The Angels’ Struggle (And Ours)

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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When You Need To Let Go

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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The Greatest Longing Of The Soul

The Greatest Longing Of The Soul

Neal Pollard

Quick. Name the top three accomplishments of Grover Cleveland’s presidency. I’ll wait. 

Nothing? Don’t feel dense or unpatriotic. He’s not in most historians’ top 10 (25?) of American presidents. But on yesterday’s date, 132 years ago, he was at the helm and dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  This, if you don’t recall, was the proposed gift of French historian Edouard de Laboulaye in honor of America’s alliance with France during the Revolutionary War, sculpted by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, designed by Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel), completed in France in 1884, and delivered to America the next year with the last rivet fitted on October 28, 1886 (via Instagram). The pedestal of the statue contains a sonnet by poet Emma Lazarus, well-known to most of us, that reads, 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door” (ibid.).

With all the debate about immigration–a Reuters story revealed that immigration tops the economy and healthcare as the top issue for voters (Read here)–there is no denying why so many people around the world want to come to the United States. We have long been regarded as the haven for poor masses yearning to breathe free and wanting a home inside “the golden door.” Many have come and achieved incredible success in our country. Many more than that have come to find that immigrating here did not solve their problems or make their dreams come true.

There is a greater longing of the soul, a desire for something even more than prosperity.  Jesus teaches us that material things won’t last (Mat. 6:19-20). Peter tells us what comes of such ultimately (2 Pet. 3:10). 

There is a greater longing of the soul than even freedoms afforded by nations and governments. Many will abuse those freedoms through immoral choices.  Proverbs 14:34 strongly applies.

The most noble, highest longing of a soul is for the freedom only Christ can provide. To be free from the slavery of sin (John 8:31-36), from guilt of sin (Psa. 51:1-14), and from the power of sin (Heb. 2:14) is man’s wisest quest. A person with an abundance of money, liberty, and other earthly advantages may still be buried by the influence of sin. To know there’s a solution right now–who wouldn’t want that?

Don’t forget what Jesus tells people everywhere: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28). 

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“I Don’t Feel Good Enough”

“I Don’t Feel Good Enough”

Neal Pollard

How many times have you said that? You may project an air of confidence that would make it hard for anyone to think you felt that way or you may wear it on your sleeves. But, if honesty prevails, we’d all confess to wrestling with that thought. Daily! With Paul, facing the scope of our challenge, we exclaim, “And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). BDAG informs us that “adequate” means “sufficient in degree…large enough; pertaining to meeting a standard, fit…competent, qualified, able” (472). As Paul’s words are in the context of ministry, conscientious preachers who read that statement really get it. We’re fragile pottery entrusted with a perfect, eternal, and divine message (2 Cor. 4:7).  Oh, how we feel our own humanity as we preach the mind of God to others struggling with their humanity. We know our every weakness better than anyone else does.

Yet, the struggle I mention is not just the preacher’s burden. The best Christians I know live each day fully aware of their inadequacies and insecurities. No matter how many good works they do, how faithful in attendance and duty they are, or how actively they seek opportunities to serve God, they struggle at times. May I suggest that this is one of the biggest blessings of living the Christian life. No, we don’t want to live in a shroud of guilt. Not at all! But, consider what happens when we acknowledge our glaring insufficiencies.  We can see our utter dependency on God that much better.

Could Moses have really led the Israelites for 40 years on his own ingenuity and oratory? Could Jeremiah have really faced his audience on his own temerity? Could a renewed Peter have really preached that Pentecost sermon to Jesus’ killers on the merits of his own homiletic greatness? Could Paul have really transformed the first-century world on the foundation of his cosmopolitan experience and top-notch education from Gamaliel University?

Repeatedly, throughout His ministry, Jesus decries the Pharisaical tendency of trusting in self (Luke 16:5; 18:9). Ultimately, it’s a farce anyway. I may struggle with different weaknesses than you, but I still struggle. While that is never an excuse to give up and indulge in sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-2), it is a great, daily starting place to appreciate our need of God’s favor and friendship. We are not going to make it through this world on our own merits. As the beautiful old song suggests, “I need Thee, oh, I need Thee, every hour I need Thee….”

