Categories
cross emotion suffering

Words For The Aching Heart 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Why do we hurt? In Bible classes and in sermons you have been pointed to scriptures such as James 1:2, which says, “Count it all joy my brethren, when you fall into various trials.” You may then find yourself wondering about that specific trial you are forced to miserably wade through. 

Perhaps you think, “But what good could possibly come from this?” Or maybe you even question, “why would God let me experience this kind of heartache?” This is when a faithful Christian may sink into a pessimistic kind of bitterness that slowly steals each smile and smothers even the faintest glimmer of hope. If Jesus could sit with you and lovingly give you some wisdom, I’d imagine this is what He’d say.

I dreaded that cross, the cruel instrument of death.
I felt such intense emotion with each painful and strained breath.
Embarrassed, I was stretched naked amid a hateful crowd—
but prayed for their forgiveness, with my bleeding head bowed.

I intimately knew trauma, isolation, abandonment, and shame.
I lost everything for everyone, so peace and glory you would gain.
It’s that joy I’ve set before you, even seen through tearful eyes,
that will push you, as it did Me, through each valley and each sigh. 

No matter what you’re fighting here, don’t worry, stress or fear.
Today it hurts, tomorrow it’s over, in the twinkling of an eye I’ll appear.
Life is brief and fragile like that of a lowly dove, and like the dove,
with broken wing still mending, look hopefully above.
–Dale Pollard
(These words were inspired by the words found in Hebrews 12:1-3.)

I’d like to encourage you, if you’re suffering through a trial in life, to read Psalm 69.  It’s a lament psalm, which may help you put into words what your aching heart is feeling.

“What we really need and what the psalms of lament provide is a way to live through times of disorientation with God as an intimate traveling companion.”
– Glenn Pemberton

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Categories
Carl Pollard faith faithfulness loneliness struggle

David’s Prayer In the Cave (Psalm 142)

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

It was in one of the lowest points in his life that David finds himself hiding in a cave praying to God. He says, “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord” (Psa.‬ ‭142:1‬).

David describes the circumstances that have caused him to feel discouraged. He says in verse 4, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.”

How often do we find ourselves feeling this same way? It could be the people we work with that don’t see the value of our Christianity. It could be friends at school pushing us to break our Christian values. It could even be our own families that don’t care for our souls.

David felt the loneliness of desertion with his own son, he felt betrayal from Saul, and he even willfully separated himself from God when he went after Bathsheba.

Many times we find ourselves in the cave. It could be that outside circumstances have put us there, or we sinned and are feeling the consequences of those choices.
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Put yourself in his shoes, hiding in a dark, desolate and damp cave feeling alone and deserted by everyone. Everyone except God. David never lost sight of God, and he knew that God would answer his prayer.

When we find ourselves in the dark, feeling deserted and alone, don’t lose sight of God. He will never turn His back on a struggling Christian. He cares for your soul.

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Categories
adversity hope optimism

How To Make The Best Of A Bad Situation 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Rattlesnakes are large, venomous snakes that live throughout North and South America. In my humble opinion, they are one of the most terrifying creatures on the planet–from the hair-raising sound of that rattle to those intimidating fangs that can be up to six inches long. The bite from one of these monsters is excruciatingly painful. If you were to be bitten, at first you would experience a tingling feeling, followed by an intense burning sensation. After this you would feel lightheaded and begin sweating profusely. Your vision would become blurry, and each breath would be more strained than the last one.

If left untreated, it can be fatal to humans. All of that sounds terrible doesn’t it? What good could possibly come from a deadly rattlesnake? Well, at some point in history, somebody looked at these snakes and decided that they would make a beautiful pair of boots. That’s how to make something great, out of something terrible. There is no doubt in my mind that the inventor of snakeskin boots was an optimist. He could see the good, even when staring into the dark vertical pupils of pure reptilian evil.

When faced with hardship, that simply comes from living in a fallen world, it can be a challenge to see the silver lining in each dark cloud. American basketball player, Charles Barkley once said, “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.” That’s definitely how it can feel sometimes! Although we have books in the Bible like Job and James that teach us how we should view our earthly struggles, here are just a few reminders from our God.

