LANDMINES IN RESOLVING CONFLICT

Neal Pollard

“I.” The late Wendell Winkler once said that beneath most marital conflict is basic selfishness. “What about my needs?” “What have you done for me?” “I am not happy, fulfilled, etc.”  The Bible warns of the destructive nature of selfishness (Luke 9:23; Eph. 4:22,24; Phil. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:2)! One of the most frequent casualties of selfishness is marital happiness. 

“You.” This is really the other side of the conflict coin that blows up progress and growth in relationships. If selfishness is blind to the needs and concerns of the other person, blame and deflection is the total denial of guilt or shared responsibility. “You don’t treat me right.” “Why don’t you pull your weight?” “You are not enough of ‘X’ or too much of ‘Y’!” Accusation, which puts one’s mate on the defensive, is a poor framework for resolving conflict. The very first couple played the blame game, to no avail and with no success. 

“They.” A mirage is “something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.” We usually think of a mirage in the desert, an optical illusion created by extreme conditions. How often do married couples in conflict see marital mirages? A couple is hurting, and as they look across the burning sand they see “perfect couples” and “perfect marriages.” We are not helping ourselves by comparing ourselves to what is not what it appears anyway (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Every marriage is comprised of flawed, sinful people who are constantly faced with overcoming. Whatever you think you see in other couples “is not in fact so.”

“God.” Now, hear me well. God is the answer to all conflict, if we consult Him. Yet, when we blame God or let conflict affect our faith, then our attitude toward God can become a major landmine preventing resolution. “God doesn’t care.” “God isn’t listening to my cries and prayers.” “Where is God when I need Him?” Trials are going to test our faith, but be careful not to give God credit for blame that rests upon us and our spouses. 

The good news is that “I,” “you,” “they,” and “God” can all play a fruitful role in resolving conflict. When “I” am humble and honest and focus on my role and responsibility, good will result. When “you” are treasured, valued, and sincerely loved, things will start looking up. When “they” are reasonably treated as role-models and inspiration, it can be helpful. When “God” is totally trusted and obeyed, there is no insurmountable problem! I wish marriage had no saboteurs or hazards, but the best of them do. Let’s work to avoid triggering them, trusting that God’s pattern for everything, including marriage, gives us the best shot at success. 

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I Wish The Church…

Neal Pollard

  • Was more evangelistic
  • Had dynamic worship
  • Ministered to every age group
  • Encouraged people to become leaders
  • Was more visible in the community
  • Invested in the home
  • Provided more fellowship opportunities
  • Had a thriving education program
  • Had a passion for world missions
  • Was attentive to visitors
  • Cared more about X, Y, or Z
  • Spent more on X, Y, or Z

Through the years, these statements and similar ones have been made in some form or fashion. People want the church to do more and be more. Referring to her in that nebulous, generic way–“the church”–is a comfortable, broad stroke-painting way of making a sweeping indictment of an institution which can then be made a scapegoat of any religious problem that we feel plagues us.

What I must remember is that I am the church–at least I am a member of it (1 Cor. 12:27). I cannot exempt myself from her problems or duties. Am I evangelistic? Am I an enthusiastic, engaged worshipper? Do I reach out to all ages? Present in my community and home? Attentive to visitors? The church, which is a Divine creation (Eph. 3:9-11), depends on every member contributing in every way each can (Eph. 4:16). This encourages getting whole hands involved rather than using fingers to point at others. Could the church be doing more, reaching more, reflecting God more? Absolutely! I know this because I can be doing all those things more. Let’s each focus on what we can do to build a stronger church, in every way we possibly can! The Lord is counting on us.

The Kindest Elder I’ve Ever Known

Neal Pollard

He was appointed an elder during the Reagan administration. At the very time he was appointed, the congregation was reaching the climax of a very traumatic incident. A man who was a charter attender, but not a member, when Bear Valley began meeting, he has seen every great work this congregation has dared to do, walked through its every valley, and he has done so with as even-keeled and unflustered way as I have ever known. I have heard him preach both here and abroad, watched him do short-term missions, make difficult shepherd visits, hug and encourage more people than I can remember, and seen his kindness and humor generously displayed. He was not usually the first to speak when elders conversed, but his insights have always been profound. He always did what he did with class and compassion.