Here’s the beautiful thing that happens when we recognize our shortcomings and inabilities. We become an empty vessel that God can fill to accomplish His work. God will open doors of opportunity for us to do, by His might, what we could never have hoped to do without Him. Whether doors of service (teacher, elder, preacher, deacon, etc.), lives of holiness, or works of obedience, we will live in amazement of His power. Or, as Paul put it, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:20-21). Take heart, Christian! You’re not doing this alone. You can’t! But, what can God not do? That thought is exciting and thrilling. With that in mind, no mountain is too formidable. He’s got this!

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“Satan Wants You”

“Satan Wants You”

Neal Pollard

Mike Vestal was speaking to preachers at this year’s Polishing The Pulpit in Sevierville, Tennessee, on the subject of discouragement. One of his many poignant points was that Satan would dearly love to get to the preacher. He made the striking statement, “Satan wants you!”  This is true of more than the preacher. He is ever after every faithful Christian.  Do you remember that shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus warned an overconfident Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31)? It is sobering to contemplate his ravenous yearning for us (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8)!

Consider that Satan wants your:

  • Soul
  • Influence
  • Effectiveness
  • Energy
  • Money
  • Stages of life (youth, prime, golden years)
  • Heart
  • Family (spouse, children, parents)
  • Passion
  • Time
  • Worship
  • Body
  • Speech
  • Confidence
  • Assurance
  • Attention

When we break down the totality of his voracious appetite for each of us individually, we can see just how viciously and actively he is pursuing us. He can work through the more obvious avenues like sexual immorality, unrighteous conduct, and overt worldliness. He is as content with more subtle channels like attitude, strife, grudge bearing, dishonesty, greed, and gossip. The Bible makes it clear that as long as he can make headway into the heart and life, he’ll take it.

The thrilling news is that he cannot make us or take us without our permission. Furthermore, Jesus empowers us to prevail through His sacrifice and resources. Hebrews 2:14 shows us that Jesus rendered him powerless against the children of God.

The greatest news of all is that God wants you! He has gone to the greatest lengths to prove it. If we will give our lives to Him, it does not matter what the Devil attempts. He will fail!  Resist him with the power of God (1 Pet. 5:9; Jas. 4:7-8) and he will flee from you! Just don’t let your guard down! Keep your faith up!

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WHEN YOU FEEL WEIGHED DOWN

WHEN YOU FEEL WEIGHED DOWN

Neal Pollard

Mark and Derek Noel have an incredible story.  Mark, the dad, thinks he weighed 460 pounds at his heaviest, though he couldn’t find scales that could weigh him. He talks about the depression, the shame, even the claustrophobia of being that size. He learned that he had a food addiction.  Today, he weighs 220 pounds and his son has also lost an incredible amount of weight. There’s still a mental struggle there, but through food journaling, exercise, and, above all, a desire to live, Mark is winning that battle (Megan Messerly, Las Vegas Sun, 10/19/15).

There are a great many people who can relate to the struggle and some who know the success of a story like theirs. A lot of people have eaten themselves into such a state of being, and most people struggle with self-control and wise decisions concerning food especially where it is abundant and easily accessible. I imagine few of those who get themselves into such a state are happy with the results.

There is something weighing on people in a far greater way than this, though.  It can happen in the midst of drought and famine. It is not exclusively a “first-world problem.”  Sin is a universal burden (Rom. 3:23).  The writer of Hebrews even describes it this way. He says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Heb. 12:1). David wrote, “For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Psa. 38:4).

Sometimes, when people are discussing the sin struggles they are coping with, they say, “I just feel weighed down.”  They are describing the effects of guilt and unhappiness, a disappointment and self-loathing produced by a conscience all too aware of the persistent reality of sin.  But, instead of addressing the problem, too many try to work it out on their own and never leave the vicious cycle of serving sin. Paul says the ultimate outcome of this approach is death (Rom. 6:23; cf. Jas. 1:15). What can you do when you feel weighed down?

  • Be Determined. One older song begins, “I am resolved no longer to linger.” The Prodigal Son said, “I will arise and go to my father and will say” (Luke 15:18). The journey home begins with making up your mind that you need to go.
  • Be Dependent. The Prodigal Son looked at the conditions at home and saw his need of the father. He says “my father’s” (Luke 15:17), “my father” (18), “Father” (18), “his father” (20), “Father” (21). The father was able to solve the problem and lift the burden.  The son simply had to swallow his pride and go to his father.
  • Be Decisive. The boy took action.  His resolve led to his return. He went from wanting to walking. As the rest of the parable reveals, the boy didn’t regret his decision.  There was celebration and reward in coming home.  Contrast that with the burden of staying in sin.

