Categories
compassion forgiveness grace Uncategorized

A NEW WAY TO HANDLE PRODIGAL SONS

Neal Pollard

Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord.  It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10).  His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too.  It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown.  “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).

Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons.  Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant.  There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God.  The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.

How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time!  As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind.  The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father.  Yet, the father allowed the son to depart.  The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home.  The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected.  He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed.  In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.

We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23).  We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness.  We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home!  Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!

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Categories
anticipation preparation Uncategorized unexpected

When You Hit An Elephant In Enid

Neal Pollard

No, not Enid, Kenya, or Enid, India. Enid, Oklahoma. On November 4, 2009, a Wednesday night, Bill and Deena Carpenter were returning to their home from church services. Driving down the highway in their SUV, Bill at only the last second saw the 4,500 pound animal standing in the middle of the road. He attempted to evade the pachyderm, but the eight foot Asian elephant was too big to miss. The good news is that neither the humans nor the elephant were seriously injured. The massive mammal had escaped earlier that day from a circus set up at a nearby fairgrounds. It seems to me that there are a few important reminders to consider from this bizarre incident.

IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE OUT OF PLACE. Enid is an unusual place to (literally) run into an elephant. Elephants just do not roam our countryside in America. Some things are incongruous and not just elephants running free in Oklahoma. Worldly Christians, aimless shepherds, inactive deacons, scriptureless preachers, warring brethren, and the like are more out of place than an elephant on the lam in Enid!

IT IS A REMINDER THAT SOME THINGS ARE TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. When is the last time your friend or loved one warned you to be on the lookout for elephants on the loose as you drove home? You just do not anticipate the need for such a warning. Some things cannot be foreseen, can they? How many of our trials and difficulties came with clear, sufficient warning? Certainly some do, but many more do not! Furthermore, what a reminder that the second coming of Christ will not come with signs or prescient warnings (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Matt. 24:35). The problems and adversities of this life often cannot be prepared for, but that coming, great, and unexpected day can and must be anticipated.

IT IS A REMINDER THAT EVEN THE BIGGEST ISSUES CAN BE MANAGEABLE. No doubt, Bill’s life flashed before his eyes. As he yelled “elephant” at the last second, he might have had time to think that this would be his last word. Mercifully, all parties escaped serious problems. What at first appeared catastrophic now makes for the story to end all dinner-party stories! How often do our looming problems seem overwhelming and utterly devastating only to pass like a storm with dark clouds and thunder but no damaging winds, rains, or hail? Too many times, we are so paralyzed by fear and worry over our personal challenges that we miss opportunities for spiritual growth and development (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7; 1 Cor. 10:13). We do not face a difficulty too hard for the Lord to handle.

No, you almost certainly will never hit an elephant driving down the highway this side of an African safari. Yet, you will be called to be salt and light in this world, a challenge that may make you awkwardly stand out at times. You will face the unexpected, both now and ultimately. You will also face supersized but surmountable issues in life. Do what you can to prepare, then leave the rest of it in the omnipotent hands of God!

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Categories
ignorance salvation Uncategorized

Carelessness And Ignorance

Neal Pollard

Of course it happens on a week where you are already running a little late, and it contributes to an improper decision.  Sunday morning, en route to teach my Bible class, I approached the red light at Ken Caryl and Wadsworth to turn right and head up to the church building.  However, I did not execute a clean stop but rolled through it (since I could see that no cars were close enough to overtake me).  Unfamiliar with the mandatory use of the acceleration lane, I pulled on into the right lane of northbound traffic.  It was about fifteen seconds later that I noticed the State Trooper inviting me to pull over and chat about it. Truthfully, I did not realize I had rolled rather than stopped and I did not realize that I had to use the acceleration lane first. The extremely polite officer let me know that my ignorance and relative indifference did not make my actions lawful. Only because of his kindness and the validity of my insurance and registration did he let me go with just a warning. But, I was “dead to rights.”  It would have been an expensive lesson for a man who has been driving for 30 years as of this year. Oh, and I was 30 seconds late to my Bible class, too.

I will claim that I am a courteous and ordinarily lawful driver with a clean MVR (motor vehicle record), but that did not make me exempt from Colorado driving laws.

It is sobering to contemplate the great day of judgment. “All nations will be gathered before [Christ]” (Mat. 25:31). “Each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12; cf.  2 Cor. 5:10). “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16). “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). While every child of God will be the benefactor of amazing grace available to all who walk in the light (Ti. 3:7; 1 Jn. 1:7), there will be moral, upright people lost for eternity (Mat. 7:21-24). God will deal out fiery retribution to “those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Th. 1:8). Despite this, they will pay the penalty of eternal destruction (2 Th. 1:9; cf. Mat. 25:46).

