The Vale Of Bandits

The Vale Of Bandits

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

The Valhermoso Springs Resort was a gathering place for those seeking treatment from the famous Sulphur and mineral springs. The three springs were even used by the Indians for the same reason— adding yet another vale of mystery to the area. Despite being a place that attracted visitors from all around the world, including European and French royalty, there are only three low quality images of the place. Walking through the dense brush and stepping over toppled stones can give one the impression that this spot is determined to keep its secrets

In the upper room there was a dancing hall with slat boards covered in tile. During the civil war, confederate soldiers were hidden by Mrs. Geirs who was a hot-blooded rebel sympathizer. 

One of many legends surrounding this resort is that of the visit of famous outlaw Jesse James. It’s rumored that a man matching the description of Jesse rode in one night from Huntsville after robbing a bank. He wore two leather bags slung over his shoulder as he dismounted his horse. At some point, it’s unclear how he was discovered, but the law came knocking on the resort’s front door. Jesse’s stealth and cunning kept him alive during the bloody guerrilla skirmishes of the civil war, and they would help him escape the clutches of justice time and again. Legend says he left the hotel in a hurry— without his two leather bags. Did Jesse James stash his stolen goods in a cave or bury it? There’s not even hard evidence that the outlaw made a stop at the tavern, or even robbed a bank in Huntsville. 

In Numbers 13 there are twelve spies who go into the land of Canaan for forty days. Their goal was to make observations that would help them conquer it as well as bring back reports about the kind of land it was. Upon their return only Joshua and Caleb are willing to take on the giant challenges that they’ll need to overcome in order to claim Canaan. Sadly, the message that the people chose to believe was that the giants were even bigger than God. What evidence did they have? Not a shred. God had proven His might and power throughout their time in the wilderness. He’s the one who directed the children toward Canaan in the first place! The fear in the crowd and the report of ten cowardly spies was contagious. 

If we’re not careful, we might end up believing what’s not based in fact, too. We might be tempted to believe that Christians are a weak minority who can’t do a thing to change the culture. We might be tempted to believe that nobody is interested in spiritual things anymore. We might begin to believe that the world is bigger and stronger than the God who spoke the world into existence. Of course, this is simply not true. 

Relics found by Dale and Carl on the site of Valhermoso Springs Resort

“Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide”

“Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide”

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

Our younger and non-U.S. readers may not be able to relate to the economic news that the U.S. economy is experiencing inflation, unlike anything we’ve seen in 40 years. Indeed, this period of “stagflation” (i.e., stagnant economy plus inflation) began even before my birth, noticeably during the Administration inherited by Gerald Ford after Richard Nixon’s resignation.  

The genesis for this economic downturn started with the decision of President Nixon to take the United States off the gold standard in 1971. It was necessary to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts but was only a short-term solution. Had government become fiscally responsible, they could have gotten the nation out of debt and reinstituted the gold standard. But, rather than curb spending, the government began spending more since they could print more bills. And Ford was honest to a fault, from a political perspective, since he admitted the poor state of the Union in his address in 1975. 

“I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good: Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow. This year’s Federal deficit will be about $30 billion; next year’s probably $45 billion. The national debt will rise to over $500 billion. Our plant capacity and productivity are not increasing fast enough. We depend on others for essential energy. Some people question their Government’s ability to make hard decisions and stick with them; they expect Washington politics as usual.”1  

Looking to make a change, Americans voted for the Democrat candidate running against Ford in 1976. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger swore in President Jimmy Carter on January 20, 1977. However, instead of bringing positive changes to the economy, things grew worse under President Carter. Ironically, candidate Carter had successfully used Arthur Okun’s “Misery Index” in his campaign to highlight the miserable performance of Ford’s economy.Yet, it would not be long until the “Misery Index” became an albatross around Carter’s neck. Carter’s opponent in the 1980 presidential race, Ronald Reagan, even made a point to note that Carter was mum about the “Misery Index” of his tenure.3 I dare say that most laymen still associate the “Misery Index” with Jimmy Carter, not Gerald Ford.  

