What It Takes To Follow Jesus

What It Takes To Follow Jesus

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Luke moves from a sample of Jesus’ teaching and work in the synagogues to His teaching and work among the common people in Luke 5:1-11. For the first time, in Luke five, we see individuals responding to His teaching by following Him. Though Luke only identifies one of the men at this point, the three other gospel writers mention that Simon Peter’s brother, Andrew, was also in that number. Matthew and Mark tell us that the men in the other boat were James and John. These four fishermen would soon “be catching men” (10). Luke seems to focus his attention on the reaction these men had to Jesus, His teaching, and the impact the miracle with the fish had on them. Their reaction to Jesus mirrors the reaction we need to have when called by His Word to follow Him.

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES EXPOSURE TO JESUS’ WORD (1-4).

Luke shows us Jesus teaching in close proximity to the fishermen, but gives no clear indication of how much or if they are listening to Him. He does show how compelling Jesus’ teaching is and how the people were listening (1). John tells us, though, that Andrew had already been listening to Jesus and was trying to persuade Simon to follow Him (1:40-42). Paul’s teaching that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17) will be apparent in the lives of these followers, as Luke will demonstrate in this gospel and the book of Acts. We cannot follow one whose ideas, instruction, and incentives we do not know or believe. 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES UNCONDITIONAL SUBMISSION (5-7).

This is not a one-time act. Submission is a process that must be practiced continually. But, no one can choose to follow who does not surrender his or her own will to Christ’s (cf. 9:23-26). Jesus, the carpenter, tells these fishermen how to fish. Despite their all-night total failure at their craft, they trust Jesus’ word. Simon says, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets” (5). Success followed submission, something they would see in greater, more important ways as they continued to follow Him. Jesus asks us to do difficult and perplexing things. Our task is not to question, but simply to surrender. 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES A HUMILITY TO SEE OUR SINFUL SELVES (8).

Simon will show traits which prove him to be a work in progress, from impetuousness to inconsistency. Yet, Jesus could see his heart and the inspired Luke sheds light on it, too. When Peter sees the power of His Lord, he says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (8). All of us will disappoint Jesus in our walk with Him, but He loves a heart that harbors no stubborn pride. This is the man Jesus will choose as a leader and spokesman, one who does not try to project perfection and superiority. So it is today (1 Pet. 5:5-6). 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES PROPERLY CHANNELING EMOTION (9-10).

Exposure to Jesus left these fishermen “seized” (enclosed, completely taken hold of) with “amazement” (9). It made them “fear” (10). Others felt emotion like this who were exposed to Jesus’ power and preaching, and they audaciously reject Him (4:22-30; 8:26-39). These four men, amazed and afraid, will be prompted by this to make the life-changing (and life-giving) choice to follow Him. I have seen people in Bible studies and in their pew who realize the truth of the gospel, showing (and even telling of) remorse, dread, and anxiety over their lostness, but who just cannot make the decision to deny self and follow Jesus. I cannot think of a greater tragedy. In my own life, it is not simply enough to feel sorrow over my sin. I must allow this to move me to obedience (2 Cor. 7:9-11). 

DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES RADICAL CHANGE (11).

Luke will record several positive examples of people whose encounter with Jesus is transformational! Think the sinful woman (7:36-50), the demoniac (8:26-39), the grateful leper (17:11-21), and Zaccheus (19:1-10). Some, though, were just not willing (18:18-27). Luke records multiple occasions where Jesus warns that discipleship requires radical change (cf. 9:57-62). Other writers will contrast it as putting off the old man and putting on the new man (Eph. 4:22-32; Col. 3:5-17; Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:1ff). Here, Luke simply relates how that they immediately left everything and followed Him. While that may not be a literal necessity today, we cannot hope to have eternal life while holding onto this life so much that we are not following His will. 

These men were about to see things they could not have imagined, experience highs and lows they did not know existed, and be given opportunities they could not have anticipated. It wasn’t going to be an easy life; in fact, it would demand everything they had. But it gave them something only Jesus could give them. This hasn’t changed. If we want what they received, we must do what they did! 

