Categories
forgiveness grace sin

When You’re Caught Dead To Rights

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

In 1976, I was in first grade attending school in Barrackville, West Virginia, where my dad preached. One of my buddies was a black-haired kid named Carl. He got me in more trouble, wetting paper towels and throwing them on the bathroom ceiling in our school, exploring a filthy, condemned house across the street from the church building, and probably other acts of mischief I have chosen to repress. The worst Carl incident is probably still recalled in janitorial circles throughout the greater Fairmont area. Apparently, the school was replacing a lot of windows. There were sheets and sheets of panes of glass propped up against the school building. Carl, who looked a lot like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, said he thought he could throw a pane of glass further than I could. The very suggestion made alarms go off in my head. This was wrong, dangerous, and I’m sure I threw in illegal. How I went from those thoughts to a sheet of glass- throwing-contest I honestly don’t remember. But I did and we did several times until an aforementioned janitor yelled at us to stop and stand still. I didn’t move but surprisingly Carl took off in a sprint. By the time the janitor made his way to my asphalt courtroom, I was feeling serious buyer’s remorse. I was arraigned and was told to report to the judge, better known as the principal, first thing in the morning.  I remember two things about that next day. One was that this is the only incident of my childhood that merited two spankings from my parents. The other was how gentle and kind the principal was. I later found out that the principal had told mom and dad that they would not make us pay for the broken glass.  I had no defense. Carl had hung me out to dry, but I forged my dastardly destiny the moment I cast my lots with that little rascal. I was at the mercy of one who could have made my life much harder, but he simply urged me to reform–the very thing I was eager to do. That was the last memory I have of Carl.

Have you ever been caught dead to rights–no excuse or mitigating circumstances (just plain guilty)? In John 8:1-11, there is a powerful lesson on forgiveness centering around a woman caught in adultery. We can look at this text from a variety of perspectives, but this very guilty woman was literally in the center of them all and at the heart of the text. Who was this woman to everyone present?

  • To all the people, she was an object of curiosity and possible amusement.
  • To one man, she was a sexual object to use.
  • To the scribes and Pharisees, she was a pawn for their use.
  • To the law of Moses, she was a sinner worthy of death.
  • But to Jesus, she was a person to defend, a soul to save, and a forgiven one to send.

This woman was viewed from every conceivable angle, from curious spectacle to sexual object, from contempt to compassion. The view that mattered most, Jesus’ vantage point, saw her not only for what she was but for what she could be. The example of her story helps us to appreciate that not only is sin bad, but it can be remedied. Jesus would say to every obedient one today what He told her. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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Categories
prayer

We Don’t Know How To Pray

Wednesday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

When I take the time to pause and think about who God is, it blows my mind. He’s all powerful, loving, righteous, faithful, and just. When we look at His character and the perfection that surrounds Him, it can almost seem overwhelming. A God with that much power and glory takes the time to listen to me. He hears the prayers that each of us pray.

If you’re like me, this can be very intimidating. Every time we bow our heads and pray, we are talking to the creator of worlds, the one that spoke everything we see and know into existence. We pause and reach out to God, and He listens to us. The creator listens to the cries of His creation. What a wonderful God we serve.

On our own we could never reach out to God and build our relationship with Him. We lie, cheat, steal, and lust after that which is darkness. God is the Father of light, and darkness cannot be found near Him. But God gave us a way to be justified, a way to petition Him and strengthen our Father to Son relationship.

Have you ever struggled with prayer? Maybe we fail to understand the tremendous blessing that it is. Maybe we fail to set time aside each day to talk with God. Maybe we feel like we aren’t holy enough to pray to God. Or maybe we feel like we don’t know how to pray.

Many Christians already know that it’s important to pray. We’ve heard that prayer is vital in the Christian walk. Thing is, we don’t know how to pray. And there are three main reasons why this is the case.

We are weak. Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Paul uses the word “likewise” which tells us that what he is about to say is tied to what he has just mentioned. And so we must ask, what weakness is Paul referring to? In context, the earth is made weak because of sin (18-22). We ourselves have been made weak because of sin (23-25). Therefore since we are not strong, the Spirit helps us pray to God, even in our current state of weakness.

