Seeing Through Others’ Eyes

Neal Pollard

What is the greatest trial?
What do men so despise?
The hardest climb and dreariest mile
Is seeing through another’s eyes.

It may appear uncomplicated,
Completely cut and dry,
But our skills may be overrated,
As we try to see through the other’s eye.

We don’t know what they’re thinking
Can’t know their circumstance
Or how abruptly their heart is sinking
From our outward, presumptuous glance

Their motivation quite hidden,
About their intentions we have no clue,
Reading minds God made forbidden,
We can’t see from their point of view.

Instead, the chore is vital,
As we look on from without,
Our object is entitled,
To every benefit of the doubt.

Let’s pray for them, be their servant,
Love them with a Christ-like love,
Show a kindness warm and fervent,
Trust the All-Seeing-Eye above.

Treat them how we’d want to be treated,
Treat them strictly by The Book,
Leave their heart to the One seated,
Who can watch with a perfect look.

The challenge becomes less daunting
When we cut it down to size
And we give what we’re always wanting
A loving look from through Jesus’ eyes.

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Working Together To Survive The Hunt

Neal Pollard

1 Peter 5:8 calls the devil a roaring lion prowling around seeking someone to devour. It is obvious that Peter’s readers would have seen or at least heard about these kings of the jungle for the analogy to make sense and be practical.  Lions lurk, longing for lunch.

In the savannas of East Africa, their meal of choice is usually either the wildebeest or zebra. Despite this, these two animals continue to graze and migrate together. In fact, because they are chief prey of the lion (and other big cats), they need to stick together. Various observers and experts give different explanations for why. Zebras have great farsightedness and the wildebeests have excellent peripheral vision, but each are poor at seeing what the other sees well. Others explain that wildebeests have mouths better suited for short grass while zebras’ are made for the long grass that grow intermittently together on the plains. Still others point to the zebras superior memories, recalling the safety routes of the previous year, and the wildebeests uncanny ability to find water even when such is scarce. Probably, it is the combination of these facts that cause the symbiotic relationship between these two large mammals. They do not all survive, but the vast majority do. The reason is because they utilize their own abilities but also because they rely on the abilities of others.

In a letter where Peter is addressing a people who were at times spiritual prey, he does more than use the simba simile. He urges Christians to stick together and look out for one another. He calls for sincere, fervent, from the heart love for one another (1:22; 4:8). He urges complaint-free hospitality toward one another (4:9). He commands serving one another (4:10). He teaches there to be mutual humility displayed toward one another (5:5). He ends the letter exhorting an affectionate, loving greeting of one another (5:14). As much as anything, this is a recognition of mutual dependence.

If we understand that we are not at home in this world (2:11) and are living and longing for the inheritance in heaven (1:4), we should come to understand our mutual need of each other. That does not just mean looking for others’ help, but also giving it. This is by God’s design. Notice, for example, the proactive protection we provide each other by being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…” (3:8-9a). Right before the lion passage, Peter talks about different groups looking out for and helping each other (5:1-6).

Any of us, through suffering, temptation, doubt, or some other factor, could drift away from the safety and security of the fold. Let us be more than mindful of each other. Let us depend on each other to survive the hunt and make it to eternal safety.  I will face the lion many times in this life, and I depend on you to help me survive.

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Putting A Price Tag On The Value Of Our Youth

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you’ve seen the news story about the six year old boy who made $11 million dollars this year on YouTube reviewing toys. Ryan, of Ryan ToysReview, has been reviewing toys since he was three years old. He has over 10 million subscribers to his channel, which had a 40-week streak of most viewed YouTube channel this year. He even had NBA star Kevin Durant appear in one of his video reviews in September. His videos are described as simple, innocent, and personable (Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, 12/11/17 via www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix).

That’s incredible! Such savvy, drive, and entrepreneurship. One of the traps we need to avoid is selling the intelligence and abilities of young people short. That’s even truer in the church than in the world.

When I look at our youth, I see perhaps the most evangelistic demographic in our congregation. Teens invite classmates to church just to “see what it’s about.” Then, our other teens reaching out and welcoming them into the group. They have a fearlessness about them that can drive the rest of us to greater effectiveness in this arena.

