A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Civil war has broken out in the kingdom after Saul’s death. David is a patriot who loves his people so he offers to treat Saul’s followers well after Judah crowns him as king. However, a man named, Abner, takes matters into his own hands and he defies God’s chosen king. He sets up Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, as their new ruler instead. Abner, who was the general of Saul’s army, along with the servants of Ish-bosheth, make their way to the pool of Gibeon. This was a large pool carved out of rock by Saul’s father. Once they arrive they sit down. On the opposite side of the pool, Joab, David’s nephew, and his servants meet them and sit as well. Behind them, two armies stand in formation, ready for war— brother against brother. Abner, perhaps to prevent the death toll that a larger battle would bring, suggests that their servants fight for them. Joab agrees, but this idea quickly leads to a slaughter. Each servant grabs the other by the head, clinching hair in a tight fist, and cuts each other down simultaneously. This short altercation doesn’t provide a victor, so both armies charge each other. It’s a battle that is fought with so much passion, but God grants David’s army with the win. I imagine the Man After God’s Own Heart did not take joy in this victory. The chaos of war has already taken so much from him, including the life of his best friend, Jonathan.

After the battle of Gibeon has ended, David’s nephew, Asahel, takes off after the fleeing Abner. Asahel was known for his speed and agility, with it being likened to that of a gazelle. This speed allowed him to pass the others that were also in pursuit and he finds himself on the heels of Abner in no time. His swiftness will bring him a swift death. While Abner is not as quick, he is older with more experience. Twice Abner asks Asahel to stop this foolish attempt to take his life, but Asahel doesn’t take this advice. This is when Abner thrusts his spear behind him and the butt end of the spear goes through Asahel’s stomach and out the other side, killing the young warrior. 

This is probably an account you never heard in Vacation Bible School, but there is so much we can learn from this event found in 2 Samuel 2:12-24. We notice how deadly pride can be. First, there is the pride of Abner in rejecting David as king, and then there’s the pride of Asahel. He was famous for being quick on his feet, but clearly slow in thought. Preachers and teachers can become well known for their ability to speak and proclaim God’s word. This fame can also be their own spiritual downfall if they begin to think more of themselves than they should. When we post scriptures, baptisms, or other good deeds on social media for our own praise and admiration, God may be the only One that sees your heart. Those are the only eyes that matter since they belong to the One that will be our final Judge.

We also learn from this story that serving a dead king is futile. As Christians we serve the King of Kings, God’s anointed son. Those standing with Him will always win. Those that chose to take matters into their own hands are fighting a losing battle.

When we read about events like this in the Bible it should also make us thankful for the day when we will enjoy a place where there is no heartache, bloodshed, or wickedness. Even David had to endure his share of trials, but now he’s with the God he modeled his heart after— and, we can assume, Jonathan. No matter what struggle we may find ourselves tangled up in, let’s place our focus on that heavenly reunion. 

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photo via Flickr
Who Will You Listen to? (1 Kings 12) 

Who Will You Listen to? (1 Kings 12) 

Wednesday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

I remember it like it was yesterday, I was standing in my brothers’ room while they were trying to convince me that I had swallowed a marble. After enough talking, they finally convinced my 3-year-old self that I had swallowed a marble. A couple of hours later we left the ER after being told by the doctor that there, in fact, was no marble in me. What on earth happened? Well, I’ll tell you what happened. I listened to my brothers and their prank went a little farther than they thought it would. 

This reminds me of an account that is recorded in 1 Kings chapter 12, where Rehoboam listens to some unwise advice from his brothers. The people come to him asking their new king to lower the taxes his father Solomon had placed on them. So Rehoboam reaches out to those who served with Solomon, and they tell him to lower the taxes; but Rehoboam didn’t like this answer. In fact, he wasn’t looking for that answer. So he goes to his friends, the guys he grew up with, and this is what they say, “‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’”(1 Kings 12:10-11). Rehoboam takes the advice of his younger council, and because of this the kingdom of Israel split. 

When it comes to who we take advice from, it is always best to come at it with all biases aside. Rehoboam was talked into doing something that split the kingdom. The next time we have a decision to make, we must not make the mistake Rehoboam made or what I did in listening to my brothers. Let’s be wise and make our decision after praying with a heart which honestly seeks God’s will. 

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Who Is The “Troubler Of Israel”?

Who Is The “Troubler Of Israel”?