We pray for the wrong things. Continuing on in verse 26, “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought…” James tells us something similar in 4:3. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” We have a tendency to pray for the wrong things, and this ties directly into our weakness. We are weak because we pray for the wrong things. We say things like, “take this problem away” instead of saying “help me to use this problem to grow my faith.” We pray for things like, money, physical blessings, and selfish desires. We don’t know how to pray.
We confuse our will with God’s, and expect Him to change His mind and agree with us. We fail to see God’s perfect plan. We are short-sighted and selfish in our prayers. Because of this, we are weak and don’t know how to pray.

We use the wrong words. The last part of verse 26 says, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” “Intercede”, “to plead on behalf of another.” We may be weak, we may ask for the wrong things, but the Spirit pleads to God on our behalf. It should be a comfort knowing that one of the Godhead helps us in our prayers to God. Paul gives the Spirit a unique description. He says the Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” When I hear the word “groan” I think of the sound I make when I eat too much food. Or the sound someone makes when their football team fumbles the ball. This word groan is far from this. It means “an involuntary expression of great concern or stress.” The concern that the Spirit has for us is so strong that it cannot be described with words. When we go before the throne of God, we are using the wrong words. There is no way that we can express to God what we feel. The Spirit then intercedes (pleads) on our behalf, expressing so great a concern, that words cannot be used to describe it.

We may not know how to pray, but God in His perfect love has provided for His Children. What an awesome God we serve.

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Categories
commitment commonsense correction

So What?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Here’s a quick recap of the bizarre events that unfold in Acts 20:

 

  • Paul preaches past midnight.
  • A young man named Eutychus falls asleep.
  • As a result, he plummets to his death.
  • He is then miraculously brought back to life.

 

 

 

So what?

Each word that was written in Scripture was penned under God’s guidance— for our guidance. This means that even those accounts that might initially strike us as pointless are, in truth, spiritually-pointed.

With this is in mind, let’s briefly examine three life lessons from Eutychus that deliver relevant reminders for the 21st-century Christian.

  1. A lesson on Commonsense: God is with His people. God protects His people, but we still read of a young man who sits where he shouldn’t have. As a result, he tumbles to his death. Unfortunate things can happen to godly people, especially in the absence of commonsense.
  2. A Lesson On Commitment: This account is not a call for preachers to shorten their sermons, or even a warning for members who might be tempted to take a nap in worship. While Eutychus may not be the first guy that comes to mind when we think of a Bible character who demonstrated commitment— he still made it a priority to be with his Christian family. He held on, even though it was clearly past his bedtime. How many of us have stayed away from services simply because we don’t feel like it? How many Christians find themselves struggling to remain focused in a one hour period of worship? There is something to be said for this man’s commitment to Christ— even as the hours ticked by and exhaustion began to take its toll on him.
  3. A Lesson On Correction: Though I would not want to be immortalized in history as the guy who fell out of a window in church, this potential tragedy became a powerful testimony of God’s grace. God does not expect total perfection, but rather our constant correction. When we take a tumble spiritually, what corrections can we implement to avoid the same mistake in the future?

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Categories
angels apostasy grace temptation

The Angels’ Struggle (And Ours)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

We sometimes have a tendency to give up when we mess up spiritually. We’ll think, “Guess I blew it, there’s no point in trying now.” Guilt or frustration over the difficulty of living for God and falling short is a powerful Achilles Heel of ours. Paul describes our struggle with sin as combat with self (Romans 7). 

A Christian who is fighting to follow God is still going to sin at some point. We sometimes allow the loss of that battle to drag us into a pattern of sinning solely because we’ve become discouraged that we even allowed that sin to happen. 

I’d like to point out that we aren’t alone in that struggle. Consider Job 38.7: angels – who do not need faith because they live in the presence of God – were up close and personal to the creation of our incredible universe. They watched in awe as God fabricated the stars. They heard those stars sing, which means that they were amazed by the sheer power and majesty of what we can only hear as obscure signals. They were right there! 

Some of those same angels were caught up in sin (II Peter 2.4ff; Jude 6-9). Satan currently has followers who were at one time up close and personal to the Power behind our existence (Romans 12.7ff; Matthew 25:41). 