Number one, remember that each day is worth rejoicing over. Psalm 118:24 gives us the reason why— because today is another day that the Lord has made. It’s not my day; it’s God’s day. Reminder number two, what we can’t see in times of difficulty, is worth waiting for. Paul would inform us in Romans 8:27, “But if we hope in what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” In the muck of life it may feel at times that there’s just no way out. Just because you may not see the end in sight, rest assured that our hope is in a promise that was put in place before time itself began (2 Timothy 1:9). The last reminder is simply this, that God made the world you are living in and Jesus is currently creating the world we will one day live in (John 14:1-3). I firmly believe each day that passes can only mean that heaven will be that much more beautiful. If God created this world in six days, in all it’s beauty, imagine the splendor of our home to come. Now, if that doesn’t make a bad situation a good one, I don’t know what will! Here are the lyrics to an optimistic hymn that I hope get stuck in your head for quite a while.

“I care not today what tomorrow may bring, if shadow or sunshine or rain. The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything, and all of my worry is vain. Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting confiding in His great love. From all harm safe in His sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.”

rattlesnake boots
One of two pair of rattlesnake skin boots I own.
Categories
conflict marriage Uncategorized

Marriages Secretly In Trouble

Neal Pollard

Social media has done us no favors, with the temptation it presents to project happiness and perfection while masking the trials and challenges inevitable for such a long-term commitment as marriage is. Not only can we be guilty of misrepresenting our own relationship, but we can unwittingly put pressure on other couples who see these projections and increase dissatisfaction with their less than perfect and happy marriage. Of course, the answer to this is not to use forums like social media to air the sordid stains on our life’s laundry. But, there is a need for some reasoning and common sense that can assist us in building better marriages.

The University of Wyoming’s Family And Consumer Sciences department has an excellent study by Ben Silliman entitled, “Intimacy Means Conflict.” They begin with a profound, if provocative, statement, saying, “To love may not mean to fight, but it does mean to become close, to care a lot, and eventually to discover differences and disagreements. Those who love much have a better chance of conflict” (click here). This great study includes some common sense suggestions for working through the conflict:

  • Focus on needs, not solutions.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions.
  • Choose the best option. 
  • Make a plan.
  • Implement the plan. 
  • Seek feedback and evaluate both the process and the outcome (ibid.).

He does not overtly come from a biblical worldview. He is not exclusively focused on monogamous marriage relationships. But his counsel is sound and consistent with biblical principles.  Cross-check each of his suggestions with Scriptural guidance:

  • Philippians 2:3-4
  • Ecclesiastes 4:9
  • 1 Corinthians 10:23
  • Proverbs 16:3
  • Psalm 37:5
  • 1 Peter 3:7; James 3:17

The passages represent that the Bible talks about all these methods and approaches, but it does not suggest that this is all the Bible has to say about these. I am convinced the devil would love nothing more than for married couples, beset by conflict and even repeatedly addressing the same issue or issues, to just give up on their marriages. Wouldn’t he love for us to be convinced that we’re the only ones struggling and our situations are hopeless? I know such thoughts are not of God, who urges us to see possibilities even through improbabilities because of His capabilities (Phil. 4:13). 

It’s fatal to a marriage to ignore or be in denial about the things that produce conflict. And it’s foolish to believe that a marriage is doomed because conflict is present. There is no way to achieve closer relationships without negotiating the unavoidable differences between two individuals striving to be a united couple. May I encourage all of us who are married to redouble our commitment to working through conflict in order to reach closer, Christ-centered relationships. 

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Categories
Satan Uncategorized

Satan’s Schemes

Neal Pollard

Paul makes an interesting statement while addressing the successful effort the Corinthian church made in disciplining an erring brother along with the successful outcome of his having repented. He urges them to show him love, comfort, and forgiveness. The bottom line Paul gives for the urgency of their obedience is “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Back in the first letter, the church’s attitude and actions regarding a brother needing discipline was horrible, and Paul commanded them to act (1 Cor. 5). Here, they have acted and their efforts worked. They were in a prime position to grow and thrive. Yet, Paul reminds them of Satan’s motivation (to take advantage of us) and means (his schemes). 

