What Are You Prepared To Do?

What Are You Prepared To Do?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

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Brent Pollard

In Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), loosely based on historical events, Elliot Ness must stop gangster Al Capone. Ness, portrayed by Kevin Costner, is recruiting capable men to help him accomplish his task. One of the men he selects is an Irish beat cop, Jimmy Malone. Malone, played by Sean Connery, asks Ness what he is prepared to do to stop Al Capone. Ness replies he is willing to do anything within the law. However, Malone reminds him that Capone doesn’t play by those rules, implying that Ness will have to dirty his hands to bring Capone to justice. Sadly, one of Capone’s cronies mortally wounds Malone later in the movie. As he lay dying, he again asks Ness what he is prepared to do. Malone’s death finally causes Ness to take his gloves off and give Capone a hard fight. 

Obviously, our devotional thoughts are just as loosely based on The Untouchables as the said movie was on the actual events occurring during Prohibition. Thus, I am primarily focusing on Malone’s question of what one is prepared to do. This question strikes me as pertinent to two parables spoken by Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 13.44-45. There are seven parables in Matthew 13, but Jesus gave only four of those to the assembled masses. The remaining three he spoke to the disciples alone. Of those three parables, two deal with people making an incredible discovery and the lengths they go to secure it. The Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure is parables requiring sacrifice from those wishing to obtain what Jesus equates to the kingdom of heaven. 

Wait a minute. Are these not disciples to whom He addresses these parables? Yes. So, have they not already found the treasure, having decided to follow Jesus? Indeed, they have. However, there remains something even they must do. Even though they have acknowledged that there is something special about Jesus, that He is the Messiah, there is still a price to be paid. If they wish to complete their faithfulness, they must be willing to forfeit all to secure God’s precious promises. In the case of some, this knowledge came because of a diligent search. For the others, they had chanced upon the Messiah. Regardless of the circumstances, though, both groups had to surrender everything to receive the kingdom.  

Recalling Matthew’s original audience, we note Matthew’s message is Jesus is the Messiah. Thus, he wrote primarily for the benefit of the Jews looking for the Messiah. They had to recognize that Jesus of Nazareth was He about whom the prophets had spoken, even Moses. Yet, they had to do more than mentally assent to Jesus’ identity. The believer’s conviction would cause them even to forfeit their former spiritual wealth obtained under the Law of Moses since God’s kingdom is invaluable in comparison. Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells those who would follow Him that they had to remove all stumbling blocks from obedience, even if that were a foot or an eye (Matthew 18.7-9). Jesus was using this language figuratively, of course, as He was not advocating self-mutilation. But the message is the same as that of the Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure. You must remove absolutely everything coming between you and the acquisition of the kingdom of heaven without prejudice.  

That is a sober message for those of us reading Matthew’s Gospel today. We may have satisfied ourselves with the knowledge that we have grasped the identity of Christ. Perhaps, we have even taken steps to become Christians. We are His disciples. But even to us, Jesus asks, “What are you prepared to do?” If the answer is not the equivalent of forfeiting all for the sake of the kingdom, then we have not yet done enough. As those to whom the Hebrews’ writer wrote, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Hebrews 12.4 NASB1995). The implication, of course, is Christians elsewhere in the first century were shedding their blood for their faith. Hence, the road taken by the recipients of the Hebrews letter was calmer in comparison. Thus, as I read those parables of the Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure, I must ask myself if I likewise will give my all to receive the kingdom of heaven. So then, when the situation calls for it, I must do whatever it takes to receive the kingdom of heaven. Only then will I have obtained the Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure.      

Listen! 

Listen! 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Listen! That’s how Jesus starts His lesson in Mark 4:3. He has just stepped out onto a boat so that He could speak to the large crowd that had gathered to hear Him. This was a very special sermon. Jesus is going to give the secret to all of His parables by telling a unique parable about the farmer who goes out to sow on the various kinds of ground. When Jesus said “Listen!” He was talking to a specific kind of person. 

He wasn’t interested in the one who would hear His words and then fall away later when called to stand up for their faith. He wasn’t looking for the one who would hear His words and then foolishly decide that this world had more to offer. 

Jesus said “listen!” because He knew that some would hear His words and those words would change their lives. They would live out His teachings. They would become those lamps He would later discuss later in the chapter. Those who truly listened to this specific sermon and took it to heart would bear fruit. It’s humbling to think that some only believe they’ve listened to Jesus, but on the last day will find out that they only thought they listened (verse 25). 

Are we listening to the Savior? One way Jesus tells us we can know if we and others are listening is by looking at the fruit being planted. This section of scripture is a great reminder that there are many who will not hear the Lord and His life-changing and life-saving message, but there are also those out there in our communities who are willing and waiting for us to share Him with them.

Mysterious Seeds

Mysterious Seeds

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

In recent weeks, packets of seeds have been mailed to apparently random homes across the country. Dozens of folks received the seeds, which have Chinese labels but have not been confirmed as originating from China. A few days ago, the USDA confirmed that the seeds were harmless but still cautioned recipients not to plant them. The seed packets included mint, sage, cabbage, roses, and other plants. One working theory is that this was part of a “brushing scam,” where people receive unsolicited items from sellers who then post fake reviews (Joseph Wilkerson, msn.com, “Mysterious China seeds received by Americans identified by USDA”). But, given the current political climate, skepticism–and concern, suspicion, and even fear– abound!