If an angel, a being who does not serve God based on a mere belief in His existence, but because they were originally created for the sole purpose of carrying out His will, and who are eyewitnesses to His existence and unlimited power, can be tempted to the extent that they are willing to abandon the presence of God and forfeit ever seeing His face again, who are we to think that our struggle is that defeating? 

God does not have a salvation plan for angelic beings (II Peter 2.4). When they breach their boundaries, that’s it. The moment they act outside of God’s will is the moment they forfeit the presence of God for eternity. 

We are lower than angels on the creation totem pole (Psalm 8.5), yet we have Jesus as a mediator defending us before God (I John 2.1) and constantly making us sinless in God’s eyes when we’re doing our best to live for Him (I John 1.7). We have a gift that angels do not enjoy: we get extra chances. As long as we are willing to wage war with our sinful desires, as long as we are striving to be like Him, and as long as we are trying to incorporate the word of God into our lives, we have grace. 

We’re stepping out of the concrete and into conjecture, but there is at least some evidence that lust (Genesis 6; II Peter 2; Jude 6-9) and perhaps tragedy (Matthew 18.10) are enough to make an angel forfeit their home. Again, this is pure conjecture but it has, at the very least, some scriptural evidence to suggest legitimacy. 

When we sin, we need to take a step back and get some perspective. We must not brush off sin as being inconsequential, but we also must avoid allowing a mistake to send us into a dysfunctional pattern just because we think, “I’ve blown it, there’s no point in trying now” or, “This struggle is too great for me.” If angels aren’t immune, why on earth would we think that we are supposed to be? 

The beauty of Christianity is found in God’s grace. It is understandable, seeing how some have abused the subject, to want to avoid the topic altogether. How many, though, have found themselves trapped in sin because they did not understand or believe in the power of God’s continual forgiveness?

Understanding what we have when we make a concerted effort to follow God is of the highest importance. We will sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are liar and there is no truth in us (I John 1.8). When we do sin, let’s remember that not only can we have forgiveness if we’re walking in light, we’re not especially awful just because we find ourselves falling short. If even God’s angels can be tempted to the point of leaving His presence forever, so can we who have not seen His face. And let that cause us to seek His face with even more enthusiasm than before! 

I Corinthians 10.13

II Peter 3.9

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Categories
angels grace prophet salvation

God’s Spiritual Stimulus Plan

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Many Americans have recently been recipients of a stimulus check. Quite a few have taken that and made some big purchases or padded a savings account or used it for much-needed relief. Whether or not this stimulus was an economically sound decision, most have seen it as a well-timed gift that – at least in the short term – has lessened some of the difficulties of this pandemic. It was designed to bring relief, and for many it has. 

We often look at salvation as something we received at baptism (which we did, I Pt. 3.21, Acts 2.38, Col. 2.12-14). We are grateful to have grace and a mediator for when we fall short as Christians, and this gift is not something we should ever take for granted. 

When we think about how we got salvation, though, we don’t always think about the enormous amount of preparation that went into it. The ability to have our sin problem erased (Colossians describes it as a certificate of debt with legal demands in 2.14) is no small gift. 

I Peter 1.10-12 says, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven – things into which angels long to look.” 

Briefly, I’d look to look at how this passage brings out the enormous value of salvation. Firstly, ancient prophets were told that this salvation was for future generations. They wrote about this while living under a far more difficult system of godly living, knowing that they would not be beneficiaries of that salvation. 

Secondly, the early church benefited from the sacrifices and hardships of those who brought the message of salvation to them. It was valuable enough that those men were willing to assume that risk to give it to others. 

Thirdly, angels – who, like the early prophets, are not beneficiaries of this salvation – were extremely interested in salvation. 

If two of the groups mentioned here were not even beneficiaries but strongly desired to know more about it or recorded it for all time, what does that tell us about salvation’s value? Peter set up its value this way to encourage the early church to live holy lives. 

Knowing just how valuable our salvation is should push us to live like we appreciate it! Not only does it have enormous value as a gift, the One who gave it wants us to have it. With that in mind, let’s cultivate greater appreciation and godliness because of the awesome gift of salvation. And if we know anyone who could use it, let’s pass the good news on to them, too. 

