Blessed by Trials

Every once in a while I get the privilege of preaching at my church. In a couple of weeks I’ll step into the pulpit. I have been preaching through a series on James, so on Tuesday I opened my Bible browser online to look at the next passage, and it was this:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test
he will receive the crown of life, 
which God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12

Tears welled up in my eyes. Just over a week ago I had noticed a putrid smell coming from my basement. My in-laws had just arrived for a visit, and after a few days of fun together the sewer backed up. Things got messy.

Then this week one of my daughters had asthma and congestion issues. Two nebulizer treatments later, and after several rounds of her throwing up, I found myself holding my little girl in the emergency room at 2 AM with my father-in-law seated next to me. When it rains, it pours (by the way, she is OK now).

So the tears in my eyes may have come out of sheer exhaustion, but they were genuine. It’s hard for modern American Christians to grasp the truth of this verse, that we are actually blessed when trials overtake us. The prosperity gospel tempts us to find our satisfaction in health and wealth, fame and fortune; but Christ offers something better.

Photo by Kiy Turk on Unsplash

Trials have a wonderful way of clarifying what is most important in life. When life is easy, we tend to get caught up in petty little issues that don’t really matter. We are tempted to indulge our selfishness and pride. So God humbles us and turns the focus back on him. That’s what this verse is about—learning to see and savor eternity with God. You could say it this way, “Blessed is the man (Christian) who remains steadfast under trial, for he (or she) has stood the test he (or she) will receive the crown, which is life.” The crown James talks about was most likely a laurel wreath that athletes in ancient times would receive as a reward for winning arduous physical competitions. James compares our eternal life with a reward we receive at the end of a race. You see, in the midst of trials eternity becomes so much sweeter. It is our reward.

And it’s a reward that would thrill any person who “loves God,” as the text says. If we love God, we will want to get as close to him as possible. You can’t get any closer than heaven. Though life may disappoint you, God can always satisfy you. He’s the constant while everything else in changing. Is that bitter lesson to learn? Yes. But it is a very, very good lesson to learn.

So if you are being sifted right now, take this to heart. You are blessed. Remain steadfast. Savor God right now, even when the truth is hard to swallow. And know there’s a reward for those who love God. There’s eternal life.

CP

3 Marks of a Real Man

We live in a society that seems low on doses of masculinity. And the occasional representations of masculinity we do encounter often twist and pervert God’s biblical intention for men.

What, then, is masculinity according to Scripture? In the book of Ruth, Boaz demonstrates three qualities every man needs.

  1. He provides: when Boaz discovers his foreign, Moabite relative Ruth has come to glean in his field, he takes action right away. Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.” (Ruth 2:8) By asking Ruth to stay at his field, Boaz offered Ruth the opportunity to gather grain for the entirety of the barley harvest. Since Ruth and her mother-in-law were widows, this promise immediately resolved their most pressing need—food to survive. But that’s not all.
  2. He protects: it was a dangerous prospect for a foreign widow-woman to glean from field to field during this time period in Israel’s history. The book of Ruth is set during the book of Judges, a time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6; 21:25) And that included their way with women. Ruth was vulnerable, but she found refuge in the fields of Boaz. He comforts her, “Have I not charged the young men not to touch you?” (Ruth 2:9). With both provision and protection assured, Boaz then communicates his long-term plans.
  3. He directs: Boaz tells Ruth, “Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them… And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” (Ruth 2:9) It’s hard to express the comfort and relief Ruth must have felt in her heart. She’s at a loss for words. Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10).

We won’t consider the whole story of Ruth, but we can learn a lot from the example of Boaz. How many women and children today are waiting for the men in their lives to start offering provision, protection, and direction? Men, how would your life change if you stopped and considered your responsibilities in each of these areas? Take your wife on a date, lay out these three categories, ask for her input, then buckle up to embrace manhood. It’s a challenge we must rise to meet every single day.

We do better with examples. Here’s how Boaz did it. Notice the provision, protection, and direction he offered in this simple meal.

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean,
and do not rebuke her.”
Ruth 2:14-16

Boaz pictures for us what God’s loyal love looks like in action. And we have the opportunity to live out that loyal love in our own lives by being real men. I need it. You need it. Let’s covenant together, by God’s grace, to do it.