Neal Pollard

Ahab was the most wicked king in Israel’s history (1 Kings 16:30). To top it off, he was married to perhaps the most immoral woman revealed to us during the time of the divided kingdom in the Old Testament. Her name, Jezebel, is still somewhat infamous today. She destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4). The prophets who survived feared for their lives because of Ahab (18:9). Instead, Jezebel kept a stable of false prophets, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (18:19). Read this section of 1 Kings and the first nine chapters of 2 Kings to get the full flavor of who this notorious couple was.

How ironic that when Elijah appears to Ahab before the prophet’s infamous confrontation with the false prophets on Mount Carmel, Ahab’s first words to him were, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” (18:17). There was controversy, division, problems, and trouble in the land, but Ahab’s narrative was distorted. Ahab was like a reckless drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic and blaming a law-abiding pedestrian for being in his way on the sidewalk. Elijah was not the troubler of Israel for daring to oppose the false ways of Ahab and Jezebel. He was doing exactly what God wanted him to do!

In our present, lawless age, there are so many “prophets” who come along with a message appealing to right ideas like peace, grace, unity, and love. Many of them package themselves in the garments of relevance, using our culture as their props and stage. The causes célèbre which our age reveres, some of which are diametrically opposed to the doctrine, ethics, and morality outlined in Scripture, are pushed at God’s people—who are shamed and made to feel unrighteous if they dare protest what is said. In some circles, it is asserted that anyone teaching that the Bible is authoritative, contains a pattern, and is God’s objective truth for all times, is Pharisaical, consumed with self-righteousness, hateful, mean-spirited, and divisive. In short, that they are “troublers of Israel.”

As a quick side-note, there are some who do press their personal proclivities, traditions, and convictions as divine truth. This is as accursed a thing as seeking to nullify what God has bound in heaven (cf. Mat. 16:19; Rev. 22:18-19). Such folks manufacture trouble rather than trouble people by faithfully sharing God’s Word. These occupy unenviable ground, in view of the end of all things.

Yet, anyone who conscientiously tries to follow God’s blueprint for how to share His truth (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Col. 4:6), who takes care to handle Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15), is going to invariably encounter the Ahabs, Jezebels, Baalites, and Asherahists. Teach the singular, undenominational nature of the church (Eph. 4:4), the role of women in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-12), the essentiality of baptism in God’s saving plan (Acts 2:38), God’s plan for marriage and sexuality (Mat. 19:1-9; Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:26-27), and the like, and it will come. The Ahabs will label you the troublemaker and the source of the problem.

In what may sound dark and grim, Paul warns Timothy that difficult times will come (2 Tim. 3:1). He speaks of men immoral in nature and inaccurate in message who succeed with the weak and impulsive (3:6), who themselves are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7), who in fact “oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (3:8). Ultimately, they will not carry the day (3:9). But they will always have their eager followers who “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3-4).

Suppress the victim mentality if you are trying to be an Elijah in this Ahab society. On the job, at home, in the community, within the religious community at large, and even at times within the church, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Do it with great patience and instruction, as Paul counsels. Don’t be a troubler in God’s eyes, but know that you will be seen as one in the eyes of some in this world. Keeping company with Elijah is not a bad thing.

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WHAT DID MOSES CONFRONT?

WHAT DID MOSES CONFRONT?

Neal Pollard
Moses is remembered for his meekness, yet he also is the man who in indignation killed an Egyptian slave driver. He was afraid to lead, but what a leader he was with God’s help. In Exodus three, we see this man who has gone to hide among his father-in-law’s sheep as one who was ready for confrontation. Of course, at times this was good and at times it was not. What did Moses confront?

–Moses confronted his God. Receiving his Great Commission at the burning bush, Moses was introduced to the God who desired to work with him to accomplish some of the greatest feats of the entire Old Testament period. Moses learned just who his God was, a lesson that would continue the rest of his life.
–Moses confronted himself. He was a man with a bag of excuses, all of which he apparently pulled out to try and avoid the task God was handing him. He rightly saw his personal inadequacies, but he reluctantly began to see the Moses he could be in God’s omnipotent hand.
–Moses confronted his people. He had to go back to his hometown. Many of us would have a hard time being effective in that forum, but Moses had the gall to go. Did he have to face the two Hebrew men whose fight he had tried to break up, men who had either witnessed or at least heard about Moses’ murder? It must have been to go back and face his fellow country men, but he did it.
–Moses confronted his enemy. Rarely has an enemy been so formidable as Pharaoh was. His heart was hard to his very end. He was arguably the most powerful man on earth and as stubborn as he was strong.
–Moses confronted his faith. Hebrews 11 affirms the greatness of his faith. It was challenged and he did not possess a perfect faith, but inspiration proves that it was exemplary and memorable faith.
–Moses confronted his penalty. At the end of his journey with a stubborn and disobedient, yet chosen, people, Moses took too much on himself. He disobeyed God and failed to properly glorify him. Consequently, he was denied the Promise Land. The result of his sin was separation; for him, it was from the physical land of promise. For the disobedient who fail to repent, it will be from the spiritual land of promise. We all confront the fact that our sin has consequences.

