—All things you ask in prayer, believing (Mt. 21:22).
—If you ask in Christ’s name (Jn. 16:24).
—The gift of the Holy Spirit if you repent and are baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
—The reward of the inheritance as the result of works of obedience (Col. 3:24).
—The unfading crown of glory if you are an elder who serves faithfully (1 Pet. 5:4).

In view of just a portion of God’s generosity, may we stand on the promises of God today and every day. One of the most thrilling statements of all Scripture is this: “He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Whatever you are struggling with, claim this ironclad fact with its many implications! Holding onto it, surely you can handle any trial, temptation, or trouble you are facing.

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Identifying The Source Of Trouble In The Congregation

Neal Pollard

One of my dad’s most memorable sermons, which he preached in more than one location, was actually a two-parter.  The first part was preached Sunday morning. Dad warned that he was going to identify the source of the problems in the congregation. He used a wipe board or chalkboard, and only put the first initial of each one up there as he preached. He said that everyone should come back that night and he would disclose the full names that went with the initials.  At one congregation, after the morning sermon, a large number of people came forward in response to the invitation.  Sure enough, that evening dad put the full names next to the initials:

  • Accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10)
  • Adversary (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Beelzebub (Mat. 12:24)
  • Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
  • Devil (Heb. 2:14)
  • Enemy (Mat. 13:39)
  • Father of lies (John 8:44)
  • God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • Prince… (Eph. 2:2; John 12:31)
  • Roaring Lion (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Satan (Mat. 4:10)
  • Spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2)
  • Tempter (Mat. 4:3)

Now, in no way am I discounting the free will choices people make. James 1:13-15 very clearly places the blame of sin on the individuals choosing to act on their lusts and desires. One is not possessed or overtaken by the devil to do his will any more than a person is overtaken by God and made to do what’s right. But Jesus calls the devil the “father” of sinful behavior (John 8:44). John tells us that the one who practices sin is “of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Those who sin are doing his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Satan is at the heart of national, congregation, familial, and individual sin.  We’re told to resist him (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). The hopeful fact is that, with God’s help, we can always successfully do so.  Let’s be aware that the devil does not want God’s children or His work to succeed. If he can thwart our efforts as a church to be united, faithful to God’s Word, evangelistic, and productive, he will do so. Knowing this, we should be more determined not to let him win!

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Who Can Be Against Us?

Neal Pollard

Have you ever had someone that seemed to have it out for you? Not only did they not like you, but they actively undermined you. They may have slandered you or even lied about you. You may have even felt that they were trying to ruin your life!

Have you ever had something that seemed to overwhelm and overshadow you? It could be something from your past, present, or future, worry, guilt, regret, fear, trouble, pain, problem, or other stress. Maybe it was something that was nearly impossible to shake or something of which you were constantly reminded.

In a beautiful context writing about assurance, Paul asks, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). That is an eminently fair question to ask. Here are some potential foes that could undo us: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, powers, the present, the future, height, depth, or any other created thing (35, 38-39). Examine that list closely. Doesn’t it include just about every potential threat and trial? Do we believe the assertion of Romans 8:31, this rhetorical question firmly implying that God is bigger and stronger than any potential problem or person?

When it comes to our righteous plans, isn’t this same principle vital to our process? What can we do and be as a church? The only limitation is that which goes against God’s will or that which can dominate God’s will. We must give great care to the first part, but we need not worry for a second about the second part. There will be factors that strain or intimidate. There will be reverses and failures. But, if we will persist and persevere, what can defeat us?

How exciting, in our personal and congregational lives, to serve a God more powerful than any foe or fear! We can succeed by His help and to His glory, come what may! Let us trust this timeless truth and live our lives as though we believe it!

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OPTIMISM

Neal Pollard

Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.

They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….”  The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.

They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”

They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.

We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better.  He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.”  All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!

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See The Living God (Poem)

Neal Pollard

I cannot stop staring at the mountains and the skies

The beauty is so breathless, an endless feast for my eyes

I cannot look at all this and give credit to luck or chance

I’m a victor of the Creator, not a victim of circumstance.

The heavens preach this sermon, Our God He loves and lives

All nature shares the message, what joy and hope it gives

He’s up in heaven waiting until the day He’ll bring us home

For now He’s left us evidence, and we pray, “Lord Jesus, come.”

I cannot stop looking into my little baby’s eyes

I see his parents’ imprint when he laughs and when he cries

In awe my tears are welling as his face shows eternity

This little one God’s endless power shows to all who clearly see

You cannot look at people and fail to see the living God

Our design says a designer, to say “no God” is to play the fraud

He’s patiently waiting for more people to come to Him and live

What will you do with this moment?  Give what you have to give.

I cannot stop reading this Book that explains it all

My cause, my purpose, my destiny, His plan, His way, His call

It has proven to be perfect, it’s been tried and tried again.

It says there is an answer to my problem it calls sin.

The Bible shares the mind of God, it helps us find the way

It helps us understand His heart, and how to live today

It pierces our hearts so we’ll make room to put His will inside

How great our God to show us the path where we can walk at His side