The CPI (consumer price index) is used to gauge inflation. Unfortunately, it has risen to 8.5%.4 To curb inflation, the Federal Reserve Bank will inevitably raise interest rates. The simple explanation for this is that the Federal Reserve Bank wants to discourage you from spending money. So, with rising interest rates, that new automobile or house will cost even more, and you will decide to make do with what you have. As a result, demand will decrease and theoretically lower inflation. The only positive thing resulting from such an economy is that your savings account will finally accrue more interest. The bad news is that the money you earn will not have the same buying power if inflation is high.  

I was but a child, but I recall the stagflation of the Carter Administration. My father preached for a domestic mission church in west Georgia. He received financial support from a congregation in Tennessee but still had to find other employment periodically to provide for his family. Briefly, my mother even tried to get a job as a seamstress at a Hanes factory outside of LaGrange, Georgia. We lived austerely and had more than one of Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” However, my father could parlay those savings into later real estate purchases when the economy improved. The point is that even Christians experience lean times, but they don’t last forever. 

Would you believe that this is what Paul talked about with his financial supporters in Philippi? He told them he had learned to get along with much or little (Philippians 4.11-12). Paul said that even meant having to go hungry at times. Yet, he could do it because Christ gave him strength (Philippians 4.13). So, yes, that oft-quoted verse is about money. Though it is nice to think we can tap into our Lord’s power to accomplish difficult tasks, like quitting a bad habit, we should not lose sight of the context, especially in a terrible economy.  

David said long ago that he had never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging for bread (Psalm 37.25). Indeed, Jesus reminds us that God will supply the needs of those seeking Him and His Kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). But our necessities are just that, necessary. Beans and cornbread can sate hunger as effectively as filet mignon and mushroom Bordelaise. So, God is not promising you the “king’s dainties” (cf. Daniel 1.8 ASV). But you will receive enough sustenance to maintain life.  

Moreover, as a Christian, you have the added blessing of your church family. The first Christians saw after one another’s needs, even selling their property to help support their brethren (cf. Acts 4.32-35). I am not suggesting that things will become bad enough today to necessitate such drastic measures, but it is still encouraging to know that we have others watching our backs. Indeed, they will help us with our burdens as we help carry theirs (Galatians 6.2,10). 

Yes, things may get worse before getting better. The younger generations may not know what to make of these things. And we might see people sinning as the post-exilic Jews who robbed God by withholding their tithes to Him (Malachi 3.8-12). In these times, God encourages more generosity, not stinginess. As He told the Jews of old, He is more than capable of opening the portals of heaven to shower us with blessings. Do not lose that faith and trust that as we learn to do without, we might also learn how to properly conduct ourselves when we abound in this world’s goods. 

Sources Cited 

1  Ford, Gerald. “President Gerald R. Ford’s Address before a Joint Session of the Congress Reporting on the State of the Union.” Gerald Ford’s 1975 State of the Union Address, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/speeches/750028.htm

2  Phelan, John. “The Return of the ‘Misery Index’.” American Experiment, Center of the American Experiment, 27 Jan. 2022,www.americanexperiment.org/the-return-of-the-misery-index/

3 Ibid 

4 McCormick, Emily. “Inflation Rises by the Most since 1981 as CPI Jumps 8.5% in March.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 12 Apr. 2022, finance.yahoo.com/news/consumer-price-index-cpi-inflation-march-2022-123202319.html

The Fruits Of Restoration

The Fruits Of Restoration

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

There is nothing like the satisfaction of completing a task that was especially hard-fought and challenging. But, there was Judah in Ezra’s day in Ezra six after Haggai and Zechariah’s message propels them to the finish line concerning the temple (14). After earlier opposition from their neighbors, Judah is assisted by the most powerful nation on earth “with all diligence” (13). It was not nearly as glorious as the original temple (3:12; Hag. 2:3), but it was rebuilt and available for Judah to use to worship God as before the captivity.

Consider some of the fruits of their obedient, faithful efforts from Ezra 6:13-22. These are the some of the fruits of restoration.

Joy (16,22).

In a world where everybody just wants to be happy, few know genuine joy. The happiness for the people here is so intense and deep-seated because God is the source and reason for it. They celebrated the dedication (16) and Ezra says “the Lord had caused them to rejoice” (22). There is a unique, genuine joy available to those who are seeking to build their lives and religion according to the Lord’s pattern (Rom. 15:13). 

