Processing…

Neal Pollard

I woke up just before 5 AM to an ominous notification from my Jerusalem Post app. Downstairs, turning on the news, the horrific truth was confirmed. The worst mass shooting in modern American history. Not long after, I was in my gym locker room. A gym buddy, Mike, a self-described C&E (i.e., “Christmas And Easter”) Catholic, greeted me. Usually, I am not tempted to ask this, but I found myself asking him, “How does something like this happen?” His 5-word, profound answer was, “No love, no Jesus, man.”

Some random thoughts occurred to me, in processing the events in Las Vegas late on Sunday night, October 1st.

  • Luke 13:1-5. This did not happen because the people in Las Vegas, Nevada, are more wicked and evil than people in other parts of this country or the world. The need among the over 20,000 accountable adults at that country music festival is the same need that all of us have, to be penitent believers in Christ.
  • Second Amendment And Gun Control. Investigations are still ongoing, but there is preliminary reason to believe that at least one or some of the guns used by the shooter would have been obtained illegally. Gun control laws would not prevent illegal weapons. At the same time, there were several fire arms on those in attendance. They proved useless against a shooter from 1000 feet away and 32 stories high. Guns are not inherently evil nor the all-encompassing answer.
  • Man. Man was both perpetrator and victim. Yet, man is so limited. We are not all-knowing or all-powerful. Highly trained law enforcement officers and first responders, who doubtless saved many lives, did not prevent this. How humbled these events make us!
  • Atheism. Nearly every news interview ended with the reporter or anchor with a pledge of prayers or similar reference to God. The president’s brief statement continuously referred to God and even quoted Scripture. Nobody invokes “survival of the fittest,” “big bang,” or “there is no God” to provide help, comfort, or strength to anyone. A Godless worldview is a hopeless one.

Big questions emerge from this fog of suffering. Christians, we not only have the answer, but as God works through us, we are the answer! I read a social media post from Sheila Butt, challenging us to take Christianity off the pew and into our daily lives. The soul we reach and life we help change might change the course of the world for good (or the prevention of evil). Mike nailed it. “No love, no Jesus, man.” Amen!

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“Being A Christian Is Hard”

Neal Pollard

The church office receives a monthly publication called Faith Connect. In the latest edition, they include some data from Barna Group on faith in America. In a sidebar of statistics to an interview with Barna’s Vice President, Bill Denzel, writer Kelly Russell reveals what the research organization found in interviewing those who identify themselves as Christians. They report feeling:

  • “Misunderstood” (54%)
  • “Persecuted” (52%)
  • “Marginalized” (44%)
  • “Sidelined” (40%)
  • “Silenced” (38%)
  • “Afraid To Speak Up” (31%)
  • “Afraid Of Looking Stupid” (23%)

These findings accompany the assertion that America is a “Post-Christian nation,” having forgotten or rejected its roots, history, and former culture and practices (Summer 2017, 49-51). The thing that strikes me is how “Christians” report feeling. Barna did not exist in the first-century, and as such there is no record of any polling of the original Christians. But if there was, can you imagine the New Testament church answering the way these respondents did? I’m sure they felt misunderstood and persecuted. How could they not? Reading New Testament books like Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation, along with early church fathers, we’re sure the Jews and Romans sought to marginalize, sideline, and silence them from the marketplace to the temples and synagogues. Our ancient spiritual family members were arrested, murdered, driven from their homes and cities, ostracized, stolen from, ridiculed, and more.

How they responded to such treatment is instructional for us today.  Peter reports their feeling:

  • “Living hope” (1:3)
  • “Great rejoicing” (1:6; 1:8)
  • “Love” and “believing” (1:8)
  • “Joy inexpressible” (1:8)

There are a lot of imperatives and exhortations throughout the rest of this epistle, written to encourage them to hold onto their faith however poorly they were treated by the people around them. Peter wants them living holy lives, but he also wants them to appreciate how great living the Christian life is. That’s a message we need to take to heart.

I hope we never put the focus in our spiritual lives on how hard it is to be a Christian. It can be! But, what will make the greatest adversity bearable is keeping our focus on our purpose, our promise, our privileges, and our peace. There is no better life than the Christian life. May we focus on our opportunities rather than our obstacles!

