Three Reasons To Work For Each Other

Three Reasons To Work For Each Other

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

In I Thessalonians 1.2-3, we’re motivated to work for each other for three reasons. First is our faith, which is a confidence that Jesus is coming back for us. It’s enough to make us go out of our way for each other. Our love for God is another motivator. We love God because he promised us a life with Jesus forever. Because he showed this kind of love, we show the same love to each other. Our hope is the last motivator listed in this section. A better word for this is anticipation. According to research led by Dr Andrew Huberman (neurobiologist and behavioral scientist at Stanford School of Medicine), anticipation is one of the strongest human emotions. This makes perfect sense, as our anticipation of Jesus’s return is why we live the Christian life. This is almost a word-for-word parallel to I Corinthians 13. 

I Thessalonians 1.4-6 reminds us that God loves us, so he chose us to be rescued. A few thousand years ago, God chose Israel to be his special people. When they were faithful to him, they enjoyed physical blessings and a relationship with him. God chose us to live with him forever. We’re his special people. Paul also points out that we can trust God to deliver on his promise. This will show up again later in the letter. God promised that we’ll live with him forever when his son comes back for us. Faith means confidence or trust. When we trust God to deliver on his promise, we’re demonstrating faith. 

This section also teaches that we can find happiness while we’re suffering. The anticipation we have of Jesus’s return is the only reason this statement is true. If this life is all there is, we’re the most miserable group of people in the world. What makes death, suffering, and anxiety worth the pain? How can we have any semblance of sanity when all the bad stuff happens? We keep going because he promised he’d come back for us, and because this life is short any way! 

Gary Pollard
The 11th-Hour Man

The 11th-Hour Man

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

70 or 80 years we live,

That rule for many holds true

But a guarantee that nobody can give

Is when Christ comes or living is through.

But I saw a man near the end of that span

Heart softened by the truth

Fully obey the gospel plan

Though gone were the days of his youth.

He’d heard God’s Word preached repeatedly

From many able men

Discussed his need, heard many a plea

To arise and wash away his sin.

Loved ones, family and friends

Prayed often for his decision

Wanting his soul purified and cleansed

To see life with heavenly vision.

The persistent concern of a godly man

Who revisited his soul’s condition

Watered much sowing over that man’s lifespan 

Resulting in godly contrition

I heard him confess his faith in Christ

And watched him go under the water

His heart surrendered, his will sacrificed

Christ’s blood was his soul’s sin blotter.

I tell you his story to move your heart

To the power of sharing with persistence

It’s never too late to do your part

To overcome a delayer’s resistance.

Jesus taught a moral tale

Of a landowner seeking for workers

Who paid a fair wage for a job done well

To the finishers, no pay for the shirkers

The householder sought workers all day

Found some morning and noon, yet some late

Despite different hours, they all got the same pay

Which made the more seasoned workers irate

But the master was generous, it was his call to make

The offer was freely taken by all,

The moral is simple, there’s an offer to take

There’s an answer to make to God’s call.

Some respond in the sunrise of living

Others come in the heat of the day

But however late one’s commitment is given

To those faithful at death He gives eternal pay.

This isn’t to encourage delaying

Tomorrow is not guaranteed

But in Scripture it goes without saying

No one’s too old for God’s grace to intercede! 

Galatians

Galatians

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

Galatians is written to a group of non-Jewish Christians. Paul converted them with a simple message: Jesus came to earth to give us grace and immortality. We get that by believing what we’ve heard about him coming back to life and by being baptized into his grace. At some point, Jewish converts infiltrated their church and started aggressively promoting Jewish traditions. They told the Galatian Christians that if they really wanted to be saved, they needed to follow certain Jewish customs. The entire book is both a refutation of that teaching and a dire warning to any Christian who tries to add to God’s requirements. 

Jesus’s sacrifice was to free us from this evil world we live in. Romans 8.22-25 says, “We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain like a woman ready to give birth to a child. Not only the Earth, but we also have been waiting with pain inside us. We have God’s Spirit as the first part of his promise. So we are waiting for God to finish making us his own children. I mean we are waiting for our bodies to be made free. We were saved to have this hope. If we can see what we are waiting for, that is not really hope. People don’t hope for something they already have. But we are hoping for something we don’t have yet, and we are waiting for it patiently.”

The whole purpose of Christianity is to anticipate Jesus’s return, and help the rest of the world face that day prepared. Paul reminded the Galatians that they weren’t saved by any old human way. The only legitimate source of truth and hope is God. 

Can These Dry Bones Live Again?

