Listen! 

Listen! 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Listen! That’s how Jesus starts His lesson in Mark 4:3. He has just stepped out onto a boat so that He could speak to the large crowd that had gathered to hear Him. This was a very special sermon. Jesus is going to give the secret to all of His parables by telling a unique parable about the farmer who goes out to sow on the various kinds of ground. When Jesus said “Listen!” He was talking to a specific kind of person. 

He wasn’t interested in the one who would hear His words and then fall away later when called to stand up for their faith. He wasn’t looking for the one who would hear His words and then foolishly decide that this world had more to offer. 

Jesus said “listen!” because He knew that some would hear His words and those words would change their lives. They would live out His teachings. They would become those lamps He would later discuss later in the chapter. Those who truly listened to this specific sermon and took it to heart would bear fruit. It’s humbling to think that some only believe they’ve listened to Jesus, but on the last day will find out that they only thought they listened (verse 25). 

Are we listening to the Savior? One way Jesus tells us we can know if we and others are listening is by looking at the fruit being planted. This section of scripture is a great reminder that there are many who will not hear the Lord and His life-changing and life-saving message, but there are also those out there in our communities who are willing and waiting for us to share Him with them.

Facts About Jesus From John One That Many Deny

Facts About Jesus From John One That Many Deny

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Perhaps it is inevitable that someone as well-known as Jesus Christ would be subject to so much misinformation. Think about how things are said about Jesus that are not true. John’s gospel begins in a different way. His audience was wider than just Jews, just Romans, or just Greeks. His was truly a universal gospel, so he was writing to the whole world. In just the first several verses of his gospel, he affirms several things people subsequently denied about Him.

  • He is eternal (1-2)–“In the beginning was the Word” (see also 1:15,30).
  • He is deity (1)–“The Word was God” 
  • He created everything (3,10)
  • He became flesh (14)
  • He came to show us God, the Father (18)
  • His coming was to take away the sins of the world (29)
  • He is the Son of God (34)

There are those even in religion that say Jesus was a created being rather than being co-eternal as God. There are those who would reject the idea of the worship of Jesus being acceptable, though He is expressly called God. There are those who say that everything came into being by the process of evolution rather than Moses’ record (Gen. 1-2) being carried out by the Word (Col. 1:16-17). There are those who say God could not become flesh, since flesh is evil. There are those who deny the inspiration of Scripture, and thus would deny the New Testament actually records Jesus showing us the Father or otherwise communicating His will. 

It is incorrect to say that we can accept the biblical record of Jesus without faith. He existed eternally before becoming flesh. He was born of a virgin. He lived a totally sinless life. He died a death that satisfied God’s justice as a substitute for our sins. He was buried in a tomb, but was raised from the dead to live forevermore. He appeared to many of His disciples over forty days before ascending to heaven from which He will some day come again to judge the entire world. How can we say it takes no faith to follow Jesus? Instead, we should say that it takes more faith to embrace any competing explanation. The leading candidate to rival the biblical account is godless evolution. Try examining that with any level of care without discovering the infinitely greater amount of faith to explain how random chance and mindless, amoral matter produces the meticulously orderly, complex universe filled with intelligent life. 

Sometimes we are benefited by going back to basics. John one is written so simply and straightforwardly, yet it contains some of the biggest, broadest truths which so many reject. May we reflect carefully on the power of those truths so that it causes us to live better and differently! 

“High Carb Diet”

“High Carb Diet”

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

We all love a good piece of bread. Whether it’s garlic bread, cheesy bread, or just plain bread, everyone loves it. Bread is the greatest invention of all time, maybe ever (can you tell I wrote this before lunch?).
Jesus is described as being our spiritual bread. In John 6:35 Jesus is the “bread of life.” And in verse 32 He is called “the bread out of heaven.” Why would Jesus be called bread? When we take a closer look at these two verses, we can notice a few reasons why.
“Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (John‬ ‭6:32‬). There’s an analogy given by John that helps us to wrap our mind around Jesus being the Bread. Moses provided manna in the wilderness for Israel (bread from heaven), and Jesus (the bread) was sent from heaven to feed us spiritually.
It was amazing growing up with mom, THE Kathy Pollard, as the cook. And many times we would describe her food as “out of this world.” When we think of Christ, the Bread out of Heaven, He is literally out of this world.
Point is, we need to be feeding ourselves with this Bread. We need to be consistently meditating on God’s word, continually making it apart of who we are, and courageously manifesting it in our everyday lives.
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John‬ ‭6:35‬). Two words in this verse are in the present tense– “comes” and “believes.” This means that for Jesus to be our bread we must continually come to Him and believe. Jesus is nourishment to those who are spiritually starved, mentally broken, and emotionally lost.
No matter how much bread we physically eat, it will never compete with how full and complete we will be in Christ. Are we turning to Him?

