Struggling Through Our Troubles

Neal Pollard

Have you ever had a problem or struggle that started out small but kept growing until it was larger than life? Did it come to consume your thoughts, keep you up at night, and become an overwhelming obsession? Maybe you devoted a lot of emotion to it.

Just by virtue of living on this earth, we will struggle (Job 14:1-2). Job knew struggle and turmoil! He lost one thing after another. His life seemed to unravel before his eyes.  Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying, “When you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” Have you ever found yourself struggling at the end of your rope of faith? You are certainly far from alone in that. We certainly see Job dangling there, asking, “Why was I ever born?” (3:11) and “Why can’t I go ahead and die?” (3:20-22). David was there (Psa. 22:1). So was Jeremiah (ch. 37-38).

Of course, trouble takes on many forms and comes from many directions. Any number of passages can help us cope with the struggle of trouble, but consider Psalm 10. It refers to the wicked seven times and to the afflicted four times. It also speaks synonymously of the wicked as the greedy (13), evildoer (15), and those of the earth (18). It speaks of the afflicted as the unfortunate (8,10,14), humble (14), the orphan and oppressed (14,18). We know that our trouble can come from the wicked, but it can also come from no one source we can identify though it hurts just the same. Consider this Psalm about our troubles and what we can do about them.

Our perception in times of trouble (1-11). Our vision can become blurry by tears or rage, but our point of view is altered when trouble comes. The psalmist goes through this. He sees God as being distant (1). He saw the wicked as being in control or prospering (2-11). God seemed far away and life seemed unfair. The majority of every generation is wicked, and each generation of God’s faithful must reconcile the seeming success of the wicked and oppression of the affilicted righteous. We don’t begrudge the psalmist for his struggle to see through spiritual eyes. We can relate.

Our prayers in times of trouble (12-15). The psalmist admits his own struggle, then he shows us how to overcome it. His first response is to pray. He asks God to deliver (12). He asks God to remember (12-14). Finally, he asks God to vindicate (15).

Our praise in times of trouble (16). Before the prayer he’s perplexed and indignant. Afterward, he has insight, peace, and greater confidence. He springs from his knees with new perspective. Doesn’t prayer do that for us? The psalmist acknowledges God’s nature—“Lord” (Jehovah, five times in the Psalm), position—“King”, and duration—“forever and ever.” Do we spend more time focusing on the source of our troubles than on the solution?

Our proper perspective in times of trouble (17-18).  The psalmist is confident at the end of this psalm, saying, “you have heard” and “you will strengthen and listen.” Do you approach God that confident in His ability and desire to do what is best? We can be as confident as he is that God hears and helps when we hurt.

What is the greatest trouble we can face in this life? A disfiguring accident? Financial ruin? Loss of a parent, spouse, or child? The deterioration of health? The fall of our nation? Through Christ, none of these are too difficult to overcome. This Psalm reminds me that God still cares and He won’t abandon me. You and I can look at the cross and the church and be reassured of that. We know we can trust God (Rom. 8:28). God is able and willing to help us through every trouble.

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Blown By Storms

Neal Pollard

Yesterday, several of us traveled from Siem Reap out to Tonle Sap Lake to visit two of the graduates from the first class at the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap, one of our Bear Valley extensions.  They live on a raft and operate a water filtration system capable of servicing dozens of locals each day.  The lake is over an hour from Siem Reap, and they have yet to establish a congregation so our visit was to encourage them.  After visiting, we were having a devotional—singing songs and having a short lesson.  During the lesson, the winds started to blow and the raft started to pull against the ropes tied to the dock.  Suddenly, hard and heavy tropical rains had replaced sunny skies and we were in a storm.  The dock was damaged by the raft tugging against it, and quickly we were tethered by only one rope.  Currents were moving downstream in this, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and the surge flow produced fast-moving water intensified by the rains.  In short, the visit could have ended much more dramatically and dangerously.

There were things that struck me about that storm—it was sudden, powerful, and intense.  It is hard to think of disciples in a boat during a storm without thinking of the events recorded in Matthew 8:23-27.  A storm arose, the boat was covered with waves, the seasoned fishermen and boatmen were frightened, and Jesus was asleep onboard.  They awake Him, He rebuked the wind and the water, and then He rebuked them.  Their faith was not as firm as the fracas.  After yesterday, I am even less critical of their reaction.  It’s easy to feel small and helpless when such a storm arises.