When I look at our youth, I see tenderheartedness. It doesn’t just drive them to be baptized or to publicly respond to the invitation. It moves them to be compassionate, to help the unfortunate or to be concerned for those who others may overlook. They are shamed by their sins and moved by praising the greatness of God.

When I look at our youth, I see a boundless resource of energy. They are active and alive, and when they channel that to serve–whether our elderly, the homeless, or each other–it’s exciting to see. You see it when they get together, talking and laughing. So many of us feed off of their vitality.

When I look at our youth, I see hope and idealism. Life too often depletes them of these priceless commodities. We need to do more to build them. Hope is about confident expectation, and isn’t the Christian life to be founded upon that (Romans 8:24)? Idealism may be seen as having higher expectations than are realistic, but it’s this mountain-moving faith that causes churches to grow and do what only can be done when God is factored into the equation. He is perfect and able (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Through their evangelism, example, energy, and expectation, our youth are of inestimable value to the church as a whole. Let’s nurture them and help them grow. Let’s give them opportunities to make an impact right now. All of us will reap infinite value from these infinitely valuable ones (cf. Matthew 18:1-6).

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Biggest Misunderstandings About Public Responses

Neal Pollard

There are a couple of examples of public responses to the gospel message in the Bible, both in Acts.  One is positive and the other is negative.  As Peter was preaching that God has made Jesus Lord, the Pentecost crowd interrupted him with the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  As Stephen was delivering a similar message, his audience stopped listening and they cried out with a loud voice before putting the preacher to death (Acts 7:54ff).  Mention is made of a one another response that could apply to the corporate assembly, confessing sins (Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9).  How public the setting was when Peter called for Simon to repent we do not know for certain (Acts 8:18-24).  So, why do we end our sermons with a call to publicly respond?  Is this simply borrowed from the denominations or is it just a rote tradition devoid of deeper purpose?

Often, we have explained the invitation as being an “expedient,” which I think it is.  When we speak of an “expedient,” we refer to a practice that is thought convenient, practical, suitable or appropriate but neutral (neither right nor wrong) and a-biblical (not found in the Bible but not unbiblical).  It is a sensible activity.  Hopefully, the sermon contains a call to change and is persuasive in nature.  Maybe, the person comes in the door that day convicted of his or her need to become a Christian or repent of public sin.  Affording a moment that makes it easy for one needing to obey Christ in one of these ways to do so is appropriate.

I have been in assemblies in this country and overseas that do not have such a time set aside or that do so at other times during the gathering—some do so at the beginning of the service so that a person can worship without being alienated from God (cf. Mat. 5:24), some invite anyone who needs to publicly respond to remain standing after the lesson and a song, some encourage people who need to respond to write their need on a card or piece of paper and hand it to an usher, the preacher, the elders, or someone designated to collect such communication.

While I think it is good for us to consider that there is more than one way to do this and that we are not mandated to do it at all in the assembly, I believe our current arrangement is a fine way to try and help people who need to make spiritual changes and improvements.   Yet, someone who feels the need to make such a response often hesitates or decides against it.  Certainly, the problem on such an occasion might be fear or delay, but is it ever due to some misunderstanding such a one has?  Here are a few of the biggest misunderstandings people have about responding to the invitation:

  •  Nobody but me is struggling with sin in their lives.  Truth: Romans 3:23.
  •  It is a sign of weakness to respond publicly.  Truth: Luke 15:10, 17
  •  Everybody will look down on me, judge me, or gossip about me if I respond.  Truth: Luke 15:28-32
  •  People will distance themselves from me if I respond.  Truth: 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.

Maybe you are thinking this or something similar.  May I assure you that every righteous person on earth and all the inhabitants of heaven would like nothing better than to help you be right with God.  Death and the Judgment loom, and we cannot let anything keep us from making proper preparation for them.  So, if you need to respond today or any day, won’t you come?