Faithful Worship (17-20).

Following the revealed instructions from God through His leaders, the people were now enabled to dedicate the temple (17), appoint the priests (18), and observe the Passover (19-20). They have returned to the proper place, people, and practice of worship. That is the epitome of restoration. When we submit to the instructions of the New Testament regarding who leads (1 Tim. 2:8,11-12), where we participate (Heb. 10:24-25), and how we worship (cf. Col. 3:16-17), faithful worship, when done in proper spirit, follows (John 4:24). 

Purity (20-21).

The ones who could participate in the Passover were those who had purified themselves. That started with the leadership (19) and extended to the rest of the participants (19-20). It mandated separating from “the impurity of the nations of the land” (20). They could come before God with pure and holy hands (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8). Think about what Peter tells believers: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:22-23). 

Divine Aid (22).

Do your best and try your hardest, but you will fall terribly short without this factor. God’s providence paved the road and opened the door to restoration. The Lord “…had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God.” “The Lord had caused them to rejoice.” One of the fruits of seeking to restore God’s will and ways in our public and private lives today is this assurance. Jesus promises, “I am with you always” (Mat. 28:20). “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you so that we can confidently say, The Lord is my helper…” (Heb. 13:5-6). 

Be body builders, building the Lord’s church the Lord’s way. Let’s go all the way back to the Bible. The end result is a multitude of blessings (Eph. 1:3) like those mentioned in Ezra 6:13-22. 

The Lord Will Provide

The Lord Will Provide

Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

Harold Nicks

In Genesis 22, we have the story of Abraham where God instructs him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. We know from the text that God was testing Abraham and we know that God stopped him and then provided a ram to sacrifice instead. Because of God’s provision Abraham named that place THE LORD WILL PROVIDE! Three months ago, a tornado devastated many parts of Bowling Green affecting some of our own members, as well as many others in the community.

We have witnessed the outpouring of help and concern by the aid and donations made over 100 congregations and individuals – giving their money and their time to help those who have lost their homes and possessions. God has used us as the facilitators of this aid and used it as an opportunity to show His love and tell people about Him. We can honestly say THE LORD WILL PROVIDE.

I want to keep with the theme of God’s provisions but change the verb tense to THE LORD HAS PROVIDED!

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED us with a magnificent world to live in. In Genesis 1 we read that everything he made was good and He has provided everything we need to enjoy a fulfilling life. As Spring approaches (my favorite time of the year) we will see God’s handiwork as the trees begin to bud and flowers bloom and He created it all for us.

David wrote in Psalms 8 : “when I consider your heavens the work of your fingers, the moon, the stars you have set in place What is man that You are mindful of him.” He loves us and has made this world for us to enjoy.

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED each of us with talents, abilities, and opportunities to serve….and He expects us to use them to serve Him, as well as our fellow man. The Bible instructs us to use our talents and gifts to the best of our abilities as pointed out in Matt 25 in the parable of the talents and again In Romans 12: 6-8, Paul says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED us with a peace in times of trouble. Those who do not know Him can’t really understand. With Covid and all the political turmoil in our country and the war in Ukraine we can still have the assurance of God’s love and understand HE is in control.

We read in Philippians 4:6-7 to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. His assurances are also given to us in Romans 8. Verse 31 says, “If God is for who can be against us. In verse 38 and 39 Paul encourages us with these words “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

THE LORD HAS PROVIDED us with a way to live with Him for eternity through Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

He has provided reconciliation through Jesus – He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach (Col. 1:22).

He has provided redemption through Jesus – In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7).

God has provided many things for us, but most of all is the way to live with Him forever. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

If you are searching for peace and a way to be with God for eternity, He has provided a way.

Talking About Fear

Talking About Fear

Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

Travis Harrison

The fear I’m talking about is not the kind that tells us be cautious or keeps us from harm, it’s the kind that fills our hearts and minds with doubt, apprehension, and anxiety. When this fear keeps us from doing things that please God, things that he expects from us and commands of us, it is a big deal. 