Three Ways Pride Distorts Our Thinking

Three Ways Pride Distorts Our Thinking

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Some people’s sin struggles are evident. If they wrestle with foul language or lying, you can hear it. If they wrestle with immodesty or drunkenness, you can see it. Some spiritual weaknesses, though, are insidiously difficult to see–especially in ourselves. In Luke 9:46-56, in events that follow each other in very short order, the disciples’ struggle with pride is exposed by Jesus. We can understand why they struggled with pride. They were walking with the Messiah! He was training them for a special mission. Now, the only matter for them to settle was how they ranked among each other. Jesus exposes that very mindset in these verses.

PRIDE SEEKS PREEMINENCE (46-48). The disciples argue among themselves about who might be the greatest. Not only is this childish, but it reflects their short memory. They just displayed a deficiency of faith that prevented them from casting out the unclean spirit. Perhaps Peter, James, and John, given privy to the transfiguration, might have felt that if they had been among these other disciples they would have been able to cast it out. We don’t know. All we know is that Jesus rebukes the very idea of the arguing by placing a child in their midst. Children were barely noticed among first-century adults, but Jesus makes paying attention to and ministering to the least of people the mark of greatness. Discipleship is not about glory and visibility. It’s about having our eyes open to the humble and our hearts open to serving them. 

PRIDE SHOWS PREJUDICE (49-50). While some have tried to use these verses to say that there are saved Christians in religious groups outside of the New Testament church, they totally misunderstand Jesus’ point (not to mention, miss the teaching of a great many passages). What was John’s bone of contention? There was a disciple of Jesus who was doing works in His name (acting by His authority; recognizing His identity). They tried to prevent him “because he does not follow along with us” (49). They concluded this person couldn’t be acceptable because he wasn’t accompanying them. Jesus knows this man is on His side, but the disciples’ needed to hear this: “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you” (50). This territorial mentality can creep into our thinking. We should hold hands with all those who are on the Lord’s side, doing the Lord’s work. This is true if it regards the good works of others in the local congregation or if it is area congregations. 

PRIDE SEEKS PUNISHMENT (51-56). Pride shows itself in a very different way shortly after this. Jesus sends some followers on a mission, but they were rejected. James and John’s solution was to exact vengeance on them. They were anxious to call down fire from heaven and consume them. Whatever they expected as Jesus’ reaction, they had to be surprised at His rebuke. He corrects their thinking, saying that He came to this earth to save rather than destroy men’s lives. Jesus’ solution was simply to move on to more receptive hearts (56). Sometimes our impatience with others or disappointment in their displays of unbelief can make us trigger happy. Whether we are indignant on the Lord’s behalf or we feel personally slighted, we need to remember the patient, charitable response Jesus makes to those who, in the moment, refused to receive Him. That patience and kindness may or may not ultimately reach their hearts, but it is the best route to success in trying to both be a disciple and win disciples for Jesus. 

Do a Bible search and see what God says about pride. It’s at the top of the list in those deadly sins of Proverbs 6:16-19, things God says He hates! Both Testaments say that it leads to our downfall (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). So often, we see it as a struggle for those who are already in the body of Christ. I must constantly watch for this self-centered behavior, keeping my focus on other disciples, the lost, the less fortunate and weak, and especially the Lord. Let me remember that it’s all about Him and them, and say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). 

Pride Goes Before Destruction

Pride Goes Before Destruction

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

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Brent Pollard

Solomon cautioned, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16.18 NASB1995). I am sure we can think of many examples of this truth we have witnessed in our own lives. However, one that comes to my geeky mind is the downfall of Atari.

Atari was the video gaming console every child had to have from the late 1970s into the early 1980s. But then came along a glitchy game that nearly killed the video gaming console industry: “E.T. The Extraterrestrial.” Of course, we know of the movie by the same name. The film was a commercial success. “E.T.’s” director, Stephen Spielberg, wanted to capitalize on his movie’s success with a video game based on the titular character.

In addition, Spielberg wanted Atari to have the game ready for the Christmas season. Unfortunately, that timeframe only gave the developer requested by Spielberg about five months to complete the game. Spielberg’s request was not without precedent. The developer had previously worked on another game adapted from a Spielberg movie (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Nevertheless, the developer flying high atop Atari’s past success assured Spielberg that he could develop the game quickly.