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Categories
attitude grudges guilt spiritual maturity Uncategorized

When You Need To Let Go

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Today was a momentous and somber day for me: I am now bald. After removing my hat – a constant companion – I saw that the battle was lost and shaved my head. ‘Twas a truly humbling moment; I now understand what the greatest youth minister of all time – Brett Petrillo – felt when he, too, bid a final farewell to his hair. We never know what we have until it is but a wishful yearning for yesteryear.
Being a minister in a family of ministers, I must allegorize this milestone before the tombstone. I fought to keep something that was not only lost, but that should have been let go long before now. Instead of seeing the writing on the wall I thought, “Maybe I can keep it.” Or, “Maybe no one will notice.” Or, “Maybe I can make it seem like something it isn’t.”
We do this a lot in our spiritual lives, too. We might hold onto grudges, bad attitudes, sin problems, past hurts, pet peeves, or guilt. Holding onto these is hopeless and counterproductive.
Are we holding onto a grudge? Jesus said in Matthew 5.23, 24, that we shouldn’t even worship if we have something against a brother/sister or if they have something against us. Matthew six tells us that forgiving others is a condition of receiving forgiveness.
Are we nursing a bad attitude? Paul, writing to Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4, addressed their attitude problem bluntly. The first part of chapter two commands them to embody traits such as encouragement, consolation, affection, and compassion. He gives an example of the selflessness of Jesus – something driven by His attitude. He put others above Himself, even though He didn’t have to. In Philippians 2.12, Paul even states that attitude can determine where we will spend eternity! If we have a bad attitude, we need to shave it.
What about guilt? Perhaps nothing is so tragically difficult to let go of as guilt. Sometimes guilt is necessary to help us see our faults and seek forgiveness. Just as often, if not more so, guilt is a weight that holds us back from spiritual growth. We must understand, internalize, and have gratitude for the gift of grace. The whole purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice was to give us grace and access to God. I John makes it very clear that a forgiven Christian who continues to live his/her imperfect life in pursuit of God is perfect in His eyes. If guilt while under grace is present and weighing us down, we need to shave it. It is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons against the Christian. It will hamstring any effort we make to grow spiritually, as our minds focus more on our past than on our infinitely more important future.
Certainly more could be said on the subject but while we have some time on our hands, we might do a little introspection and see what we can let go of. It will be uncomfortable, it will be uncertain, and it will be worth the effort. Shaving what we needn’t hold onto will not only bring greater joy, it will also bring a healthier relationship with God and our Christian family.
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Categories
invitation poetry sin Uncategorized

The Guest 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

DaleandJanelledirectorypic

Dale Pollard

A knock came on my door one day, I opened and it was Sin
Before that moment we hadn’t met, but still I let him in
He made me laugh, and seemed alright
so I let him stay a night

As host, I tended his every need
though he was quite a mouth to feed
He was entertaining
so he kept remaining—
With me, another day

One evening he sat at my table and dined

but late that night he robbed me blind

In an empty house I sat alone
The tears welled up, I should have known

Sin ate his fill against my will,

and now I’m skin and bone

Then again I heard a knock on my door

Reluctant was I to rise from the floor
If a guest, they can’t stay here anymore

the previous left me dejected and poor

But again and again
came the knock on my door
So timidly I answered,

but only opened it so wide

and there stood Jesus waiting,

on the other side

I had nothing left to give Him, nothing left to eat—
Yet He came inside,then got down, and began to wash my feet
He told me I could live with Him, for He had many rooms
No pain was there at His house, and the flowers always bloom
Could this be true what I was hearing—
I longed for nothing more
Then Jesus smiled and gently said—
this offer is for you and all
who open up the door
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Categories
Christian living Christianity discipline spiritual maturity spirituality