Can These Dry Bones Live Again?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail 

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Dale Pollard

Six hundred years before Christ would make His providential appearance, a righteous man finds himself in captivity. While exiled, Ezekiel was able to witness the spirit of God in a very intimate way (Ezekiel 1). Even so, he was still living under the thumb of the Babylonians like every other Israelite with him. While under these unideal circumstances though, he is privileged to see awe inspiring visions from God. Have you ever paid attention to the eerie sensations described throughout this book? In Ezekiel 1:4, the prophet feels a great and stormy wind on the bank of the river Chebar. The wind brings with it a massive cloud with fire flashing around it and a substance like glowing metal in the center of it. The wings of the creatures he saw (verse 24) made sounds like that of roaring waters. The voice of the Almighty was like the sound of a great army camp. What sights he was able to see! This great connection to God didn’t take away his pain or sorrow, though.

Chapter 19 is one long lament as Ezekiel cries over his hard-hearted Israelite brothers. Why won’t they listen to him? Even after Ezekiel performs some radical visual illustrations like eating his bread over dung and laying on his side for an entire year, they won’t respond to the “invitation.” How frustrating is that, preachers? God never abandons His faithful servant but His confused prophet is still left to wonder what God is going to do about the mess which makes up his reality. A familiar feeling for many faithful Christians today.  

Never underestimate the hand of the Almighty. This truthful statement can be pulled from Ezekiel 37, when the prophet is taken up and then placed in the middle of a dark valley. Ezekiel is surrounded on all sides by heaps of dry human bones and he’s probably wondering why in the world God has taken him to such a place. The text answers the question by asking a question. God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Can these dry bones live again?” What an odd thing to ask. However, Ezekiel responds, “Only you know, oh Lord.”

It’s always when we’re deep in the valleys of life that we’re forced to answer the difficult questions about God’s abilities. When we’re surrounded by darkness, the question we have to ask is, “Does God have the power to see me through this?” If you remember, Ezekiel has become frustrated with the fact that Israel just won’t listen to him or Him. He’s lost hope in their ability to change— they’re just too far gone. However, God demonstrates to His prophet in a dramatic way that NOTHING is impossible for Him. 

He doesn’t bring the bones to life in the blink of an eye, but we know He could have. Instead, He allows Ezekiel to hear those bones rattle and to hear the sounds of fibers and flesh sticking together. He wanted to leave an impression on Ezekiel to demonstrate the might of the Almighty. Ezekiel had no idea how those bones came to life, but he knew one thing for certain. God did it. You may not understand why God has allowed you to enter your valley, but you can be certain that He has the power to see you through. You are standing on your two feet because God has given you the strength to do so. God has promised His faithful servants a heavenly light at the end of our tunnels and whatever God says— He will always accomplish (Ezekiel 37:14). 

WHEN GOD CONQUERS A HEART

WHEN GOD CONQUERS A HEART

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The story of Rahab the harlot is one of the better-known stories of the entire Conquest Period. Perhaps it is because it occurs before but is connected with the most famous (and first) place to be conquered, Jericho, but it is also because of who the heroine of the story is. Three New Testament writers mention her, Matthew for her place in the Messianic genealogies (Mat. 1:5), the writer of Hebrews for her faith (Heb. 11:31), and James for her works (Jas. 2:25). But, there is no escaping who she was or how she made her living when Israelite spies paid her a visit. The Hebrew word, ZANA, means “to commit fornication, be a harlot, play the harlot, illicit heterosexual intercourse,” TWOT). They say, “Such persons received hire (Deut 23:19), had identifying marks (Gen 38:15; Prov 7:10; Jer 3:3), had their own houses (Jer 5:7), and were to be shunned (Prov 23:27)” (ibid.). She is not only a Canaanite, but she operated a sordid business.

But from the moment we hear from her in Scripture, we can see that there is much more to her than the aforementioned description. Despite the fact that she needed to do more growing (don’t we all?), she shows the difference God can make in even the most unlikely places. What do we find in Joshua two?

When God conquers a heart, one will be ruled by His authority (2-5). The Bible doesn’t sanction Rahab’s lie, but consider for a moment that she was ordered by the King of Jericho to surrender the two spies from Israel. She feels no allegiance to the earthly ruler, and she will explain that it is because of her faith in Jehovah (9). If God has conquered our hearts, won’t we say with Peter and John, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)?

When God conquers a heart, one will help His people (6-7,14-21). She saved the spies’ lives. She hid them and helped them escape. She recognized these men as God’s servants doing God’s business. She wanted to serve and protect them. Ultimately, she lets them down through her window and enables their escape (15, 20). Those whose hearts God possess are allies of the righteous (Mal. 3:18). 

