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!

SKELETONS IN LAWN CHAIRS

Neal Pollard

A man who was snorkeling in the Colorado River may have been expecting to find plants, aquatic life, and even ruins, but he did not expect to find two skeletons sitting in lawn chairs 40 feet below the surface.  The man was frightened, undoubtedly convinced he’d stumbled across a relatively recent tragedy. There was a sign with the date August 16, 2014, alongside the “bodies.”  Dutifully, the man reported the find to the La Paz County sheriff’s office, which investigated the scene.  The whole thing turns out to have been a hoax, a set up which law enforcement believes to have been nothing more than an attempt to be funny (AP report, 5/7/15, via foxnews.com).

Perhaps you have heard the adage, “Only believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”  We do not want to go through life as cynical skeptics, but there is truth to the idea that looks can be deceiving.

Sometimes we can mistake someone’s bad day or scowled face as anger or a vendetta against us.  We can be guilty of judging a book by its cover.  We may overhear part of a conversation, drawing an unwarranted conclusion without the benefit of “the rest of the story.”  We may think we know the circumstances or character of someone’s life based on partial “evidence.”  So many times, it is just hard to know.  In the end, what we thought we saw, heard, and knew turns out to be different from the reality.

Jesus warned, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  The Old Law had a similar admonition: “Judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15). Proverbs 18:13 warns, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”  When it comes to our dealings with anyone, but especially our brethren, we should be sure we have the whole picture.  That preacher may not be the false teacher he is painted out to be.  That brother or sister may not be mad at you, but hurting for unrelated reasons.  That rumor or piece of gossip may be totally unfounded.  “Hastiness” can be hurtfulness (cf. Prov. 21:5; 29:20; Ecc. 5:2).  In a rush to get the scoop, let’s always be sure we’ve got the whole truth!

Be Sure Of The Foundation

Neal Pollard

In 2008, I traveled to Bangladesh and spent an unscheduled night in the Capitol city of Dhaka. It’s likely that I passed the eight-story tall Rana Plaza building on that trip, given its proximity to my hotel.  I certainly saw many like it.  But on April 28, 2013, during morning rush hour in one of the most densely populated countries of the world, Rana Plaza collapsed and killed well over 1000 people. It was the deadliest garment factory accident in history.  Why it happened is an outrage. It was built on swampy ground. Extra stories were constructed without proper authorization.  Costs were cut everywhere they could be. Because of this, a huge number of people paid the ultimate price.

Did you know there were warnings? Cracks appeared in the walls the day before and the building was evacuated. But five garment factory owners who had space in the building ordered their employees to go back inside Rana Plaza on that fateful day.  This fact caused global outrage, spawned boycotts and led to calls for international sanctions. It was rightly considered unacceptable and inhumane for such conditions to continue to exist.

There is an infinitely greater problem invisible to the naked eye.  Billions of people are building their lives upon a foundation guaranteed to fail.  They have either never come to Jesus, or even more tragically they have heard Him and ignored His appeals and warnings for safety.

In Luke six, the point of Jesus asking, “Why call Me Lord, then do not do what I say?” is to teach that we must build our lives on the foundation of Him.  In Jesus’ illustration there, the first builder is well protected. He has dug deep and laid his house on the bedrock foundation.  The second builder has no protection.  Incredibly, he builds on the ground with no foundation at all.  In 1 Corinthians 3:11, Paul says there is no other foundation to build your life on than Christ. In that context, Paul warns against building on other foundations—the foundations of men.  Our lives must be built on the bedrock foundation of Christ.  The very foundation of the church (cf. Mat. 16:18) is the one we must each choose for our lives.  “Storms” are coming, including the ultimate storm at the end.  On that day, it will matter how you built.

Remember I Am Dust (Poem)

Neal Pollard

I read the words of David today
They were so full of hope and trust
They spoke of God’s merciful way
That He is mindful we’re but dust.

He knows that transgressions we commit
That His forgiveness is a must
His lovingkindness He gives those who try to quit
Because He knows that we are dust.