I was crestfallen when I recently heard Maynard Woolley tell the eldership that he was ready to step aside as an elder after nearly 30 years of service. Only Harry Denewiler served more years in that role for the Bear Valley church of Christ. He stayed on a couple of years after five great men were appointed to this work in 2016, helping them to acclimate, learn, and grow under his, Ernie Barrett’s,  and Dave Chamberlin’s tutelage. A telling tribute to the breadth of his leadership was the collective, deeply respectful, regret that he was going to resign. Maynard is a man who one appreciates more and more the longer one works alongside him.  His faithful wife, Donna, has both encouraged him and endured, as an elder’s wife for so long, what not many women living have.

Some men impress with refined oratory, outspoken and charismatic ways, and larger-than-life personalities. Others live more understated ives, but their value cannot be overstated. Maynard Woolley is such a man. We will miss his formal oversight, but we look forward to his continued faithful service and loving example. Thank you, Maynard, for what you’ve done and for who you are.  Bear Valley bears the imprint of your bearing.

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The Difference Between Current And Relevant

Neal Pollard

Relevant—Appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest
Current—Belonging to the present time; happening or being used or done now

I think most of us would find the above definitions of these words to be satisfactory. In the context of the church, we are often concerned with both the matter of being current and relevant. The degree to which and the ways in which to achieve currentness may differ from congregation to congregation, but every congregation, to some degree, wishes to be current. It’s what drives members to arrive in automobiles, to paint and remodel the building, to use powerpoint for lessons and songs, have wifi access, a (hopefully) updated website, and the like. So long as the tool, idea, or method for being current is in harmony with Scripture, including proper stewardship as well as adhering to God’s pattern and authority, we should be as forward thinking as possible.

Relevance is, perhaps, a more subjective matter. With the maturing of each succeeding generation, we tend to obsess about whether or not our planning, actions, communication, and the like are sufficiently relevant to each generation. In other words, we might ask, “Are we relevant to millennials?” or “Will this resonate with iGens?” There are tools, ideas, and methods we should use to be “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances.” But, may we not lose sight of the fact that Scripture could not be more relevant, and it is never more relevant than when it is countercultural. The world’s ideas for how we should dress, talk, think, act, or respond to God may be the very definition of what’s current, but such is not relevant to God’s objective right and wrong on those specific matters. What we teach may be relevant to those areas of concern, but may seem old-fashioned or not what is being used or done now by the majority. 

We must emphasize that in our current circumstances, God’s Word, with its precepts and principles, is what is relevant! It’s what the world needs, and it’s what we each need. The church, so long as it boldly, lovingly declares those things, is the very essence of relevant. Let’s just let God’s Word and not the world define that for us. 

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You Push That Way And I’ll Pull This Way

Neal Pollard

While it is true that each of us possesses unique abilities within the Lord’s body (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12), that fact bears closer scrutiny. God can use each of us, with our unique personalities, backgrounds, and experiences, to reach so many among the lost and to help so many among the saved. Yet, it is easy to lose sight of how we contribute to the health and growth of the congregation we are a part of. 

For example, the following should not be considered talents useful to the Lord’s cause:

  • Being gossips and busybodies (2 Th. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13).
  • Causing strife and being jealous (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 3:3).
  • Judging your brother (Rom. 14:10; Jas. 4:11).
  • Returning evil for evil and insult for insult (1 Pet. 3:9). 
  • Being an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Rom. 14:13).
  • Speaking deceit (1 Pet. 3:10).
  • Giving the devil an opportunity (Eph. 4:27).
  • Keeping your leaders from doing their work with joy and not with grief (Heb. 13:17).

Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of ways we may misuse the stewardship of our speech and actions as members of the body of Christ. It can be so tempting, when we look at the church’s imperfections and people’s inevitable shortcomings. We have new Christians. All Christians have weaknesses. Those who lead and conduct the church’s work could inevitably do it better. 