When preparing for this I was given the advice that we should speak about things we are familiar with.  I say that because fear has kept me for a long time avoiding opportunities such as this. I have never given a devotional before tonight. It is because of that Fear I mentioned. This type of fear convinces us of things that aren’t true.  It convinces you that you’re not good enough to get up here and speak. You are not qualified or educated enough to speak to a group of people; you care too much about what people think of you and the things you say. It convinces you that you are terrible at public speaking, you won’t speak well, or say the right things. This is my personal fear, but all of us here tonight deal with fears that keep us from doing what God wants us to do and what pleases him.

A great biblical example of this is:

  • Moses,  in Exodus 3: 8-10 when God called him to go lead Israel out of Egypt and speak to pharaoh. 
  • In vs 11 you can tell he is afraid because he says, “who am I that I should go to pharaoh and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” God is quick to reassure Moses “I will certainly be with you.” 
  • He continues in chapter 4:1 to make excuses to God “what if they will not believe me or listen to my voice” So, God sent miraculous signs to help convince the people. 
  • In 4:10 he basically said I can’t speak “I’m not eloquent, I’m slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  So, God reminded him who made man’s tongue, have not I?! He then said He would be his mouth and teach him what to say. 
  • And finally in vs 13 he even asked the Lord to send someone else. We should never get to this point. 
  • We should always look to God, put our faith and trust in the Lord, because fear is not from God. He is a God of love and fear does not have to consume us. 
    • We should always trust in God when we are afraid. If we draw near to God, he will cast out that fear. In Isaiah 41:10, God reassured Israel – “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand”
    • II Timothy 1:7 reminds us that “God gave us a spirit NOT OF FEAR, but of power and love and self-control”.
    • “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So, we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” in Hebrews 13: 5-6
  • Ultimately, we can’t let fear keep us from doing what God has commanded of us – we are to go into all the world to spread the gospel with everyone. How can we do that if we carry around the burden of Fear. 
  • In closing tonight, I want to ask each of us to think about what gets us out of our comfort zone when it comes to doing the will of God? Is it speaking to someone about Christ? Is it inviting our friends or co workers to come to worship service with us? Maybe having a Bible study with a complete stranger? Perhaps leading a devotional for the first time, or maybe leading singing. 
  • Whatever those things are, we should set aside our fears, put our trust in God, let our hearts be full of Love, not Fear. We should be on fire for God as Jeremy said last week.  We as Christians are capable of much more than we realize but how will we ever know those capabilities if we are too afraid to try. 
  • Philippians 4:13 doesn’t say I can do some things….it says I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • How amazing is it that we serve a God that loves us so much, and says he will always be with us, that he will never leave our side. He tells us time and time again we have no reason to be afraid. 

(From Travis’ first-ever devotional delivered at Lehman on Wednesday night, 2/16/22)

God’s Solutions For Our Problems

God’s Solutions For Our Problems

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

blond man with goatee smiling at camera with blazer on
Dale Pollard

It’s been said that the there are more stars in the known universe than all of the sand on earth combined. That being said, in just one grain of sand there are more atoms than all of the stars. That’s pretty amazing. Our planet is but a speck in the grandeur of space. Countless stars, planets, galaxies, lightyears and somehow God is well aware of the happenings of people. Have you stood on the mountain tops? Have you observed the power of the oceans as the waves crash on the shore? Has your heart almost stopped after the vibrating sensation of a thunder clap resonates in your chest? The might of the Creator is everywhere in the world around us and at times it just demands to be noticed. 
A section of scripture that is mysterious and fascinating is found in 1 Kings 19:11-13. The Lord of hosts is about to show Himself to a depressed and exhausted Elijah, but in a way that he would never forget. “The Lord said, ‘go out on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to stand at the mouth of the cave. Then the voice said, ‘what are you doing here Elijah?’” In the solitude of Horeb, Elijah seeks to avoid the troubles of his world. 
The acoustics of the mountainous area along with the time spent in silence must have made the shattering rocks, raging fire, splitting hills, and rumbling earth all but deafening and definitely a terrifying display of divine power. Then in sharp contrast, a still whisper comes. This gentleness, no doubt, is the reason Elijah decides to cautiously emerge from his hiding place. God is teaching His worn-out servant a lesson that holds true for us today. The fact is, there is no more God, His wisdom, power, and presence in an earthquake than there is in the sweet breath of a blooming flower. The quiet ticking of a wrist watch reveals just as much intelligence and purpose as does the striking of a clock tower’s bell. 
One may walk out into an open field at night and stare up into the vast sky, lit up with numerous twinkling stars and declare, “I’ve found God!” But God is no more in the sky than He is in the blades of grass flattened beneath your feet. The question came to Elijah from that still voice, “What are you doing here?” To the prophet, his problems were too great and too large and his solution was to run and hide. God, in a magnificent way, is trying to remind Elijah of his place.
 Our place in life is not to take matters into our own hands or solve life’s many difficulties on our own. The answer is not to run away, but to walk humbly with our awesome God. He is strong enough to lift our burdens, wise enough to counsel us, patient enough to allow us to learn, and loving enough to constantly forgive. 

