“My Cat Unplugged My Alarm Clock”

Neal Pollard
A few years ago, the Baltimore Sun wrote an article about the outlandish excuses some people gave for not coming into work. To sample this pathetic pool, there was “my cat unplugged my alarm clock,” “I couldn’t find my shoes,” “my garage door is broken,” “my cat has hairballs,” and “my partner and I need to practice for the square-dancing contest in town today.” But, John Campanelli of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, relates perhaps the most classic excuse I have ever heard. It was related to him by Andrea Barnett, a human resources rep, whose MIA employee gave the excuse that he had been in jail. He had borrowed a friend’s car to get to work, which car was reported stolen by police. He said he was put in jail for possession of stolen property, a car he said had been used in a robbery. This caused the police to grill him about it, which kept him from calling in to work. He eventually convinced law enforcement of his innocence, thus earning his release. Incredible story! Incredibly untrue, Barnett found out when she called the sheriff’s office for whom that was a revelation. Runners up from Campanelli’s article include the man who was experiencing morning sickness due to his wife’s pregnancy or the guy who had to make an emergency visit to the dentist to remove dental floss that got lodged between his teeth getting ready that morning.

Excuses are not confined to employees. Students give excuses for late or incomplete assignments. Spouses and children give excuses to other family members for bad behavior or shortcomings. Leaders give excuses to followers, and followers give excuses to leaders. If we are honest, nearly all of us have been guilty of excuse-making. What we must guard against is perpetually making excuses for failing to do the will of God! Those who make any excuse to explain why they have not become a Christian will not successfully put them past the Lord on the great day of judgment (cf. Acts 17:30; 2 Th. 1:7-8; Jude 15). Christians who needed to publicly repent of a sinful lifestyle cannot expect to be successful standing before that same, perfect Judge (cf. Matt. 25:34-40).

Let us also strive to avoid flimsy excuses we give for lack of involvement or for failure to faithfully attend worship services. On the surface, these excuses may sound good to us. But, if we will step back and try to look at it from heaven’s perspective, it may sound less important and solid. Maybe we have not thought it through, that we are choosing things that are solely earthly, material, and temporary to the neglect of God’s will and purpose. We may need new and different excuses to cover our failures, but will they work in the end? God has placed us on this earth to accomplish His purpose, but if we fritter away our days and years on what will decay and dissolve to the indifference and disregard for heavenly matters what will we tell Him? Whatever we say, will it be less hollow or shallow than the excuses the fine workers of Baltimore and Cleveland gave? Rather than excuses, let us give God our best efforts. Instead of rationalizing why we cannot, let us realize why we can (cf. Phil. 4:13; 1 John 4:19).

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DEALING WITH STRESS

Neal Pollard

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association named Denver the city with the most stressed out people in America. 75% of Denver residents are too stressed out about job and money, with half of Denverites saying their stress had significantly increased over the past year. Doctors and researchers have long connected a variety of health problems to stress, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The Harris Interactive polling group conducted this survey on behalf of the APA. Maybe the high stress levels are why so many Denver-area folks have such high octane workout routines, to counteract all of this.

In response, the Colorado Psychological Association provided some tips for coping with stress: (1) Set limits, (2) Tap into your support system, (3) Make one health-related commitment (cut back on caffeine, exercise, get more sleep, etc), (4) Strive for a positive outlook, and (5) Seek additional help. These tips are wise and useful, and especially is this true when we consider a “spiritual twist” on them. While I have found living in this area to be peaceful and enjoyable, I also know that life in America in general is stressful. There are so many uncertainties and that alone is a stressor.

Christians are best-equipped to deal with stress. Matthew 6:33 helps us properly prioritize so that we have a spiritual basis to determine what needs to be eliminated and what is more valuable. Further, we have the greatest support system possible through the church (cf. Rom. 12:15; 1 Thess. 5:11; Eph. 4:13-16; Heb. 13:1; etc.). Living the Christian life properly is a prime way to a healthier lifestyle, so long as we remember such principles as are found in 1 Timothy 4:8, Proverbs 23:2, and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (I’d recommend your reading those). Who has a more positive outlook than one who can say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21-24). That is essentially saying, “I’ve got it great, and it will only get better.” Finally, there is no better help than that which we have available in Christ. Having the help of heaven to cope with life’s uncertainties is the greatest stress-buster there is.

Whether you live in Denver or even Small Town U.S.A., you are not immune from potential stress. Yet, wherever you live, if you are a Christian you have the best coping tools imaginable. Being in Christ eliminates many of the worries so many face. May we not take this for granted. Even more, let us not neglect to take advantage of the peace found only in Jesus (cf. John 14:27).