Spiritual Maintenance

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Since being mainly confined to home, we’ve had a lot more time to do outdoor activities. One of those activities (besides mowing and building a chicken house) has been target practice and clay shooting. Not only has it been an enjoyable activity, it has also been a great way to spend time with family and engage in some friendly competition.
After the range is cold and we’re ready to stop, the process of cleaning our guns begins. Some don’t require as much cleaning as others, but all of them get a brush, cleaning rod, and some lubricant. This helps to prevent wear and tear in the long term, but it also prevents build-up from causing malfunctions or damage next time. It’s not always the most enjoyable activity but is necessary anyway.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the concerns of life (especially now!), to the neglect of our spiritual maintenance. Most of us are currently unable to worship physically with our spiritual family. We have had to cancel many of our church events and get-togethers. We are more-or-less confined to our homes. Financial and health concerns are at the front line of our minds.
If we don’t stay on top of our spiritual maintenance while this craziness is going on, all kinds of nastiness will build up in our lives. While the world is more or less halted, are we continuing to be tools for good? Have we used some of this time to inspect our spiritual well-being? This is such a great opportunity to do a self-checkup using scripture to clean parts of our lives that need to be removed.
As stated earlier, cleaning guns is not exactly exhilarating. It can be painstaking, monotonous, dirty, and time consuming. If it isn’t done, though, it will lead to premature wear and tear and malfunctions.
Breaking sinful behaviors, leaving our uncertainties in God’s hands, confronting our spiritual struggles, resolving doubts in our faith, repairing relationships that we have damaged, and working towards tangible growth in our spiritual lives can be far from exciting or fun. These things require effort, discomfort, confrontation, and dedication. While not the most pleasant in the moment, they will help us to be the best that we can be.
When we do our spiritual maintenance we become better encouragers, better soul-winners, better friends/family, and we develop strong endurance. Our goal in all of this is to reduce the wear and tear of our spiritual lives by living like Jesus. This kind of maintenance will allow us to do more than last a while – properly maintaining our spiritual lives and relying on God’s grace will cause us to last for eternity with Him.
gun kit
Categories
Bible grace Uncategorized

The Bible Is Not Boring (“Grace”

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Another of the episodes Gary, Dale, Carl, and I recorded in Fort Payne, Alabama, recently. In this episode, we discuss an often misunderstood, misapplied, but absolutely vital Bible subject. This topic is anything but boring.

Click here for audio

Categories
adversity stewardship

LESSONS FROM ADVERSITY: LIVING WITH ONGOING ADVERSITY

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard 

While in the exceptional care of the physicians of the University of North Carolina Healthcare System, I met Dr. Alan Siqueiros as he was completing his Fellowship. He could tell I was depressed. My lung function was at 25% from my history of three pulmonary emboli. I had no prospects for a “normal” future. Yet, Dr. Siqueiros left me with some words of exhortation, since he was about to depart for Yale’s Danbury Hospital to do his Residency. “You’re a bright young man. You may not have the health you wanted, but you have a sharp mind. You’re still young. If I were you, I would focus on developing my mind and see where that leads.”

 

There’s something to be said about doing what you can with what you have at your disposal, isn’t there? The woman with the costly oil of spikenard did what she could when she took her costly oil and anointed Jesus’ head. When people complained she wasted something precious, Jesus told them to leave her alone since she had done what she could for Him (Mark 14.1-9).  A woman in the first century had limited options for service and this was a risky step. Even so, she was motivated to do what she could with what was available to her. Jesus understood and appreciate her effort.

 

We all expect our trials to be swift, don’t we? We don’t anticipate the possibility that we may find ourselves in a situation where adversity persists and may not go away. If you have an illness, others may see your adversity and help. Even so, there are also those forms of adversities people face on their own since no one else notices it (e.g. unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse). So, if you are living with ongoing adversity, what can you do?

 

First, accept God’s sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12.1-10). You don’t have to enjoy adversity, but trust God’s grace to give you a reason to rejoice, even if only in His strength. His strength shines through your weakness, when you’re living faithfully.

 

Second, go ahead and do what you can, even if it’s just with a box of “costly oil of spikenard.” As we’ve seen, even a simple act has its place when used to God’s glory. Christ has entrusted us with the gifts we may use (Ephesians 4.7-8).

 

Third, don’t compare yourself to others. We each have our own cross to carry (Luke 14.27). And the execution of our duties produce the results God intends (1 Corinthians 3.5-7).

 

Lastly, keep going (Hebrews 12.1-4). We know that we will only receive the crown of life if death finds us faithful (Revelation 2:10).

 

The nature of your adversity may be ongoing. It may be something you feel you face alone. However, the sufficient grace of God, coupled with the tools with which He has entrusted all of us, permits even those living amidst adversity to live a fulfilling life leading to our eternal home.

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