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My Hope For Youth

Neal Pollard
This week has reaffirmed a fundamental view I have about youth. It has been affirmed by what I see in  our youth group, but it is bolstered by what I have seen in so many young people this week. Hearing youthful voices singing whenever they found an opportunity, I thought about how hopeful I felt for the church’s future as these beautiful voices blended in heartfelt song. Our world is growing more vile and wicked each day, but I have bathed in a spiritual oasis this week. It led me to think about how much hope we rest on the future of the church, but how much we should.
My hope for our youth is that they will develop their own faith. Some of those youth I speak of were converted, but many more are the product of Christian homes and heritages that go back for generations. Apathy and indifference can infect our youth who go through motions they have been taught but which have not been internalized. As one in that latter category myself, I found that a challenge I faced as a youth. I want our youth to grow a conviction and belief system founded upon the rock solid nature of God and His Word.
My hope for our youth is that they will maintain their purity. The aforementioned world is bombarding all of us with insidious messages. On every hand, the devil tempts us to let go of holiness. With so many ways to “get in,” I pray our youth will lock the door of their heart when evil is on the stoop.
My hope for our youth is that they will have proper examples in us. How heavily this point hits home! So much of what we hope for our youth begins, continues and ends with our impact upon them. They will be, in large part, the product of our training, what we emphasize, value and show to be important, and what our passions and priorities are. They will have great difficulty rising above what we model before them!
I certainly hope so much more for them, but in all of this my hope is that whatever peril or persecution they must face in the years to come they will be faithful even to the point of physical death. But I believe in them! They have showed me so much now, and faith is built before the storms of life come.

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2017 edition of the Denver Future Preachers Training Camp in a more serious moment

Focus, Not Complacency 

Neal Pollard

Whether you are elated or despondent today, you face a serious danger as you absorb the reality of the election results. Prayer meetings for our nation transpired all around our country, even from brethren and friends in other nations. Individuals prayed fervently for God’s will to be done. What that will look like and what that will mean only time will reveal.  For many, relief replaces fear at the prospect of the “other side” winning. For others, disbelief and embarrassment, not to mention shock, have begun to roost.

One thing that has been emphasized in the days and weeks leading up to this historic election is that, no matter what, the church must step up and increase its militancy and evangelism. We must work and serve in bigger and greater ways. That has not changed. The kind of change and improvement this (and every) country needs most can only come from Christ. People of both (or neither) political parties still live in view of the Second Coming, the Judgment, and an eternal destination in either heaven or hell.

After warning about the futility of trusting in earthly governments, militaries, and the like, the Psalmist instructs, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You” (Psa. 33:18-22). May that forever be the anthem of the people of God!

The only thing that is over is a political election. The church’s mission is as daunting, daring, and divinely-directed as it has ever been. However you view the national decision, please continue to see the heavenly vision. We are not here to make America great again, though most of us would desire that. We are here to help reconcile the world to Christ (2 Cor. 5:20; Mat. 28:18-20). I love the way my son, Dale, said it yesterday: “After the election, after the selection, I’m still thankful there was a resurrection that gives us direction.” That is the focus that must keep us oriented to our reason for being on this earth.

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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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Characteristics of Hope

Neal Pollard

An epistle centering around the superiority of Christi as our all-sufficient One would certainly be expected to contain a message of hope. While some had apparently given up Jesus as their hope (6:4-6), the writer of Hebrews had a higher estimation of those to whom he writes. for one thing, they had a legacy of good works and brotherly love and benevolence (6:10). His desire was that they would continue to stay strong. In expressing this, the writer suggests hope as an integral tool to keep them hanging onto their faith in Christ. In these final ten verses of Hebrews six, he mentions three qualities of hope that would help them–and will help us–hang onto our hope in Christ no matter what.

This hope is durable (11). Look at the language he uses. This hope was tied to an assurance that would endure “until the end.” It was a hope that would lead them to “inherit the promises” (12), just as Abraham’s hope in God led him to his inheritance (13-17). God desires to show us, as heirs of the promise through Christ, His unchanging purpose (17), so He guarantees that promise through an oath build upon the foundation of Himself. Hope which is guaranteed by the very nature and character of God is hope that will outlast anything! Nations rise and fall. Presidents serve only one or two terms. Supreme court justices, at most, can serve only a lifetime. Our hope transcends time.

This hope is tangible (18). These Christians needed to count on a refuge in difficult times (see 12:4), and we desire the same thing in our lives! Knowing that God is so trustworthy, we are encouraged to “take hold of hope” that is found only in Christ. To say that we can take hold of hope and that it is set before us means that it has substance. In a world where nothing seems certain, evidence from scripture, nature, order and design of the universe, and so much more allows us, by faith, to grab this hope. He had already told them to hold onto that hope in Christ earlier in the letter (3:6) and to encourage this response he points them to scripture (cf. 3:7-11; Psa. 95:7-11). Scripture helps us see the solid hope we have in Jesus.

This hope is stable (19). It is an anchor. Anchors keep a vessel from drifting, an appropriate illustration since the Christians were tempted to drift from Christ (2:1). By maintaining their hope, they could anticipate three blessings: (1) sureness, (2) steadfastness, and (3) the service of the sacrificial Savior (19-20). All three of these descriptions of this Almighty anchor underline the security found in keeping ourselves anchored in Christ. Those who keep Jesus as their hope are able to weather the most horrific storms of life!

As Christians, we may find ourselves ready to abandon Jesus as our hope. So many things attempt to pull us from Him. Let us draw encouragement from this inspired writer, as surely these first Christians did, and rejoice in these changeless characteristics of hope!