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“Being A Christian Is Hard”

Neal Pollard

The church office receives a monthly publication called Faith Connect. In the latest edition, they include some data from Barna Group on faith in America. In a sidebar of statistics to an interview with Barna’s Vice President, Bill Denzel, writer Kelly Russell reveals what the research organization found in interviewing those who identify themselves as Christians. They report feeling:

  • “Misunderstood” (54%)
  • “Persecuted” (52%)
  • “Marginalized” (44%)
  • “Sidelined” (40%)
  • “Silenced” (38%)
  • “Afraid To Speak Up” (31%)
  • “Afraid Of Looking Stupid” (23%)

These findings accompany the assertion that America is a “Post-Christian nation,” having forgotten or rejected its roots, history, and former culture and practices (Summer 2017, 49-51). The thing that strikes me is how “Christians” report feeling. Barna did not exist in the first-century, and as such there is no record of any polling of the original Christians. But if there was, can you imagine the New Testament church answering the way these respondents did? I’m sure they felt misunderstood and persecuted. How could they not? Reading New Testament books like Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation, along with early church fathers, we’re sure the Jews and Romans sought to marginalize, sideline, and silence them from the marketplace to the temples and synagogues. Our ancient spiritual family members were arrested, murdered, driven from their homes and cities, ostracized, stolen from, ridiculed, and more.

How they responded to such treatment is instructional for us today.  Peter reports their feeling:

  • “Living hope” (1:3)
  • “Great rejoicing” (1:6; 1:8)
  • “Love” and “believing” (1:8)
  • “Joy inexpressible” (1:8)

There are a lot of imperatives and exhortations throughout the rest of this epistle, written to encourage them to hold onto their faith however poorly they were treated by the people around them. Peter wants them living holy lives, but he also wants them to appreciate how great living the Christian life is. That’s a message we need to take to heart.

I hope we never put the focus in our spiritual lives on how hard it is to be a Christian. It can be! But, what will make the greatest adversity bearable is keeping our focus on our purpose, our promise, our privileges, and our peace. There is no better life than the Christian life. May we focus on our opportunities rather than our obstacles!

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Misguided

Neal Pollard

Reading from Acts 14 this morning, I noticed some things about the people of Lystra. This city, located today near Konya, Turkey, was along an important, ancient road traveled by Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. The multitude of people there are obviously believers in the mythological gods of their day, believing the traveling preachers to be incarnate forms of Hermes and Zeus. As the missionaries do their best to dispel this notion, managing their extreme adoration, Jews that had been dogging the steps of God’s men very quickly persuade the men to reject them. Maybe minutes after worshipping Paul, the folks of Lystra stone him and leave him for dead. They helped make disciples there (v. 23), but most of the citizens must have remained in spiritual darkness. Their fervor and conviction are unquestionable, but their lack of knowledge and understanding is unmistakable.

The unfortunate incident that prevented our visit to the Temple Mount of Jerusalem last week involved people shrouded in spiritual darkness. Their ardent devotion to their beliefs is incredible, but throughout the world has resulted in violence and killing. There are no signs that radical extremists of their ilk are backing away from such methods, as incident after incident continue to prove.

Yet, we can observe billions of people today who are misguided. They are not guided by God’s divine revelation. They are either self-guided and guided by the philosophies and worldviews of people who promote what conflicts with His Word. Our challenge is to try and reach their hearts, much as Barnabas and Paul did in the synagogues and streets of Asia Minor and Syria on their journey together.  We encounter those whose minds are darkened by the godless lies of our western culture. We meet those influenced by the error of world religions or corrupted forms of Christianity. We also come across those who are on the hunt for truth, who are ripe for discipleship if we will take the time and have the courage to invest in them. The oppressing may be waiting, but so also are the searching. May we not let the former keep us from the latter. Take courage and, like those first-century faithfuls, guide them to Christ.

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A view toward Jerusalem’s “Old City”, where Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam are actively practiced today. 

Pilgrims And Strangers

Neal Pollard

The two Sundays Kathy and I spent in Israel were with the church in Nazareth, about two hours north of where we are staying near Jerusalem. An interesting fact in a nation where an overwhelming majority of citizens are either Jews, the largest group, or Muslims, still a significant, but smaller group, is that there is a fairly small number of those professing to be Christians. The congregation in Nazareth, which has around 40 members, is comprised almost entirely of Arab people. As I spoke with one of the men yesterday, he said something that will stay with me a long time. He talked about how Arab Christians are viewed by their fellow-citizens. If Jews sees him standing beside a Muslim, they think he’s a Muslim. As most Arabs in Israel are Muslim, that seems logical. They see him as a potential threat and enemy. But, Arabs who find out he’s a Christian, and there are so many ways to readily see he’s not a Muslim–clothing, customs, etc.–see him as infidel or even a traitor. His remarks were in response to the sermon I preached from 1 Peter 2:21-25 on how Jesus handled persecution. He says that the Arabic Christians can tend to feel like people without a country.