But, when does Satan like to try and employ his schemes and take advantage of us? When we aren’t being sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). When we aren’t focused on resisting him (Jas. 4:7). When we aren’t standing firm in the Lord or against his schemes (Eph. 6:10ff). When we aren’t exercising self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). If you study those contexts and others that mention Satan more closely, you will see that he would like to take advantage of us in good times and bad times. He may be at work through the willing choices, words, and actions of people who unwittingly aid his cause through their sins. 

When might he seek to employ his schemes?

  • When new elders are appointed
  • During building programs
  • As numbers swell through baptisms and families placing membership
  • When preachers come and go
  • In a flurry of exciting activities
  • In the heart of some church problem or struggle
  • At the center of some personality struggle or conflict within the congregation
  • Through some controversial doctrinal, moral, or even cultural issue
  • When brethren put politics, race, or another issue of lesser importance over Christ and His church

Obviously, there are many more examples. The point is that Satan would love to use the good times or bad times we experience as a church to undermine and harm the work of the Lord. That should not make us paranoid, so paralyzed by fear that we refuse to act, or petrified to make needed changes. It does mean that we must not be ignorant of the fact that he doesn’t want the church to grow or move forward, and he will do what he can to stop it. What is so exciting is that he stands no chance against God. James says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). Let us never be afraid to “dare and do” for God. We can do great things for Him and keep an eye out for the devil’s schemes.

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Picture from my last trip to Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania, 12/17.
Categories
conflict marriage Uncategorized

LANDMINES IN RESOLVING CONFLICT

Neal Pollard

“I.” The late Wendell Winkler once said that beneath most marital conflict is basic selfishness. “What about my needs?” “What have you done for me?” “I am not happy, fulfilled, etc.”  The Bible warns of the destructive nature of selfishness (Luke 9:23; Eph. 4:22,24; Phil. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:2)! One of the most frequent casualties of selfishness is marital happiness. 

“You.” This is really the other side of the conflict coin that blows up progress and growth in relationships. If selfishness is blind to the needs and concerns of the other person, blame and deflection is the total denial of guilt or shared responsibility. “You don’t treat me right.” “Why don’t you pull your weight?” “You are not enough of ‘X’ or too much of ‘Y’!” Accusation, which puts one’s mate on the defensive, is a poor framework for resolving conflict. The very first couple played the blame game, to no avail and with no success. 

“They.” A mirage is “something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.” We usually think of a mirage in the desert, an optical illusion created by extreme conditions. How often do married couples in conflict see marital mirages? A couple is hurting, and as they look across the burning sand they see “perfect couples” and “perfect marriages.” We are not helping ourselves by comparing ourselves to what is not what it appears anyway (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Every marriage is comprised of flawed, sinful people who are constantly faced with overcoming. Whatever you think you see in other couples “is not in fact so.”

“God.” Now, hear me well. God is the answer to all conflict, if we consult Him. Yet, when we blame God or let conflict affect our faith, then our attitude toward God can become a major landmine preventing resolution. “God doesn’t care.” “God isn’t listening to my cries and prayers.” “Where is God when I need Him?” Trials are going to test our faith, but be careful not to give God credit for blame that rests upon us and our spouses. 

The good news is that “I,” “you,” “they,” and “God” can all play a fruitful role in resolving conflict. When “I” am humble and honest and focus on my role and responsibility, good will result. When “you” are treasured, valued, and sincerely loved, things will start looking up. When “they” are reasonably treated as role-models and inspiration, it can be helpful. When “God” is totally trusted and obeyed, there is no insurmountable problem! I wish marriage had no saboteurs or hazards, but the best of them do. Let’s work to avoid triggering them, trusting that God’s pattern for everything, including marriage, gives us the best shot at success. 

