“BLESSED”

Neal Pollard

I’ve never known a day when I didn’t live in a “preacher’s home.” “Preacher’s homes” are very much like every other home–problems, inside jokes, traditions, hobbies and interests, sin, laughter–except the chosen profession of the father is to serve either full-time or part-time as a proclaimer of God’s Word. At times, the home I grew up in was made of figurative glass, meaning I was occasionally subjected to unfair favoritism and criticism.  Kathy, also a lifetime resident of a “preacher’s home,” knows that feeling, too. Then, we subjected our sons to the exact same thing!

Whenever we are asked about what it is like to live this unique life (and lifestyle), different words would be appropriate:

  • Challenging–There can be elevated expectations and unrealistic assumptions about the preacher’s personal life, marriage, parenting, and the like. What Shakespeare’s Jewish character says of his people in the “Merchant of Venice” applies: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” Life’s pressures and temptations visit our homes, too. 
  • Lonely–Occasionally, we feel alone and stand alone because of the message we preach. Usually, it’s not others who make us feel this way, but an innate part of the life.
  • Ordinary–Most preachers probably love to hear church members and those in the community say, “You’re just an ordinary person with an ordinary life.” To be genuine and real is, in my view, a worthy aim. See the opening paragraph.

But, please understand that the most fitting, usual words used to describe the life in preaching are positive, superlative words and phrases–“important,” “exciting,” “fulfilling,” “full,” “rewarding,” “humbling,” “meaningful,”and “uplifting.” Yesterday, we said “so long” to one of God’s greatest churches as we prepare to move to work with another one. I asked Kathy to describe a one-word assessment that best described how she felt in light of the generous words and acts from our spiritual family throughout the day. She used words like “Overwhelmed,” “grateful,” and “touched.” But then, scanning her brilliant mind as if to find that perfect summary word (as she usually does), she simply said, “Blessed.” 

We’ve been blessed by a lifetime of living the “preacher life.” Blessed by 27 years of full-time preaching. Blessed by 13 years of preaching at Bear Valley. Blessed by the opportunity to preach in this “next chapter” of life at Lehman Avenue. Blessed, as cracked pots (2 Cor. 4:7), to be used by the Master Potter. Far from a perfect life, it is certainly a blessed life. 

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Thank you, Bear Valley, for your many acts of kindness–yesterday and for the entirety of our time with you in Colorado. We love you and will miss you!

“What’s Your Passion?”

Neal Pollard

Most of us, repeatedly throughout our lives, get asked or ask ourselves the question, “What’s your passion?” The word, defined as “a strong and barely containable emotion,” is one we may use for ourselves but one as likely to be used by others to describe us. Thanks to social media, we can see people’s interests, hobbies, and diversions whenever we choose. They post pictures, make comments, and talk about them with great frequency. However, there are some people whose focus is so intent on some topic that their emotion spills over. If anyone else brings it up, they cannot refrain from jumping in “with both dogs.” Yet, they themselves are always finding and sharing relevant material that supports or upholds their views. Maybe it’s guns (for or against), race (black, white, or hispanic), politics (R or D), illegal immigration (for or against), or some equally charged issue. Have you ever noticed someone whose passion seems to be for being argumentative and disagreeable? Passion is unmistakeable.

Not only through social media, but through my every social interaction, my life is declaring what my passion is. Those closest to me are best equipped to reveal what that is, but everyone who is exposed to me for any period of time can figure it out. What a sobering thought! I know what I would want that to be. Paul said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In Philippians 3:10, he simply says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…” We have the corpus of Paul’s inspired writings, and it is filled with his expressing that passion. We have eyewitnesses to his ministry, especially Luke, who verify that this is what drove him and ignited his passion.

A lot of people know that I enjoy dark roast coffee, all things Georgia Bulldogs, running, peanut butter, traveling, and my family, but do they see passion for Christ in my life? I don’t get to say what my passion is, simply by thinking about what it should be in some moment of reflection. It is what my life shows that it is. When all is said and done, what will have been the great passion of my life? What about you?

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Appreciating The Blessings In A Key Text

Neal Pollard

Joshua 21:43-45 is the key text in that book because at this point that Joshua can say that God gave everything that had been promised. With the settling of the land, the land promise made to Abraham was now fulfilled. Israel was not fully a nation after becoming a people and having law, but now they are. Notice the facets of God’s promise to them.

“So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their Fathers” (43). God gave them physical blessings. They owned and called home the land God promised their ancestors.

“The Lord gave them rest on every side” (44). He gave them emotional blessings. This was a long time in coming for these battle-weary warriors. The anxiety of being the underdog, of facing frightening foes, all of that (at least for now) was behind them.

“No one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand” (44). He gave them spiritual blessings. These idolaters and heathen people could not stand before them and the Lord dispossessed them, giving them into the hands of His chosen people.

No wonder this summary statement is made: “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (45). This was the God of Joshua. It’s also the God of us.