I cannot help but think of how many people will stand before the kind, beneficent Christ and claim ignorance or carelessness. He will have demonstrated great patience and doled out so many “second chances” (2 Pet. 3:9), but His long-suffering will have been exhausted in that day “when He comes to be glorified in His saints” (2 Th. 1:10). May we “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pe. 3:15) and make sure we are in compliance with His reasonable expectations.

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Categories
mercy Uncategorized

Mercy Personified

Neal Pollard

Anita Geurink relates the incredible story of locals finding and rescuing a little baby boy who was abandoned in a forest outside Maseru, Lesotho. Hours later, a freak hailstorm pounded the area, damaging windows and roof, causing flooding, and striking the very spot where the baby had just been laying. The little boy already had a name, but it took on great significance in light of these events. His name, translated, means “Mercy” (Anita’s blog post).

When we look over our lives, how many times have we experienced the generous mercy of our God? We do not know what all He has spared us from, how He has protected us, or how He has delivered us. For every instance where we have seen His generous, providential hand, how many times has it been at work behind the scenes unbeknownst to us?

The apostle Paul deals with a difficult subject in Romans 11. God’s sovereign choice, summarized at the end of this discussion, can be hard for us to understand or accept. Paul concludes, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (33-36). But God is neither cruel nor capricious. Paul characterizes Him as one who desires to show mercy to the obedient. The Gentiles received mercy through the rejection and disobedience of the Jews (30). But God still longed to show mercy to the Jews (31). He withholds His mercy only to those who persist in disobedience (32).

If only we can see ourselves as the little orphaned Lesothoan boy, vulnerable and helpless and in need of rescue, we will not harden our hearts against the kindness and mercy of God. Hosea seems to speak of a literal orphan who finds mercy in God (14:3), but the New Testament repeatedly speaks of us as spiritual orphans who received greater mercy, shown by His love, grace, and forgiveness (Eph. 2:4; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:10; Jude 21).

By no means does God’s mercy exempt us from obedience. On the other hand, we should humble ourselves by remembering, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Ti. 3:5). You and I were more helpless than that abandoned baby in that forest in South Africa. He can enable us to overcome and do great things to His glory, but we must never forget that He does that! Have you thanked God for His “great mercy” today?

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Categories
forgiveness grace mercy salvation

What Do We Make Of God’s Second Chances?

Neal Pollard

We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.”  A kid kicked it hard and I caught it.  As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain.  Something wasn’t right.  My parents took me that week to see the local doctor.  He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver.  My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital.  Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was.  Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.

Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view.  I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go.  With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.

All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation.  We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us.  Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.”  We passed from death to life.  More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10).  You may have messed things up badly in your life.  You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you.  Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  God is the God of the second chance!  His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts!  Trust in the Great Physician.  He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!

Picture of me (2nd from left) about a year after the surgery.
Categories
Christ Hebrews Lord's Supper

Mission Accomplished

Neal Pollard

Reader’s Digest tells the story of Walter Wyatt, Jr., an amateur pilot whose plane goes down in the Atlantic between the Bahamas and Miami, Florida.  He’s in the deep all night, fighting off bull sharks and feeling he will not survive.  He does live and a ship, the Cape York, rescues him after sunrise the next day.  He wearily climbs on board and kisses the deck.  He is saved, but he needed outside help to save him from the depths and from certain death.

So it was with us.  As the song suggests, we were sinking deep in sin and far from the peaceful shore.  Jesus lifted us, and He did so through Calvary.  Yet, He saved us from a fate infinitely worse than death by a physical predator.  Each Lord’s Day, we have the opportunity to remember this as well as He who rescued us.  As Paul once said, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:9).  In Hebrews two, we consider three important truths about the Man who saved us from death.

First, He is over us (Hebrews 2:1-10).  He is our Lord and Master.  He is over us by right of accountability (1-3).  In other words, we are reminded that each of us are accountable to Him.  We cannot escape if we neglect so great a salvation!  He is also over us by right of approval (4), namely God’s approval (cf. Matthew 17:5).  During His ministry, Jesus demonstrated His power to prove His identity (cf. Acts 2:22-24).  Further, He is over us by right of authority (5-8).  We read, “For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him.”  Then, He is over us by right of arrangement (10).  He is our Creator.  He made us.  He knows us.  Finally, He is over us by right of affliction.  By virtue of His passion, Christ has compassion.  For all these reasons, we see Jesus as One who is on a par with none.  Before He was in a manger or up on a cross, He was in the beginning with God and as God (cf. John 1:2).

