What Are You Prepared To Do?

What Are You Prepared To Do?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

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Brent Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

A Message To Mankind

A Message To Mankind

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

 
Someone once said, “There are two reasons I know the devil exists. Number one, the Bible tells me so. Number two, I’ve done business with him.” There is no denying that the world is filled with sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The penalty for sin is condemnation. The wages of sin is death. Every time we sin, death is the payment.
 
Under the old law, people would watch as an innocent animal was slaughtered on their behalf. They would watch as these animals bled to death knowing that it was THEIR sin that caused it. In the New Testament we learn that our sins brought about the the death of Jesus. A pure and holy sacrifice, sent once and for all mankind (Romans 5:8).
 
But the death of God’s Son brings hope to mankind. This sacrifice means that our sins are not unforgivable. We can come before the throne of God and have them taken away. The Bible tells us of God’s love for us, and how badly He wants us to live with Him for all eternity. John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
 
This message is a life-changer. But it will only change our life if we listen and obey it. Each and every person can be saved because God “shows no partiality…” (Acts 10:34). Salvation can be found, but only if we are willing to change and live according to God’s will.
 
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts‬ ‭17:30‬).
The Invitation Song

The Invitation Song

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Some of the most powerful messages are often delivered through song. If you want to really show someone how much you love them, you write a song. If you want to tell others about yourself or your family, you write a song. Songs are a great way to get across a message in a powerful way. In the church we sing songs for several reasons.
 
Paul tells us in Col. 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
‭We sing to help the word of God dwell in our hearts. We sing to teach each other. We sing admonish and correct. We sing out of thankfulness for God. Since there are so many different reasons we sing, each song has a different message. Some are encouraging, some are reminders, and some are a plea to the sinner. We call some of these “invitation songs. ” And usually these are sung after a lesson as a way to encourage lost souls to respond and return.
 
“Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet” identifies a major problem that has plagued man since the Garden of Eden, our sin. The choices we make, the way we live, has stained us. This song calls to our attention the sin problem of man. This song is based on Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
This invitation song shows us the blessing that Christ has given. Though we’ve been stained by sin, they shall become like snow. Pure, holy, undefiled. If you’ve ever spilled grape juice on a white T-shirt, that’s the imagery.
 
Sin has ruined our hearts, but Christ is the perfect stain remover. He is able to remove every spot and blemish. Rom. 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Do we really think that we could live up to the glory of God himself? Could we have fixed this sin problem on our own? No. And we sing this song to remind us of WHO our solution is.
 
Through the gift of Christ they will be removed. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
 
On an old rugged cross Jesus paid it all, and all to him I owe. I come just as I am, but I surrender all. Will you cherish the old rugged cross? Do you recognize the blessing and the blood that has washed us whiter than snow?
 
 
One of my favorite preachers delivering the invitation in Lexington, KY (2018)
You Are More Valuable Than A Yacht

You Are More Valuable Than A Yacht

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Neal Pollard III

The world’s most expensive new car is $18,000,000 (Bugatti La Voiture Noire). The most expensive house is around $2,000,000,000. According to Google, the most expensive thing in the world is apparently Walmart. It’s either Walmart or a $4,800,000,000 gold yacht. On the average US salary for a family it would take 100,000 households’ total income to purchase. Or, it would take one person 100,000 years. 

For most of us, those numbers are unattainable. That kind of value is totally out of reach. 

Jesus did something that makes those numbers look pathetic. He paid our insurmountable debt with something that cannot be valued with any mortal currency (I Peter 1.18,19; Acts 20.28). 

He values His church at one eternal blood sacrifice (Hebrews 9). We could not possibly drum up enough money over all history and economies to even approach one eternal blood sacrifice. And He paid that for us. God gave up everything to “buy” our spiritual freedom. 

I doubt myself constantly and even feel somewhat worthless at times. It’s part of our humanity! We instinctively know that we’re insignificant in this universe (Ps. 8; Ps. 144). But like David said (twice), He does care for and think about us, despite our insignificance. 

Spending eternity with God will be incredible by itself, but knowing that at death we will be face-to-face with the One who sees us as being that valuable is so exciting!! Knowing this, let’s do whatever it takes to make it there (I Cor. 6; 7; I Pet. 1.18f; Rev. 22.14-17). 

Mercy

Mercy

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

On at least two different occasions, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9.13; Matthew 12.7). It’s quoted from Hosea 6.6, but in multiple other passages God tells us that He prefers obedience over going through the motions of worship (Isaiah 1.11ff; Amos 5.21; Micah 6; Mark 7). 


This is NOT saying that worship is less important than obedience, since obedience causes us to worship. It does show God’s attitude toward those who claim to follow Him, but whose actions say otherwise. 
Listen to the force behind His words in Amos 5.21, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Israel had adopted some religious and social misconduct. 