This text shows us how comprehensively God blessed the lives of His children. These verses speak of a material inheritance. Even if it is the choicest spot on the globe, it cannot compare to what God will give to His faithful. Let’s rejoice in the hope Peter shares, regarding the promise of His coming (2 Pet. 3:4). He writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:10-14).

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The supposed “Garden of Gethsemane” (photo credit: Carla Moore)

It’s Not Business; It’s Personal

Neal Pollard

Some years ago, when our sons were all teenagers and they were given a cell phone, there were times when they failed to use those to communicate if they got to their destination or answer when we needed to reach them. While I never did it, I was tempted on more than one occasion to contact the cellular provider and suspend their service. Why? Was it because I thought it was wasted cost? No. It was because it reflected a lack of thoughtfulness and responsibility. It wasn’t business. It was personal.

Hebrews 10:25 is a sobering, New Testament passage. It addresses the Christian’s attitude toward the sacred assemblies of the church. What makes it sober is its contextual attachment to the eternal ramifications of abandoning those assemblies. God speaks of “no more sacrifice for sins,” “severer punishment,” “vengeance,” and “terrifying” (26-31) in connection with sinning willfully, of which forsaking the assemblies is a contextual example. But, why is God so exacting about this matter of our meeting together? In a nutshell, it is because these times, to God, are personal. The Bible is full of references to God’s desire to be worshipped and receive our worship. He is worthy. As Creator, He has the right. But, in this passage, it is personal in the sense that what He commands is so helpful to you and me.

Written on the foundation of the fact that our High Priest, Jesus, has given us access to God (19), the writer urges us to do three things: (1) Draw near (22), (2) Hold fast, and (3) Consider. It’s the third one I want to briefly notice:  “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (24-25).

There should be a personal connection. Notice how the writer reveals this. He says “us” and “our.” He says “one another” twice as well as “together.” Christianity is not a solitary condition. We must see ourselves in connection with the rest of the body. Assembling is about seeing ourselves as a vital piece of a more important whole. Forsaking the assemblies is, for whatever reason, selfish and self-centered. It is done blind to the needs of others.

There should be a personal submission. The command is “consider” followed by two participles that tell us how to obey the command: “not forsaking” and “encouraging” (more on that in a second). So, in a discussion about the whole group, there is a command each must strive to obey. As it is a command, ultimately this is as personal as God and the individual. I fail to consider my role, I fail in my relationship with God.

There should be a personal obligation. Each of us is obligated to stimulate and encourage everyone else. It’s not just those who publicly lead worship or teach class. The reclusive saint who dashes out before services are over has missed this. The clammed up Christian who never reaches out to fellow saints but is closed to others misses this. The discouraging and unloving brother and sister rebels against their duty. I should never be focused on how well others are stimulating and encouraging me. Instead, I should be so lost in my efforts to be a blessing to others that I have no or energy to evaluate how others are doing.

There should be a personal anticipation. This is more than social and emotional. It’s spiritual and eternal. Those other aspects are means to that end, but don’t miss the end. Be a blessing to others at “church services” “as you see the day drawing near” (25). Not Sunday. Keep reading. The Judgment Day. I need to remember that “here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (13:14). One of the best places to stay reminded of that is through our assemblies, as our activities in class and worship and our teaching and preaching keep us anchored to that ultimate reality. This world is not my home!

Christianity is not about the business of going through the motions, even doing right things. No, no! It is personal. May that truth permeate our attitudes toward not just God, but His children.

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Conquered The World And Left It With Empty Hand

Neal Pollard

Somehow, it has come down through the ages that Alexander the Great made this dying request, that he should be buried with his hands outside his coffin so that all his subjects could see that despite all the riches he had accumulated in life that he left the world empty-handed.  Artists through time have famously depicted this posture. It has been retold repeatedly.  Whether or not Alexander requested it, the sentiment reflects divine truth.  Paul told Timothy, “For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim. 6:7).  Similarly, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). Solomon similarly states of the wealthy, “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Ecc. 5:15).

While even world conquerors cannot transport their treasures from time to eternity as they make the transition, everyone will exit the world having left so many things behind us.  We leave behind so much more than our financial assets.  We leave behind memories of ourselves, encouragements either given or withheld, speech either edifying or destructive, deeds which brought others closer to or further from Christ, family members influenced either to follow Christ or abandon Him, and similarly impactful matters.  When we leave earth, our hands are empty.  We have bequeathed all that we are and have for those whose lives we touched and influenced.  They pick up our habits, worldview, pleasures, interests, and priorities.  Some day, they will die and leave empty-handed, too, passing along what in some way we gave them to give.

You may never be a world conqueror, but here is how you conquer the world.  It takes faith and spiritual rebirth (1 Jn. 5:4).  But do not simply possess it.  Be sure to pass it along.

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

Neal Pollard

While people today want to emphasize “spirituality” over “religion,” that is not the biblical way.  By “spiritual,” people want to talk about a self-defined personal relationship with God, the way they feel, or their pursuit of some mystical or mysterious expression of the soul.  The Bible is much less abstract and more concrete in passages like James 1:26-27, and the result should be quite convicting.