CP

Well the Pastor Gets Paid, So…

It’s a common assumption; you and I have heard it before. We get tired of the exhausting work of ministry and, understandably, we want to take a break. If the church members can’t carry the load, then there is always the pastor and his family. I mean, he gets paid, right? So it’s his job!

To be clear, I do believe God tells us to take a break, to get some rest, and to recharge our soul so that we can get back to serving Him with our whole heart. But there’s a clear biblical problem with assuming that, if the church is unable to do the work of the ministry, the pastor should pick up the slack because he gets paid. What does the Bible have to say about it?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In 1 Peter 5:2 church leaders are told to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” The problem with assuming that pastors should pick up the ministry slack because they get paid is that the Bible clearly tells pastors not to do the work of ministry for “shameful gain.” They are not “under compulsion” by some external force, whether it be money, man’s praise, or otherwise. None of us want our pastors unfairly swayed by every person’s opinion who walks into church, but how many of us assume money is the motivating factor? It is dangerous to base the motivation for ministry on money, very dangerous.

Yes, the “laborer deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18), and yes, “the elders who rule well” should “be considered worthy of double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17). But pastors do not minister because they are paid. They do it “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Growth in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the health of His body, the church, are the motivating factors. Pastors are called to equip the church for every member ministry, not for pew sitters. Pastors work for the glory of God and the equipping of His church, not a stash of cash.

And the same is true for every church member. While not every member is qualified for church leadership, every member ought to be striving for the qualities required of church leadership. No pastor has the option of being greedy in the ministry, and no layperson has the option of setting aside their gifts for the ministry.

Burnout, at it’s heart, is a desire problem. For one reason or another, you have lost the will to continue serving (big red flag!). So the next time you feel burned out in ministry, and you want to throw in the towel, try something else. Go to your pastor (or his wife), and instead of informing him of your resignation, ask him how he handles the pressures of ministry without burning out. How does he handle the feelings of inadequacy that flood his heart when trying to carry out a task he feels completely unqualified for? What gospel graces motivate him to press on in the daily grind and pressures of real life ministry? Because, trust me, no one understands better than he does.

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Chances are you will have done two very important things. You will greatly encourage your pastor who rarely experiences this kind of grace-infused conversation (and probably expected the opposite conversation), and you will grow to a new depth of spiritual maturity you never thought possible. Maybe, just maybe, your pastor needs the same kind of rescue you are searching for. In which case, you won’t just be helping your own soul, you’ll be helping your pastor and the entire church. Can you imagine it? Only God could use ministry burnout as a means of enabling your pastor to fulfill his calling. What a privilege, and what a delight, to be a tool in God’s hands!

CP

One of My Greatest Spiritual Battles

You live for what you love most. You will make time to catch the latest episode on your favorite TV show. You will clear up your schedule to do lunch with that special person in your life. You will scrape and save for that ultimate vacation.

It’s true, we all live for what we love most. I still remember the first time I realized the power of desire while sitting in Greek class in seminary. Yes, that’s right, Greek class. And lest you tune me out, I’ll have you know I was about as excited as you may be at the prospect. I did not do particularly well in Greek during my college days, and I had heard stories about how hard this class would be. But on that first day of class, my professor made the insightful comment that the main difference between the succesful student and the failing student is desire. If someone wants something bad enough, they will most likely get it. You would think I would have figured that out by seminary, but for some reason the lesson really sunk in that day.

Perhaps you are familiar with this part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Notice the answer to our purpose and meaning in life has to do with our desire. We actually glorify God most by enjoying Him. You live for what you love most. That’s what Jesus said, too, when He was asked.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 
38 This is the great and first commandment.
Matthew 22:34-38

photo credit: Ben White at unsplash.com

I am by nature an ambitious person. I like to get things done and to accomplish goals. But in all my pursuits I am constantly reminded of the depth of my own sinfulness when I quietly examine my inward desires and ask, “Why am I doing this? Is it really out of a love for God, or is it just out of a love for Cameron Pollock? Am I truly seeking God’s glory, or am I seeking my own glory?” You live for what you love most. And when I look at what I am living for, I have to confess that a lot of times it is really more for me than for Christ. And that’s because I love myself too much, and Christ far too little. It is one of my greatest, most fundamental, most important daily spiritual battles.