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Teachers’ Aids

Neal Pollard

Several of our classes have assistants to the Bible class teacher.  She (or perhaps in select cases “he”) serves in a support role, helping students do handwork, find Bible verses, or occasionally keep order.  These are vital roles, and often a teacher’s aid later actually becomes a teacher.  Teachers’ aids are part of a great team and education system that benefits everyone in the classroom.

There is a constant, pressing need for more teachers’ aids.  I don’t mean in the actual classroom during the “Bible class hour.”  These aids are needed Sunday afternoons, late Wednesdays, Saturday afternoons, and/or opportune moments between these times.  These aids have even more power than those helping the teacher in the classroom.  They are the parents and care-givers of the students.  There are several ways they can “aid” the teachers who put in hours of preparation time and tons of energy and emotion into the task of teaching.

Aid teachers by making sure your children do their homework.  Most teachers give homework, memory work or activity sheets.  This is a vital supplement to the actual lesson taught in class.  When children come to class with their homework done, teachers are elated and made to feel that their efforts are appreciated.  They feel that their students take the class as seriously as they do.

Aid teachers by asking about what they have learned.  Ask your children what they talked about in class that day.  Ask them to review as much as they can.  Ask them what they learned and how they can make application from the class.  What better topic of conversation can parents and children discuss on the way home from services?

Aid teachers by making sure they feel appreciated.  One way to do this is by making sure you practice the first two suggestions.  However, having the child send a thank you note or by personally thanking your child’s teacher, you are aiding through the means of encouragement.  Everyone likes to feel appreciated.  Teachers are no different.

The qualifications are simple enough.  To be this type of teacher’s aid, simply do all you can to partner with the efforts of your children’s teachers.  Your child, your home, and your child’s teacher all will be blessed by it.

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The Benefits Of Finding Ourselves In Scripture

Neal Pollard

Given his job, the Ethiopian of Acts 8 was one of that country’s most important people. Yet, he was more than important. He was very religious, apparently a proselyte (convert) to the Jewish faith. He didn’t restrict his religion to the assemblies. He read his Bible even when he was going about his secular tasks (Acts 8:28). Though he could not enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1), he made the long and grueling trip from northern Africa to Palestine and was returning home. Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament passage he was reading when Philip joined him in his chariot. Reading Acts 8:32-33, we recognize the place as Isaiah 53:7-8. The Eunuch was trying to find out about who Isaiah wrote about, “of himself or of some other man” (Acts 8:34). Philip preached Jesus to him and he became a Christian (Acts 8:35-39).

Those are essentially the facts. Yet, I wonder how coincidental it was that the Eunuch was reading from that part of Old Testament scripture. This African official likely had a scroll containing the entire prophecy of Isaiah, which was not divided into the individual chapters like they are today. It would seem that the context in which Isaiah 53 occurs would be of particular interest to this man. Flip forward a few chapters to Isaiah 56. Isaiah is telling foreigners and eunuchs not to look down on themselves (3-5).

This official of Candace was very likely not some hopeless non-Jew looking for a crumb from the Jews’ table. He had the great hope and promise of Scripture. Perhaps this portion of Isaiah was of particular motivation and inspiration to him. For Philip to explain that the time of that prophecy had now been fulfilled, that access to this promise was now available, certainly led the Eunuch to urgently respond and enthusiastically react. Jesus was the One referenced in Isaiah 53, but he (the Eunuch) was the one referenced in Isaiah 56. No, not just him, but all like him–one from the “all nations” of Isaiah 56:7 who could reap the benefits brought by the “Sin-bearing Servant” of Isaiah 53 and the one who would “sprinkle many nations” (52:15).

I hope that you read your Bible with the same hunger and expectation. Perhaps there are portions that bring you greater hope and expectation, that speak with greater poignancy to your life’s circumstances. The Bible is a book filled with wonderful, relevant promises. Trust them. Let them bear you along through the rough spots of life. God designed the Bible to be a book of hope and inspiration, but it cannot do us any good unless and until we consult it! Find yourself in the Bible!