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Just an example of some of the bread mom sustained me with growing up

Lessons from the Apostasy

Lessons from the Apostasy

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

One of the more difficult passages to understand in scripture is found in II Thessalonians 2. This chapter talks about a figure known as the Man of Lawlessness. Theories abound concerning his/its identity which, thankfully, is immaterial to our salvation and will not be the focus of this article. I would prefer to focus on the apostasy (also translated “rebellion” [ESV] or “falling away” [KJV]) preceding the appearance of the man of lawlessness in our passage. 

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica because some false teachers, evidently posing as Paul and Sylvanus (2.2), had convinced several members that they had missed out on the second coming (2.1-3). Paul begins by telling them not to believe anything other than what he had already taught them (2.2, 5) and rehashes a proof he taught in person (2.5). Before the second coming, two things had to occur: 1. The Apostasy, 2. The Man of Lawlessness. This would not be a sign of the second coming but an event that would be obvious (2.8, 9) and of unknown duration, eventually brought to an end by the appearance of Christ (2.3, 8). Clearly this had not happened yet or it would be an irrelevant comfort or proof to the Thessalonian church. 

Whoever/whatever the man of lawlessness may be, no one argues that its advent is preceded by the apostasy (2.3). The construct of the original language seems to describe this apostasy as being a major, far-reaching event rather than an isolated or regional one. Regardless of the timing of its advent (as in, has it happened or is it yet to come?), the apostasy was or is to be a tragic event. 

The word is ἀποστασία which means, “Defiance of established system or authority” (BDAG 121). Keeping the context in consideration this apostasy is an event characterized by a mass “falling away” from the church. It is a tragic event. To quote a great fictional philosopher, “Today is not that day.” It is easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of current events and think, “There’s no hope.” 

Bear Valley Bible Institute recently released their annual report on the work being done through its mission efforts. This is just one school and one evangelistic effort among hundreds, but the church is doing great work in a world that seems to falling apart. Last year alone over 800 preachers were trained and over 3,000 people converted. Again, this is just one great effort among many. The soil is still fertile. There is still work for us to do. There is still hope. When we get overwhelmed by the political chaos in our own country or stressed about events overseas, let’s remember this: this world is not our home, and with our limited time here there is still so much good to be done! 

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Photo credit: Keith Kasarjian (Limbe, Cameroon, near Bear Valley Bible Institute extension)

“Father’s Table Grace”

“Father’s Table Grace”

Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”

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Neal Pollard

In 1960, Otho Jones and Homer L. Sewell wrote a song made popular by Flatt and Scruggs. It’s a song written from the point of view of a man’s oldest son, a son who felt he was old enough to be on his own and leave home. He describes his father as simple and not filled with a formal education, but also as one very devout and the spiritual leader of his home. He describes himself as “young and foolish.” When I listen to this song, I think about the way I could be as a teenager and how I tried my parents’ patience. My dad, a gospel preacher since 1964, has always been a diligent praying man. While I never heard him say these words in my presence, I wonder if he ever prayed them about me in my younger days.

“Our gracious heavenly father we all gathered here today
To give the things for blessings so humble we pray
My oldest son is leaving but I’m sure he knows what’s best
But just in case would you stand by and help him stand the test

Lord he’s awful neglectful about church on Sunday morn
And if he gets with a wrong crowd would you let him hold your arm
And if he flies too high would you clip his wings
But don’t let him fall too hard, I’m sure you can handle things

I’ve tried my best from day to day to teach him right from wrong
And he’s grown to be a fine young man and he always blessed our home
We pray dear Lord for guidance that he won’t build upon the sand
But I won’t worry half as much if I know he’s in your hands

And oh yes Lord it won’t be long till I’ll be coming home
Don’t make me wait too long
We pray dear Lord for guidance please cleanse us from our sins
So we can all be together in heaven in Jesus name amen.”