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In Awe Of The Greatest Freedom

 

Neal Pollard

I once was without representation,
Not a citizen of that chosen nation,
Enslaved and oppressed,
Deprived of the best,
And discouraged by my lowly station,

But my freedom was bought at a price,
With the one ransom that would suffice,
Sweet liberty was bought,
And my freedom I sought,
When I opted for virtue instead of vice.

Independence is becoming and sweet,
It is found when I fall at His feet,
And make Him my Master,
I avoid pain and disaster,
He offers me victory for my defeat.

I celebrate privileged position,
Embrace His heavenly mission,
Knowing the blessings He gives,
Is because He still lives,
He hears the faithful disciple’s petition.

As we celebrate the blessings in this land,
Bestowed by a Providential hand,
Let us never forget,
That He paid our great debt,
He’s preparing what’s infinitely more grand.

Whatever may become of our dear country,
I pray that our eyes will always see,
That no earthly place is home,
We are strangers who will roam,
’Til we reach the Great City across the sea.

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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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A Literal Appeal For “Help”

Neal Pollard

In an interview given at her home, Ann Rodgers appears a bit eccentric but a wonder to behold. The 72-year-old woman survived 9 days in an Arizona desert by eating plants and drinking pond water. She was driving to Phoenix via a remote stretch of back country road on the White River Indian Reservation when she got lost and subsequently ran out of gas. Thus began a series of efforts, building signal fires to draw the attention of rescuers or the forest service. She got lost while climbing a series of ridges trying to get cell signal. She and her dog faced gloomy odds, but she kept trying. She went missing on March 31st. On April 3rd, she used sticks and rocks to spell out “help.” To further draw attention to it, she found an antelope skull nearby and placed it with her message (via nbcnews.com). Since moving out west, I have learned that people frequently get lost in the vast stretches of deserts and mountains. I cannot find statistics for how many people get lost or how many are found alive or dead in the United States, but each incident is obviously traumatic for those involved. Can’t you imagine how desperately and completely those who realize their lostness long to be saved?

Wherever you go today, the vast majority of the people you encounter are going to be wandering through this world lost in the most profound way. Without rescue, they are heading for a fate infinitely worse than physical death. “Lost” is the way Jesus, the Good Shepherd, describes those not right with God. While He uses the word that way in three of the four gospels (Mat. 10:6; 18:11; Luke 19:10; John 18:9), it is the parables of Luke 15 that most vividly speak in these terms. The first parable, that of the lost sheep, draws on the search and rescue metaphor (Luke 15:4). That’s how Jesus likens the situation with one outside of God’s redemption.

Be watching for signs from the lost. They often send signals, if we are looking in the right places. Whether personal problems, major life changes (like marriage or having children), those new to the area, or those demonstrating an open mind, they may be just like the Ethiopian Eunuch and hoping for someone to guide them (Acts 8:30-31). Jesus has us here to conduct search and rescue missions. May we have our eyes peeled and keep ourselves equipped to rescue the lost. They are out there everywhere.

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Not All Peace Is The Same!

Neal Pollard

“Peace” is a geopolitical term associated with such terms as talks, treaties, accords, and the like. It’s the political antithesis of war. Of course, the term is co-opted by a wide variety of people in society, but so often peace is a misunderstood concept.  Or, people turn to the wrong source for peace.

The primary New Testament word for peace means “a set of favorable circumstances involving tranquility” or “to be without trouble, to have no worries, or to sit down in one’s heart” (Louw-Nida). BDAG defines it as harmony in relationships, a state of concord, and state of well-being. But, what is sometimes asserted as peace is not necessarily peace as God defines it.

There is false peace (1 Th. 5:3).  Paul addresses the words of those characterized as “in darkness” (4-6), lacking sobriety (7-9), as offerers of peace and safety in the face of destruction. These people are not after the right kind of peace and Paul implies they are “destined for wrath” and condemnation (9).  People who want peace on their own terms, living sinful lifestyles in rebellion against the will of God, advocate false peace. Whether or not they achieve some measure of that in this life, they are not destined to enjoy it eternally.

There is forged peace (1 Th. 5:13). Paul teaches that peace and harmony between people is something that must be worked toward. He tells the Christians to “live in peace with one another,” and then he proceeds to tell them how this is done. It includes submitting to the church’s leadership (12-13), and it calls for church leadership to give the church family whatever is needed from admonition to encouragement (14) and to lead the congregation to pursue peace and follow their example (cf. 15-22).  The kind of harmony and unity God wants is not accidental or incidental. It is the product of diligence and determination.

There is the Father’s peace (1 Th. 5:23).  Paul begins both epistles to the Thessalonians by tying together true peace and the Heavenly Father. Here he writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God’s peace is comprehensive, complete, and conquering. It strengthens one now and saves one at Christ’s second coming. Contrast this peace with the peace offers. Jesus does. He tells His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).

Right now, people have a growing desire for peace. There are turning in many directions for it. Ultimately, it won’t be found in the White House, the military, on Wall Street, or from within our own resources apart from the Father. Let us strive to forge peace between ourselves as His people, and model and offer it to a lost world desperately desiring it.

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