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Categories
prayer Uncategorized

THE RESCUER AND THE ONE IN TROUBLE

Neal Pollard

In Romans 8:26, speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “ In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit “helps,” lending “a hand together with, at the same time with one” (AT Robertson) and coming to the aid of one (Bauer). This is said in connection with the Christian’s prayer life. It is an acknowledgement that sometimes we need the help of God’s Spirit in particularly agonizing times, times where words like “weakness” and “groanings” describe the struggles in prayer.

In the same passage, Paul says the Spirit “intercedes,” a picturesque word of rescue by one who ‘happens’ on one who is in trouble and ‘in his behalf’ pleads with ‘unuttered groanings’ or with ‘sighs that baffle words’” (Reinecker 367). What graphic imagery! When I am in real trouble, no one can help me like God can. Sometimes, only God can help me when I am in trouble. Paul teaches that there is no depth of struggle or trial in prayer too complex or incomprehensible for the omniscient God. As the Psalmist once wrote, “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications” (Ps. 130:1). Paul is saying, “The Lord does hear and is attentive not only to my voice, but even to the unspoken, unutterable fears, desires, and longings in my heart that cannot be formed into words on my lips when I pray.

Our God is a God of rescue (Ps. 18:19; 116:8; 136:24). He has rescued man in dramatic ways, from the Red Sea crossing to Jericho to Gideon’s tiny army to Calvary’s cross. He has demonstrated that He wants to help us and will freely extend Himself to do so. But, He wants us to reach out to Him and appeal for help. Even when the words will not exactly come to us, He knows the intent and desire and He looks with an eye toward aiding His children (1 Pet. 3:12). Do not only come to Him when in trouble, but do come to Him when in trouble. You do not have trouble too big for Him to come along and rescue you from it.

Trust that!

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Categories
attitude joy perseverance suffering

What’s My Excuse?

Neal Pollard

Mark Speckman is an interesting story. He was a High School star linebacker, played Junior College then at a four-year NAIA college at the same position, and then coached college football for 20 years (he followed Dan Hawkins at Willamette in 1998).  He can write, type, use a cell phone, drive, play racquetball, and play trombone (USA Today, 10/4/05).  What’s so unusual about that?  Speckman was born without hands!  He has never let that stand in his way, but has used the handicap to inspire and motivate others.

Each of us will enjoy advantages and suffer some disadvantages throughout life, regardless of our age, income, citizenship, looks, and background.  While some seem to have greater challenges than others, the greatest determining factor seems to be attitude, focus, and determination.  Do I use my “handicaps” as an excuse? Am I full of self-pity? Do my problems cause me to give up and check out?

We will not know on this side of time what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but we know it tormented him (2 Cor. 12:7), drove him to his knees three times in prayer about it (12:8), and was a weakness for him (12:10).  He writes this after detailing the many trials he faced for doing what was right, preaching the gospel (2 Cor. 11:23-33).  Yet, he never fell back on any of this as an excuse for failing to reach, teach, serve, and help others.  Apparently, as he hurt within and worked through his own limitations, he kept his focus on doing the Lord’s work through his Christian service.

The question is not whether you suffer and struggle or even if you have a thorn to contend with.  In your own way, you probably will and on an ongoing basis.  Will it be a crutch or a catapult?  Will it hold you down or launch you higher?  That depends on you.  What will you do about it?

Categories
Christian living depression discouragement perseverance struggle

“The People…In The Wilderness”

Neal Pollard

Shortly before Joab turns the tide of Absalom’s rebellion by killing him, David, the rebel’s father, had reached a low ebb in his reign.  David and his faithful followers had been on the run from Absalom for some time, hiding and trying to escape rout and death. Worry was a regular exercise for David during this time (2 Sam. 15:14), as was weeping (2 Sam. 15:30) and weariness (2 Sam. 16:14).  Just before the fateful day of his son’s death, David and his loyal followers fled for their lives and survived thanks to the crafty counsel of Hushai.  The state of the people, at this point, is described in 1 Samuel 17:29: “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”  They were at the end of their rope, worn and frazzled by their very real problems.