When God conquers a heart, one has faith in God’s provision (8-13). Nothing in the text tells us that the spies preached to her, yet somehow she had arrived at the conviction that she could have hope of salvation. She says she knew God had given Israel the land (9), something these spies’ fathers most likely did not believe (cf. Num. 13-14). She saw how afraid her fellow-citizens were of God’s wrath and power, working through His people (9). She had faith based on the signs and works God had performed from the Red Sea to the Amorites (10). It led her to acknowledge God as “God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (11). Therefore, she asked, in exchange for protecting the spies, for the deliverance of her family and herself (12-13). She hadn’t seen the battle yet, but she believed that it belonged to the Lord. It takes genuine faith to draw a conclusion like that. We’ve not experienced death, the resurrection, the judgment, and an eternal destiny, but do we have faith that God will provide for us through them (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-9)? If God possesses our hearts, we do!

When God conquers a heart, one will meet the conditions of salvation (14-21). The spies made the salvation of Rahab and her family conditioned upon three things: tie a scarlet thread in her window (18), gather all she wanted to be saved into her house (18), and not tell anyone these spies’ business (20). There was no picking and choosing what she preferred to follow. Obedience meant the difference in life and death (5:25). So today, a heart which God owns will not shun to do anything His Word commands. There’s no arguing, bargaining, debating, or rationalizing, but instead a faith that does what God wills. 

The spies’ mission was a great success and Joshua was encouraged (22-24). They were ready to do battle, ready to conquer. Back in Jericho, there was a woman born into a life of godlessness who had lived a life of worldliness who now faced the hope of happiness and righteousness. Great things follow when we allow God to conquer our hearts! 

Neal’s Note: I send out an email most mornings that I call “The Lehman Learner.” I walk through books of the Bible (in the past I’ve done the Psalms, Luke, 1-2 Corinthians, 1-2 Kings, etc.). This article is from last week. If you would like to receive The Lehman Learner, write to this email and request it. You will be added to the mailing list.)

Much More Better

Much More Better

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

Jesus wants us to have a perfect eternity with him because he sees us as family (Heb. 2.11-14). He took drastic measures to make sure anyone who wants to could easily get a passport to heaven. 

  • He took a 33 year demotion to save us (Heb. 2.9). The engineer and fabricator of reality stepped down to an entry-level position so His own creation could abuse and kill him. 
  • An immortal being allowed Himself to die. He did this to experience what all of us have to experience (2.9). 
  • The best pulmonologists have a respiratory disorder (or a family member with one). They empathize and know from personal experience what works. Jesus was the perfect person to give out freedom because He personally experienced what we go through. If someone’s going to be in charge of handing out grace, who better than someone who can empathize with our struggles (2.10; 17,18)? 
  • He makes us perfect in God’s eyes (2.11). 
  • He brags on His family to the father and to the faithful dead who are hanging out with Him until judgment (2.11-13; 12.21-23). 
  • Death is scary and uncertain, but not for Christians. Satan used our fear of death against us (2.14; cf Rom. 8.15), but Jesus confiscated Satan’s power.  
  • He made God very accessible, which makes it easy to stay faithful (4.16). 
  • He’s better than ancient human priests – and even they were gentle/patient with ignorant and weak believers (5.1,2). If they were patient with ignorant, weak believers, He’s even more patient (5.5-10). 
Teens stand for Scripture reading at recent Summer Youth Series (Chase Johnson reading)
 Homesick For Heaven 

 Homesick For Heaven 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

There is so much debate out there as to what Heaven will actually be like. Some make the argument that we just can’t know for sure. We know that there will be no tears in Heaven, so since that is the case there will definitely be some meatloaf there. Because in a place where there is no meatloaf present, I would cry. Now with that out of the way, let’s look at three quick promises about Heaven.

First there is the promise of “relationship.” In Revelation 21:3 it says, “He will dwell among us…” Not just any relationship, an actual relationship with Jesus Christ.

The second promise is that of “Relief.” In the very next verse it says, “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” How many of us can’t wait for that day?

Now the third promise is one that is pulled from a verse that many people do not like to read. In Revelation 21:8 we see that there is a promise of “refuge.” You see, Heaven is going to be so great because of who will not be there. After we get a glimpse of what is promised to those who love Him (James 1:12), we see what is promised to those that don’t. Yet even here we see a blessing. Heaven is going to be place that is absent of, “…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars…” Heaven is going to be a place filled with family. The faithful Church family.

I’m going to Heaven! It’s a choice. It’s a choice to live right and follow Christ no matter what. You have the ability to say it confidently and you should never have to wonder if you’re going to Heaven. It’s a promise! Take hold of that promise, because it’s the only thing that matters.