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Homesick

 

Neal Pollard

This time of year our minds go back
To days gone by, down memory’s track
Of laughter, stories, food and walks
Singing, sharing family history and talks

Some who once were in our clannish stable
Have left our banquets for the heavenly table
Childhood recollections may be larger than life
And death or loss may cut like the proverbial knife

Football played on the lawn or watched on the screen
Presents opened and distant relatives seen
For the blessed, much spiritual guidance and contemplation
And talk of our hope and our common anticipation

Do you miss those times of hearth or home?
Or revel in its prospect, when kids and kin soon will come?
Are you in the company of those Scripture upholds?
Those who desire a better country, with streets of clear gold?

Who are longing for a room in the Father’s house?
To bask in the Light that no tears can ever douse?
To stroll the banks by the gentle River Of Life,
A place of happiness, joy, peace, but no strife.

A place full of family, both known or which we meet
Of those we met in Scripture or those who made our lives sweet?
Are you longing for something far better than here,
Where sight replaces faith, where peace tramples fear?

Is your life centered around new heavens, new earth
Where righteousness dwells, only those of the new birth?
Do you long for what happens after being put in the ground
The home of the soul where eternity is found?

Let’s long for and live for that heavenly land
Where we’ll see God’s dear face and hold Jesus’ hand.

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Thanksgiving 1994, at Gary and Brenda Pollard’s house (baby is Gary)

A Lonely, Lonely Man

Neal Pollard

My sons and I often say that we don’t really want to know much about our favorite singers. It seems that there’s always immorality and stories of their ungodliness. That’s as true of many of the rock, country, and easy listening singers from decades ago as those making music today. Despite my having grown up in the south, today I was able to do something I’ve never gotten the opportunity to do. Kathy and I toured Graceland with our gracious hosts, Barry and Celicia Grider. We enjoyed ourselves. This tour tended to glamorize and sanitize his life and career. Elvis Presley enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom, and he was a global icon. He made more money than he could spend, though his lavish collections of furniture, cars, instruments, clothes, and the like shows that he tried. Despite his love of gospel music and religious roots, there were the affairs, drugs, and fast living that likely contributed to his premature death at age 42. His daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who remembers him reading often, “He had stacks next to his bed. He read all the time…Always of a spiritual nature. Always looking. Always searching for something” (from a placard in the mansion). Gospel preacher, C.W. Bradley, preached his funeral thanks to the connection of Elvis’ stepmother. But there is no evidence that his search led him to obey and live the truth, and there’s evidence to the contrary.  He once sang a song where he said, “It’s a lonely man who wanders all around, It’s a lonely man who roams from town to town.  Searching, always searching

for something he can’t find, hoping, always hoping that someday fate will be kind.”

Billions never achieve the fame or wealth of Elvis, but live their lives on a similar quest. They live, always searching for something they can’t find. Solomon spends so much time, with access to wisdom, wealth, wine, and women. He found, in his grand experiment, that these did not fill the void. Instead, the answer was to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). This beautiful hope is shared by Jesus in the greatest sermon ever preached. He teaches, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mat. 7:7-8).  These things are written to keep mankind from duplicating the future search for purpose and meaning. It has been revealed. Let’s look in the only place where loneliness is vanquished—in the presence of God!

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SEARCHING FOR THAT SLIPPERY SERENITY

Neal Pollard

It was painful to watch my Georgia Bulldogs pulverized by the Auburn Tigers (my fellow Bronco fans can easily relate this year). Yet, later that Saturday evening, I found myself smiling and even cheering for a familiar face who was calmly embracing a signature win against college football’s number three team, Notre Dame. Level-headed. Even-keel. Happy. None of those words quite captured the way I wanted to describe Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt (former general of my beloved Dawgs). It was Dan Walken (USA Today, 11/13/17, 1C,6C) who found the one I was searching my mind for: “serene.” He is peaceful, placid, poised, and phlegmatic. But, as Walken points out, it’s not because the Hurricanes have ascended to number two in the Coaches and Press polls. He has been that all along, even the day he was fired at Georgia (his .740 winning percentage, 145-51, is the highest in college history for any coach ever to be fired). He was criticized for not being able to win the big game—which he still hasn’t. Second to that, the fan base was agitated that he was too concerned about his off-season mission work. There’s such an interesting story about how Richt came to faith, and how deeply his faith drives his life. Walken’s article mentions nothing of that, but few people who know about Richt fail to know how profoundly religion effects his life. It is, unquestionably, what drives his come-what-may serenity.

