COMING TOGETHER

Neal Pollard
For twelve years, I lived in the eye of Civil War History. Not only were many battles fought in almost every community neighboring Mechanicsville, Virginia (our home), but two were fought at Cold Harbor. While living there, I became an avid relic hunter–a type of amateur archaeologist digging for buttons, bullets, and buckles. Thanks to Dave Young, Sr., and Dave Young, Jr., who “pulled” me into this hobby, I got to see history up close and personally. It was fascinating, in one sense, to stand on the very ground where such history-shaping events occurred. In another way, the very activity was a sobering reminder of the tragedy that divided a nation. It even divided households, with brother fighting against brother.

It has often been reported that after that awful war, when Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy and Ulysses Grant of the Union died, their widows, Varina Davis and Julia Grant, settled near each other and became the closest of friends (Atlas Obscura). What a remarkable story of how two people, from opposite sides, came together! Their husbands were philosophically and militarily opposed to one another, but their spouses overcame those hindrances.

I never cease to be amazed at the differences that are overcome in Christ. On foreign mission trips, we may go to places where our governments are antagonistic to one another and find our common bond in Christ. Race, culture, education, and finance are all surmountable barriers in Christ. Ephesians 2:16 reveals how Jew and Gentile were reconciled by Christ’s cross in the church. God intended the church to be the place where people, despite their diversities, can all submit to Christ’s authority and be one. Yes, even yankees and southerners. Even easterners and westerners. Even college grads and grade school drop outs. Paul also wrote, “For by one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have ALL been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:13-14). In a world that tries to draw us apart and divide us, politically, ethnically, and regionally, Christ wants us coming together! Through the church, we can.

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Unmistaken Identity

Neal Pollard

They both had a mole next to one eye and a scar on the left wrist. They lived 54 miles apart, one in Brookville and the other in Mooresville, Indiana. It was said they were practically identical twins. For notorious bank robber John Dillinger, that was no problem. But, for upstanding Ralph Alsman, it was a nightmare. Alsman was arrested 17 times and shot 11 times. When arrested, though he was always released, he had to undergo stressful interrogations in which he had to prove he wasn’t Dillinger. Only when the real Dillinger was gunned down in 1934 did the unbelievable saga end for the hapless Alsman (information taken from The Pittsburgh Press, 6/18/34, p. 11). Can you imagine having to look over your shoulder everywhere you went just because you looked like someone else—a really bad someone else?

The thought occurs to me as I read that harrowing account, based on my attitude, speech, and actions, “Who or what would people mistake me for?” As I live out my life before the world, waiting in lines or in traffic, when under pressure at work, as people mistreat or frustrate me, judging from my relationships, my ethics, and my morality, would people say that I strongly resemble Jesus? He is supposed to be living in me (Gal. 2:20). It has been the case that bystanders have recognized people as having been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Of course, Scripture does not at all emphasize the physical appearance of Jesus (Isaiah 53:2), but Paul speaks of bearing the marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17). While his “marks” were literal stripes from a tormentor’s whip, there are unmistakeable traits of Jesus that we, too, can and must bear.

I have so much need and room for improvement in my spiritual life.  Every day, I want to look more like Jesus. I want people to see Him when they look at me. If they do, He will be pleased and they just might be saved. Let’s work on our appearance! It may mean eternal life for somebody in our life.

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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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The Reality Of Jesus Christ

Johnson Kell

He was born of a virgin and when He was about thirty years of age He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. And being full of the Holy Spirit He began His ministry walking the dusty roads of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, performing miracles and preaching the gospel. And He did go out carrying His own cross toward Calvary, and He did hang there for hours writhing in anguish and pain. And He did cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He did die there, shedding His blood for the sins of the world.

But there was a resurrection and He spent forty days with His apostles providing many proofs of a bodily resurrection–the tomb was found empty. And after forty days He spoke to them for the last time and as they watched intently He disappeared through the clouds on His way back to heaven. Some time later, when Stephen was being stoned to death, he cried out, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”

And so we have the assurance that our Savior is at His Father’s side making intercession for each one of us. And we can recall in the letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Colosse, where he cried, “Christ in you the hope of glory!” So as we are born-again children, we, too, can say, “Christ in us the hope of glory!”

This was and this is the reality of Jesus Christ.

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Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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How Do You Spell “Cross”?

