KNOCKING DOWN THE WALLS OF JERICHO

KNOCKING DOWN THE WALLS OF JERICHO

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

God had promised the land of Canaan as early as Abraham (Gen. 15:18ff). The first city of Israel’s conquest was Jericho (Josh. 6:1). The word about and reputation of God’s people preceded them, so Jericho “was tightly shut because of” them. Despite this, the LORD told Joshua that “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:5). Israel followed God’s unorthodox battle plan and “the wall fell down flat” and “they took the city” (6:20). Though they’d suffer a setback because of one man’s disobedience, this was the dramatic start of what would be the accomplishment of the land promise made to Israel.

God also promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This was fulfilled through Christ (Gal. 3:28). One of the ways Jesus proved that He was the Christ was “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” in their midst (Acts 2:22). He started His ministry in Galilee (Mat. 4:17) and ended it in Jerusalem (Mat. 16:21), but near the end He had His own Jericho triumphs. He had not one, but two that are recorded by the gospel writers. One involved Him performing one of His many miracles, gaining a victory over sickness, but the other was a triumph of a different kind gaining a victory over Satan. 

Luke indicates Jesus was approaching Jericho when He encounters a blind beggar (Luke 18:35). Matthew and Mark also seem to record the same miracle, identifying this man as Bartimaeus, and showing perhaps “that the Saviour went in and out at the same gate of the city, and that the miracle falls into two parts” (Lange 282). But Jesus’ knocks down the wall between the haves and have nots, the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable, when He has mercy on him and gives him his sight (Luke 18:37-43). Immediately after Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jericho and passes through (19:1). Now, he knocks down the wall between the righteous and the sinner (19:7). He went to be a guest in the house of Zaccheus, who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. The end result of this encounter is “salvation” (19:9). 

Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew name for Jesus is “Joshua”? Isn’t it also interesting that Jesus performs these miracles in proximity to the walls of Jericho? The walls that Jesus knocks down are important to us today. They tell us that the gospel is for the poor, the hurting, the needy, the seedy, the rejects, and the sinner. Wasn’t God preparing us for this when Joshua spares a harlot and her family in the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-23)? 

Jesus was certainly about knocking down the walls we can be quick to build. Who does Jesus want us to be taking the gospel to today? Certainly, He’s not against those who are financially blessed (Zaccheus was). He’s not against those who are socially well-connected (many Christian converts in Acts and the epistles were). But, here is where Jesus is revolutionary. As Paul puts it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5). 

What should His church look like today? The gospel transforms lives and lifts people morally and spiritually higher. But, He’s interested in the Rahabs, Bartimaeuses, and Zeccheuses of our day! Jesus wants to break down barrier walls (Eph. 2:14). He wants you and me using the gospel to do the job for Him today! 

Kathy in Jericho, March, 2018
“Soft Civil War”

“Soft Civil War”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

It is no secret that we are politically divided in this country. Larger cities are typically progressive, while the majority of a state’s rural populations are conservative. This has even dictated what kind of news we watch! If you watch CNN, you fit in with progressives. If you watch Fox News, you are most likely conservative. Both approach reality with their own highly specific bias in order to appeal to their respective audiences. As a result of this, we have entered into what is being called a “soft civil war.” Liberals speak with extreme hatred against conservatives. Conservatives speak with great hatred against liberals. It may be a soft civil war right now, but it would not take much at this point to become a full-fledged war.

As a church, we are a kingdom. Our king is Christ and the citizens of this kingdom are Christians. Sadly, the church is not immune to soft civil wars. In Philippians 4, Paul strongly rebukes Euodia and Syntyche because their argument was destroying the church. How easily we can become heated and hateful over matters of opinion! The way we handle differing opinions on matters not pertaining to salvation determines whether we will be unified as a church or whether – like Euodia and Syntyche – we will be a force for division. The greatest tragedy of the American Civil War was that families fought on opposing sides and killed one another. As the body of Christ, let us continue to handle our differences with godliness, love, and patience.

Monday Through Saturday Relationships

Monday Through Saturday Relationships

Gary Pollard

We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith. 
What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith. 
The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven). 

The Tie That Binds 

The Tie That Binds 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

When it comes to the families that make up the church, what ties us together is a common bright future. While every family has it’s differences, one constant remains— the church. All strive to follow those guidelines laid out in Scripture. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I’m SURE of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

The writer speaks with assurance, and that confidence is well placed. From His-story we see that God always completes His projects. He never dreams, He creates. He decided to create the world and here it is. He decided to save the world, and here we are.

Paul also would write in Romans 7-8 that the flesh tends to get in the way of the spiritual. God is perfect, but we’re not. That’s what makes us a work in progress. Aren’t we thankful that God provides the solutions to “fix” us up?