The Bible compares our trials and difficulties to storms.  Job and David, among others, call them “tempests” (Job 9:17; Psa. 55:8). Jesus calls them floods and torrents (Luke 6:47-49). Solomon likens them to storms (Pro. 1:27).  We appreciate the imagery!

These storms can blow us off course and can even make us drift. We can find ourselves barely hanging on and wondering how much more we can take.  Let us remember that Jesus is still with us (Mat. 28:20), so no matter how fierce the storm we will ultimately survive.  “Ultimately” may not mean being spared from physical death, but it does mean that we will preserve our spiritual lives.  May our faith be strong enough to remember that as long as our Lord is near, we are more than conquerors (cf. Rom. 8:31).

We were “fodder” for makeshift foreigners’ photography. Here’s how I’m getting even. 🙂

 

Saran is one of the men in the water trying to set poles to help tie down the raft.
Our ultimate “rescue.”

“What Ever Happened To Toasters?” (*)

Neal Pollard

That’s what Tidewater resident Laila Cheikh might want to know.  She made a cash withdrawal for her cab company drivers from her Newport News, Virginia, Bank of America branch and got an unexpected “gift.”  Someone accidentally included a dye pack, like those given to bank robbers, in her bag of cash.  It exploded, leaving a huge mess and a foul smell.  That was on August 14, 2008.  In March, 2009, she sued Bank of America for bodily injuries from the dye (via USA Today Online, 8/14/08; Janie Bryant, The Virginian-Pilot, 3/14/09).  It’s unclear if the case has ever been solved.

I imagine you have had a day or two when you were delivered a less than pleasant surprise.  It may have been a dose of bad news.  Perhaps it was that person whose apparent color-blindness regarding the red light roped you into a fender bender that changed your morning plans.  It might have been a pink slip from a company you’ve faithfully served for years.  So many things can happen unexpectedly which alter your course or have a negative impact on you.

Though it will not compare to the day Job had (Job 1-2), it will test your character, your attitude, and your Christian example.  What you do when the unexpected and unpleasant “blows up in your face” is crucial!  You can be a light or you could cross over to the “dark side” (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; 1 Th. 5:8-10).  It’s up to you.  You never know what might be in the “bag of life.”  Be ready!

 

(*) They used to give new customers a toaster when they opened a bank account (before my time).

 

Avalanche Season

Neal Pollard

They are calling it an historic avalanche season in Colorado.  With snowpack at well over 100% due to massive amounts of mountain snowfall, conditions are prime for avalanches to breakout all over the backcountry. Already, six have died in avalanches this winter.  In fact, there have been three deadly slides just in the past week.  Warnings continue to come in from The Colorado Avalanche Information Center about dangerous conditions following two weeks of heavy snow.  Others have escaped death, but have harrowing tales of survival and, in some cases, broken bones.  Avalanches travel at the rate of a speeding car and hit with the force of a freight train. Typically, those buried in an avalanche lie beneath a ton of snow and the most common killer is either suffocation or blunt force trauma.  The head of the CAIF says the three most important tools are the beacon, probe, and shovel. The first is worn by the potential victim, while the other two are used by the rescuer.  Though these events can happen and be over in a matter of seconds, they can bring permanent consequences (information via FoxNews and Time’s Science And Space).

How often do we face overwhelming circumstances which we might liken to an avalanche?  They happen suddenly and seriously, and the aftermath can feel almost suffocating.  Though with different images, Bible writers speak of the feeling of burdens and sins being heavy and over their head (Ps. 38:4; Lam. 3:54).  David says similar things about trouble (Ps. 119:143) and iniquity (Ps. 40:12) overtaking him so that he cannot look up.  Maybe you can relate to such feelings, whether brought on by the guilt of sin or the difficulties of life. Both can threaten to bury us.  These things have even led to spiritual death.

May I suggest that we need the same three tools for our spiritual escape.  We have a beacon (Ps. 119:105), yet it also serves as a probe (Heb. 4:12) and a shovel (cf. Ps. 107:20; 147:16ff).  He also blesses us through prayer and providence.  Through all He does, God provides us a way of escape (1 Co. 10:13)!   We can survive, even in those times when problems crowd into our lives and threaten to bury us!  God is greater and stronger.  When swept up, hold on! Help is on the way.