Like David, I’m glad God has not dealt
Just with justice toward my anger, sin, and lust
As exalted His nature, so His tender heart will melt
Because He’s mindful we are but dust.

Like a father pities his erring child,
He reacts with compassion, not disgust,
When we fear Him, we learn He’s tender and mild.
He is mindful that we are but dust.

So as I embark on this unique day,
I know God is holy, perfect, and just,
But He balances this with a most merciful way
As He dwells on the fact that we’re but dust.

How should I treat you, my fellow pilgrim
Who’s also driven by imperfection’s fierce gust?
May I see you as I’m seen by Him,
And remember that you are but dust.

Extend you grace and excuse your stumbles,
Be willing to forgive, forget, adjust,
Because David’s inspired truth forever humbles,
He is mindful that we are but dust!

THE TACTICS OF TROUBLEMAKERS

Neal Pollard

When you come across Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the unnamed others of Nehemiah six, you can’t help but be struck by how timeless some things are.  The book of Nehemiah recounts the great construction project led one of the Bible’s great leaders, Nehemiah.  In fact, this Bible book is a great instruction manual on great traits of leadership.  Despite his skill, though, Nehemiah faced several obstacles.  He had overcome poverty, internal strife, and discouragement, only to encounter the opposition of troublemakers at this stage of the work. Notice what they did and how great leaders respond to such tactics.

He faced insincerity (1-3,10-12).  The aforementioned men tried to pull Nehemiah away from wall-building under the guise of a “meeting.”  Yet, the text says they sought him harm.  Later, we see that these troublemakers have hired an associate of Nehemiah’s, who fabricates a story meant to frighten him.  Both times, Nehemiah saw through the deception.  His answer was to focus on the work, refusing to leave it to become trapped in their snare.  When we are engaged in great works for Christ, there will be those, either out of jealousy or their own heart problems, who don’t want it to succeed.  Perhaps even despite an air of piety or “righteous concern,” they are willing to twist the truth to undermine our work.  Like Nehemiah, we must refuse to leave the work to be dragged into unproductive distractions.

He faced insistence (4).  They sent this same message at least five times!  Imagine Nehemiah and the others, up on the wall, finishing the job as the troublemakers keep pestering them with the same mantra.  Look at what Nehemiah does.  He sticks to his guns.  What grit and determination!  We should know that troublemakers often have nothing better to do.  They aren’t working on their own “walls,” so they choose to do nothing better than try to tear down the walls of others.  We must be prepared to keep working, however much they pester.

He faced insinuation and invention (5-7).  This is a favorite weapon in the troublemaker’s arsenal. They used talebearing, slander, gossip, and the like to try and undermine the work.  You can imagine the sneaky, slithery way in which they did it, can’t you?  “It is reported.” “Gesham says.”  “We’re going to report you to the king.”  What Nehemiah did in response is such a lesson for us.  He didn’t wring his hands or spend a lot of time with counterarguments.  He had truth on his side and did not feel compelled to wallow in the mud with the mudslingers.  He knew he was doing right, and he simply told them so.

He faced intimidation (9).  God gives us insight into the motivation of the troublemakers. Nehemiah says, “They all were trying to make us afraid.”  Why these mean-minded men were so obsessed with halting the work is not exactly clear, but pride and self-importance seem to play a part.  Nehemiah counteracts their bullying by going way over their head! He took it to God, praying for strength to overcome their pressures and threats. Obviously, as we read, God answered Nehemiah’s noble prayer.  When we face such intimidation, we have access to the same power!  That’s the first place we should turn when bullied by troublemakers.

How incredible that something which happened 2500 years ago can be so relevant to us today.  The old adage attributed to Aristotle is true: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”  Well, for Christians trying to do God’s work today, “nothing” is not an option.  We must be ever at work building His kingdom.  Thus, expect trouble and troublemakers.  Then, look to Nehemiah for the strategy to overcome them!  It still works.