Moses was a man who talked to God as friend talks with friend. He was an imperfect man and even occasionally an impetuous man. Yet, he was a successful man in part because of his willingness to confront. May we be so bold!

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OPTIMISM

OPTIMISM

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

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Giving Up Ground To the Enemy

Giving Up Ground To the Enemy

Neal Pollard

On at least three fronts, there are major battles occurring—ISIS and the existing governments in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Israel and the Palestinians, and Ukraine and Russian-led rebels. In each of these conflicts, both sides are trying to gain ground or at least hold onto what they already have. They are trying not only to win the actual battles they are fighting, but they also seek to win the battle of public opinion.  With the money and lives invested, neither side in any of the conflicts can bear the thought of losing.

While “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) and “we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3), we face a deadly adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  He is the enemy, though he has a great many who have “been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:26). They are fighting his battles for him of their own free will (Js. 1:13-15), and they are more than willing to engage those of us who would steadfastly resist him (1 Pet. 5:9).

In this media age, the devil’s soldiers have used means previous generations did not have at their disposal to spread his ideas across the nation and all over the globe.  But because there have been people willing to battle him, he has not gained ground all at once. The moral erosion has happened slowly over time, attitudes about foul language, alcohol, modesty, sex outside of marriage and living together, adultery, homosexuality, and much more.  Doctrinal erosion also occurs subtly and gradually, but denominationalism has given way to modernism, post-modernism, and emergent theologies.  The Lord’s church is impacted by assaults on its distinctiveness, and elderships, pulpits, classrooms, and memberships can gradually lose their militancy, courage, and resolve to stand up for God’s revealed will.  It is easy to be cowered by charges of extremism, hatred, or sanctimoniousness, especially when there are examples of such to be found.

Yet, we cannot forget that we are in a battle.  God needs us to stand in the gap and continue fighting for His truth, even in the face of opposition and resistance.  Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:4). The weapons in our left and right hands is righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7).  We press on in spiritual armor (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11ff).  When each of us as soldiers in the Lord’s Army arrive at the time when we must lay down our armor, may it be said that we gained ground and served the Lord’s cause successfully. May it never be that we gave up ground to the enemy!

How Do We Avoid Going Into The Wilderness?

How Do We Avoid Going Into The Wilderness?

Neal Pollard

I thought about this question as I meditated today on the state of the church in our nation.  Composed of so many dedicated, wonderful people, the church as a whole, nonetheless, is tempted to drift from biblical moorings. It is anecdotal to observe seismic philosophical shifts in the leadership and direction of various congregations, pulled for one reason or another from the place and being the people God wants it to be.  The whole wilderness analogy is drawn from the events in the book of Numbers, a wandering that went for forty years in the wake of a 40-day scouting trip.  It might have been different for Israel, and it can be different for us.  Return with me for a moment to that fateful event that would forever shape their nation.

  • It begins with leadership (Num. 13:25ff).  The spies chosen were “leaders” among the 12 tribes (13:2).  Obviously, they had sway with the people (14:1).  Because of their negative influence, the people went the wrong direction–into the wilderness and ultimately to their deaths.
  • It involves faith-driven obedience (Num. 13:30). Caleb understood this and argued for the people to proceed on that basis.  Yet, their reaction was the opposite of obedience.  Moses, Aaron, and Joshua warned them, “Only do not rebel (emph. mine) against the Lord…” (Num. 14:8).  That very rebellion, called “iniquity” by Moses in his prayer to God (Num. 14:19), cost them the promised land (Num. 13:23ff).  Instead, they earned a trip into the wilderness. Why? Hard-hearted disobedience and unbelief (Heb. 3:15, 18-19).
  • It includes courage (Num. 13:25-33).  The majority of the spies lacked the courage to act and obey.  They were content to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:2ff). They would rather face bondage alone than Canaan with God.  So, their cowardice was not only wrong but misplaced. They were afraid of the wrong things and the wrong ones. This fear led them into the wilderness (cf. Num. 14:9).

We live in daunting times, yet in them God still has given us a job to do.  If we do not do it or if we fail to do it the way He has commanded, we will wind up, like Israel, in the wilderness!  God give us the leadership, faith-filled obedience, and courage to follow Christ and thereby miss the wilderness.