Thank goodness for the saving blood of Jesus Christ. At His feet I find full cleansing and forgiveness. At His feet I find true satisfaction and delight. And at His feet I learn and embrace the pure motivation to love Him more and more, not in word only, but in deed and in truth.

You live for what you love most. What are you living for?

CP

Adoption, Not Abortion

Meet Meredith Keen. She has a story to share that we all need to hear. But first, let me tell you how I met her.

Earlier this year I posted lyrics to a song I had written called Lament for the Unborn (you can read the lyrics in my post here). The response to this song was so overwhelming I decided to do more with it. Several musician friends freely gave of their time and money to help craft, arrange, and record a moving rendition of Lament for the Unborn. I am so thankful for their efforts. They truly believe in this project. The end goal is to make a lyric video that churches, pregnancy centers, and pro-life groups can use to help forward the pro-life movement. While working on Lament for the Unborn, a composer friend of mine suggested Meredith to play cello for the recording. And she was the perfect fit. Here’s why:

  1. You have an interesting life story that makes Lament for the Unborn a meaningful project for you. Can you share it with us? I was adopted at 2 days old to a wonderful family, so my story is not filled with many ups and downs or miraculous interventions. My miracles came about before I was even born. Every adoption story is a miracle story. God perfectly orchestrated my adoption story between my birth mom and my adopted parents. This project is so meaningful to me because it shows the abortion issue from a different voice—the voice of the child that will never have that miracle fulfilled.
  2. What impact do you hope Lament for the Unborn and similar pro-life projects will have? I hope Lament for the Unborn makes people stop, think, and ponder what is really being done in this country on a macro scale. I also hope that pro-life people will share this video with EVERYONE. Unfortunately, sometimes if we don’t share, or only share among our friends or like-minded people, our pro-life stance and position can become an echo chamber and never reach far or see its full impact.
  3. Let’s imagine you have a close friend confide in you that she is considering an abortion, and she wants your advice. What would you say to her? Living in Greenville, SC, we are rich with incredible resources to help in any crisis mode and give guidance both physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The two places I would send this friend are the Piedmont Woman’s Center and Morningside Baptist Church. In speaking to this friend personally, I would emphasize 3 things: the understanding of how alone and scared she must feel, the humanity of the unborn child, and how adoption IS THE ANSWER for both her and the unborn baby.
  4. A lot of sincere Christians I know are horrified by the tragedy of abortion, but they don’t know what to do. What suggestions do you have for how we can get involved? There are several ways you can become involved in the fight against abortion. One way is by volunteering at a local outreach. This could be at a place like the Piedmont Women’s Center that does everything from providing ultrasounds to counseling. Another way would be to coordinate church events that could help mobilize these grass-roots organizations. The difference in bringing down the national statistic of how many abortions are done in this country yearly will start at the community level—the community coming together to reach out to these mothers to nurture them and let them know there is a better way, there is another alternative.

I’m very thankful God orchestrated Meredith into this project. She’s taking time to be salt and light in this dark world. Years ago someone in her life made the choice of adoption over abortion. Now Meredith is making the most of her time by making a difference in this world, to the glory of God. What will we do?

CP

How Good to Dwell in Unity

My pastor is currently preaching through a series on conflict. I have benefited so much from his deep exposition of the Word of God on this topic. To complement my pastor’s series on conflict I decided to write a hymn that addresses the topic of biblical unity. I plan to teach the tune to our church first, but for now I would like to share the lyrics.

The title, How Good to Dwell in Unity, comes straight from one of my favorite Psalms.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

Psalm 133

I reference Psalm 133 through the title and the main “hook,” then develop some key New Testament ideas of unity in the stanzas. Here’s the first one:

Stanza 1
We join to worship God,
United in this place,
For we are one through God’s own Son,
A testament to grace.

Every time the church gathers together in one physical place, it is a visible testament to God’s grace poured out on us all in Jesus Christ. We are united as Christ’s body. What better way to affirm the unity of God’s church than to sing about it together?

Stanza 2
We gather ‘round your Word,
To hear the gospel truth,
Confess a creed, admit our need
For comfort and reproof.

