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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Tony Robbins And Proverbs Six

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you heard about the 30 “followers of motivational speaker Tony Robbins” who “were burned while walking on hot coals” in Dallas, Texas, over the weekend (nbcnews.com). Now, nearly 7,000 others were not injured, but when nearly three dozen were it became a national news story. The firewalk is “a symbolic experience that proves if you can make it through the fire, you can make it through anything” (ibid.).  But, there is a catch. Don’t run, have wet feet, or try to go across a firebed that is too long (the Guiness Book of World Records says the longest firewalk was just shy of 600 feet in Calgary in 2007).  No one seems to disagree that one cannot indefinitely walk on hot coals. God, who created fire and feet, moved Solomon to say, “Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Prov. 6:28).

This statement comes as part of Solomon’s warning about “the evil woman” and the “adulteress” (cf. 6:24).  He warns about her alluring beauty and ways (25), showing the consequences that one may miss when driven by lust rather than law: one is reduced (26), destroyed (32), wounded and disgraced (33), reproached (33), and repaid with revenge (34). One of Solomon’s two metaphors to depict adultery’s repercussions is feet being burned by walking on hot coals (the other is taking fire in his bosom and his clothes being burned).

Countless men and women have been deceived by the seemingly harmless effects of allowing attraction for someone other than their mate to grow in their hearts and minds. One may let admiration and attraction for this other person to take root in their hearts. Defenses are lowered and lines begin to be crossed. The thrill and excitement of the prospective relationship can come to eclipse rational thoughts, negative consequences, and the fallout in the lives of all the people affected. When David gazed at Bathsheba from his rooftop, he saw a beautiful, naked woman rather than murder, death, humiliation, dysfunction, loss of influence, and agonizing heartbreak. His unlawful desire for her prevented him from seeing past what he wanted in the moment.

God’s laws are immutable. One cannot flout them without the fruit that follows. So many who have crossed that line have desperately wished they could go back to the other side of that firebed and taken the righteous path. May each of us have the wisdom to see these kinds of things from God’s eyes, which are pure, right, and perfect. Realize that pursuing a person who is not your lawful mate is like playing with fire! Don’t get burned.

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God Revealed (poem)

Neal Pollard

The mighty arm of creation, brooding or building
The hand that tipped the canopy, drowning sinners
The finger that stirred the languages, babblers yielding
The heart that made the heirs of Abram winners

The Majesty presented in a bush, resilient though burning
The Master who through plagues made Pharaoh submit
The Merciful One who longed for Israel’s returning
The Measuring Rod whose justice sin did not acquit.

The everlasting to everlasting, whose word’s a holy knife
Inhabitant of the heavens, swaddling Incarnate babe
Kindling Spirit, Father, Son, the way, truth and life
Perfect in character, with power the obedient to save.

Gatekeeper of heaven, consigner of the wicked to hell
Served by angels, ruler of the living and the dead
Spirit, love and light, divinest nature not one part frail
Eyes all-seeing, mind all-knowing, power unlimited.

Hope of the hopeless, joy for the tearful mourner
Source of strength for the heavy-laden soul
Lifter of the penitent fallen, all-glory adorner
Author of salvation who one day will call the judgment roll.

Since He is and is rewarder, let not one refuse His order!
If Satan’s power you’d have repealed, obey the God the word’s revealed!

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Do We Need Permission?

Neal Pollard

For several years while in Virginia, I enjoyed going out with a couple of dear Christian brothers to hunt for Civil War relics.  Of course, hunting on federal property was a serious crime and was unthinkable. However, so many of the personal properties owned by residents in the Richmond area were treasure troves of those artifacts. Their woods and fields held bullets, shells, buckles, buttons, and the like. Dave Young, Jr., always followed the same procedure before our hunts. He would go see the homeowners where we wanted to hunt, people he had known, built friendships and done business with for years. If we got their permission—sometimes the thoughtless or unethical practices of other hunters made them inclined to refuse us—then we would go on their property and hunt for relics. It was their land and their right to permit or deny. If we had ever chosen to hunt one of those places without permission and got caught, it would have been a silly argument to say, “They did not tell us we couldn’t hunt here.”