It’s very possible that you find yourself weighed down.  What good reason can you give for staying in that condition? Wouldn’t you rather lose the weight? I know you’ll feel better if you do!

“Redemption Is Tailor-Made For The Wretched”

“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!

“What Have You Done For Me Lately?”

“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!

Avalanche Season

Avalanche Season

Neal Pollard

They are calling it an historic avalanche season in Colorado.  With snowpack at well over 100% due to massive amounts of mountain snowfall, conditions are prime for avalanches to breakout all over the backcountry. Already, six have died in avalanches this winter.  In fact, there have been three deadly slides just in the past week.  Warnings continue to come in from The Colorado Avalanche Information Center about dangerous conditions following two weeks of heavy snow.  Others have escaped death, but have harrowing tales of survival and, in some cases, broken bones.  Avalanches travel at the rate of a speeding car and hit with the force of a freight train. Typically, those buried in an avalanche lie beneath a ton of snow and the most common killer is either suffocation or blunt force trauma.  The head of the CAIF says the three most important tools are the beacon, probe, and shovel. The first is worn by the potential victim, while the other two are used by the rescuer.  Though these events can happen and be over in a matter of seconds, they can bring permanent consequences (information via FoxNews and Time’s Science And Space).

How often do we face overwhelming circumstances which we might liken to an avalanche?  They happen suddenly and seriously, and the aftermath can feel almost suffocating.  Though with different images, Bible writers speak of the feeling of burdens and sins being heavy and over their head (Ps. 38:4; Lam. 3:54).  David says similar things about trouble (Ps. 119:143) and iniquity (Ps. 40:12) overtaking him so that he cannot look up.  Maybe you can relate to such feelings, whether brought on by the guilt of sin or the difficulties of life. Both can threaten to bury us.  These things have even led to spiritual death.

May I suggest that we need the same three tools for our spiritual escape.  We have a beacon (Ps. 119:105), yet it also serves as a probe (Heb. 4:12) and a shovel (cf. Ps. 107:20; 147:16ff).  He also blesses us through prayer and providence.  Through all He does, God provides us a way of escape (1 Co. 10:13)!   We can survive, even in those times when problems crowd into our lives and threaten to bury us!  God is greater and stronger.  When swept up, hold on! Help is on the way.

Innocent Blood And Bloodguiltiness

Innocent Blood And Bloodguiltiness

Neal Pollard

This week marked the the anniversary of one of America’s darkest days when abortion became legal in our nation.  Since pro-abortion websites tend not to deal in reporting specific numbers and pro-life websites certainly do, it is from the National Right to Life website we discover that over 56 million babies have been aborted since January 21, 1973.  That works out to an average of 3,000 every day in the past 41 years.  As one protestor’s sign read, “The abortion doctor has killed more Americans than all our wars combined.”  Yet, those 56 million people were naked and completely defenseless.  They were totally innocent.

The Psalmist decries the apostasy of the chosen people of old, saying, “But they mingled with the nations And learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, and shed innocent blood, The blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; And the land was polluted with the blood” (Psa. 106:35-38).  Proverbs 6:17 declares “shedding innocent blood” as something God hates, while Isaiah reveals that those separated from God include those who “hasten to shed innocent blood” (59:7).  In discussing one who was murdered without cause, Moses warned that those who shed innocent blood face bloodguiltiness (Deu. 19:10).

The last passage indicates a responsibility carried by the one who shed innocent blood, whether an adult having done nothing worthy of death—per that context—or anyone else who has done nothing worthy of having his or her life ended. Consistently, the Old Testament shows God’s attitude toward taking innocent lives.  As God certainly sees the unborn as living human beings (Jer. 1:5; Psa. 139:15-16; Luke 1:15; etc.), He sees the taking of those lives as the shedding of innocent blood!  The consequence of that is bloodguiltiness.

Whatever consequence our nation faces for this multi-generational practice, we need to reach out to our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  With such a high number of abortions, many of them know, firsthand and in another sense, the bloodguiltiness.  Perhaps there are those who callously look back at the act, but most undoubtedly wrestle with guilt, regret, and loss.  What an opportunity to minister to so many who understand the weight and burden of sin!  May we share the good news of the innocent Man whose blood was shed to provide them the realistic expectation of forgiveness.