The game did sell well, at first. But then the reviews came back from players. The game was confusing, tedious, and E.T. would routinely get stuck in a hole from which he could not extricate himself. Therefore, a quarter-million users returned the game to Atari, and Atari was stuck with over two million units that they could not move. This failure created a meltdown resulting in the breakup of Atari. Atari had lost over 500 million dollars. If not for the arrival of Nintendo’s video game console in the mid-1980s, introducing us to the lovable Italian plumber, Mario, one wonders if the gaming industry would be a billion-dollar industry today.

It may be that we can boast of many successes in life. Paul certainly could. Paul called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3.4-6). Yet, Paul said he counted all his gains as loss, even rubbish, for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3.7-8). If you keep reading Philippians 3, you’ll note that Paul admits that he had not arrived at his destination but pressed onward so he could attain his eternal prize (Philippians 3.12-14). Paul then exhorts us to have a similar mindset (Philippians 3.15-16).

Yes, pride causes us to become blind to things like temptation. We become so full of ourselves that we have no room for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Hebrews’ writer warns us about how easy it is to drift away (Hebrews 2.1-3). Therefore, we must be vigilant to watch our location relative to the Gospel. Paul writes: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10.12 NASB1995).

As we turn our attention back to Atari, we note that it was, at least, partly resurrected. It reported earnings of about 21 million in the fiscal year 2018. But what is 21 million compared to the half a billion dollars they lost in the early 1980s? Moreover, in the early twenty-teens, Atari filed for bankruptcy. Thus, Atari demonstrates that you cannot always get back on your feet after you stumble.

Fortunately, as Christians, we are showered by the riches of God’s grace (cf. Ephesians 1.7-8). Thus, if we will but “walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB1995). So, watch your feet and remember that pride goes before destruction.

MAKING GOD AN ADVERSARY

MAKING GOD AN ADVERSARY

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The word frequently translated “opposed” and “resist” is a compound word that means to “arrange against” (Zodhiates, np).  It was a military term describing “to set an army in array against, to arrange in battle order” (ibid.). Louw-Nida tell us it means, “to oppose someone, involving not only a psychological attitude but also a corresponding behavior” (491). This word is found in some form five times in the New Testament. Three of the occurrences refer to a person resisting another person, when the Jews in the synagogue of Corinth “resisted” Paul’s teaching about Christ (Acts 18:6), when people resist governing authorities (Rom. 13:2), and when the poor man did not resist his rich oppressor (Jas. 5:6). The other two occurrences both quote the same Old Testament passage, Proverbs 3:34, which speaks of God opposing and resisting a man. What man? Peter and James quote the proverb, writing, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). 

Perhaps you have made someone powerful your enemy–the principal at school, the boss at work, or someone else who had the power to make your life unpleasant. If you have, you know how difficult it is to thrive and succeed under such circumstances. But the Bible says it is possible to make God opposed and resistant to you. That’s unparalleled unpleasantness! Thankfully, God tells us what triggers such a response in the omnipotent God.

These two inspired writers could have written that murder, adultery, lust, lying, stealing, greed, or hatred draws His active opposition, but both single out “pride.” It goes with insolence and boastfulness in Romans 1:30, arrogance in 2 Timothy 3:2, and blasphemy and folly in Mark 7:22. Each of those passages reveals a dangerous state of mind that comes from turning away from God. 

Arrogance keeps us from admitting wrong, makes us have an inflated sense of self and a lowered view of others, leads to a feeling of self-importance, and is at the heart a self-centered point of view. All of that will damage earthly relationships, friendships, marriages, with fellow church members, and those we deal with on the job and at school. But, even beyond those negative repercussions, sinful pride makes God an enemy! Think about that. When we allow pride to take root in our lives, God arranges Himself against us. Imaging God in battle order against me conjures an image of the most uneven fight possible. Pride may cause misery and damage in my relationship with others, but more than even that it effects my relationship with Him!

The antidote is the same in both Peter’s and James’ writing–“humility.” Not pretentious, but modest and obedient to His will. It’s being lowly in heart, able to see and admit wrong and guilt, having a fair and realistic view of self that acknowledges when we are wrong. Is it easy? No! Is it fun? Not at all. But, when we actively work at being humble and eradicating pride, God will fight for us and not against us. I get to decide which way I want it! 