Photo credit: unsplash.com

The second stanza focuses on the source of our unity. Unity is impossible unless we first agree on a standard. We experience true unity when we make the Word of God our ultimate standard. Additionally, many churches like my own agree on a biblically-based church covenant. Some churches audibly confess a creed together. While those covenants and creeds are fallible (because they are written by men), inasmuch as they align with God’s truth they are good and useful. When we turn together to Scripture for comfort in sorrow and for correction of sin, we strengthen church unity.

Stanza 3
Should we, who Christ forgives,
Lead unforgiving lives?
Is spreading lies or taking sides,
The way a fam’ly thrives?

This third stanza intentionally breaks the mold. It pictures what happens to the church when its members cause disunity. While every other stanza begins with “we” to signify unity, the “we” in stanza 3 is delayed just a little. Hard questions gently confront a divisive brother or sister. Failing to forgive means we do not fully understand the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Dividing the body of Christ through selfishness reveals we do not care about the health of the body. We only care about our personal agenda.

Stanza 4
We come as one in Christ,
To crucify our pride.
Till hand in hand by faith we stand,
His perfect, holy bride.

The final stanza anchors our unity in Jesus Christ, giving the solution to the problem of stanza 3. The Bible teaches that Christ has died for my sin so that I can die to my sin (Romans 6:1-4; Colossians 3:1-5). What a beautiful picture, that we as a church would crucify our pride through our union with Christ. Someday we will join hands with every saved sinner. Indeed, Jesus Christ will ensure it happens, for without unity, there is no perfect bride.

Chorus
How good to dwell in unity,
In Spirit-led humility,
Affirming truth in harmony,
In precious unity!

The chorus bookends with allusions to Psalm 133, as I already mentioned. Also note all the “in” prepositions to emphasize togetherness.

The chorus also references the important work of the Holy Spirit in maintaining unity. The Bible teaches we are all united in Christ by the Spirit. Our submission to the Spirit is evidence of humility. Spirit-led humility unites; selfish pride divides.

And what better way to picture our unity around the truth than through a musical metaphor? When we affirm truth, we allow God to tune our hearts to sing in perfect harmony, both in our doctrine and in our lives. Oh how I pray that truth would resonate in our churches! “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18).

CP

Allowing God into the Room

Recently while eating lunch with a friend he mentioned to me a struggle I often experience. When faced with temptation, I know I should choose to think about truth. But it seems like theology is the last thing I want to think about. Why is that?

Temptation Versus Truth

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Theology is simply the study of God. When I am in the act of sinning, or being tempted by sin, the last thing my flesh wants me to do is think about God. As my friend and I talked, we came to realize that thinking about theology is like allowing God into the room. We know He is already there. But once I start thinking about God, I become aware of His presence. And His presence brings conviction and sheds light on my dark heart of sin. When I’m tempted, I must let God into the room. With His convicting presence comes the power and grace I need to win the battle with sin. Let’s consider an example.

Remember Who You Are

I love the theology of a Christian’s union with Christ. God tells us in the book of Colossians,

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 
Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth. 
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 
When Christ who is your life appears,
then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

This passage teaches three simple truths that help me battle temptation.

  1. I am no longer a sinful citizen of earth, but a saved saint of heaven.
    If I were to look at my spiritual passport, it would say, “Cameron Pollock, Citizen of Heaven.” My identity in Christ means I am called to seek the things above that are heavenly (righteous), not earthly (sinful). If I am living in sin, it means I am not living according to who I am in Christ. That’s a problem. When I allow God into the room, He reminds me of my real identity and calls me to live like a citizen of heaven.
  2. I have died to sin, so it has no power over me.
    The passage clearly tells me I have died. But what does that mean? Other passages of the Bible, like Romans 6:1-4, clarify that just as Jesus died for my sin, in Christ I have died to my sin. Because of your identity in Christ, sin has no power over you. You can and must say “no” to it. When I allow God into the room, He reminds me that Christ died for my sin so that I would die to my sin. And, by God’s grace, I can and must die to my sin.
  3. I am alive in Christ and will appear with Him in glory.
    As negative as the previous truth was, the next truth is gloriously positive. The Bible is more than just a list of rules telling me what I should and should not do. It is a message of the bountiful life we enjoy in Christ. Just as Jesus died for my sin, and I died to my sin, Jesus has been raised to life, and I have been raised to new life in Christ. I can replace my sinful thoughts and desires with a new kind of righteous, God-glorifying living. When I allow God into the room, He reminds me of His resurrection power. Someday, when Jesus appears in glory I will share in that glory. And, though at times I will fail, I have the permission and power to start living like I’m in heaven right now. Now that’s something worth living for.
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These theological truths do not wear out over time. You will find them eternally reliable because they come from our eternally faithful God. We all live in this fallen, sinful world. We still battle our defeated flesh. So the next time you face temptation, or find yourself already up to your neck in sin, don’t hesitate to allow God into the room. Turn your mind toward these powerful truths, and ask God to do what only He can do — save you from your sin.