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“It Shall Stand Forever”

“It Shall Stand Forever”

Neal Pollard

Kathy and I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, in February of 2006. It is an ornate, historic building. It dates to the 1100s, surviving the threats of many wars including World War I and World War II. But, it has been dilapidating for some time. Earlier today, a fire inside the spire caused it and one of its towers to collapse. Now, officials are saying that the whole frame is burning and will not survive. Whether or not they rebuild this Catholic Church building, this 900 year edifice will be gone.

There are buildings that have been around millennia before New Testament Days on most of the continents. If they continue until the Second Coming of Christ, they will cease to exist that day (2 Pet. 3:10). King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream over 500 years before Christ, and God helped Daniel understand its meaning (Dan. 2:28). The colossal figure he saw in that dream was a vision about the coming Kingdom of Christ. Daniel says, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44). 

A careful study of unfolding history reveals this particular kingdom to be the church of our Lord, a Kingdom Jesus said would be established during the lifetime of some of His disciples (Mat. 16:28). It would come with power (Mark 9:1), a promise Jesus reiterates in Acts 1:8-11. That power came by way of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Through this means, the Lord’s church was established in Jerusalem that day (Acts 2:37-47). The Roman Empire, which ruled the earth that day, eventually collapsed. No nation or empire can rival the spiritual Kingdom of Christ. His church will stand forever (Heb. 12:28). Nothing can overtake or overpower it (Mat. 16:18). 

Assaults against the church have been ongoing for twenty centuries. At times, it has been invisible to recorded history, but it continues to stand. Her members have been assaulted many times throughout the centuries. Property has been destroyed. Possessions have been taken. Lives have been lost. But, still she stands! This Kingdom shall stand forever! A Divine promise encircles it. This confidence is fire proof! 

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Notre Dame Cathedral before today’s fire

Singing With The Understanding: “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus”

Singing With The Understanding: “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus”

Neal Pollard

Most of us have favorite songs and hymns. My favorite category of hymns is songs about the cross. I love the somber, dramatic feel of Beneath the Cross of Jesus, a hymn penned right after the close of the Civil War by Elizabeth C. Clephane and one set to the music we sing with it by Frederick Maker a dozen years later in 1881. The cross of Calvary is treated as a metaphor of protection for one in a wilderness. One might envision the wandering Israelites making their way to the Promised Land and apply that, figuratively, to our journey through this world of sin toward heaven. But the song will change scenes multiple times until, in the last verse, it is a most personal challenge to each of us to be faithful disciples of this crucified Lord.

The first verse introduces the foot of the cross as a shadow of a mighty rock where we find relief and a home to rest in from trials and difficulties while pilgrims in a weary land (the world). We might easily think of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Some songbooks have a notation to define “fain,” a word used in the first line. It means “gladly.” I am happy to shelter behind Christ’s cross in adversities.

The second verse builds upon the metaphor of the first verse, then subtly shifts to an event from the book of Genesis. The cross is, again, a shelter and refuge. But, then, he shifts to an allusion to Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10ff). He has left his father’s house and his brother’s wrath and beds down near Haran. He lays down, using stones for a pillow, and falls asleep. Moses writes, “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (12-13). This is where God reaffirms the promise He had made to Jacob’s grandfather and father to make of them a great nation. It symbolized hope, reward, and heavenly assistance. The song writer says the cross is just like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, except that I ascend to heaven by way of the cross. Again, Clephane uses a poetic, if obscure word, in this verse: “trysting.” The word means “meeting.” At the cross, God’s perfect love and justice meet. His love is shown and His justice satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice.

The third verse becomes a straightforward look at a literal remembrance of the graphic, horrific suffering of Jesus on the cross. She focuses on what our reaction should be–a smitten heart, tears, and a proper conclusion. How great is His love! How unworthy I am that He would demonstrate it to me (cf. Romans 5:8).

The last verse is the challenge to respond to that sacrifice. We are to live in the shadow of the cross, daily reflecting upon it and letting it affect how we live. We are to ignore all else to focus on Him. Clephane seems to allude to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:14, if ever so subtly. Too, there’s a challenge to not be ashamed of Jesus and the cross, but reserve our shame only for the sin in our life that made the cross necessary.

It is beautifully and intricately woven. Despite some unfamiliar, even archaic, poetic words, it is powerfully written. What a great song to prepare our minds for the Lord’s Supper or to sing when our motives gets clouded and our priorities get muddled. May we take the time, when we sing it, to consider the truth it teaches and the challenge it contains.

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Characteristics of Hope

Characteristics of Hope

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

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