PUTTING OUT FIRES

Neal Pollard

The last few years have brought heightened fire danger to Colorado.  Our forest fires have made the national news several times during that span.  They seem to start spontaneously and spread, well, “like wildfire.”  Untold property damage, millions of charred acres, and even loss of life have followed the paths of these fires.  The cause of the fires are sundry, from human carelessness to beetle infestation mixed with drought and high winds.  The cost to fight these fires is exorbitant, but ignoring the fires is not a wise option.  Time, resources, and manpower are diverted to these fires, and this naturally occurs at the expense of other pursuits.

I have noticed that there have been quite a few fires popping up among God’s people in the last few years, too.  There’s the push for instrumental music in worship.  Akin to this is the push to fellowship the Christian Church.  One of the largest conflagrations involves the push for woman to assume leadership roles from worship to roles like deacons and preaching ministers.  Of course, certain fires had been previously burning that are not yet contained–a looser view on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, denying the inspiration of the Bible, and such.  There are even areas we could consider tinderboxes, poised for combustion. How far are we from having to combat the spreading idea that those in committed, homosexual relationships should be part of our spiritual fellowship.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not being fatalistic or giving up hope.  I believe we have the time, resources, and manpower to fight these fires.  Not only that, but we must be engaged in this business.  Ignoring these fires is not an acceptable option.

Yet, putting out such fires comes at an expense.  There is a lost world to be won to Christ.  There are so many opportunities to be proactive and serve the benevolent needs of our communities.  There are needed programs to build our fellowship, Bible school, singles, young adults and college students, and more.  There is the need to solicit greater involvement from members.  There are projects to take on, from media ministries to mission works.  These require our interest and effort.  Let us man the firebreaks, but let us not be wholly consumed with just putting out the fires.  Neither let us be afraid to equip ourselves to battle those flames.  Such will require balance, wisdom, courage, and love.  May God help us have a double portion of them all.

What To Do When The Bull Takes You By The Horns

Neal Pollard

It’s one of those pictures where you are relieved to know that the people captured in a painful predicament survived and recovered just fine.  That way, you don’t feel guilty laughing at them.  In the October 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest (p. 109), there is an incredible picture from the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.  What are the chances that one bull would be lucky enough to skewer brothers.  One either end of this bull’s rack are Americans that were, um, painfully caught.  The bull, literally, took them by his horns.  Even Hemingway would have to call this “poetic justice.”

It would be interesting to learn the etymology of the phrase, “take the bull by the horns.”  We know it is an encouragement to endure the risks in doing something bold, daring, and difficult.  It depicts bravery, bravado, and brazenness.

What happens when risk and daring backfire?  What about when you stick your neck out and your nearly lose it?  What about when your big dreams come to resemble a nightmare?

When the bull takes you by the horns, it hurts.  Though I don’t know this from first hand experience, I have seen the video footage and enough photos like the one in RD to believe it.  It hurts when you take that big risk (to invite a friend to church, to have a Bible study not end in baptism, to hand an olive branch to someone you’re at odds with and have the hand slapped, etc.).  Acknowledge that those who dare and do will sometimes know defeat.

When the bull takes you by the horns, it’s not usually fatal.  I have concluded it is the adrenaline rush of staring death in the face that gets these Type A’s into the narrow streets of Pamplona.  The dread of the goring is felt many more times often than the point of the horns.  If you’ve failed trying something big for the Lord, you may wrestle with being gun-shy.  Yet, ask yourself, “Did it kill me?”  If you are reading this, it obviously did not!  Try again!  Your next attempt may be your greatest.

When the bull takes you by the horns, learn from it!  When it comes to the running of the bulls, I’d say that the lesson to be learned is stay off the streets when angry bulls seeing a lot of red are turned loose there.  Perhaps another lesson is to run at least a step or two faster than the guy beside you.   But, when daring to do great things for God, learn from the mistakes and failures.  Let it instruct you.  Be wiser next time.  Try a different approach.  But, at all costs, do not stop doing your very best for Christ.