We’re involved in a great work because there simply is no better work than what is being done by His church. That being said, many of us struggle with overcomplicating things. We try to make sense of our individual lives, and when we leave God out it all becomes a discouraging battle. Where’s the peace? Joy? Confidence? Maybe it was left behind when we left God’s path. Thankfully God came down to earth years ago to teach us everything we need to know. We see that in His interactions with people. Even His twelve original followers were an odd group.

Each had a diverse background. Some were Fishermen and some tax collectors.

Each one had a unique personality too! They ranged from timid to assertive.

Each one had spiritual battles from greed to crippling doubt.

Yet each one rallied under His leadership and were united through a common hope.

What’s changed? Not much.

The personalities, talents, backgrounds, and flaws mixed together create a unique blend that make up each one of us. Yet, here we are rallied under His leadership, united in common hope.

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Maybe Nobody’s Right?

Maybe Nobody’s Right?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Wasted potential is a terrible tragedy and this could not be more true when it comes to those who squander their potential in the church. Consider two common examples we find in many congregations today. There may be an older man who uses the respect, earned by his lengthy life experiences, as a platform to give strong opinions— disguised as gospel truth. Or, what about the young woman who has been labeled as a liberal? She has these new and fresh ideas, but many aren’t Divinely authorized in scripture.

Both of these individuals could not be any different, yet both have caused severe damage in their local church families. The older man clearly has a commanding presence. When he speaks, people will listen. What a gift! He could build up and strengthen the church in numerous ways— if he put his mind to it. He owns the power of persuasion, a talent others deeply desire. The young woman also has talent. She’s outspoken, energetic, and inspiring to many of her peers. She’s loving, gentle, and full of life. With so much to offer, how could she throw it all away by pushing her modern, but unbiblical views?

The elderly may argue that the problems we find in the church today are on account of young minds with liberal beliefs. The younger generation have become disenchanted with “church” because they believe it’s outdated, hypocritical, legalistic, and impossibly demanding. While there is truth to be found on both sides of the fence, it’s also true that talent is a tool that is often misused.

The elderly bring experience and wisdom. The young bring energy and enthusiasm— though I do acknowledge that these stereotypes may occasionally be seen in members of both groups. If there are thoughtless accusations, without thoughtful solutions, you end up with a congregation full of members fighting for the spoon which stirs the pot. A serious solution can only be scriptural. After all, God made people and He knows how to fix them.

Maybe we need to go back to those basic and foundational principles that we find in that thriving first century church. Despite adversity and an overwhelming hostile environment, they had Jesus’ power over the world (John 16:33). Since this is the case, may we never fool ourselves into believing the lie that the strange darkness of our time is too dark for The Light that is Christ. When this poison is digested, the devil smirks, and droves of people stumble into eternity unprepared all on account of a literal and tragically damning lie.

God has allowed us to discover hope, experience growth, and uncover a calming peace when simple Christianity is practiced. It’s this beautiful simplicity that makes God’s will a rewarding journey to seek and follow. The power of God can turn a struggling congregation into a thriving one, but there must be a radical transformation in the heart of each individual that makes up that Body. It’s radical, but it’s not complicated. It will take prayer, a reliance on God, courage to act, and a willful determination to follow Jesus wherever He goes (Luke 9:57-62).

So where do we begin? With a dedication to the understanding of Him, and those made in His image.

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Some Beautiful ‘Truths About Race

Some Beautiful ‘Truths About Race

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

I wonder if we’ll ever live in a world free of racial turmoil, tragedy, inequity, and bigotry. Whenever we make assumptions, blanket statements (or beliefs), or judgments about people based on something so literally superficial as skin color, we miss the deeper possibilities–love, relationship, and unity, just to name a few. One thing we can never legitimately do, when seeking to prop up racial prejudice, is to lean on the Bible to do so.

Scripture highlights the racial tensions that existed on both sides of the Jewish-Gentile divide in both testaments. Yet, instead of endorsing it, the Bible–especially through Christ–seeks to transcend and destroy it. Consider some beautiful truths it teaches about race.

–“He made from one man (literally, “from one”; some versions say “one blood” and others “one ancestor”) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26). As many have put it, “We’re all related through Adam.” Malachi rhetorically asks, “Do we not all have one father?” (2:10). There is biological unity among the races.

–“Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26). The Godhead declares this at the creation, when making that first man. Every person of every race shares this marvelous, identifying trait. No human should suffer an identity crisis, in the ultimate sense. We’re made in the image of God! There is existential unity among the races.