More About God

More About God

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

 

Carl Pollard

It’s physically impossible for us to know everything about God. Our minds wouldn’t be able to comprehend Who He Is, but this doesn’t give us an excuse to not try and know more about the Creator. When I was younger, I believed in God. I knew He existed, but I failed to grasp some very important things about God. For example, how much He cares for us. 
Matthew 10:31-32 says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that God cares for you personally? When we pray to Him, He takes the time to listen to our problems. People pay thousands of dollars for someone to listen to them. This care that God has for us is greater than anything on earth.
With this in mind, we need to spend more time trying to grow our relationship with Him. John 3:16 shows just how badly God desires to call us His own. God loved the world. He cares for us and wants us. Knowing how much He cares for us, let’s use this to work harder in our relationship with God. Earthly relationships take work. If we love someone it takes effort to have a healthy relationship. It takes time, commitment, sacrifice, and communication. It’s the same in our relationship with God.
My parents used to say, “Remember who you are and Whose you are.” If we would understand more about God, the fact that He is our Father and that He is the source of Love, we can live right for Him. Knowing these things about the Father brings understanding. We now understand that,

A personal knowledge of God leads to

–A Prayerful Life (1 John 5:14) 

–A Peaceful life (2 Thes. 3:16) 

–A Purposeful Life (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Photo credit: Pixabay
Does God Only Shelter Some In A Storm?

Does God Only Shelter Some In A Storm?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

I’ve heard some say of a house left standing after a tornado or hurricane that God must have spared the structure’s owner from material loss because of their righteousness. But, unfortunately, such statements imply that the neighboring destroyed property belonged to the unrighteous. Yet Jesus said, “for He (God) causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5.45, all ref. NASB1995 unless otherwise indicated). 

Even amongst the destruction, though, if someone is observant enough, he sees what he chooses to call miraculous. However, since a miracle is the suspension of God’s natural laws, we understand that the word “miracle” oft becomes an adjective to describe what defies human comprehension. In reality, laws of nature explain the “skipped” houses or why a decorated Christmas tree can remain amidst a room, missing its walls and a part of its ceiling. 

For example, there can be what scientists call “suction vortices” within tornadoes. Within a more significant tornado, these many vortices move in a looping, cycloid pattern that will hit some things while completely missing others.1 In other words, the hand of God was in the creation of the natural laws resulting in the occasional formation of tornadoes, with their suction vortices, as opposed to directing storms into particular locations.  

But did God originally intend for His natural laws to include such destructive phenomena? Think back to the world God initially created. God called it “very good” (Genesis 1.31). What changed? Humanity used its free moral agency to sin, bringing change to the world. In fact, things got so bad that God destroyed the original world. Peter says, “…by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3.5-6). 

Among those mechanisms that God put into place in the world emerging from the flood are the weather patterns that spawn tornadoes and hurricanes. The patient patriarch, Job, observed the following regarding the wisdom known to God: “…He imparted weight to the wind and meted out the waters by measure…He set a limit for the rain and a course for the thunderbolt…He saw it and declared it; He established it and also searched it out” (Job 28.25-27). 