Neal Pollard

  1. “SEE”– Look at Calvary. Don’t turn away. I know it’s not easy. What is done to Him is shameful. I know. But, look closely! Past the spittle. Beyond the blood. There. In His eyes. Friend, that is love. It is love for you! See the nails in His hands and feet, fastening Him to a tree He created for man’s use. Look at the love He has for you!
  2. “ARE?”–Are you able to see that He bled and died for you? Are you willing to admit you’re lost without Him? Are you ready to submit to His will, to obey Him, and to live for Him? Are you prepared for eternity? Are you convinced?
  3. “OH”–Hear His cries of pain and agony. The death of a thousand deaths. Bitter moans of His disciples. The gasp of heaven’s angels. The sorrow of a Father for His only begotten Son! The gasps and exclamations of a hateful mob.
  4. “SS”–That’s the hiss of the beguiling serpent. The one who is bruising the heel of the perfect One, putting God the Son in the tomb. This is his moment of triumph. Though resurrection will soon spell victory for Christ and hope for man, at the cross the devil must be enjoying his front row seat at Calvary. Doesn’t he anger you? Disgust you? Motivate you? Live for Jesus, the Lion of Judah. Don’t live for the roaring, devouring lion.

Friends, the cross spells the difference between heaven and hell, hope and hopelessness, joy and sorrow, night and day!

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How To See The Good In Others

Neal Pollard

Some just can’t! They assume bad motives, intentions, and behaviors in others. They like to predict failure and disaster. Some take that attitude toward people, including Christians. “They won’t last!” “They can’t cut it as a deacon/elder.” “He won’t ever be a good preacher!” “They just want the praise of men.” Think about all the people you know and interact with. Some are exceptionally talented and pleasant and some are pretty worthless and repulsive, but most are in-between the two extremes. But, what if I told you that you could influence what others become?  Barnabas did (Acts 4:36).  He was so good at encouraging people, “encouragement” wasn’t his middle name but his first name. Who was the first one to see good in Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:27)? Who saw great potential in Antioch (Acts 11:23-26)? Who still believed in John Mark (Acts 15:37), who Paul would later think valuable once more (2 Tim. 4:11)? Barnabas was a great leader because of what he could see in others. We can make an eternal difference in people by seeing the good in them.

First, take them where they are. Jesus did.  Do you remember when Jesus met Peter (Luke 5:1-11)? Peter calls himself sinful.  We know he was impetuous (John 18:10) and could use unsavory words (Mat. 26:74). Peter’s business partners, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17) seemed to have some anger management issues. In fact, Jesus made it an emphasis to take sinful people and work with them wherever they were (the woman at the well, the sinful woman caught in adultery, Bacchus, publicans, sinners, etc.). We will never help people get to heaven if we can’t take them where they are.

Then, see them for what they could be. Whether it’s a non-Christian or Christian, they need us to be able to see their potential and think the best of them. I don’t mean gullibility or compromise, but optimism! Why did Christ put such effort into Peter? He was a sinful man when He met him, made many mistakes while he was with Him, and denied Him in His greatest moment of need (Luke 22:60-62). He saw what Peter could be (John 21:15-17). Look past people’s quirks and flaws; imagine the possibilities.  There’s got to be a soul-winner in every Christian, since Christ commands it of us all (Mark 16:15-16). Every one of us can be faithful, dedicated, and fruitful Christians. Every lost person could have their hearts softened by the gospel–at the least the gospel has the power (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16). Remember, love “hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

Finally, help them be what they can be. It’s far easier to be the critic and tell people what they’re doing wrong. But remember, “To belittle is to be little.” Criticism alone is useless.  It’s a lot tougher to help people improve and to go about helping with patience. Jesus didn’t end His work by telling people what sinners or failures they were. He guided them to the better way (Mat. 7:13). He told the adulteress to stop sinning (John 8:11). He told Peter to go feed His sheep (John 21). When He was through with Zaccheus, he went from thief to philanthropist. Jesus’ whole purpose was to take people afflicted with sin and transform them. It is rewarding work to invest in people and to help them grow. The Bible tells us to help people do better and be better (Gal. 6:1). To see the best in others, be willing to help and lead them (Luke 6:39-40).

If we are negative and pessimistic, that really is just a commentary on us. Look for good in others. Accept, anticipate, and assist!