KNOWING GOD THROUGH THE BIBLE

Neal Pollard

The tendency to try and make subjective experience as more meaningful and valuable than objective truth is age old. We would rather feel something than learn or obey something. Yet, notice how thoroughly the Bible shows that adequate knowledge of God relies upon studying and knowing the Bible.

• GENESIS (24:12-14)–God’s KINDNESS is knowable.
• EXODUS (14:4-18)–God’s MATCHLESS HONOR is knowable.
• LEVITICUS (23:43)–God’s PROTECTING NATURE is knowable.
• NUMBERS (16:28)–God’s SPOKESMEN are knowable.
• DEUTERONOMY (4:35)–God’s PREEMINENCE is knowable.
• JOSHUA (23:13)–God’s CONDITIONS are knowable.
• JUDGES (6:37)–God’s INTERVENTION is knowable.
• RUTH (2:12)–God’s REWARD is knowable.
• 1 SAMUEL (17:46-47)–God’s MEANS OF SALVATION is knowable.
• 2 SAMUEL (7:18-29)–God’s PROMISES are knowable.
• 1 KINGS (20:28)–God’s SUPREMACY is knowable.
• 2 KINGS (19:19)–God’s UNIVERSAL AUTHORITY is knowable.
• 1 CHRONICLES (28:9)–God’s DIVINE QUALITIES are knowable.
• 2 CHRONICLES (25:16)–God’s DISAPPROVAL is knowable.
• EZRA (7:25)–God’s LAWS are knowable.
• NEHEMIAH (9:14)–God’s REVELATION is knowable.
• ESTHER (4:14 + rest of book)–God’s USE OF PROVIDENCE is knowable (even if we don’t know what is or isn’t providence).
• JOB (19:25)–God’s REDEMPTIVE WORK is knowable.
• PSALMS (100:3)–God’s CREATIVE POWER is knowable.
• PROVERBS (24:12)–God’s LIMITLESS ABILITY is knowable.
• ECCLESIASTES (3:14)–God’s PERFECTION is knowable.
• SONG OF SOLOMON–God’s DEVOTION TO MARRIAGE is knowable.
• ISAIAH (60:16)–God’s SALVATION & REDEMPTION are knowable.
• JEREMIAH (16:21)–God’s NAME & MIGHT are knowable.
• LAMENTATIONS–God’s STANDARD FOR PUNISHMENT is knowable.
• EZEKIEL (5:13)–God’s ZEALOUS WORD is knowable.
• DANIEL (11:32)–God’s STRENGTHENING is knowable.
• HOSEA (13:4)–God’s WORSHIP REQUIREMENTS are knowable.
• JOEL (2:27)–God’s PRESENCE is knowable.
• AMOS (3:2)–God’s HATRED OF INIQUITY is knowable.
• OBADIAH–God’s FEELINGS TOWARD PRIDE are knowable.
• JONAH (4:2)–God’s GRACIOUSNESS is knowable.
• MICAH (6:5)–God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is knowable.
• NAHUM (1)–God’s PROTECTIVE CARE is knowable.
• HABAKKUK (2:14)–God’s GLORY is knowable.
• ZEPHANIAH (2:3)–God’s DESIRE TO BE SOUGHT is knowable.
• HAGGAI–God’s MISSION is knowable.
• ZECHARIAH (2:9-13)-God’s PLAN OF SALVATION is knowable.
• MALACHI (2:4-5)–God’s COVENANT is knowable.
• MATTHEW (22:16)–God’s TEACHINGS are knowable.
• MARK (1:24)–God’s HOLINESS is knowable.
• LUKE (11:13)–God’s BENEVOLENCE is knowable.
• JOHN (17:3)–God’s UNIQUENESS is knowable.
• ACTS (2:36-47)–God’s REQUIREMENTS FOR SALVATION are knowable.
• ROMANS (8:28)–God’s ASSURANCE TO THOSE WHO LOVE HIM is knowable.
• 1 CORINTHIANS (2:12)–God’s SPIRITUAL BLESSING OF REVELATION is knowable.
• 2 CORINTHIANS (8:9)–God’s GRACE is knowable.
• GALATIANS (3:7)–God’s HEIRS are knowable.
• EPHESIANS (1:17-19)–God’s BESTOWED WISDOM & HOPE are knowable.
• PHILIPPIANS (3:8-11)–God’s SON is knowable.
• COLOSSIANS (4:1)–God’s MASTERFUL ROLE is knowable.
• 1 THESSALONIANS (1:4)–God’s MEANS OF ELECTION is knowable.
• 2 THESSALONIANS (3:7)–God’s GOOD EXAMPLES are knowable.
• 1 TIMOTHY (3:15)–God’s CODE OF CONDUCT IN THE HIS HOUSEHOLD is knowable.
• 2 TIMOTHY (3:15-17)–God’s HOLY SCRIPTURES are knowable.
• TITUS (1:9-16)–God’s SOUND DOCTRINE is knowable.
• PHILEMON–God’s FREEDOM FROM SIN & CALL FOR SERVICE IN CHRIST is knowable.
• HEBREWS (8:11-13)–God’s SUPERIOR SALVATION is knowable.
• JAMES (2:20)–God’s DEMAND FOR ACTIVE FAITH is knowable.
• 1 PETER (1:18-19)–God’s INCORRUPTIBLE MEANS OF SALVATION is knowable.
• 2 PETER (3:17)–God’s FOREWARNINGS are knowable.
• 1 JOHN (4:2)–God’s SPIRIT is knowable.
• 2 JOHN 1–God’s TRUTH is knowable.
• 3 JOHN 12–God’s INSPIRED WRITERS’ TRUTHFUL RECORD is knowable.
• JUDE (4-23)–God’s ENEMIES are knowable.
• REVELATION (2:10,17)–God’s REWARD is knowable.