Those words are neither perfectly autobiographical nor an apt description of my dad (who has much more formal education than I do). But I think a lot of parents who continue to labor over their children in prayer, concerned for their safety as they turn them loose in this world. However large the physical or financial threats may be, what should concern us most are the spiritual ones. We will never outgrow our concern for them. We should never stop being the right kind of example to them. May we never sin against them by failing to pray for them. They need us to be the type of Christians described by James, of whom he writes, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16). 

Five Facts About A Faithless People

Five Facts About A Faithless People

Neal Pollard

The percentage of Americans who identify as atheists doubled from 2007 to 2014 (Michael Lipka, Pew Research Center). But that hardly tells the whole story. Our culture is drowning in a political correctness that stigmatizes Christian Values and that makes nearly any public stand or statement regarding what Scripture says about such things as homosexuality, objective truth, the sanctity of life, and creation a point of fierce contention and object of greatest scorn. A moral erosion and slippery slope has been in motion for several generations that has brought us to our current position. The Bible foresaw such decline as comes when a people turn their backs on God (cf. Prov. 14:34). In discussing the universal problem of sin, Paul points out five facts about a faithless people (Rom. 1:18-32):

  • Faithlessness ignites God’s fury (18). Wrathfulness is as much a part of God’s nature as graciousness. In fact, we appreciate grace so much because God gives it when we deserve His wrath. Paul says the object of His wrath is all ungodliness and unrighteousness. The unrighteous behavior Paul specifies is “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” They don’t live the truth and they don’t want the truth to be told. Paul ends the section by pointing these out as those who practice ungodliness and heartily approve of those who do the same (32). It is clear that those who remain faithless are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
  • Faithlessness ignores the facts (19-20). Paul says that faithlessness is not due to an absence of facts, but a willful ignorance of them. He says that even the faithless can see God as they look inside themselves and outside themselves at the creation. It takes a deliberate effort to arrive at a position of unbelief. So much has to be continuously ignored.
  • Faithlessness includes futility (21). Faithlessness is built upon a flimsy foundation. It’s the slab of speculation. The faithless spend their lives running from the facts in favor of a worldview that makes no sense, gives no purpose, and instills no hope.
  • Faithlessness involves folly (22-23). It’s not just empty, it’s foolish. Paul’s words here are akin to David’s words in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, that “the fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Paul describes intelligent people who have made the most fundamentally foolish decision of all. They exchange faith in an infallible God for faith in fallible man.
  • Faithlessness instigates a fall (24-32). Paul pictures how a person arrives at wholesale immorality. One must first turn from God and run the other way. Then, God lets them go to find out what lies at the end of that broad way. He gives them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (24), He gives them over to degrading passions (26), and He gives them over to a depraved mind (28). The lusts led to the wrong object of worship and submission. The passions led to unnatural desires. The depraved minds led to every imaginable behavior, a long list of actions that have in common the fact that they lead to spiritual death. It encompasses both the perpetrators and those who validate them and tell them it’s OK to do them.

Why does Paul mention these faithless ones? It is proof of divine inspiration, because although this was written 2000 years ago it perfectly describes the current culture. But, there is a more important reason for Paul to write this. This horrible condition has a remedy. The theme of Romans is contained in the four verses prior to this section. The gospel has the power to save us from this. The solution is faith. Faith saves (1:16) and it gives life (1:17). The world is being swallowed by spiritual darkness, but God’s light is brighter. We who have faith have the light. We must share it. When we do, we help people have the most important possible commodity: faith!

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We Sure Love Baptisms!

We Sure Love Baptisms!

Neal Pollard

There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation.  Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.

All of this leads me to several random observations:

  • True good news needs no hype, trumping, manufacturing, or baiting.
  • It is New Testament thinking to rejoice at such good news (Acts 8:39; 15:3).
  • What a confirmation the obedience of others to the gospel is to our own decision to do so.
  • It restores our faith in the potential of humanity and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
  • It builds our confidence in the Bible to see people imitate the examples of the New Testament, doing what they did the way they did it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15; 31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-21).
  • The average Christian wants what is best for others, which is just one reason Christians are the best people on earth.
  • We want good news to travel fast, far and wide.
  • We know it pleases the Lord when a person comes to Him in obedient faith (see Luke 15).