Now, while you and I do not share the unique circumstance of Arab Christians in Israel, there is a similarity we see from earlier in 1 Peter 2. Peter tells Christians, “ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (11-12). We’re going to “look” different, abstaining from fleshly lusts. We’re going to “act” different, keeping our behavior excellent doing good deeds. Whether we physically look like the people who observe us or we look different from them, our Christianity will be noticeable and observable. That’s not the same as doing your works in order to be seen of men (Mat. 23:5). Instead, living the Christian life–no matter what–will inevitably catch the attention of the people around us. 

I’m grateful for the object lesson I received. Pray for our Arab brethren, men and women in a spiritual sense who are “without a country.” Pray for our brethren in places where their faith in Christ is scorned and more overtly persecuted. Pray for us, that we will be salt and light which stands out and stands up for Jesus in our daily places where darkness persists.

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John and Carla learning a few Arabic words and phrases from the local Christians.

THE HUMAN CHAIN AND SALVATION

Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.

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Wisdom Is Vindicated By All Her Children

Neal Pollard

Jesus said, “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35). He said this in response to the hypercriticism and unrighteous judgment of those who condemned both John the Baptist and Him. They said John was too conservative and Jesus was too liberal. They hacked at the methods and message of both, without justification or legitimacy. They were libelous name-callers, but Jesus simply responded with a proverb. What a good one! It’s a needed one today, especially in the face of those who sit and snipe at the works of others. For those who get gun shy at the prospect of such snipers, please remember Jesus’ words and Jesus’ reward for those who keep at the good work.  This principle applies to:

  • Elders and preachers
  • Missionaries
  • Worship leaders
  • Young parents
  • Bible teachers
  • Deacons and ministry leaders
  • Christian Colleges and schools of preaching
  • Soul winners
  • Youth ministers
  • Lectureship and workshop directors
  • Church program organizers
  • Christians in the workplace
  • Teenagers
  • Students in their various schools
  • Camp directors
  • Writers and authors
  • Publishers

There are undoubtedly other categories of people who fall under the purview of Jesus’ saying, but they share the burden of having their works criticized by naysayers, ne’er-do-wells, nitpickers, and needlers. In Luke 7, Jesus took the magnifying glass and turned it on the critics. We can take heart this idea: “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pet. 1:17). We have a responsibility to conduct ourselves righteously, but we can rest in the confidence that we will be judged impartially by the perfect, righteous Judge. Let us commend our efforts to His eyes. He will get it perfectly right!

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A Wonderful Savior!

Neal Pollard

Since I was a boy, “A Wonderful Savior” has been one of my favorite hymns. A multitude of reasons are cited in this beautiful song, all of which builds my adoration for the Lamb of God! Let me suggest three reasons why I think Jesus is a wonderful Savior.

He has a wonderful nature. Jesus is Divine and eternal. He possesses all the traits of Deity without qualification or limitation (Col. 2:9). That means He has the power to save “to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25). Not only does He, as God, have the power, but He has the love (1 John 4:8). He has not only the power and the will, but also the desire.

He demonstrated wonderful love. Again, what could drive the perfect God to die for woeful, sinful, and wicked man? There was nothing in us deserving of love, so this says everything about Him and nothing about us. He loves me because HE is wonderful (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; cf. Rev. 3:9).

He has opened wonderful doors of opportunity. Paul loved using this terminology. He told Corinth in two letters about the Lord opening such doors for him (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). He told the church at Colosse (4:3). He reported as much to the church at Antioch at the end of the first missionary journey (Acts 14:27). We cannot separate these opportunities from the Savior. Who do we seek to promote? What is our message? Who is the object of hope? He opens doors because of who He is. The Godhead, when we pray and seek His will, opens the doors through divine providence. How enriching and rewarding when we step through those wonderful doors!

Fanny J. Crosby had in mind the event up on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments and the Lord descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there. It is a beautiful picture of a God who condescends to lowly man. That’s what Jesus did! He lowered Himself for us (Phil. 2:5ff). Thank God for such a Savior as we have!

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No Time For Worship!