It is our custom for the elders to give the parents of our newborns a Bible. No wonder God uses children to illustrate humility! Here is just the latest couple of presentations, with several more to come in ’21!

THREE QUALITIES OF A FAITHFUL FOLLOWER

THREE QUALITIES OF A FAITHFUL FOLLOWER

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Two parables and an incident in Luke 18:1-17 reveal three attributes Jesus is looking for in His disciples. As you read through these verses, ask yourself if you struggle with one or more of these. The examples Jesus holds up are all lowly characters–a defenseless widow, a sinful tax collector, and babies and little children. They were all either financially, spiritually, or physically dependent on others, yet these are the ones Jesus tells us to imitate. What are the qualities?

PERSISTENCE (1-8). The parable of the widow and the unjust judge is delivered to his listeners for a specific reason, “that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (1). A widow pleaded for legal protection from a judge who neither feared God or respected men (2). She wouldn’t stop coming to him and pleading her case until finally he relented and granted her request out of frustration and annoyance at her continual coming (3-5). Jesus’ point is that the perfect God will bring justice to His elect who faithfully pray to Him (7). He ties this persistence to faith (8). Jesus is giving us insight into God’s heart and desires. He wants to hear from us in prayer, and He is influenced by our prayers. Do we have faith in that? 

HUMILITY (9-14). Jesus launches into a second parable about prayer, to highlight another necessity in the practice of it. He focuses on an unlikely duo, a prominent religious leader and a contemptible tax collector. Both enter the temple, both for the purpose of prayer. Both prayers are recorded. Jesus evaluates them. The first prayer, uttered by the Pharisee, is self-directed (he prayed to himself), self-righteous (God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector), and self-promoting (I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get). He shows no recognition of or need for God. He’s pretty self-satisfied. The second prayer, uttered by the tax collector, is selfless, self-indicting, and self-emptying. Jesus notes his hesitance (standing some distance away), abjection (even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven), emotion (beating his breast), and honesty (his entire prayer is, “God be merciful to me, the sinner”). Jesus’ analysis? The second man was the one who went home justified, not the first. Jesus’ point is explicit: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (14). I may know more sophisticated ways to exhibit my pride and self-righteousness, but the response and result will be the same in heaven. Faithful followers humbly recognize their need of God’s favor. 

RECEPTIVITY (15-17). Parents were bringing their children to Jesus at this time so that He could touch them. We aren’t told why the disciples rebuke them for this, though it could be they were wrestled with pride of position or self-importance. Jesus corrects their course, telling them to let the children come to Him. In fact, He says, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (17). He tells them that the kingdom of God belongs to those like these little children. How so? They were dependent on others (15). They were apparently willing (16). They were open (17). Certainly, this is a great exhortation to us as parents, to bring our children to Jesus in the impressionable years of life. But beyond that, there is an admonition to each of us to keep child-like faith and recognize our need to come to Jesus in order to have a place in God’s kingdom.

Often, we think that being in the kingdom is about us daring and doing great things for God. But, doesn’t it begin with our having the lowliness of heart to come to Him, persistent, humble, and receptive? These three qualities put the focus on His attractiveness, ability, and power. If we allow ourselves to be tools in His hand and recognize that it’s about Him and because of Him, then we’ll be faithful followers. 

“Self”

“Self”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Think about what “self” does to some wonderful concepts:

  • Righteousness (“To cause someone to be in a proper or right relation with someone else,” Louw-Nida 451). Jesus despised self-righteousness, “And He also told (a) parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). We should be eager for God to declare us righteous, but slow to do so for ourselves. 
  • Service (“functioning in the interest of a larger public, rendering of specific assistance,” BDAG 230). Jesus proved that service centers around ministering to and helping others (John 13:12-17). Notice the tack which reveals one to be spiritually mature. “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1). 
  • Interest. While the word isn’t found in the New Testament, the idea is there and so translators include it in passages like Mark 8:33, 1 Corinthians 7:34, and Phllippians 2:4,21. Each of these passages urge us to focus on others rather than self. Meanwhile, Scripture warns against selfish ambition (Rom. 2:8; Phil. 1:17; 2:3; Jas. 3:14,16). 
  • Love. There’s a specific word for love in the New Testament that we’re encouraged to demonstrate, toward God (Mat. 10:37; 1 Cor. 16:22) and fellow Christians (Ti. 3:15). But, Paul warns about how dire the world becomes when men become lovers of self (2 Tim. 3:2).
  • Justification (“to take up a legal cause; to render a favorable verdict,” BDAG 249). Scripture often uses this word to speak of God doing this for us through Christ (Luke 18:14; Ac. 13:39; Rom. 2:13). But, it is an ugly thing when we manipulate and distort facts and truth to justify self (Luke 10:29; 16:15). 
  • Will. We are all equipped with a free will, with which we should serve the will of God (John 7:17). Yet, Scripture exposes as wicked those who are “self-willed” (2 Pet. 2:10). Paul warns against appointing a man an elder who is “self-willed” (Ti. 1:7). Such is arrogance. It comes from one who thinks he or she is better than anyone else, looking down on others (Louw-Nida 763).

But for all of these ways “self” can get in the way of God’s plans and desires, self is not always a qualifier of destructive behavior. Notice what else Scripture says. There is “self”:

  • Denial. It is indispensable to spiritual discipleship (Luke 9:23). 
  • Sacrifice. It is integral to spiritual transformation (Rom. 12:1). 
  • Discipline. It is imperative to spiritual survival and eternal reward (1 Cor. 9:27). 
  • Control. It is included in spiritual fruit-bearing (Gal. 5:23). 

Further investigation into God’s Word would no doubt reveal more examples like these, but here is the point. Our old self is to be crucified with Him (Rom. 6:6). It is to be laid aside (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). When this truly occurs within us, we will not place self above God and others. We will devote ourselves to the kind of lives that reach the lost, strengthen the saved, glorify God, and ultimate save ourselves (Acts 2:40).

The Fall Before The Fall

The Fall Before The Fall

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

The Bible indicates a battle between Satan and his rebellious followers in several key passages. The reason for this spiritual spat is not given to us in great detail but we are told that it began after they abandoned their rightful habitation (Jude 1:6). While many have speculated as to what and how this happened, we simply aren’t told. Some have also made the argument that this event took place after the Creation of the world, but this is also not certain. Genesis 2:1 says, “the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts.” While that may seem to clearly indicate that angels must have been created alongside everything else, Job 38:7 states that angels gave “shouts of joy” after the creation of stars.

The spiritual conflict ended with Satan and his apostate followers cast from the heavenly realm (2 Peter 2:4, Rev. 12:14, Jude) just before, it seems, the creation of earth with the Archangel Michael taking a significant role in his defeat and expulsion. 

Satan seems to have been at one time a high ranking Angel who thought he somehow stood a chance against his very Creator. That is a ridiculous thought! The application of this historical (pre-historical?) event is evident. Nobody, whether Angel or man, can win against God’s will. It’s mind boggling to imagine taking on God Almighty in some kind of battle, yet Paul tells us in Romans five that we were enemies of God at one point while living in sin, and are currently waging a war with God if we are living in sin. We should let that long ago battle in the heavenly realm be a reminder to us that God always wins the war. He’s already won! Now is the time to make sure that you’re on the side of the truth and triumph and not the devil and the defeated. 

 

Six Lessons From The Tower of Babel

Six Lessons From The Tower of Babel

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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(Happy birthday to Janelle)

Dale Pollard

 
We all know the story of the Tower Of Babel. It’s the event that gave us all the diverse languages of the world. That account is not just for our entertainment or education, but there are many spiritual applications that can be pulled from the event. Here are just six from Genesis 11:1-9. 
  1. What we are building will only be successful if God designed the blue prints. What are we building? Where do we choose to place our time and effort? Making a name for ourself? Making the most money? Getting the most pleasure out of life? If this is the life we’re building, like the foolish man that’s a life built on sand. 
  2. We are free to do as we want, but for every bad decision there are consequences. 
  3. There is a truth to what God said about our ability to accomplish much as a unified people. There’s also a positive side to this not so positive account. When the church body is unified there is no limit to what we can accomplish. When there’s dissension we are weaker. 
  4. Ignorance does not mean a blissful existence. It was ignorant to think that a closer relationship with God involved building a stairway into the sky that in their minds would allow God to have the ability to descend to earth. The opposite is true. God built us a way to go to Him. 
  5. Be mindful of the presence you keep and the vision you share. It seemed that most if not all mankind at this time was unified under one vision. “To make a name for themselves,” they worked together. They planned, schemed, spent resources and time to build something that would change the world forever— but it wasn’t God’s vision. The presence you keep and the shared vision matters. What are we building? 
  6. Accounts in the Bible that seem unrealistic or mythical should not weaken our faith but strengthen it when we do our due diligence in digging into His word. God is capable of great things, and that hasn’t changed. We serve a powerful God who has big plans for the world. Are we willing to side with Him? 
A 4-H Club No Christian Should Join