This example is crude and imperfect, but I think it illustrates a principle most can understand. It is not natural to construe someone’s silence as permission. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith and practice in religion, we attempt that very approach.

When it comes to how we live and serve in this life, we have to have God’s approval for whatever we do (Col. 3:17). When He tells us what His will is on any matter, our response to that should be thoughtful, careful, and submissive.  To be otherwise would be thoughtless, careless, and rebellious—with God’s stated desires.  To think that God would give us physical life, generous physical blessings, incredible spiritual blessings, spiritual life, and powerful promises on a continuous basis and we could ever be callous or cavalier about what He wants reveals an unfathomable audacity. Frank Chesser once depicted such an attitude this way, saying, “It has no respect for either the sound or the silence of God’s voice. It only does what the Bible says in a given area because it happens to agree with the Bible on that point. At the first sign of conflict, it will have its own way ever time” (The Spirit of Liberalism 18).

Church music in worship often gets isolated from the larger principle.  How we worship God in song, whether with or without mechanical instruments, is just one specific of a much broader principle. God has told us what He wants for church music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Whatever we do must meet His expressed will. Projecting songs, using songbooks or shape notes, having a song leader, or singing in parts or four-part harmony still falls within the category of His command that we sing. But this same principle covers everything we do in worship as well as the specific commands He has for us regarding our work as a church, our response to His grace in order to have His salvation, and the like.

Our culture teaches us to ask, “Why can’t I?” It encourages us to say, “You didn’t say I couldn’t.” But, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The humble spirit of a grateful, grace-receiving child of God, when viewing the will of God, should always be, “Do I have permission for that?”  Such is neither cowering fear or abject slavery.  It is adoration and reverence for a Lord who gave everything that we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

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Some of my relics from back in the day

THE BOY WHO STAYED HOME

Neal Pollard

When we think of the parable in Luke 15, we inevitably think of the younger son who left home for the far country of sin. We appreciate God giving us the prodigal (reckless; wastefully extravagant) son in this parable to illustrate hope, love, and forgiveness, no matter what we may have done. Then we think of our favorite character in this story, the father. He represents God and reveals God’s eagerness to embrace and restore a sinner who repents. He gives the undeserved, unexpected, and unanticipated (cf. Eph. 2:4-8).

Then, there’s that other main character in the story. How does he strike you? After all, his brother has been reckless and irresponsible and his dad lets him off scot-free and even throws him a party. He robbed his father blind, and he isn’t even punished one bit. How do you see the brother who stayed home? Let at the text more closely and see how God sees him.

  • He was guilty of self-righteousness. He complains to the father about the reception his brother received (29). With self-righteousness, there’s an exaggerated view of our own goodness. There’s an exaggerated view of the other guy’s badness. There’s a comparison where we come out on top of the other guy. There are often judgmental assumptions made about the other guy. Let’s not forget that Jesus condemns self-righteousness (cf. Luke 18:10-14). If the Father walked up on some of our condescending conversations, He would spoil our fun since the spirit of self-righteousness is so far removed from the spirit of a loving Father who longs for His wayward children to come home.
  • He lacked self-control (28). He appears quick-tempered, not waiting for an explanation. We have the conversation between the younger son and the father, and the older son and the father. Where is the conversation between the two brothers. Didn’t he claim to be the good, righteous one? There was no self-control in the way he talked to his father or about his brother. “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (Js. 1:26).
  • He was selfish. Why did he wring his hands about the younger brother’s wasteful spending? The father, who knew this son, answered, “All that I have is yours.” There is no evidence that the older brother was concerned about his formerly depraved brother or his once-grieving father. He seems more interested in how these things impacted him. He appears faithful to his father, but for the wrong purpose. What difference would it have made if the older brother saw the prodigal as someone to serve rather than slam?
  • He had an unforgiving spirit. His brother has sinned against him, but he was unwilling to forgive him. One of the servants called him “your brother” (27), the father calls him “this brother of yours” (32), but the only time he directly refers to him he calls him “this son of yours” (30). Behind these parables, the Pharisees and scribes grumble at Jesus receiving sinners. In the first two parables, people sought the lost. In this last parable, the older brother made no effort to go after his brother. God implies as early as Cain and Abel that we are our brother’s keeper (cf. Gal. 6:2; Js. 5:19-20). Not only did he not search for his brother, but now he won’t forgive him.
  • He was jealous. He thought the father was better to his erring brother (29-30). You can almost hear him saying, “You love him more than you love me.” He couldn’t stand to see his brother honored. How contrary to the way God wants His children treating each other (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:31-32). The older brother was making accusations and he hadn’t even spoken to him. He thinks the worst of him and is utterly lacking in brotherly affection.
  • He was not humble, but rebellious against his father’s will.  He wanted to tell the father how to run his house. Do you notice the younger son respectfully addressing his father (21)? There’s little if any respect from the older son (29-30). The Bible condemns self-will. Peter condemned those despising authority and the self-willed (2 Pe. 2:10). Some people are loyal to the church as long as they can have their own way.