What characteristic best describes me? I know several I’d like for it to be, but, ultimately, I don’t get to describe myself. The people who know me or know about me get to do that. While the word “serene” is not found in most English translations, it is a biblical concept. 91 times, the New Testament uses a word (εἰρήνη—eirene) that is usually translated “peace.” Luke 11:21 has “undisturbed” (NASB). It can describe harmony between governments or in personal relationships, but it also describes a state of well-being within. In fact, that’s usually the way New Testament writers use it. Jesus says He offers a peace superior to what the world can give (John 14:27). A mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom. 8:6). The God of hope can fill you with peace in believing (Rom. 15:13). This peace passes all comprehension and guards your heart and mind (Phil. 4:7). It can rule your heart (Col. 3:15). It can be yours in every circumstance (2 Thes. 3:16). Repeatedly, Scripture promises peace to the disciple of Christ.

But our world continually scrambles to find it, much less maintain it. It seeks to achieve peace through alcohol and drugs, firearms, money and things, achievement and success, and other earthly things to plug that void. If at our core we do not fill ourselves with the peace of God, we will find ourselves futilely searching and never finding tranquility and undisturbed calm. Richt was able to smile and be joyful at the press conference that centered around his dismissal. You and I can embrace joy and steadiness in the darkest, most painful, moments of life. We never want false hope or empty peace. But a life directed and submissive to the pure, unadulterated Word and will of God leads to unshakable peace. No matter what comes our way!

Would people say I am serene? What about you?

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The Rasputin Rule

Neal Pollard

Very little good can be said of Gregory Rasputin. Robert Goldston, in The Russian Revolution, writes that he “was, like his father before him, essentially a rowdy peasant. He soon developed a reputation in his hometown as a horse thief, drunkard, seducer of young girls, and general good for nothing. He had no education and remained largely illiterate all his life. His one apparent attribute was great physical strength. He was a coarse-featured man with a heavy black beard and strangely piercing eye” (82). Because times in Russia circa 1905 were desperate and grim, a rascal like Rasputin could rise. He went to Saint Petersburg, weaseled his way up the ranks of nobility, and eventually rose to become the most intimate advisor of Czar Nicolas II and especially the superstitious Czarina Alix. Many historians believe that, in the fateful, final years of the Romanov dynasty, Rasputin was the unofficial, yet undisputed, ruler of Russia.

He was grossly immoral and unscrupulous. At his words, jobs and even lives were spared or taken. Though he had abandoned his wife and children, Rasputin made his way as a self-professed prophet and “holy beggar.” The Czarina, in all her correspondence, simply called Rasputin “the Friend.” The royal family implicitly trusted Rasputin. Rasputin, in turn, urged the royal family to rule by absolute despotism. Many thought Rasputin to possess powers of hypnotism and the ability to do magic. Giving him the control of hundreds of millions of peoples’ lives, the Czar contributed to his own murder and that of the entire royal family in the revolution of 1917. For Rasputin’s part, he was murdered in 1914 by a small group of conspiring nobles who lured him to one of their houses and shot him repeatedly after poisoned food and wine did not do the trick.

The most amazing part of this story involves the irony of it all. A ne’er-do-well essentially becomes head of the largest country in the world. A grossly immoral man is viewed as a “holy man.” The head of a dynasty that had lasted hundreds of years put all its trust and hope in such a one. What incredible folly!

However, the majority of humanity has done the same thing from time immemorial. The prince of darkness, the king of ne’er-do-well, is their spiritual advisor. As foolish as it is, people stake their eternal destiny on his wholly corrupt guidance. They risk it all, mesmerized by his wiles. Consequently, they are duped into calling “evil good and good evil…who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isa. 5:20-21). Yet, it is not a revolution but The Judgment that will undo them. They stand to lose more than physical life; they will lose their souls (Mat. 10:28). Beware of the pied piper of souls! Be careful who you make your spiritual counselor. It matters!

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