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crucifixion redemption salvation Uncategorized

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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Categories
giving money sacrifice Uncategorized

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)

Categories
God God (nature) goodness love love of God Uncategorized

“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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Categories
Christian duty Christian living Christianity obedience Uncategorized worship

Do You Want A Better Life?

Neal Pollard

Who would answer “no” to that question? Who wants a worse life or a life that never gets better? But the better question is, “How do you get a better life?” Advertisers have so many answers to that, involving their currency or investment tool, their pill, diet, or workout routine, their travel agency or vacation destination, or product for your home, transportation, business, and the like. So many put so much into these promising plans, but still find their life wanting.

In religious matters, there is no room for subjective thought when it comes to what it takes to have a better life. We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. They point to their numeric size, number of programs they have, or how socially active they are. Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, not boasting of our achievements or comparing ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Genesis 4:1-16 points us to the first recorded version where more than one kind of worship was offered to God and how God rated them. But this chapter also paints a picture of two ways of living life.

Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses writes about him in this chapter. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls his works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 John 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). It seems that Genesis four shows us the better ingredients for a better way of living today.

  • Better living isn’t determined by age (1-2). Cain was the firstborn, a place of honor and privilege especially throughout the Old Testament.  But under the New Covenent, there is no spiritual advantage because of birth order. It is not a matter of firstborn, but a matter of being born again (John 3:1-7). Growing older should mean growing wiser, but reaching a milestone on a calendar does not equate to better living.
  • Better living isn’t determined by occupation (2).  Growing up, we might be tempted to see our occupation as the gateway to happiness and satisfaction, financial freedom and security, independence, and privilege.  When we look at Cain and Abel, what they did for a living wasn’t the determiner of the quality of their lives. Some occupations can stand in the way of better living, whether the nature of the job or the quality of the people one works with. Some can let their jobs stand between them and their relationship with God and His church. But, one can do right in unfavorable work circumstances, staying faithful to God.
  • Better living is determined by worship (3-4). That statement may be offensive to our multicultural world that says there are no absolute rights or wrongs. Contrast our culture’s thinking on this matter with what we read in Genesis four. Both Cain and Abel brought an offering to the Lord. God responded to both offerings, but He accepted one while rejecting the other. While many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal, we learn here that not all worship is equal. God “had regard for” Abel’s, but not for Cain’s. It does not say if Cain was sincere. It doesn’t seem to matter. We learn here that the worshipper and the worship offered rise and fall together. God regarded Abel and his offering, but rejected Cain and his offering. Can one offer God vain worship, and have God reject it but accept him? Apparently not.
  • Better living is determined by attitude (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God. He was very angry. His insides burned! His countenance fell. He took on an ugly look. We’re not told how old he was, but it almost sounds like a temper tantrum. Whether home training, lack of discipline, poor stress management, pride, jealousy, or anything else leads us to lose our tempers, all of them are matters only we can control. When we don’t control them, we’re responsible! Ill-tempered people are not living the better life! A positive life doesn’t require prospering, education, or earthly success. But you can’t have a positive attitude without mastering self.
  • Better living is determined by action (8-16). The word “sin” is first used in Genesis 4:7, but God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain was going to do to his brother (cf. 1 John 3:11-15). Bible writers speak of his deeds, offering, and way. These are all action words. After his sin, he is rebuked and punished by God and separated from God. Sin will not deliver what it promises. All actions have consequences (Gal. 6:7-9).

Someone said, “The line of Cain gives us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers, and poetry, but not one who walked with God.  In fact, Cain’s legacy led to a repeat of his violent ways by a descendant (cf. 4:23). Abel leaves no physical lineage, but he leaves a great spiritual heritage (Heb. 11:4). We each get to choose what kind of life we’ll pursue. It matters which way we decide.

cain-and-abel

Categories
Jesus Jesus Christ redemption sacrifice salvation Uncategorized

Another Heroic Sacrifice

Neal Pollard

Heather Christensen, a 33 year old music teacher from Spanish Fork, Utah, contributed the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of dozens of band students on October 10, 2009. The bus driver, bringing back the band competition winners from Idaho State University, slumped over in his seat and Christensen left her seat and grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to keep the bus from crashing. While there were still several injuries, there was only one fatality. The 44 students on board were treated but released from the hospital. The 50 year old driver also survived. Only Christensen, partially ejected in the bus’ rollover, died.