There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation.  Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.

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“Debbie” being baptized into Christ during a gospel meeting with Keith Mosher in Sylvester, GA, this week (photo credit: Jason Willis)

THE PRISON OF “NOT”

THE PRISON OF “NOT”

Neal Pollard

Strayer University shared their video from the day they ran an ingenious experiment in New York City.  They put up a chalkboard on a busy street with this caption written at the top: “Write Your Biggest Regret.”  Scores of people wrote on the chalkboard.  Nearly every answer visible in the video included the word “not.” Interestingly, it was not confessions of sins of commission. Instead, it was about opportunities missed, dreams not pursued, and things they failed to do.

That exercise made me wonder how many are inmates in the prison of “not.”  While Strayer seemed more interested in highlighting regrets that were tied to career, that impacted quality of physical life, and the like, regret reigns in people’s hearts and has dominion over their spiritual and eternal lives, too.  Scripture shows us those challenged with the gospel message who ultimately refused to follow Christ. The rich young ruler was not willing to choose Christ over his stuff (Mat. 19:22). Many of the rulers believed in Him, but they put their stock in the approval of men rather than God (John 12:42-43). Felix trembled at truth, but ultimately turned away (Acts 24:25). His cohort, Agrippa, was nearly there but not quite (Acts 26:28).  Other examples can be found of those who came so far but would go no further.

How many people have been shown the way to eternal life and have acknowledged, to a point, that it is the way they should go? Yet, when push comes to shove, they refuse to leave the cell of self and confine themselves to the chains of a condemning choice. Before Christ, they will see their regrets realized in a rejection that cannot be remedied.

The incredible news is that they keys are in reach of this prison.  It was a running gag in the Andy Griffith show that particularly Barney would leave the keys on the peg of the Mayberry jail where the prisoners could reach the keys and let themselves out. Would you picture our spiritual circumstances this way? The Psalmist praises God for many reasons, including the fact that “the Lord sets the prisoners free” (146:7). In a Messianic passage, Isaiah writes of His mission to “proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (61:1; cf. Luke 4:18; 7:22; Mat. 11:5). He can emancipate lifelong slaves to sin (Heb. 2:15). He has left the keys where we can grab them, but we must want to be free and choose to be free.

This video ends with the participants taking an eraser and removing all the regrets from the board. One of them writes just two words in their place: “Clean slate.”  What an optimistic, hopeful, empowering difference that contrasting concept is. Regret can be replaced with resolve. Do you believe that is possible for your spiritual life? Don’t you think God wants you to experience that exhilarating hope? The proof is there at Golgotha and the sepulcher that could not keep His Son entombed. What He did there can provide you with a clean slate! Take possession of the freedom He came to give you!

Strayer video link: http://aplus.com/s/83d4dc91dee

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How To See The Good In Others

How To See The Good In Others

Neal Pollard

Some just can’t! They assume bad motives, intentions, and behaviors in others. They like to predict failure and disaster. Some take that attitude toward people, including Christians. “They won’t last!” “They can’t cut it as a deacon/elder.” “He won’t ever be a good preacher!” “They just want the praise of men.” Think about all the people you know and interact with. Some are exceptionally talented and pleasant and some are pretty worthless and repulsive, but most are in-between the two extremes. But, what if I told you that you could influence what others become?  Barnabas did (Acts 4:36).  He was so good at encouraging people, “encouragement” wasn’t his middle name but his first name. Who was the first one to see good in Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:27)? Who saw great potential in Antioch (Acts 11:23-26)? Who still believed in John Mark (Acts 15:37), who Paul would later think valuable once more (2 Tim. 4:11)? Barnabas was a great leader because of what he could see in others. We can make an eternal difference in people by seeing the good in them.