CP

What Joshua Harris and Adoniram Judson Have in Common

I posted a few pictures from this past week of Emily and I traveling in New England. We had the opportunity to visit not only Boston, but also Salem and Plymouth.

On our trip we started reading “To the Golden Shore,” a biography of the life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson. Judson’s early days and family history are thoroughly interwoven with both Plymouth and Salem, so the history has really come alive for us.

Then this last week, by the astonishing providence of God’s sovereign hand, popular Christian author and pastor Joshua Harris recanted his Christian faith. I have struggled for words to express what I see happening. I’m saddened and grieved by his actions. But, as Emily and I read Judson’s biography tonight, I discovered I did not need to write any words to explain what I think I see happening. They have already been written in this biography. I’d encourage you to read these paragraphs and reflect; it will only take a few minutes. As a young boy, while recovering from a deadly illness, Judson grappled with a very different but equally deadly enemy- worldly ambition.

Pray for Joshua Harris to humble himself. Pray for your pastor and your friends in ministry. Our flesh never gives up, even though its power is broken. We all are in need of daily grace to fight the pride within and live for true greatness- delighting in the glory of God.

Why Would You Want to Live in a Big City?

This past week my wife and I have been exploring New England. After dropping off our teens at camp in New Hampshire, we hit the road to see a few well-known and lesser-known places.

High-five with my buddy Paul Revere

Today we walked part of the Freedom Trail in Boston. We had a great time, but we also had some time to reflect on the way back to our hotel. I couldn’t help notice all the busy people rushing by, many of them looking unhappy or lonely. We asked ourselves, “Why would you want to live in a big city?” When we were younger, and before we had kids, the big city had a certain kind of allure. Many people pursue life in the big city for the excitement, the advancement, for the status, and for the money. It’s hip, quick and (sort of) comfortable. For those reasons, life in the big city can be a very self-centered endeavor. Don’t hate on me all you Bostonians. I understand the love for your hometown. I’m from Denver, another big city, and while I love Denver, it simply is the true that big cities attract and concentrate sin.

I couldn’t help but contrast Boston with our visit to Salem just the day before. Salem is known for its infamous Witch Trials, but I was more interested in a different story. We parked in a lot in downtown Salem and walked just a block away to Tabernacle Congregational Church. Though the church turned liberal long ago, it conserves an important piece of history.

It was from this church that Adoniram Judson, long-time missionary to Burma, first embarked with four other missionaries to India. Tabernacle Church held an ordination service for these men just before they left. You can still visit their historical room to view certain artifacts, like the original bench they sat on and a cello that was played during the ordination service.

Original ordination bench
Original cello played at Judson’s ordination, Judson is pictured with Ann, his first wife who died of smallpox in 1826

Driving back from Boston, and reflecting on my visit to Salem, I considered two answers to the question “Why would you want to live in a big city?” I’m sure many people asked Judson, “Why would you want to live in Burma?” His response, no doubt, was that God had many people there who needed to hear and believe the gospel. He was one of the first American missionaries to go. He knew his role as God’s ambassador.

So, if you want to live in a big city, or any specific place for that matter, I’d encourage you to ask yourself why. Is it for personal advancement? Comfort? Financial security? Career success? Or, is it for the sake of Christ’s name? The salvation of souls? The good of the church? Obedience to God’s call? One way reflects the priorities of the world, the other way reflects the priorities of Christ.

Those are tough questions that can only be answered when you walk with God intimately. It may be OK for one person to move into a big city, but not for another, all because of the desires of the heart. One of the sad realities in American culture today is that Christian parents often counsel their children to pursue a path of worldly success rather than godly self-sacrifice. How many ordination benches will we leave behind in the next one hundred years? If our heart is in the right place, I hope we will leave many, many more.

CP