Do our actions cause God to wince at our worship? Israel was God’s chosen nation, but when they neglected to show mercy, justice, compassion, or faithfulness, God rejected their worship and sent them into captivity. 
So what kind of worship does God love? Obedience, mercy, pursuing good, showing compassion to those less powerful, integrity, justice, and being morally pure (Amos 5.11ff). 

Walk With Me Through The Crowd

Walk With Me Through The Crowd

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.

You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness.  He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.

Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!

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THE PASSOVER LAMB

THE PASSOVER LAMB

Neal Pollard

  • Every home needed it (Exodus 12:3-4)
  • It was to be a male (Exodus 12:5)
  • It was to be unblemished (Exodus 12:5)
  • It was to be killed (Exodus 12:6)
  • Its blood was to be applied (Exodus 12:7)
  • Its blood was the difference in life and death (Exodus 12:13,23)
  • Its sacrifice was to be commemorated (Exodus 12:14-22,24-27)
  • Its sacrifice drew reverence and worship from the obedient (Exodus 12:27)

Interestingly, Paul says, “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus, as a faithful Jew, had observed the passover throughout His public ministry (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55), but He knew that the one recorded in Matthew 26 would be different. He told His disciples, “You know that after two days, the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion” (2). On that Passover, He would be sacrificed for us. Jesus of Nazareth, an unblemished (1 Peter 1:18) male (Mark 8:31; 9:31), was killed (Acts 2:23). His blood is applied (Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 9:22; 10:19; 12:24; 13:20; Revelation 1:5; 5:9) to the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-9) and is the difference in spiritual life and death (John 6:53-54). As we do every Sunday, this Sunday, which the world recognizes as Easter, we will commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus as part of our weekly worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29). 

Jesus was arrested on Thursday, crucified on Friday, lay buried all day Saturday, and arose on Sunday. Today, New Testament Christians commemorate this sacrifice every Sunday. The unleavened bread represents His body, and the fruit of the vine represents His blood. The God of perfect foreknowledge made these “emblems” part of the Passover feast which Israel celebrated the night they left Egypt, and it predated the first covenant (Exodus 20). The physical passover lamb sacrificed by Israel had significance to them in their generation and it was to be handed down to their descendants. But, God was drawing a picture that night that would be completed the moment His Son said “It is finished,” bowed His head, and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).  We celebrate and rejoice because He died, was buried, and rose again! May we never let this sacrifice lose its significance to our past, present, and future. 

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BLACK FRIDAY

BLACK FRIDAY

Neal Pollard

It was September 24, 1869. The Civll War was barely an excruciating national memory and the nation was rebuilding. That specific day was a Friday, the day a cruel scheme by two Wall Street investors was discovered and led to an implosion of the Stock Market. It was referred to as “Black Friday.” The tie of this term to the Christmas shopping season is also surprising. In the 1950s, the Philadelphia police department used the phrase to describe the mayhem brought by the combination of suburban shoppers, tourists, attendees of the Army-Navy football game, and increased shoplifting in stores. They would have to work extra-long shifts this day after Thanksgiving. It was a derogatory term until relatively recently, when retailers in the late 1980s co-opted the expression to depict the day as the day retailers were trying to take their businesses from the “red” to the “black.” This meant bargains for shoppers, the best day to get out and shop and spend. While the advent of online shopping and retail promotions have created new and additional days of holiday shopping deals, “Black Friday” still symbolizes the happy time of “the most wonderful time of the year” (information from Sarah Pruitt, History Channel). 

For the Christian, black Friday was the day darkness fell over the whole land of Palestine around 30 A.D. (Mat. 27:45). It had to take place to save humanity who were sitting in the darkness of sin (Mat. 4:16) facing the grim prospect of eternal, outer darkness (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). It was a horrible day. It was a day of seeming loss, with Jesus’ followers sensing total defeat. Jesus was undergoing six hours of horrific torture before succumbing to death. Satan seemed victorious. But God, according to His eternal, humbling, and essential plan, took that day of darkness and defeat and used it to bring the only profit that ultimately matters. It was actually a day of triumph (Col. 2:15). It became a day of victory for us (1 John 5:4). What turned that day from sorrow to joy was the Sunday that followed that Friday. That Friday death was God’s gift to the whole world, and it profits anyone who responds to it by obedient faith (Rom. 6). 

This Sunday (and every Sunday), we get to celebrate this gift and what it means to us when we take the Lord’s Supper. We think back on those dark events, thank God for what they mean to us now, and look ahead with hope and assurance to what it means for our eternal destiny. It was a day of defeat, but God transformed it into the day of victory! 