James indicates that one’s religion could be worthless (1:26).  This one may even think himself to be religious, but instead he is a forgetful hearer.  In context, he has forgotten what God’s word has said about bridling the tongue.  But, the principle applies much more broadly.  One can think himself religious, but in ignoring what the Bible says on a specific matter—ethics, morality, the plan of salvation, worship, etc.—this one deceives his own heart and possesses a worthless religion.  Notice that there is a concrete, objective way to measure this.

James indicates that one’s religion can also be pure and undefiled (1:27).  In keeping with context, this is a person who is a doer and not only a hearer of the word.  This person consciously reads and strives to apply what God has said in Scripture.  James gives a couple of examples of this in the verse, from compassionate care for the unfortunate to not allowing the world to taint us by its influence.  Regardless of the challenge or obligation, because we strive to follow the Word, we will have a religion that is unsoiled and unsullied. James says so.

I may think I have a certain kind of religious, spiritual life, but the Bible is a mirror that shows me exactly where I am.  I can claim or assert that I have a certain relationship with God or spiritual feeling, but does the declaration match the deeds.  That determines what kind of religion I have.

A GLOBAL EPIDEMIC

Neal Pollard

MERS is the latest pathogen to seize the world’s attention, and this middle-eastern sprung virus, having a 30% mortality rate, is cause for some concern.  Yet, it is the latest in a long line of alarming diseases that have struck fear in people—AIDs, Asian Flu, Spanish Flu, smallpox, bubonic plague, and leprosy, just to name a few.  Whether the horrific presentation, swift action, or painfulness of these conditions, just the names of these diseases raise the shudders of those informed about how deadly they are.  An ailment that commonly brings about mortality gets our attention.

Sin, however, often does its work on the individual without the dramatic presentation and many times in a way that feels painless to the “sufferer” until it is too late.  But, nothing is deadlier or more serious.  That is why God made it a prominent subject in the only book He ever wrote.  He identifies it in its every form, reveals the symptoms, warns of the potentially deadliness of it, and provides the cure.

The majority do not recognize it for what it is, they incorrectly identify it, offer the wrong cures for it, and a great many just ignore what it is doing to them.  They call it by other names, thinking that by doing that they are eradicating it from themselves.  While that may numb them through this life, it will not serve them well in eternity.

Variously, the Bible says “sin is exceedingly grave” (Gen. 18:20), “sin is unhealthy” (Psa. 38:3), “sin is a disgrace” (Prov. 14:34), “sin brings guilt” (Mark 3:29), “sin brings spiritual death” (Rom. 6:23; Jas. 1:15), “sin enslaves” (Rom. 7:14,23), “sin is deceitful” (Heb. 3:13), “sin entangles” (Heb. 12:1), “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), “sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and “sin is unrighteousness” (1 John 5:17).  Yet, despite this, we know “fools mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9).  A vicious disease is at work in them and, unresolved and untreated, it will lead them to eternal pain, but because it afflicts the unseen part of a person they cannot see the damage to their souls.  They often see its effects in their own lives and in others’.

That’s where Christians come in, Physician’s assistants for the Great Healer.  We are to get healing to as many as are willing to take the cure.  We may be treated hostilely by some of those eternally ill, but we must risk sharing it for their good.  We face a terrible epidemic but we have a cure that is 100% effective when properly applied!

“Addressing The Huge Unmet Needs Of Young Children”

 

Neal Pollard

The philosophically liberal magazine, American Prospect, included an article in the January/February, 2014, edition, by Sharon Lerner entitled, “Starting Smart.”  The article begins by asserting that there is almost universal support in the public, business, and political sectors for mandatory, universal Pre-K education.  Lerner, considering such broad favor, ardently calls for leveling the playing field wherever there is a perceived gap, and mandating public education for the nation’s youngest citizens is alleged as the way to go (62-65).  While I have multiple problems with the content of the article, my biggest disagreement is that social, economic, or other physical needs are, as the article contends, a small child’s greatest unmet needs.

The hugest unmet needs of young children in this and every culture are spiritual.  It would be interested to know what percentage of our nation’s children get even weekly Bible instruction.  For several decades, there has been a steep decline in spiritual interest in our country.  Secular interests have far eclipsed spiritual interest.  I am confident that such tragic facts, when we stand before Christ at the Judgment, will help explain the moral volcano that has spilled its damaging influence over just about every aspect of society.

While our evangelistic efforts can help us reach more “unchurched” folks and incorporate them into our Bible school program, something else has amazed me.  Growing up in the church, I have for all my life seen neglect from some members of the church in this area.  Parents did not bring their children to Bible class regularly if at all.  When those children grew up and left the home, they usually left the church, too.  I still witness that same trend, both in congregations where I have preached and in places where I travel to speak.  In essence, this robs children of the solid foundation they must have to navigate the turbulent spiritual waters of this life.  Parents, let us take Solomon’s words to heart and do all we can to properly train our children for later life and eternity (Pr. 22:6)!  God has entrusted their eternal welfare into our hands.