Have you wrestled with worry, weeping, and weariness lately?  Can you relate?  Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and overmatched by things going on in your life.  As we read this account, there are several reasons to hope.

THEY WERE NOT ALONE.  2 Samuel 17:22 notes that it was “David and all the people who were with him” who arose and crossed the Jordan to go to Mahanaim.  Each struggled, anxious and uncertain, but how comforting that they were able to go together.  The Christian should never have to go it alone.  There are those around us who to help bear our burdens (Gal. 6:2).  From the beginning of the church, this has been the case.  Acts 2:44 says, “All who had believed were together.”  While each of us may be struggling with individual problems, struggling is part of the human condition (Job 14:1).  In God’s wisdom, He has made the church a place where we can help and support each other (1 Th. 5:11).

THEY WERE BENEFICIARIES OF KINDNESS. What happens when they get to Mahanaim? Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai are waiting for them.  That had to be encouraging by itself.  But look what they had with them—“beds, basins, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans, lentils, parched seeds, honey, curds, sheep, and cheese of the herd” (28-29a).  Those three men saw their brethren were suffering, hurting, and needy.  So what did they do?  I have seen this in the church more times than I can remember.  A brother or sister was in financial, emotional, or spiritual need, and their brethren showered them with kindness and love. So many of God’s people take to heart Paul’s exhortation, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted…” (Eph. 4:32a).  See 1 Corinthians 13:4, Colossians 3:12-15, and 1 Peter 3:8, and you see the heart of so many of our fellow-Christians.  How helpful when we are in the wilderness!

THEY WERE SOON VICTORIOUS.  David draws up a battle plan in 2 Samuel 18:1, and before long the threat was quelled. There were still plenty of challenges that lay directly ahead, but they had doubtless learned a valuable lesson in the wilderness. Their victory did not mean that they were exempt from further problems, but they had experienced God’s deliverance. What a powerful lesson for us!  Yes, we will continue to struggle so long as we are pilgrims on this earth (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11), but there is a victorious “day of visitation” on the horizon (1 Pet. 2:12).

Are you “in the wilderness”?  Hang in there!  Focus on the people God has put in your life, be attuned to their kindness and encouragement, and remember the great victory God has promised you.

Categories
apostasy courage

Giving Up Ground To the Enemy

Neal Pollard

On at least three fronts, there are major battles occurring—ISIS and the existing governments in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Israel and the Palestinians, and Ukraine and Russian-led rebels. In each of these conflicts, both sides are trying to gain ground or at least hold onto what they already have. They are trying not only to win the actual battles they are fighting, but they also seek to win the battle of public opinion.  With the money and lives invested, neither side in any of the conflicts can bear the thought of losing.

While “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) and “we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3), we face a deadly adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  He is the enemy, though he has a great many who have “been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:26). They are fighting his battles for him of their own free will (Js. 1:13-15), and they are more than willing to engage those of us who would steadfastly resist him (1 Pet. 5:9).

In this media age, the devil’s soldiers have used means previous generations did not have at their disposal to spread his ideas across the nation and all over the globe.  But because there have been people willing to battle him, he has not gained ground all at once. The moral erosion has happened slowly over time, attitudes about foul language, alcohol, modesty, sex outside of marriage and living together, adultery, homosexuality, and much more.  Doctrinal erosion also occurs subtly and gradually, but denominationalism has given way to modernism, post-modernism, and emergent theologies.  The Lord’s church is impacted by assaults on its distinctiveness, and elderships, pulpits, classrooms, and memberships can gradually lose their militancy, courage, and resolve to stand up for God’s revealed will.  It is easy to be cowered by charges of extremism, hatred, or sanctimoniousness, especially when there are examples of such to be found.

Yet, we cannot forget that we are in a battle.  God needs us to stand in the gap and continue fighting for His truth, even in the face of opposition and resistance.  Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:4). The weapons in our left and right hands is righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7).  We press on in spiritual armor (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11ff).  When each of us as soldiers in the Lord’s Army arrive at the time when we must lay down our armor, may it be said that we gained ground and served the Lord’s cause successfully. May it never be that we gave up ground to the enemy!