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They Saved $200, But What Did It Cost Them?

They Saved $200, But What Did It Cost Them?

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Neal Pollard

I respectfully wade into Kentucky’s most hallowed sport (basketball) because of information passed along by some diehard Wildcat fans in the eastern part of the state. A brother shared with me that Pat Summitt almost became the university’s women’s basketball coach, but they refused to pay her moving expenses–calculated at about $200. Turns out, it was 1976 and the 24-year-old future Hall-of-fame women’s basketball coach was approached by the athletic brass from Lexington about her becoming their head coach. She was making $8900 at Tennessee, and Kentucky offered her $9000. She didn’t feel she could afford to move for a mere $100, so she asked for the extra expenses. Apparently, they refused and the rest is history. By the time she died (prematurely) at the age of 64 in 2016, Summitt was the winningest head coach in NCAA women’s basketball history with 1098 wins and eight national championships (via npr.org, kentuckysportsradio.com, and sbnation.com). 

Can you imagine the way that conversation may have gone, with someone in authority (who obviously, forever wished to remain unnamed) vetoing the offer because he didn’t want Kentucky paying those exorbitant moving expenses? Who knows? It may have been unanimous or perhaps unilateral, but someone changed the course of women’s college basketball history for what in 2019 dollars is $901.79. 

Do we ever suffer from the same kind of shortsightedness, as individuals and as churches? Have we ever said “no” to something because we were unwilling to count the cost? The matter may have involved the stewardship of money and material resources and the amount may have been proportionately bigger than $901.79, yet still discounted the aid of the One who owns it all. Have we ever failed to dare and do the very mission the Lord has us here to do because we counted the cost and felt it was more than we were willing to pay? Some will have never obeyed the gospel for this reason (Luke 9:57-62). Some will have never shared the gospel with a dear friend or family member for this reason (Matt. 10:37). Some will have never been more involved in the work of the church for this reason (Mark 8:34-36). Some will have never stood up for Christ in their daily lives for this reason (cf. 1 Peter).  Some will have never given generously of their livelihood for this reason (2 Cor. 8:1-8). The reason? The cost. 

We could focus on what we gain by self-sacrifice and sacrificial service. But let us also focus on what we lose by failing to give ourselves generously for His cause. It could be that our values are distorted and we are measuring the wrong way. Remember the words of Caleb Bradlee:

Count up the joys, and not the pains;
Think not of losses, but of gains;
Keep the clouds back; gaze at the sun;
Thus life will smoothly with you run.

Our gifts are more than all our blows,
And what is best we know God knows;
And He will send His blessings down,
Some veiled; but all will hide a crown.

If we could know the meaning grand
In tears that come by God’s command,
Then sweetly should we take the cross,
And count as gain what seems a loss.

But only let us wait and pray,
Then out of night will come the day;
And pearls long hid from human sight,
Will crown our brows with holy light.
(Via Library of Congress, 1888)

“I’ll Love You Forever”

“I’ll Love You Forever”

Neal Pollard

We read it to our sons when they were growing up. We made up our own tune to the song, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” It’s been hard to remember those days in the rocking chair, reading it over and over to them, without getting tearful ever since they weren’t little boys. It turns out that many people can relate. The book’s author, Robert Munsch, reports that it has sold 15,000,000 copies (http://robertmunsch.com/book/love-you-forever). His publisher didn’t want to publish it because it didn’t seem like a traditional children’s book.

If just reading the title gets you choked up with personal memories, you may not want to read the true story behind the book. Munsch says that the song came first:

I made that up after my wife and I had two babies born dead. The song
was my song to my dead babies. For a long time I had it in my head and
I couldn’t even sing it because every time I tried to sing it I cried. It was
very strange having a song in my head that I couldn’t sing (ibid.).

He later built a story around the song, and the rest is history for millions of parents and their children. I imagine Gary, Dale, and Carl would tell you this is their favorite book from childhood. It’s certainly ours.

Isn’t it interesting that such a beautiful, intense love story surrounds something heartbreaking and tragic. Out of pain and sorrow, this incredible, enduring legacy was created. Knowing the backstory only intensifies the power of the words in the book.

Have you ever looked at the story of the cross in that light? Scripture teaches us from beginning to end that God loves us, His children. He cares for us, protects us, and wants us to live with Him forever.

But there is a backstory. In fact, it goes back to eternity. There, the Godhead made a plan to make sure we could live with Him forever. But it would require His Son dying for us in order to make it happen. Discovering that may bring tears to our eyes, but it also melts our hearts. What love! It’s a forever love, one that can make us the best we could ever be.

Here is God’s message throughout Scripture: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). In other words, “I’ve loved you forever and I’ll love you forever.”

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