What does the Lord want each of us to do as individual members of the Lord’s church? He calls for living in harmony in the Lord (Phil. 4:2). He wants us fitted, built, and held together (Eph. 2:21-22; 4:16). He wants us “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Practically speaking, this means getting behind the work of the local church, contributing to it and building it up. It means asking how we can help and throwing our energy into that. It means constructively helping when a work is lagging or in need of direction. It means lovingly, respectfully interacting with the other members of the body. 

Comedian Steve Harvey compared his rise to success with pulling a wagon uphill. He said that many people may hop on that wagon and contribute something, He said they all need to be doing something to help you get that wagon up the hill. He warned against those who get on the wagon and have no value (via OWN, 9/12/14). Perhaps you’ve found yourself pushing toward a spiritual objective, only to feel the resistance of someone working against you. This is frustrating! However, never find yourself opposing good, needed works through misuses of your resources in ways like those in the bulleted list above. In the worst case scenario, we may even find that in doing so we “may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:39). Let’s do all we can to help build up the body of Christ, prayerfully studying what that does and does not mean!

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What Are We Saying About The Church?

Neal Pollard

Recently, in an excellent lesson about gossip, the teacher recounted an incident I, and many others, could echo from the background of our own experience either in ministry or our personal lives. A mother asked her wayward daughter why she no longer was a member of the church. Her convicting reply, “The way that you always talked about the church, why would I be?” The way this daughter heard her parents talk about the church, she concluded the church was full of hypocrisy, flaws, and inadequacy. She was simply modeling what she heard them say throughout the years.

I’m thankful for the sound counsel we received well before we had children. We were advised never to speak ill of the church in front of our children, to run down elders, deacons, preachers, and other members. Knowing Kathy, she would have done this intuitively. For me, it was extremely helpful with my impetuous nature. Even whispered words in the front seat of the car, going home from church, will inevitably be heard by the little ears in the back seat (the same is true of the dinner table and other times the family is together). We may be blowing off steam, we may not have deep vendettas against the object of our criticism and complaint, and we may soon forget what we’ve said, but impressionable ears and hearts may internalize the words and materialize the message with their deeds and lives. 

The attitude, relationship, and loyalty our children have toward the church is most shaped and determined, for good or ill, by our example as parents. What will help us speak well of the Lord’s church? 

  • Remember who conceived of it, from nature to organization to purpose, etc. (Eph. 3:9-11).
  • Remember whose it is (Mat. 16:18-19; Eph. 5:33).
  • Remember our mission to bring others into it and that our home is our primary mission field (Mat. 28:19).
  • Remember how Jesus feels about the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 5:25).
  • Remember that the church is the location of the saved and we should do all we can to help our children make up that number (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
  • Remember all that the Bible says God seeks to accomplish through the church: growth (Eph. 4:16), His glory (Eph. 3:20-21), and His grace (2 Cor. 8:1), among so many other things.

We may struggle to see our family harbor grudges and hard feelings against the church. Many factors may contribute to that, but we should begin with ourselves. What are we saying about the Lord’s bride? What is our attitude toward her? I cannot imagine that anything is more impactful than that, and that is probably the thing we can most control! May our family remember that our theme song, concerning the church, is, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord!” Surely this will influence how they feel about her, too. 

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Seeing God In Nature: Volcanos

Neal Pollard

As we received word of the volcanic eruption near Guatemala City, Guatemala, yesterday, where Bear Valley Bible Institute has had an extension school for several years, we were reminded of the omnipotence of God. The power God displays through nature and His creation reveal how such a powerful effect reveals an even more powerful cause. Volcanic activity for which there is no recorded history, like at Yellowstone, Deccan Plateau, and Santorini, stand alongside several we do know about. Perhaps Pompeii or Mt. Saint Helens is most infamous, but the Mount Tambora volcano in Indonesia has been called the most explosive and deadly for which there is historical recounting. Mount Tambora’s eruption began on April 5, 1815, and the mountain blew apart on the evening of April 10th. “The blast, pyroclastic flows, and tsunamis that followed killed at least 10,000 islanders and destroyed the homes of 35,000 more” (britannica.com). It went from being a mountain 14,000 feet high to being a caldera (a crater) 3.7 miles across. Its effects were intense and global. It shot megatons of material into the atmosphere, preventing so much sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface that 80,000 more Indonesians died from famine and disease. The earth’s average temperature was reduced over five degrees. Western Europe and eastern North America experienced heavy snow and killing frost in June, July, and August, causing “crop failures and starvation in those regions, and the year 1816 was called the ‘year without a summer’” (ibid.).