It melted the hearts of an entire community that Heather was willing to lose her life in an attempt to save and rescue everyone on the bus. A gymnasium full of people at American Fork High School honored her at a Sunday night vigil. She was hailed as a true heroine.

The future of 45 people was dramatically changed by Heather’s decision to act. The obvious reaction of these students’ friends and family was to honor her sacrifice. It would be shameful to ignore it!

Jesus Christ deliberately decided, from eternity, to die on a cross in an attempt to save all mankind. His was a completely selfless act, requiring Him to take the place not of one but of all. Tragically, the majority of humanity for whom He offered Himself ignore His sacrifice. It does not move or touch them, and it certainly does not motivate them to do what they should do. Yet, for those of us who have obeyed the gospel and are Christians, we come together–not once–but once every week to commemorate His sacrifice. Each day we live, we live mindful of what He did in our place and for our sins. May our hearts stay soft to this supreme act of heroism!

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Categories
Heaven hope poetry salvation Uncategorized

In Awe Of The Greatest Freedom

 

Neal Pollard

I once was without representation,
Not a citizen of that chosen nation,
Enslaved and oppressed,
Deprived of the best,
And discouraged by my lowly station,

But my freedom was bought at a price,
With the one ransom that would suffice,
Sweet liberty was bought,
And my freedom I sought,
When I opted for virtue instead of vice.

Independence is becoming and sweet,
It is found when I fall at His feet,
And make Him my Master,
I avoid pain and disaster,
He offers me victory for my defeat.

I celebrate privileged position,
Embrace His heavenly mission,
Knowing the blessings He gives,
Is because He still lives,
He hears the faithful disciple’s petition.

As we celebrate the blessings in this land,
Bestowed by a Providential hand,
Let us never forget,
That He paid our great debt,
He’s preparing what’s infinitely more grand.

Whatever may become of our dear country,
I pray that our eyes will always see,
That no earthly place is home,
We are strangers who will roam,
’Til we reach the Great City across the sea.

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Categories
cross Jesus Jesus Christ poetry Uncategorized

A Tale Of Two Crosses

Neal Pollard

“Tell us father, were you really there that day?

Did they make you take His burden the rest of the way?”

“Son, I stood in the crowd when I got my painful commission,

And they thrust it on me without asking my permission.

He was staggering and bloody and gripped by exhaustion

I was pressed into service, whether expediency or precaution.

The skull-shaped brow scowled back from a distance,

As I offered that Sufferer my lowly assistance

I was far from the lush valley that cradled my idyllic town

In the bustling, boisterous crowd full of heckles and frowns

Taking outside of Jerusalem this rough-hewn beam

Accompanied by His friends and more foes, what a curious team

Every step in the cacophony of the heckling hateful

When I got to the spot, I was wearily grateful

To cease my assignment and be through with this affront

But I stayed long enough to see men with a malice so blunt

Take the man I relieved and affix Him securely

To the implement I’d carried so slowly but surely

With frightening precision they attached Him with nails

To the cross which they lifted, oblivious to any wails

For the pain, sons, I know must have been unrelenting

As I watched this plain gentleman hang, with no champions dissenting.

No, the crowd with their clamors. bloodthirsty and wild

Made a contrast with this Man, His face loving and mild.

He hung for six hours, and during that ordeal,

Things happened that day, both incredible and surreal.

At the end, after the torture and the mockery were through,

He’d said, “Father, forgive these who know not what they do.”

Now He offered the Father Himself, His own spirit,

I wonder how many of the rabble there could hear it.”

Alexander and Rufus, the sons of this infamous servant

Had a father involved in a task he did, whether feckless or fervent.

We know him today, though we know not what became of the man.