Now, the point of our devotional today is not to increase the misery of those having suffered loss during what insurance companies euphemistically call “acts of God.” Yes, things like tornadoes and hurricanes do arise because of sin. However, it is not a part of the chastisement God sends upon us (cf. Hebrews 12.4ff). So, if you want to see God after a tornado, do not see it in a church building with no roof, but with all its hymnals and pew Bibles still safely secured in the pew racks. That is likely but a side effect of natural law.  

No, look for God in His grace. As Fred Rogers often said, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”2 Might I suggest that it is in the helpers that we see the actual hand of God? His Providence works through the people clearing debris, handing out food, and providing shelter to those who have lost everything. These fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6.2). Thus, God does not only shelter some in a storm. He provides for all of the weary through the agency of those whom He made in His image (Genesis 1.26-27).  

Sources Consulted and Cited 

1 Seman, Steven, et al. “Tornado Damage, Safety, and Myths.” Tornado Damage, Safety, and Myths | METEO 3: Introductory Meteorology, The Pennsylvania State University, www.e-education.psu.edu/meteo3/l9_p8.html

2 Rogers, Fred. “A Quote by Fred Rogers.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/198594-when-i-was-a-boy-and-i-would-see-scary

“Give Thanks To The Lord”

“Give Thanks To The Lord”

Thursday’s Column

Smiling middle-aged man with purple shirt and tie on with evergreens as a backdrop
Neal Pollard

I wonder if Kathy felt like she was living with Briscoe Darling and the boys (imagine them if they were talkative) through the years they were growing up. She is refined and genteel, words that are not usually connected to our three sons and me. One thing she impressed upon us was the importance of timely, thoughtful thank you notes. Gratitude, though it can be expressed with very little time and expense, is telling. It acknowledges the kindness and generosity of the giver. 

One of the elements of worship, generally, and prayer, specifically, is thanksgiving. Our songs call for it: “Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart,” they express it: “Thank You, Lord,” “For All That You’ve Done,” “How Great Thou Art,” “10,000 Reasons,” and “He Has Made Me Glad.” Though that songwriter, Leona Von Brethorst, apparently wrote the song from Psalm 100, she includes a line from Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made.” 

Five times in Psalm 118, the psalmist says “give thanks” (1,19,21,28,29). He urges others to do so, but also expresses his resolve to do the same. Why?

GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GOODNESS (1-4)

“Good” is a general word that takes in pleasantness, desirability, and beauty. The good quality specified here is His everlasting mercy (lovingkindness). The writer moves from the broad to the specific–Israel, house of Aaron, those who fear the Lord. Everyone is the object of God’s lovingkindness. The righteous freely express their thanks for it.

GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DELIVERANCE (5-13)

There is a sudden, dramatic shift in tone in verse five. From an upbeat, positive tone, he turns to thoughts of trouble and difficulty. Distress, hatred, being surrounded, and violence threatened him, but God was there for him as protection and help. This kept him from fearfulness. It gave him refuge. 

It is an amazing thing to think of all the ways and times God has been with me, but those are just the instances I’m aware of. How many trials has God spared me from, disasters has He caused me to avoid, and troubles has He averted for me that I won’t know about on this earth? Just what I do know humbles me, and it should fill my heart with gratitude. 

GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GREATNESS (14-17)

The writer turns to the Giver. He is strong, a Savior, valiant, and exalted. Summarizing God’s qualities, the writer says, “I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord” (17). Awareness of who God is for me, physically, materially, and spiritually, will drive me to grateful thanks.

GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DISCIPLINE (18)

Though it is almost a parenthetical phrase in the middle of this song of thanksgiving, it is important and an additional reason for gratitude. He writes, “The Lord has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death.” Who is brave enough to say that with the psalmist? He implies gratitude for God’s severe discipline. Hebrews 12:7-10 tells us that God disciplines those He loves and calls His children. It is for our good and allows us to share His holiness. Can I thank Him for the trials and challenges that refine me and grow my dependence on Him? Or do I just plaintively ask, “Why?”