Volcanos are so awesome and powerful that they evoke a strong response from us. They illustrate several things of a spiritual nature. As noted above, they are demonstrations of an all-powerful God. So often, they erupt without specific warning. There may have been tremors and signs for years, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then, too rapidly for many to escape, the cataclysmic occurs. It is a testimony of good that comes from tragedy, too. The Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University reminds us that volcanic soil is very rich and conducive to a dramatic agricultural comeback following these geological events (volcano.oregonstate,edu). These events should help remind us of a truth Bible writers like Peter teach us, that “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Pet. 3:10-12). 

Please pray for our brethren in Guatemala and for the hearts of all men outside of Christ, that they might come to a saving knowledge of the truth before it is eternally too late. May the evidence gleaned from places like nature, including volcanic events, persuade mankind of the reality and power of God. So persuaded, perhaps their hearts will be open to learning more about Who this God is as we share the revelation of Him as found in His Word!

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Mount Tambora caldera

Abraham Lincoln’s Memorandum Of August 23, 1864

Neal Pollard

Somehow, I was unaware of the existence of a document which Abraham Lincoln drafted and had endorsed by every member of his cabinet, though unseen by them, and which remained sealed until November 11, 1864. These were not only dark times for the nation, embroiled in civil war for over three years at that point, but gloomy for the war-weary north which could not end the conflict against the greatly outmanned but tactically superior south. Politicians and citizens were unhappy with the perceived lack of success and progress at such high cost—the death and disabling of so many of her sons in the prime of their lives.  Lincoln detected that popular sentiment was such that he would not be reelected. Thus, he drafted his memo, which read, 

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable the this
Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate
with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the
inauguration: as he will have secured his election on such ground that he
cannot possibly save it afterward (Coolidge 139). 

Lincoln seemed to think that the north had had enough of this war and would rather sue for peace and allow our sea to shining sea to be two nations rather than continue with such devastating effects a war they could see no end to. He appears dedicated to whatever he could do to preserve unity.

Of course, several things changed the course of Lincoln’s fate in his bid for reelection that swept him decidedly into office for a second term. There was the north’s victorious show in The Battle of Atlanta, Fremont’s withdrawal from candidacy, the Democrats internal division between the Copperheads—eager to end the war now—and the War Democrats, and the fact that no electoral votes were counted from the Confederate States of America.  But, Lincoln could not see the future. He was preparing for what he saw as the worst.

There is a well-worn battle taking place in our world. It is not technically between two factions. It might be framed as Christianity versus other world religions. It could be cast as New Testament Christianity versus so many individual denominations. Yet, internally, there are multiple stressors to the biblical unity Christ prayed and died for, too (John 17:20-21). 

Christians are soldiers (Eph. 6:10ff), but our battle is not with flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12).  Our war and weapons are not “of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3-4). All the same, many have grown weary of fighting the good fight and not a few feel as though we are fighting in a losing cause. The restoration ideal of doing Bible things in Bible ways seems archaic and impossible to growing numbers of saints. Some fight with equal vigor to preserve traditions not rooted in Scripture, and unnecessarily harm the great cause. 

As we strive at all costs to be true to the pattern of New Testament Christianity, let us do so going to whatever lengths we can to maintain unity wherever possible. Not for a moment does that mean sacrificing truth or compromising even one “thus says the Lord.” But it does mean embracing a spirit of love and protectiveness for the precious Bride of Christ, the church. That involves loving and working with those who are the members of it. 