A 4-H Club No Christian Should Join

Tuesday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Were you ever in the 4-H Club in school? It is an organization teaching skills you might not learn at home, urging you to get involved in your community, and helping you with a wide variety of life skills from public speaking to caring for animals. The acronym stands for “head, heart, hands, and health.” Their slogan was that you learn by doing.

In Matthew 23, Jesus gives His harshest barrage of condemnation in the Bible. He didn’t aim it at godless, irreligious heathens, but to religious leaders. They were faithful churchgoers who professed faith in God, but Jesus calls them on some glaring problems that made God reject them . 

THEY WERE HYPOCRITES (3-4)

They told others to observe things but they didn’t do them (3). They laid heavy burdens on others but were unwilling to life a finger to move them themselves (4). While hypocrisy can be defined as being a spiritual chameleon, acting one way with the righteous and another way with the world, is also hypocrisy. Seven times in this chapter, Jesus says, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” The world sees double standards and a person who says one thing and does another as a hypocrite. It doesn’t necessarily make them bitter or angry. It makes them not care. They are conditioned to expect that all Xians are hypocrites. Being hypocritical only reinforces and heightens the stereotype. But the Bible calls for us to have a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5). We are to possess pure and undefiled religion, which is objectively measured (Jas. 1:27). We have an opportunity to blow the stereotype by being the genuine article who reflects the attitude and speech of Christ each day with the world.

THEY WERE HOLLOW (5)

If there’s anything worse than beauty that’s only skin deep, it’s religion.  Jesus condemns those who did all their deeds to be seen of men. The world is repelled by professed Christians who don’t take time to see them as people. Often, they feel as if their only importance is as a potential convert or as a sinner to be judged. If we’re not careful, we fail to see every person as precious to God. That includes the immoral, the edgy, the rough, and the square peg. They see us doing or saying good things, but it’s hollow. We may do it be be noticed as a good, godly person, but we miss the opportunities to actually do good and be godly with those we interact with. Paul says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5-6).

 THEY WERE HAUGHTY (6-12)

They wanted honor, respect, and recognition. Jesus diagnoses their problem as one of self-exaltation (12). 2. It was the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable on prayer who thanked God for his perceived superiority over other people (Lk 18:10). The world sees smug, self-righteousness as a total turn off.  Jesus later says that these folks were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful outside but full of dead men’s bones (27).  This is not the religion and life Jesus calls His followers to live. He describes greatness as service (11) and self-denial (16:24). The world will never be won to Christ by proud Pharisees. It takes humble hearts and helping hands to point people to Christ. 

THEY WERE HARSH (13-15)

Christ says, “But woe to you, scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (13).  This is how the world sees all Christians, as Judge, jury and executioner. They don’t see the love of God and the grace of Christ.  They see exclusive, isolated people who have written off everyone else. Jesus suggests that those they reach are those likeminded (15). Some people are drawn to harsh and hateful rhetoric, but they don’t make good converts of Jesus—if they stay that way. Jesus told His disciples that their identifying mark should be love (John 13:34-35). This world is an unloving place and so sincere love will reach people. At first, they may not believe we could be the real thing, but persistent compassion and grace will ultimate reach the honest heart.

The world doesn’t need Christians who compromise the truth. But they do need to see transformed disciples (Rom 12:1-2). We can be righteous without being self-righteous; We can be courageous without being callus. Matthew 23 shows that this is a must, if we will practice true righteousness. 

via “freebibleimages.com”

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

Daleheadshot

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