GIVE THANKS FOR HIS PROVISION (19-29)

He uses the imagery of a city here–gates, stones, and chief corner stone. Then, he ends with a temple analogy, with the house of the Lord, festival sacrifice, and the horns of the altar. Saved inside God’s walls of protection, we are free to offer worship which He accepts. We marvel, we rejoice, we are glad, we prosper, and we extol. He has given us light. The primary thrust is not material, but spiritual. However prosperous or impoverished you are, financially, however strong or weak you are, emotionally, we have the greatest provision of all in Christ. Eternal salvation, the hope of heaven, fellowship with God and the saved, the church, strength to endure, the list is endless. 

Today, as you go through the day, why not stop and spend time in prayer to God thanking Him categorically: physical blessings, relationship blessings, emotional blessings, national blessings, and spiritual blessings. No doubt, there are things in your life right now that are dissatisfying and disappointing. You may be struggling mightily. Perhaps those are ways God is disciplining you in His love. Whatever is happening in your life, choose to give thanks and know God is trustworthy! It’s more than polite. It’s righteous!

Ascending Hearts And Hills

Ascending Hearts And Hills

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

Fifteen consecutive psalms (120-134) are so-called “Psalms of Ascent.” They were given this name because they were songs designated for the Israelites to sing on their way to worship in Jerusalem. Moses had instructed them at the giving of the Old Law, “For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the Lord your God” (Ex. 34:34). You can imagine how especially those who came a long distance to Jerusalem (it’s over 100 miles from Mt. Hermon and Beersheba, for example) might benefit from a reminder of why they were making this lengthy journey. As most would walk, this would help pass the time while preparing their minds. This is not a bad idea for us even on a 10 or 20 minute drive to the church building on Sunday morning. 

There is quite a bit of uneven terrain, mountains and valleys, in the area around Jerusalem, and the temple required a steep climb as there were three valleys surrounding Mount Zion and the temple complex. So, people coming from every direction would have to “go up to Jerusalem” (Zech. 14:17; John 2:13; 5:1). But, it was more than a physical ascent, this trip to the temple. It was more significantly a spiritual ascent, an effort to get closer to God. While we can and should draw near to God daily in our personal devotion, there is still great significance and benefit when we join each other in the presence of God to worship Him and fellowship with Him and each other (Heb. 10:24-25). Each time, this should be an ascent for us! 

Notice the repetitive use of “will” in Psalm 121. The word is used eight times in these eight verses. The word points to the future and indicates either anticipation or trust. The writer is confident, especially of what he expects God will do. Such assurance had to take his heart higher!

I WILL LIFT UP MY EYES TO HIM (1)

He starts with what he will do. The writer will look up to God, seeking help and strength. A heart ready to worship is one who sees things as they really are. I am spiritually destitute and needy, and I depend on God for everything. When that is my mindset, I am prepared to praise, thank, and petition Him!

GOD WILL HELP ME (1-2)

Whatever problems, distractions, struggles, and temptations are weighing me down and wearing me down, God will help me! His power is proven. Just look at the creation (2). He has not lost an ounce of strength from that moment to now.

GOD WILL NOT LET ME FALL (3)

The terrain around Jerusalem is often rocky and uneven. I suppose it is easy for anyone’s foot to slip on those roads up to the holy city. But, spiritually, it is a different matter. If I fall, it will not be God’s fault (John 10:27-29). If I hold to God’s unchanging hand, I will successfully complete my journey.

GOD WILL NOT FALL ASLEEP ON THE JOB (3-4)

Night and day, moment by moment, God is alert. He sees everything I do and everything that is done to me. How comforting to know that the All-seeing eye never droops or closes. He does not nod off, even for a moment. 

GOD WILL GUARD AND PROTECT ME (5-8)

Half of this psalm is devoted to this idea. God is not just passively involved, watching me. He is actively involved, keeping me (5,7), providing me shade (5-6), protecting me (7), and guarding me (8). Our God is not inanimate! He is involved! It is why we pray. It is why we trust in His providence. It is why we serve and obey Him. As we love to sing, “There is a God! He is alive. In Him we live and we survive.” The writer of Hebrews quotes three Old Testament passages (Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5; Psa. 118:6) to convey two promises: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (13:5-6). 

When you enter to worship, enter with the heart and faith of the righteous pilgrims on their way to the temple for one of the annual festivals. Come with your heart ready, and come with a heart full of faith and trust in the object of your worship. You will leave rejuvenated and resolved.