One of the major projects Kathy has begun in our backyard is a “cottage garden.” You can research the origin and history of these gardens, which started in England perhaps as far back as the Medieval period. These gardens have a mix of flowers, herbs, and bushes, and the more elaborate of these gardens have trees, bees, and even livestock. Ours is simpler, with climbing roses on a trellis, boxwoods in the middle, herbs planted throughout, but included among the many packets of seeds planted was a mix called bee feed.  It has been fun to see a variety of mysterious seeds appear, like California poppies, Chinese forget me not, Coreopsis, and Sweet Alyssum. We’re not sure where the tall fringed bluebells came from, but it’s incredible to see such an eclectic mix growing and thriving and demonstrating Genesis 1:11 before our eyes. 

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches several parables involving seeds. In one, a man sows wheat seed in his field, then his enemy sows darnel, a weed resembling wheat. Only after they started growing could the two be differentiated. The landowner instructs his slaves to let them both grow up and separate them at harvest time (Mat. 13:24-30). This parable illustrates the lives of the righteous and unrighteous, whose destiny will be sorted out at the judgment (Jesus explains the parable in Mat. 13:36-43). It certainly can apply to true and false teachers (lawless stumbling blocks), who can seem similar but are also distinguishable to the discerning.

Jesus also teaches the parable of the mustard seed (Mat. 13:31-33), which shows God’s power to do great things through seemingly humble deeds attempted in true faith. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the parable of the sower, the soils, and the seed. Luke 8:11 identifies the seed as the Word of God. The soils represent the different conditions of heart, three of which are futile and one of which is fertile. The sower is the one who spreads the word to people. 

Then, there is the parable of the seed (Mark 4:26-29). A man casts seed on the soil, and then gets to behold the marvel of how it transforms from seed to sprout, the soil producing it from blade to head to mature grain in the head. Then, he harvests it. The power is not in the sower, who is not around (or, in the parable, awake) when the seed produces. The growth of the seed is a marvel even to the sower. Where is the power? In the seed!

There are certainly some malicious ideas and teaching out there in the world. Sometimes, even truth can be shared from improper motivation. But, God’s Word is a seed which can produce incredible things in a heart and life that is good and fruitful. Have you ever seen someone who seemed like a poor candidate to become a Christian, much less become a force for good in God’s Kingdom? How does that happen? We can talk about planters and waterers, but God causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). You may not be an eloquent, sophisticated Bible teacher or soul-winner. You may feel you are unskilled.  But, when you share God’s Word with others, you will see the wonders of this mysterious process. It has been said that persuasion happens in the absence of the persuader, as the Word gets to work on a heart. The power is in the seed! Let’s be about planting it however, wherever, and to whomever we can, then witness the marvel of the seed producing in the recipients’ lives. It’s God’s plan! It works in mysterious ways! 

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A NEW WAY TO HANDLE PRODIGAL SONS

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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WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

Neal Pollard

In discussions about the smartest person who ever lived, William James Sidis’ name will come up as being in the mix. Though measuring IQs with a specific number is not an exact science, he is reputed to have had an IQ of 200 or more. He was reading the New York Times at 18 months old. He taught himself eight languages and made up another one. He enrolled at Harvard University at the record young age of 11. He was a professor at what’s now Rice University by the age of 17. He was a renowned mathematician. But, adjusting to mainstream society proved an ongoing problem for Sidis, whose extreme, socialistic politics and eccentric behaviors dogged him for the rest of his life. He died of a brain aneurysm in 1944 at the age of 46. With such a brilliant mind, his contributions to the world were relatively small. In fact, most of us have never heard of Bill Sidis (much information from Amy Wallace’s sometimes disputed biography, The Prodigy, Dutton: New York, 1986).

We all know people who rose from poverty, dysfunction, and perceived disadvantage who have risen to great heights in their profession and their personal lives. Those abused as children, those who grew up in homes afflicted with drug use or alcoholism, and those whose parents went through failed relationship after failed relationship, have grown up to break such patterns by becoming loving, effective parents and spouses. Some who were given little have done much with it.

Jesus teaches the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, which demonstrates the good and bad stewardship of three particular individuals. Two faithfully used what they were given, but another was unfaithful. The Lord shows us God’s dim view toward one who fails to use what he or she has been given.

Most of us are somewhere on the continuum between the one talent man and the world’s smartest man. Scripture shows us that we must be faithful stewards (1 Cor. 4:2) and that we will give an account for our stewardship (Mat. 25:14-30), whether money, abilities, opportunities, time, or whatever our relative resources. May we be encouraged to do as much as we can with what we have been given. How great to be acknowledged by Christ before all nations as one who did the most with what we had!

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CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

Neal Pollard

On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket.  It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris.  If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program.  Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.

When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement.  James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction.  The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.

To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church.  It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.

Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).  In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting.  It is no longer sin and self, but God.  What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”