Some of us may find ourselves in the position of the prodigal. None of us will ever be in the position of the father. May we never find ourselves in the position of the boy who stayed home. If we do, we may lose our place in the father’s house!

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Embracing The Struggler

Neal Pollard

So much is said about the deficiencies of youth and young adults in our current culture. While every generation has its shortcomings, I have observed a hopeful trend. Perhaps it rests on the faulty foundations of political correctness and relativism, but young people today seem much more prone to accept and nurture those who have discernible difficulties like handicaps, mental or physical challenges, or social limitations.

Another way it shows up, specifically in the church, is the way they rally around those who are spiritually broken or in need. When a teenager or young adult responds to the invitation, watch how their peers flock to their side to show their support. This beautiful, tangible act is reflective of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and it is a trait that the father so wanted from the older brother (cf. Luke 15:20,31-32). It looks a lot like the tender goodbye between Paul and the elders in Acts 20:37.

This willingness to reach out and comfort one another is a supremely biblical way of interacting within the family of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”  God calls His people to have that kind of nurturing spirit. When we see those who are physically hurting, we should respond (Mat. 25:35-36; 1 Jn. 3:17). When we see those who are emotionally hurting, we should respond (Rom. 12:15). When we see those who are spiritually hurting, we should respond (Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). The response should be more than token and certainly should not be heartless and surface. It should not be shown with favoritism, but to everyone who is in need of it.

This warm and loving response may not come as naturally to some of us who are older, but oh how crucial it is that we stretch ourselves to do it. Embracing a sinner does not mean embracing a sin. Let us discipline ourselves to see the difference. Hear the words of the Hebrews 12:12-13: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

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The Worst Way For Total Blindness To Occur

Neal Pollard

While visiting Ray and Lupida Lewis yesterday, I got to hear the story behind her current situation. This upbeat, sweet-spirited Christian woman was minutes from undergoing the first of at least three extensive back and neck surgeries necessitated by injuries suffered as she was walking and was struck by a driver going 35 miles per hour.

Lupida has had a degenerative eye condition since childhood. It had gotten to the point that she could barely see more than shapes, but, given her educational background, she had been recruited to serve as a teacher in the Colorado School for the Blind. By last year, despite corrective eye surgery, Lupida could only see light and nothing more. That fateful September day last year, she was struck in the crosswalk by the inattentive driver and suffered brain, neck and back injuries. Some of that may be remedied, and other issues will never be resolved. One that appears permanent is that her head injuries caused her to wake up without even the ability to see light. She says, “I see only darkness now. The light has gone away.” She observed that one cannot really imagine the huge difference between being able to see light and being in total darkness.

We did not discuss it together, but I believe Lupida would agree with me that, as tragic as her circumstances are, there is a blindness worse than her own.  Lupida lives with a faith and hope which assures her that her situation is, at worst, temporary. The song says, “Faith will be lost in heavenly sight.” She embraces that promise.