THE MASTER’S MATERIAL

Neal Pollard

A while back it was popular in the religious world to talk about Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The emphasis has often been on the disciples’ experience. I believe the biblical emphasis is on the character of Jesus. The disciples are contemplating Him even as they encounter Him. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Notice three reasons why He was so mighty in word before all the people.

JESUS KNEW HIS MATERIAL. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Truly His knowledge is perfect and ours is not, but there is no excuse for failing to study–both on our own and for a class we are teaching or sermon we are preaching.

JESUS KNEW HOW TO RELATE ITS MEANING EFFECTIVELY. The men journeying to Emma’s, after walking with Jesus, said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The dismal method of too many Bible classes is to essentially read and paraphrase in verse by verse fashion. Preaching can too often be disorganized in delivery or vague in message. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV).  Robertson says of “rightly handling” that it means “cutting straight…Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor?” (Vol. 4, 619). As presenters of truth, tell what it meant then and in context, and then apply it!

JESUS KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE MATERIAL LIVE IN HIS STUDENTS. Luke 24:45 says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is just what we are after as teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of the Word. We are not just fact-reporting. We are trying to get into the heart. Remember that Jesus sought to change lives with His teaching.

Only Jesus was the perfect teacher. But we can always be better and great. Let us mimic the Master’s approach to His material!

“Not Yet, Not Yet”

Neal Pollard

American born painter, James Whistler, was as controversial as he was competent.  The artist best known for Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (or, Whistler’s Mother), the famous painting depicting an aging woman in side profile wearing a bonnet, was as known for his arrogance and egotism (Peters, Lisa N. James McNeill Whistler. Smithmark: New York, 1996. p. 4).  On one occasion, Whistler was told that a shipment of blank canvasses he had ordered was lost in the mail.  He was asked if they were of any value and he replied, “Not yet, not yet” (Today In the Word, 12/3/92).

We are born into this world innocent and with endless potential.  Some are born with many more advantages and opportunities than others.  All of us who live to maturity leave this life, whatever we achieve, stained by sin having disappointed or transgressed against others.  Yet, of what value will we be to those we meet?  What to our families, our friends, the church, and the world?  It depends upon what we allow God to do with our lives.  He can take the most mundane, ordinary material and work a masterpiece through it.  If we allow Him to work on the canvas of our lives, we will become infinitely better parents, spouses, and Christians.  But, how can we become masterpieces in the hands of the Master?

  • Keep your heart soft (Eph. 4:32).
  • Have hands that are willing (Neh. 2:18).
  • Have feet that are ready (Eph. 6:15).
  • Maintain an open mind (1 Chr. 28:9).
  • Turn your face toward Him (cf. Job 22:26).
  • Strengthen your back (cf. Nah. 2:1).

Such is the possibility for everyone who submits themselves a blank canvas to be worked upon by the Master Artist.  He is not arrogant.  He is perfect.  It is not a boast for Him to declare His ability to transform the dullness of our lives into the brilliance produced by the influence of His Word and will!  You are not yet what you could be.  When all is said and done, will you have been what you could be?  The decision is made if you let Christ work upon you.

Whistler’s Mother (1871)

“He Has Put A New Song In My Mouth”

Neal Pollard

Pollards love singing and music. A few (and they usually are those who marry into the family) actually know a few things about either or both. We are thankful that “joyful noise” does not mean “pleasant melody.”

David was probably quote the songster. The “sweet psalmist” wrote the Jewish hymn book, songs used by God’s people over the course of two covenants and hundreds and hundreds of years. We still sing songs inspired by his inspired psalms, and some songs are derived, verbatim, from the sacred text. In Psalm 40:3, David declares, “He has put a new song in my mouth.”

Isn’t that true? Maybe, you used to sing “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” or “Am I Blue?” Now, we sing, “I’m Happy Today” and “I’m Redeemed.” Our favorite song might have been “Let’s Talk About Me.” Now, our anthem is, “Make Me A Servant” and “In The Service Of My King.” It used to be that our theme song was “We Are Living In A Material World” but now it’s “This World Is Not My Home.” Maybe, we used to sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” but now we can sing “God’s Family.”

The difference Jesus makes to us hits every facet of our lives. It impacts the very songs in our hearts. Not only will we sing the new song in heaven some day, we have a new song now.