Second, He is like us (Hebrews 2:11-14).   No matter how much we like or dislike a king or president, we may feel like he or she is unreal or unlike us.  We cannot relate to their lives, and we are certain they can relate to ours.  Yet, Jesus, though King of kings, is a Savior who is like us.  We are of the same family, the human family (11).  He associates Himself with us (11-12).  Then, He shared in our humanity to the fullest, to the point of experiencing death for us (14).  Nobody can rightfully say to God, “You don’t know what it is like!  You don’t understand!”  He is fully divine and became fully human, making Him uniquely able to relate to both the Father and humanity.

Finally, He is for us (Hebrews 2:15-18).  The last few verses serve as final pieces of evidence proving how Jesus is on our side.  He has done His part to take the fear out of death (15; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:19-20).  Of all created beings, He gives His aid to us (16).  He longs to be our High Priest (17).  He wants to help us when we are tempted (18).  Of all the Great Cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), who do you think is leading the cheers for those of us trying to make our way through this world and up to heaven?

A decade ago, I said a sentimental goodbye to the “Black Bullet,” my 1985 Chevy Custom Deluxe pickup which I traded in on a “new” 1992 Dodge Dakota.  I had to go to the DMV and transfer my tag and title.  They did not charge much for vanity plates, so I chose “PRCHNG1.”  This seemed clear enough to me.  As I picked up a number at the front counter,  I had my tags in hand and the receptionist saw them.  She said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try that. I bet that’s so fun. Is it scary?” I was confused. She said, “Your tags. How long have you been parachuting?” PRCHNG1 stands for “Preaching One.” I thought it was clear, but apparently my fellow motorists had been concluding that I was in some airborne division or maybe purchased hand guns. This dear lady misunderstood me, my work, and my interests.

Let us not make that mistake with the Savior we pause to commemorate each Sunday.  He is over us—He’s our King!  He is like us—He’s our brother!  He is for us—He’s our friend!

Categories
humanity love of God poetry

Remember I Am Dust (Poem)

Neal Pollard

I read the words of David today
They were so full of hope and trust
They spoke of God’s merciful way
That He is mindful we’re but dust.

He knows that transgressions we commit
That His forgiveness is a must
His lovingkindness He gives those who try to quit
Because He knows that we are dust.

Like David, I’m glad God has not dealt
Just with justice toward my anger, sin, and lust
As exalted His nature, so His tender heart will melt
Because He’s mindful we are but dust.

Like a father pities his erring child,
He reacts with compassion, not disgust,
When we fear Him, we learn He’s tender and mild.
He is mindful that we are but dust.

So as I embark on this unique day,
I know God is holy, perfect, and just,
But He balances this with a most merciful way
As He dwells on the fact that we’re but dust.

How should I treat you, my fellow pilgrim
Who’s also driven by imperfection’s fierce gust?
May I see you as I’m seen by Him,
And remember that you are but dust.

Extend you grace and excuse your stumbles,
Be willing to forgive, forget, adjust,
Because David’s inspired truth forever humbles,
He is mindful that we are but dust!

Categories
grace

Can He Accept Me As I Am?


Neal Pollard

Can God accept me as I am?  I know me better than I know anyone else—my thoughts, feelings, motives, intentions, desires, temptations, and attitudes.  I know I have sin in my life, and I have for many years.  I know I struggle today and I will continue to struggle until He takes me home or He comes again.  Can He accept me as I am?

No!  Not without a heart of resolve or an attempt to please and serve Him.  Not without obedience to the best of my ability.  Not without submitting to His Word and His plan.  Not if I am defiant and self-ruled.  Not if I continue to serve sin in order to get more grace.  Not if I am trying to write the rules or make it on the basis of my righteousness.  Not if I feel I can somehow earn His acceptance or do enough good or avoid enough bad to force His hand and make Him accept me.  Can He accept me as I am?

Yes!  He made the plan.  He set the promises and defined the conditions.  His Son offered the sacrifice.  He has the power and ability to cleanse my sins as I walk in the light.  After I have lived the way He wants me to, to the best of my ability, He provides the grace that bridges the gap between my best and perfection.  He refers me to Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the Prodigal Son, the woman who was a sinner, Peter, Saul of Tarsus, prostitutes, and sinners, the tax collector praying in the temple, the rabble, and the rest, and He says this is what is possible for you!

Can I accept that He can accept me?  Perhaps that is the question that needs addressing first.  His grace and my obedient faith is the roadway to divine acceptance.  Heaven depends on my accepting that!