Today, you will constantly encounter people who may have the eyesight of an eagle when they submit to a physical test but who suffer a far greater blindness. Scripture often makes reference to wickedness as “walking in darkness” (Ps. 82:5; Prov. 2:13; Ecc. 2:14; Isa. 9:2; John 12:35; Eph. 5:8; 1 Jn. 1:6; 2:11). Tragically, it’s not the result of an accident–though it could be ignorance. Millions reject the light and pursue the darkness. They have every opportunity to see, but they don’t want to see. Ultimately, their voluntary journey through darkness leads to the outer darkness of condemnation (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Fortunately, their condition is reversible thanks to the Great Physician, but time is growing shorter by the moment. Ask God to lead you to those who are spiritually blind, and may we all endeavor to avoid such a condition ourselves (cf. Mat. 15:14; Rev. 3:17)!

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“GM”

Neal Pollard

I make a notation “GM” along with the date and place on the paper copy of my sermons to indicate that I preached that sermon in a gospel meeting. It is one of my homemade preacher shorthand notations. Growing up a “PK” (“preacher’s kid,” of course), I’ve got a lot of GM memories. I would not trade anything for them, especially the indelible imprint they made on me in shaping the adult I have become. Let me encourage you to bring your children and yourselves to our gospel meetings for what they will mean to your faith and for the part of you they will forever become. To me, the GM of gospel meeting stands for a few other things, too.

Great Memories. When James Watkins held a meeting for us in 1984 in Franklin, Ga., I led singing that Sunday night. I was 14, and this participation was a big deal to me. I led, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” and in verse three mistakenly bellowed out, “All ye fruitless trees and cedars.” Once when the air conditioner was out, we opened the side doors on either side of the pulpit for relief in that muggy July, west Georgia heat. This was an open invitation for the horse fly that landed on the calf of my leg during the chorus of “the song before our opening prayer,” which bit mercilessly until I could swat it during said prayer (which was by no means a quiet slap).

I remember attending a meeting in Carrollton, Georgia, and being jolted by Bobby Duncan’s dramatic cries of “the boy is home!” in his powerful telling of the story of the prodigal son. I remember, though, I was no more than 5 or 6, the smell of hay and watching members set up a portable baptistery for a tent meeting my dad preached in Aragon, Ga. I remember the family car rides when we rode to others’ meetings. I remember the baptisms, restorations, preaching, and fellowship so much a part of these special times.

Giant Men. Through this venue I first became acquainted with men who became my heroes: Frank Chesser, Perry Cotham, Howard Swann, James Watkins, Bobby Duncan, Truman Cobb, Franklin Camp, Winfred Clark, Wendell Winkler, Glen Posey, Ken Thomas, V.P. Black and others. I remember playing basketball with Ken Thomas, who had to play in his socks and still took us all to school (he also demolished me in a game of “punt, pass, and kick”). I recall having me heart stirred and being convicted of sin by the penetrating preaching of Frank Chesser.

I vividly recall being amazed by Perry Cotham, who seemed to me even three decades ago to be a very old preacher (I saw him preach in California when he was in his late 90s). I will never forget being touched by Franklin Camp’s tender heart as he told the story of Christ’s crucifixion. I was wowed by J.J. Turner’s ability to turn a phrase. There was the time when I walked by James Watkins’ hotel room and saw him diligently studying his Bible in the middle of the afternoon. These men were spiritual giants to me.

Gospel Message. Even as a child, I learned so much from the sermons I heard. I saw things in a new way because every preacher has his own unique style, history of study, and method of delivery. I was challenged by the Bible-centered approach these men faithfully took. I got my first glimpse at sermon organization, taking crude notes and main points from sermonic masterpieces. Meeting after meeting, year after year turned my heart and mind more and more to the Bible. Even then, I saw, at least to a juvenile degree, the effectiveness of this method of evangelism and edification.