Ultimately, the Lord’s cause will prevail. His victory is as assured as every other divine promise. We must be striving on His side to share in that. For now, we cannot give up the fight! Let’s cooperate wherever and however we can, standing unitedly on the foundation of Christ and His will. The rest (which is most of it), we will leave to our Great Commander In Chief!

Works Cited:
Coolidge, Louis A. American Statesman Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Chelsea House, 1983).

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“Killfies”

Neal Pollard

What do high cliff ledges, train tracks, animal game parks, bridges and buildings have in common? They are apparently popular sites for people to take selfies, and places, among others, where over 200 people have died in the last 5 years in pursuit of that “perfect selfie.” The Economic Times of India, a country leading the world in deaths by selfies, reports that 86 people in 2016 and 73 people in 2017 died in this tragic, needless way. Since 2014, 128 have died in the course of taking selfies in this densely populated nation. But other countries are getting involved in trying to stem the tide of such tragedies. Irish doctors reported, “The consequences of poorer spatial awareness and a focus on getting a good or daring photo has lead to multiple traumas” (Indulekha Aravind, 2/18/18).  There are people in Russia that have become celebrities because of their daring self-centered photos (ibid.). Nowhere social media has gone is there an exemption from this trend, including here in our country.

Because I do not have a background in psychology, I freely admit I could be wrong about this. But, could these extraordinary lengths to capture oneself in these kinds of photos be an act of desperation for acceptance, friendship, or even love? Could the yearning for admiration, congratulations, and adulation drive people to disregard all restraint and precaution? I’m not sure I know the answer to that. 

I do know that, as Henry David Thoreau said in 1854, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Walden, ch. 1, p. 8).  Perhaps these daring selfies are a symptom of that sensible observation. With selfies, we are able to project exactly the image or perception of ourselves that we want others to see of us. We don’t publish the unflattering nor do we want to show the boring. We want to be seen as valuable, relevant, and attractive. Why? Though we might lose our way in the process, human nature is to desire community and relationship (cf. Gen. 2:24). There are a great many destructive ways to do that, and being self-obsessed is certainly harmful.

It’s very interesting that God planned the church from eternity (Eph. 3:9-11) as a place and a way for us to focus on others. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). So much about being Jesus’ disciples gets us outside ourselves and into the lives of others—not just other Christians but people from every walk of life outside of Christ. He wants our energy, effort, and focus to be turned outward. It’s not so much about projection, but about service. Through that, God will be glorified and others can be satisfied. It seems that such is why God has us here!

 

 

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Avoiding Presumption In Evangelism

Neal Pollard

There are several sound, simple methods of teaching the gospel to the lost. As the teacher grows in ability to utilize these methods, his results will improve to God’s glory. The teacher also has as his or her textbook one fo the simplest to comprehend, though only the rare and exceptional student will fail to attain unto “the meat” of God’s Word after consistent, in-depth Bible study (Heb. 5:12-14).

The effort put forth by the student to understand may be great for some. The soul-winner must be aware of this and address it accordingly. Observe a few suggestions that might prove helpful.

  • Watch the student, trying to detect words or concepts that they might not comprehend.
  • Try to establish, from the beginning of the study, a free, comfortable line of communication.
  • When asked to explain words or concepts, avoid patronizing (thereby insulting) the student.
  • Reassure the student that all of us, to one degree or another, need help understanding words and concepts.
  • Be patient and empathetic and never cold and exasperated.

Making sure the prospective Christian understands and is in the flow of the study couldn’t be more important. Each student has a never dying soul that will be somewhere for eternity. As gently and compassionately as possible (2 Tim. 2:24026), be ready to explain and discuss words or questions from the Bible or study which may be giving them problems. Realize that each person comes from a different background and aptitude, not only religiously but also educationally. No doubt, the hearer has a great responsibility and accountability. Often, Jesus admonished, “Be careful how your hear” or “Be careful that you are not deceived” (Luke 8:18; 21:8; etc.). He was warning them to be keen listeners and discerners of biblical truth. Hearing itself is vital (Rom. 10:17), as without it faith can’t be produced. Yet, let us who would teach the lost work to present the simplicity of God’s saving plan and eliminate as many barriers to understanding as we can.

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