First, take them where they are. Jesus did.  Do you remember when Jesus met Peter (Luke 5:1-11)? Peter calls himself sinful.  We know he was impetuous (John 18:10) and could use unsavory words (Mat. 26:74). Peter’s business partners, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17) seemed to have some anger management issues. In fact, Jesus made it an emphasis to take sinful people and work with them wherever they were (the woman at the well, the sinful woman caught in adultery, Bacchus, publicans, sinners, etc.). We will never help people get to heaven if we can’t take them where they are.

Then, see them for what they could be. Whether it’s a non-Christian or Christian, they need us to be able to see their potential and think the best of them. I don’t mean gullibility or compromise, but optimism! Why did Christ put such effort into Peter? He was a sinful man when He met him, made many mistakes while he was with Him, and denied Him in His greatest moment of need (Luke 22:60-62). He saw what Peter could be (John 21:15-17). Look past people’s quirks and flaws; imagine the possibilities.  There’s got to be a soul-winner in every Christian, since Christ commands it of us all (Mark 16:15-16). Every one of us can be faithful, dedicated, and fruitful Christians. Every lost person could have their hearts softened by the gospel–at the least the gospel has the power (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16). Remember, love “hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

Finally, help them be what they can be. It’s far easier to be the critic and tell people what they’re doing wrong. But remember, “To belittle is to be little.” Criticism alone is useless.  It’s a lot tougher to help people improve and to go about helping with patience. Jesus didn’t end His work by telling people what sinners or failures they were. He guided them to the better way (Mat. 7:13). He told the adulteress to stop sinning (John 8:11). He told Peter to go feed His sheep (John 21). When He was through with Zaccheus, he went from thief to philanthropist. Jesus’ whole purpose was to take people afflicted with sin and transform them. It is rewarding work to invest in people and to help them grow. The Bible tells us to help people do better and be better (Gal. 6:1). To see the best in others, be willing to help and lead them (Luke 6:39-40).

If we are negative and pessimistic, that really is just a commentary on us. Look for good in others. Accept, anticipate, and assist!

Reaching Out Without Caving In

Reaching Out Without Caving In

Neal Pollard

What could we do as the people of God to reach out into our community with the gospel in such a way as to remove as many barriers as possible while striving to remain first-century in character and characteristics? Here are some ideas that come to my mind:

  • Give thought to changing the auditorium seating arrangement where we can face more of one another.
  • Sustain an emphasis, via Bible class, email communication, leadership, the pulpit, etc., on drawing as many members as possible into creating an atmosphere of friendliness when we assemble. For example, never look past or fail to engage a visitor.  Build a culture of friendliness.
  • Investigate ways to incorporate psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that are not exclusively or primarily nostalgic favorites of members from 100-200 years ago.  That may mean we learn new songs (visitors are often trying to learn each and every one we’re singing, so it can be done).
  • Be careful about attaching an over-importance on suits and ties or dresses, or conveying that such are criteria to determine reverence or holiness.
  • Consider fellowship activities that allow small groups to get to know one another better and activities that get us away from the church building.
  • Make sure that we keep current with technology, from an attractive, updated website to that technology which is used within the assembly to any printed literature or brochures.
  • Seek to organize the program of work where all our activities and functions, if possible, are tied to a soul-centered, evangelistic purpose.  Approach every work seeking to make it more evangelistic.
  • Eliminate strafing, caustic, and otherwise thoughtless comments made in Bible classrooms that are de facto attacks on unbelievers or even those in religious errors or denominations.  Blanket statements or attacks on their intelligence or integrity do nothing but lower ours.
  • Thoughtfully, gently, and periodically give explanation for why we do what we do in worship (i.e., the frequency of the Lord’s Supper, extending the invitation, the reason for singing a capella, etc.).
  • Don’t drag out announcements.  Find multi-media ways to “get the word out” about prayer requests, announcements, and upcoming events.

I understand that the worship assemblies in the first-century were primarily geared toward members and not visitors.  Yet, thinking about these things and having such discussions are fruitful because: (1) We are blessed by visitors, often a great many of them, (2) Many of these suggestions will greatly aid new Christians, (3) We have an obligation to reach out to the young as well as the old, and many of these things are central to the world as they know it.  We must remain faithful and obedient to God’s eternal truth, but we must keep discerning eyes regarding what’s truth and tradition and what cannot change and what can and often should change.