This does not begin to exhaust the list of things which the Bible tells us we can know! God has not left us to grope in the dark. Neither has He left it up to us to decide to live however we want to live.

The Church Is Perfect, But It Isn’t

Neal Pollard

After a weekend full of lessons which built our appreciation for Christ’s church, I have a renewed appreciation for the incredible institution God premeditated from eternity.  The Ephesian epistle paints the picture of the church as Jesus’ bride, army, body, inheritance, and family.  This exalted picture is at odds with many, from a surprising variety of sources, who have such a low view of the church and her members.  Because the church belongs to and is so intimately associated with Christ, we should be most circumspect about the various criticisms we lob at her.  When we evaluate specifics regarding the church, we must remember that the church is perfect.  Yet, the church is also most imperfect.  The “Divine Side” could not be improved.  The “Human Side” always could be.

  • The Church’s Organization Is Perfect, But Her Overseers Aren’t.
  • The Work Of The Evangelist Is Perfect, But Those Who Do That Work Aren’t.
  • The Purpose And Mission Of The Church Is Perfect, But The People Tasked With It Aren’t.
  • The Plan To Reach The Lost Is Perfect, But Soul-Winners Aren’t.
  • The Pattern Of Worship Is Perfect, But The Worshippers Aren’t.
  • The Call To Love One Another Is Perfect, But We, The Called, Aren’t.
  • The Commands For Christian Living Are Perfect, But We Are Imperfect.

It is easy to forget this as we set expectations for others.  We may even set a higher standard for others than that by which we would wish ourselves judged.  As we level our various criticisms at the church, we must evaluate our motives and intentions while being careful not assign to others’ motives and intentions what may simply be their inevitable if unpalatable imperfection.  We should always strive for perfection—maturity and completeness—but keep in mind that only God’s design, desire, and direction for the church is perfect. We must put away sin, jealously guard our candlestick, and root out sin in the camp. Yet, we are also directed to bear with one another in love, being kind, not behaving rudely, being courteous, sympathetic, and gentle. These biblical mandates will temper our tantrums and cushion our criticisms.  We will be able to look at the church not only as it is, but as something we, imperfect as we ourselves are, can encourage to be better.  Since none of us are, thank God His Son is perfect.