Give your children, your mate, your non-Christian friends and neighbors, and yourself the pleasure of experiencing these unparalleled joys. The Godhead and the heavenly host pay particular interest to each service of every gospel meeting. Let us join them there and grow from hearing anew the wonderful story of love. It will stay with you for a lifetime.

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THE BEAUTY IN CHRISTIANITY

Neal Pollard

  • I have witnessed many people love, accept, help, and open their homes and lives to people of different races, backgrounds, and income levels.
  • I have watched families, including my parents, who barely had enough to buy their own groceries buy a poorer family a week’s worth of groceries.
  • I have seen love, assistance, and tears profusely given to people who frankly confessed their struggles with a variety of sexual sins, addictions, and the like. A hundred pledged love, help, and support for any one that stood back in harsh judgment of them.
  • I have experienced men, women, and children going into scary neighborhoods to share food, clean homes, and help explain the Bible to those who lived there.
  • I have noticed people who were taken advantage of as thanks for their generosity but who responded only with kindness and positivity.
  • I have observed so many cheeks, slapped with libel, untruths, gossip, and hypercriticism—from faithless unbelievers—humbly turned in benevolent, benign gentleness.
  • I have beheld godly people lose their jobs because of their fidelity to their faith and their conviction in the Christ, who maintained trust and left no room for bitterness and resentment at the unfairness of their treatment.
  • I have regarded families give up the luxuries of this country to go to poor countries and live among the people there, sharing the good news of Christ with those who don’t talk or look like them.
  • I have met more people than I can count who made the difficult choice to obey the gospel in the face of utter rejection and persecution from friends and family who disapproved their decision.
  • I have known countless, from the most aged to the youngest, whose demeanor, speech, and deeds were seasoned with compassion, understanding, sympathy, and patience—not conditioned on the skin color, orientation, political affiliation, educational attainment, or similar surface characteristics of others.

Where? Where has such magnanimous, merciful, and munificent behavior occurred? In the church of Christ! My heart sings the archaic hymn, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord.” In it, I have found the best people in the world, trying their hardest to be like Jesus. May we unite to oppose every instance of unkind, un-Christlike behavior among us, but do so with the same patience and understanding we afford anyone else.

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INTELLIGENT DESIGN

Neal Pollard

A child was sent to school one day,
By parents walking the narrow way,
The child learned many a concrete rule,
On Math and English in that school.
The history class did pretty well,
Spelling and language arts were swell,
But right before lunch, to science class,
Biology lessons one needed to pass.
Talk was made of ironclad “fact,”
“Evolution!” Of course.  The talk was packed
With tales of geology billions of years old,
And transformations a wonder to behold.
Every smart person, any rational mind
Accepts this “fact,” oh who’d be so blind,
So Neanderthalish to speak of design—
Intelligent purpose, such talk unbenign!
‘Tis a danger, the courts should never allow
A nod up to heaven or a teacher to bow
To the concept of design purposefully forged
Such poisonous food for a young mind to be gorged.
What’s next? Talk of accountability?
A Creator in heaven? Judgment? Eternity?
Outrageous that Bible thumpers insist
To include in school teaching such mythical mist.
Let’s stick to the concrete, from our father of faith
Brother Darwin’s didactics, so sacred and safe.
“Amen!” to Precambrian. Naturalism? “Preach on!”
Such humanistic glory, let God talk be gone!
We got here by purposeless, meaningless oops,
Universal precision via primordial soups.
So close up your Bible, turn off your mind,
Away with your dangerous, intelligent design.
Content yourself wholly with invertebrate grandmothers,
And bask in the beauty of babboonish brothers.
Any questions, young minds?  No?  Class is dismissed!
Go out into a world of designless abyss.

Ignore clues from systems both solar and lunar,
Or circular or vascular, far better the sooner,
The opposite of intelligent? Slow-minded and shallow
Of design? Confusion, a mess, a fog, or fallow.
How many a little mind, trusting and bright?
Are being led blindly minus logical light?
By teaching unintelligent, but doubtless by design,
To eternal unreadiness via moral decline?

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