Did it cause him to follow or, like Pilate, to wash his hands.

Was the Rufus of Romans Simon’s son, whom Paul adored?

Was Alexander the villain Paul scornfully deplored?

We won’t know on this earth just who all these men were,

Though we’d like a clear picture in place of the blur,

But we know on that morning, when we gained by Christ’s loss,

That this Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross.

Today we are called to assume a great load,

Not His cross, but ours, is the burden that’s bestowed.

The cross of self-denial, we must kill our self-rule

And be His, day by day, until our journey is through.

cross_in_sunset

Categories
character study Old Testament prophet Uncategorized

Jahaziel’s Comforting Message

Neal Pollard

Jahaziel would have been a man of interesting and diverse talents. As a Levite, he would have served with the priests in the temple. As one of the sons of Asaph, he would have either been a literal descendant “or more probably [one of] a class of poets and singers who recognized him as [his] master” (Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible dictionary 1893 : n. pag. Print.). But on the occasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, Jahaziel would have been a “seer” or prophet. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him during the reign of Jehoshaphat, a righteous king of Judah (2 Chron. 20:14). Judah has been invaded by the Moabites and the Ammonites (20:1). Jehoshaphat’s response is righteous, seeking the Lord, proclaiming a fast, and leading a prayer service (20:3-13). Entire families, men, infants, women, and children were all assembled, “standing before the Lord” (13). Then, it happens. Jahaziel is the man God chooses and uses to respond to the touching prayer of the king.  What can we learn from Jahaziel’s message?

  • It was predicated upon the Lord’s power to deliver (15). He says, “The battle is not yours but God’s.” They were helpless alone and the message was that God was able to deliver them. The power belongs to the Lord. How we need that reminder today! In our personal battles with sin and trials, we so often are guilty of going it alone. Isn’t it thrilling to know that we have help in our fiercest battles (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13)?
  • It was precise in its instructions (16). Jahazael told them a specific time (“tomorrow”), a specific action (“go down against them”) and a specific place (“at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel”).  God wanted His people to know exactly what to expect and exactly what He expected them to do.  What comfort it is to know that God has laid out His instructions precisely and plainly. He’s not trying to trick us. He has told us what we need to do and what is ultimately coming when all is said and done (cf. Heb. 9:27).
  • It pointed to the salvation of the Lord (17).  The height of comfort might be this phrase: “station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.”  From the proper position, we can see the salvation of the Lord on our behalf. The hard-hearted, indifferent, bitter, and negative person is spiritually blind to it, but we should see it! When I am stationed at the pinnacle of prayer, the citadel of Scripture, the lookout of the Lord’s Supper, the gate of gratitude, or the fortress of forgiveness, I see the salvation of the Lord. Like gazing intently at a masterpiece, the longer I look the greater the nuances, details, and expertise emerge from the canvas of His work in my life. We can turn nowhere besides Calvary to see the clearest demonstration of the Lord’s salvation on our behalf!
  • It promised divine assistance (17). Jahaziel’s conclusion is profound. He ends, “the LORD is with you.” Sure enough, “The Lord set ambushes” (22), “the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies” (27), and “the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel” (29). The result was peace and rest (30). Are you confident of that? Whatever you are going through now and whatever lies ahead, do you believe that He is with you (cf. Mat. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6)? He has never failed and by His perfect character He never will!
  • It provoked praise and thanksgiving (18-19). From the top down, reverent worship and loud praise followed the mighty message of Jahaziel. This was faith in action! They believed the Word and proceeded as if it had already happened. Shouldn’t we be so confident in God’s promises that we respond in the same way? What struggle will you face that’s bigger than the promise of God?

Just like that, Jahaziel fades back into the woodwork of obscurity! His minute of sacred fame came and went, but how masterfully the Master used Him. However anonymous or average you may believe yourself to be, God has a greater message for you to share than He did for Jahaziel! As you faithfully share it, you can help produce an even greater outcome in the life of somebody you know. Perhaps He will use you to save someone from spiritual rather than physical death!  Be on the lookout for that opportunity today and share God’s comforting message.