–With no qualifier, Scripture says “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There may be different genetic predispositions or conditions that strike each of the races of humanity, but this inevitable ending awaits us all. There is corporeal or physical unity among the races. 

–Among so many passages that relates a similar principle, Solomon writes, “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13). Each individual has a particular makeup, whether we speak of extroverts or introverts, moodiness or even-temperedness, expressiveness or reservation, or the like, but all of us have an emotional makeup. There is emotional unity among the races. 

–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Each one of us has unique struggles, weaknesses, and temptations. Ultimately, none of us escapes this reality. There is spiritual unity among the races. This extends to the fact that One man died for all sinners (2 Cor. 5:20). Then, beautifully, because of this, He places every obedient believer in Christ in one body (Eph. 2:16). As Paul declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is [a]neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Men will try to stoke and foment division. The carnal will embrace and inflame such baseness as racial prejudice, with its fear, assumption, and blind ignorance. But let all who do so step away from the Bible and away from the cleansing blood of the Savior. For neither cover such sin! Instead, let us answer the call of Scripture to strive toward unity in every area God sets forth. 

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Tyler King studying the Bible with a truth seeker. 

Untied States

Untied States

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

My wife and I were watching an NCIS episode where terrorists attempt to use fake currency to carry out an attack on the U.S. power grid. Their trail was picked up when instead of “United States” on the bills, “Untied States,” was found. 

With the pandemic we’re facing, we have briefly enjoyed some unity not seen in seven decades. A lot of the partisan stuff has slowed, a lot of the animosity between political parties has simmered down, and people are beginning to treat each other like neighbors again. 

With the cautiously optimistic breakthroughs in our fight against this virus, we seem to be slipping back into the “Untied States.”  I think our enjoyment of the peace accompanying this unity will stick around and we’ll be as neighborly as we have been, even after quarantines have been lifted. We’re witnessing the ugliness of a government not unified and perhaps we will have gained some perspective as a result of this global trial. 

That feeling of relief, calm, peace, reset, unity, and love has to be what God feels when His church is unified. It is what we experience when we put others above ourselves and treat each other like family. 

We have a super cool opportunity once quarantines are lifted! I miss my family at Hebron like crazy – I’m not alone in missing my church family. We have a chance to use that momentum to love more, be more selfless, argue less, and encourage more. If we take these qualities and run with them, the church will grow like wildfire. Beyond that, the world will see the love we have and will want to be a part of it. 

John 13.35 

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Scene from a church potluck

A PROVEN RECIPE FOR PEACE

A PROVEN RECIPE FOR PEACE

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

Peace conjures a number of different images in our minds; from hippies to nature’s beauty to inner calm to lack of anxiety. Nearly every group of people in the world craves peace – no rational human being wants to live in constant upheaval. We all want to have peace, but our world somehow is still getting worse and worse. Why is this? The prince of this world is not a being who desires peace (II Corinthians 4.4; Ephesians 2.2; John 12.31). His very existence is dedicated to bringing down anyone who believes in God (I Peter 5:8) and he has no care or concern for the fate or well-being of anyone on this earth. Total, lasting world peace will never be possible as long as time continues (see Romans 8.18-25: sin caused the earth to be subjected to futility). 

Total, lasting world peace may not be possible in this life, but this does not mean the world cannot experience any peace at all. How can we experience peace in our lives? 

Firstly, it has to come from us. The world will never act in a way that brings peace. Anytime the world wishes to better its conditions, it incites civil unrest, riots, protests, and other not-very-peaceful behaviors. Christians, however, are called to be different. I Timothy 2.1ff tells us that praying to God on behalf of all men, for kings, and all who are in authority will allow us to lead quiet and tranquil lives in all godliness and dignity. We can have peace by being obedient to government authorities – even if we do not agree with them politically – because God put them in place (Romans 13). If we want peace, we have to show that peace by how we live. Since man is naturally attracted to peace, our quiet, godly lives will draw others to Christ. 

Secondly, even if our world is in chaos we can have inner peace. Philippians was written to break up a nasty fight between Euodia and Syntyche. To have the “peace beyond what we can understand,” they had to rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable, not be anxious, and reach out to God for their every need. The same applies to us today! Do we get our joy from God or from worldly pursuits? Are we worried about meeting personal needs or do we rely on God (see Phil. 4.19; Matt. 6.25)? Do we try to fix our own problems, relying on our own strength, or do we place them in God’s hands and work with His guidance and providence? The Christian life is not easy, nor is it always peaceful, but the inner peace that a faithful Christian experiences, knowing that their name is in the book of life and that nothing in this short life can disrupt God’s love for them, makes every struggle in this life worth the pain. 