Neal Pollard

According to Stephen Eckstein, Davy Crockett was among those who began a journey from north Alabama bound for the “promised land” of Texas in 1835. This group, who wanted to settle in that locale despite the drum beats of revolution and ongoing fighting with Mexico, was comprised mostly of members of the church of Christ. Crockett traveled with them as far as Memphis, Tennessee, but grew impatient of the delays. The group stopped to rest and worship each Sunday, and they became known as the “church on horseback and wheels.” So, on the other side of the Mississippi River, Crockett and 60 other volunteers rushed ahead of the group shouting “hurrah for Texas!” (History of the churches of Christ in Texas, 9). That group, sans Crockett and his cohorts, established the first Texas congregation of the Lord’s church on January, 17, 1836, at Ft. Clark, Texas, known today as Clarksville (ibid.).

48 days after the group’s arrival at Ft. Clark, Crockett was among 188 who died defending the Alamo in San Antonio, 412 miles south of Ft. Clark. While this is probably something lost to history, I wonder if Crockett’s personal history would have been different if he had stayed with the “church on horseback and wheels.” There is no indication that he was a part of the services or influenced by them or the members. Already a man of renown in politics and frontier settlement, he was also renowned for being full of himself. He and the rest of the Tennesseans who left the church members volunteered for six months of duty with the provisional government of Texas on January 14, 1836. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8th (Hardin, Stephen L., Texian Iliad, 117).

Crockett’s interests seemed mostly political and economic, which made him no different from most of his contemporaries. Yet, life might have been different for Crockett had he stayed with the group of Christians. He would not likely be the legend his death at the Alamo made him, but might His name have been in the Lamb’s book of life?

We find ourselves rushing headlong toward our life’s goals. In that rush, what time and place are we giving to our Lord and to His people? The world bestows no honor and glory on faithful service to Christ, but the Christ will bestow honor and glory beyond what the world can give or comprehend to all who take the time to honor Him. May our greatest desire be to win His recognition through lives of faithful obedience.

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Mansil Matthews, doctor, teacher and and preacher, who established the first church of Christ in Texas in 1836 at Ft. Clark, TX (with the group known as the “church on horseback and wheels.”

“He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains”

Neal Pollard

This statement in Psalm 104:10 is spoken literally of God’s physical provision for His creatures. But, have you ever thought about how that is true for you and me when we find ourselves in the valleys of life? In between the mountaintops of successes and happy days, we can find ourselves seemingly down in the valley of the shadow of death (cf. 23:4). I am so thankful that in those moments that might seem dry and thirsty, God sends forth springs in the valleys of life. Whatever creates the valley for us, it can seem like a deep place hard to climb out of. How does God send forth spiritual and emotional springs for us, even in the valleys of life?

  • The church is a spring in the valleys of life. Other Christians lifting and encouraging us can be the medicine we need to take the next step through the valley. No wonder the church is such an expression of God’s wisdom (Eph. 3:10-11).
  • Prayer is a spring in the valleys of life. Pouring out our hearts to a God who understands us and knows our situation perfectly strengthens us.
  • Our family can be a spring in the valleys of life. Those of us who have Christian parents, siblings, children, and other relatives have a double blessing, family twice over. They can be the support and encouragement we need to keep moving.
  • Spiritual blessings are a spring in the valleys of life. Ephesians 1:3 says in a general way what the rest of the New Testament enumerates in a specific way. God is blessing us in so many ways because we are in His Son. Never do we appreciate that more than when we struggle.
  • The Bible is a spring in the valleys of life. There is wisdom and insight on every page, guidance for our journey. God has revealed the road map to help us traverse the narrow way to heaven. The narrow way will not keep us from traveling through valleys, and often it has valleys the broad way does not.
  • Faith or trust is a spring in the valleys of life. Like Paul, who often camped in the valleys of life, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). My eyes may be wet with tears in the valley, but my eyes of faith see with crystal clarity.
  • Hope is a spring in the valleys of life. It anchors the soul (Heb. 6:18-19), but it also helps lift us up. Because I face the future with confidence, no setback will keep me discouraged but so long. Tomorrow will be a brighter day!
  • Christian service is a spring in the valleys of life. Maybe nothing leads me through the valley any more than finding a fellow sojourner to help out of their valleys. When I focus outside of myself on other strugglers, I soon forget my unpleasant experience.

Many years ago, I heard Franklin Camp talk about the valleys of his life and how he overcame. His young daughter accidentally burned to death in a brush fire. He faced other huge losses in life, but brother Camp through it all was a man who had his eyes fixed on the ultimate mountaintop experience. In the valleys of life, let us look for the springs God sends. They will refresh, renew, and relieve us until our journey is complete.

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