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The wilderness of Jeruel
Categories
cross poetry Uncategorized

How Do You Spell “Cross”?

Neal Pollard

  1. “SEE”– Look at Calvary. Don’t turn away. I know it’s not easy. What is done to Him is shameful. I know. But, look closely! Past the spittle. Beyond the blood. There. In His eyes. Friend, that is love. It is love for you! See the nails in His hands and feet, fastening Him to a tree He created for man’s use. Look at the love He has for you!
  2. “ARE?”–Are you able to see that He bled and died for you? Are you willing to admit you’re lost without Him? Are you ready to submit to His will, to obey Him, and to live for Him? Are you prepared for eternity? Are you convinced?
  3. “OH”–Hear His cries of pain and agony. The death of a thousand deaths. Bitter moans of His disciples. The gasp of heaven’s angels. The sorrow of a Father for His only begotten Son! The gasps and exclamations of a hateful mob.
  4. “SS”–That’s the hiss of the beguiling serpent. The one who is bruising the heel of the perfect One, putting God the Son in the tomb. This is his moment of triumph. Though resurrection will soon spell victory for Christ and hope for man, at the cross the devil must be enjoying his front row seat at Calvary. Doesn’t he anger you? Disgust you? Motivate you? Live for Jesus, the Lion of Judah. Don’t live for the roaring, devouring lion.

Friends, the cross spells the difference between heaven and hell, hope and hopelessness, joy and sorrow, night and day!

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Categories
Bible study Christ Hebrews

Why Christ Became Flesh

Neal Pollard

The writer of Hebrews exhorts that Christ should be faithfully served, not abandoned, because He is a superior messenger to all other heavenly messengers (chapter one). Then, he gives another reason for holding fast to Him in chapter two. His readers were apparently struggling in their faith and gradually slipping back into the religion they had left. They lacked incentive, but the epistle gives reason after reason for why it should be restored.

In chapter two, he refers to Jesus’ humanity. Through it, He perfectly fills the role of High Priest in a way no Levitical priest could do under the old law. He enumerates the reasons why Jesus became flesh, and each reason was for each of us as individuals.

  • He became flesh to taste death for every man (9). He exercised God’s grace on our behalf. He was willing to make God’s understanding of our frailties empirical (experienced by human senses) by tasting death in a human body.
  • He became flesh to render the devil powerless (14). Before the cross, where Jesus gave up His physical body in death, the devil had the power over man. All mankind sinned and there were various sin offerings provided by God in the different ages. Yet, they could not “take away” sin (10:4,11). But, when Jesus died and was raised from the dead, He rendered the devil powerless over those who faithfully obey Christ and remain faithful unto death.
  • He became flesh to deliver the enslaved (15). Knowing no hope of deliverance from the horrible state of sinfulness makes for a miserable experience (Rom. 7:25). Christ came to deliver us from the awful slave master of sin (John 8:34).
  • He became flesh to become a merciful and faithful High Priest (17).  12 times in Hebrews, Jesus is called the Christian’s High Priest–the High Priest of our confession (3:1), in Heaven (4:14), sympathetic and sinless (4:15), appointed by the Father (5:5), without predecessor or successor (5:10), who went before us (6:20), holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (7:26), seated at the Father’s right hand (8:1), an offering priest (8:3), and offering His own blood (9:11). His service in administering His blood on our behalf is merciful (kind, forgiving, protecting) and faithful (trustworthy and sure).
  • He became flesh to come to the aid of the tempted (18). He well remembers what it is like to suffer in a human body. Not just that greatest moment of suffering, up on the tree, but the daily discomforts (Mat. 8:20), abandonment (John 6:66), and betrayal (John 18:27; Mark 14:45). Therefore, He can help me right now with my problem. Nothing is too big, too mysterious, or too difficult for Him.

Five reasons from Hebrews two are given for why Jesus became flesh, but all of them are for me (and for you)! What a thrilling though. Let’s serve this wonderful Savior!