If we want peace, we have to be that peace. We have to live peaceful lives. We have to submit to governing authorities (as long as it is within the parameters of godliness). We have to be unified as a church. We have to look to God for all of our needs. We have to trust that He will take care of us, even if that isn’t in this life. If we can do these things, we will have peace.

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Unity Between The Old And The Young

Unity Between The Old And The Young

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

An engine needs three things to run: fuel, spark, and air (compression). Engines have come a very long way since their initial designs and unless you’re driving an e-car, these items still have to be in place and tuned properly. I’m partial to older engines simply because they’re easy to understand and work on. 

When diagnosing a problem, you can often tell if you’re getting fuel by looking at the in-line filter or simply smelling for it. You can tell if you’re getting spark by disconnecting a plug, grounding it to the body, and looking for a spark. You can tell if you have compression by sticking your finger over a plug-hole and turning the engine over. The older engines were simple. 

Newer engines are far more difficult. They operate under the same basic rules, but computers and fuel injection systems and tight spaces make it much harder to work on them. However, they are generally more reliable, fuel efficient, and powerful. Carl’s 1986 F-150 with a 351 Windsor (5.9L V8) has about half the power (and a third of the fuel economy) of his 2017 F-150 with a 2.7L Ecoboost, for example. 

The church is made up of more than just one generation. There are both old people and young people. Both are prone to emphasizing the strengths or weaknesses of their generation when it comes to the health of the church. Young people might complain that old people move too slowly (getting things done), are too traditional, and have no place in the future of the church. Old people might complain that young people are too quick to change things, don’t take church seriously, and are self-centered. 

Both generations are vital to the health of the church. The elderly bring experience, toughness, and proven life experience to the table. They’ve been through it, they’ve seen it, and they got through it. Younger Christians must learn from this experience and show older Christians the love and respect they deserve. Younger Christians bring energy, enthusiasm, and a willingness to execute vision to the table. As stated before, modern engines still have the critical components of older engines at the heart of their function. They may be more efficient, but would not be operational without those functions. 

When the church works together, older and younger alike, to promote growth, unity, and faithfulness, the result is awesome. No other group can enjoy that kind of peace! A church that works together will influence the world in ways that terrify satan. Not only is this something we should want, it’s also commanded (I Timothy 5.1; Romans 12.10; See also Leviticus 19.32; Proverbs 16.31). 

In a polarized world, we can really make a difference when we’re loving and respectful to everyone in our spiritual family. It is a breath of fresh air to anyone who experiences it, it proves the church is from God, and it will save lost souls. 

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My brothers and me with Ela Beth and George Bailey at Polishing the Pulpit, 2008

“They Were Together”

“They Were Together”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

When I study the phenomenal growth of the New Testament church, there is no doubt that they owed that growth to the divine source of the message they preached and the dedicated way in which the early Christians spread the good news. They also believed that message with all their heart, and that faith drove a sense of dedication and commitment no matter what obstacles they encountered. But, along with factors like those, they grew because they needed one another. They spent time together, not just in their assembly times, but at other times.

Luke highlights this fact. “They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship” (Acts 2:42).  “They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They got together to pray (Acts 4:23ff; 12:5,12). They got together daily for preaching and teaching (Acts 5:42). Though the word is used in a wide variety of contexts, you’ll find the word “together” over 30 times in Acts. 

Isolation is the word to best describe the trend in the current culture. Much of it is self-imposed, with so many withdrawing from social contact for such reasons as the ironically-named “social media” and technology. We have created a virtual world that, to some degree, has replaced authentic, face-to-face interaction. 

“Community” is built upon commonality and likemindedness. Sports, politics, civic and social interests, and the like all draw people together into circles of sameness. Nothing should compel any of us more than our faith in Christ, the salvation He freely gave us, and the incredible, eternal future He has promised us. What an ironclad bond, this “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1)! There is no greater bond of closeness I can imagine than spending time with people whose hearts are open and submissive to the commands of Scripture and whose lives are lived in faith and hope in the promises of Scripture. They can help me grow and build my desire. Or, as the Hebrews writer says regarding assembly times, we can “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24). 

When I was a teen, I remember a song that captured this sentiment perfectly, if simply: “Fellowshipping with one another as we’re walking in the light, when we give our hearts to each other you can feel the love inside. For there’s nothing as sweet as fellowship as we share each other’s lives” (Lancaster). Not bitterness, isolation, suspicion, grudge-bearing, apathy, or disinterest. Sweet fellowship! A church that grasps this will grow and thrive, strengthened and sustained through trials, problems, and opposition. May we be a church that’s remembered this way–“They were together!”

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Photo credit: Rachel Wheat