Examining Our Positions

Neal Pollard

Hans Kaltenborn was an ardent admirer and defender of Adolf Hitler and the “new Germany” ushered in with the Nazi regime. Despite diplomatic warnings of assaults upon Americans, Kaltenborn, an influential American commentator for CBS and NBC and of German descent, dismissed it as flawed and skewed information gathering by biased personnel. About to return home to the states to speak against such reports and warnings, his family went to downtown Berlin to do some last minute shopping. While out, the family found themselves in the middle of one of the endless S.A. parades. When his family refused to offer the Nazi salute, his son was physically assaulted and injured. Finally, someone intervened and the incident ended with no further harm. However, the transformed Kaltenborn was apoplectic. He made a report with the American Consulate in Berlin, but no charges were filed. As Eric Larsen writes, “the senior Kaltenborn ‘could remember neither the name nor the number of the Party identification card of the culprit, and as no other clues which might be useful in the investigation could be found’” (In The Garden of Beasts, 164). Despite this, Kaltenborn was now of a different mind!

There are many ways in which life can do the same thing to us.  We may be dead certain about marriage when we are single, about childrearing “pre-kids,” about our career when still in the classroom, about home ownership when in our parents’ home, dorm room, or apartment, and so on. But, life so often has a way of rudely awakening us from some well-meaning beliefs.

Sometimes, this can happen to us in the all-important area of religion. As we stay in our Bibles and gain wisdom and experience life, we may reaffirm but also clarify and even change certain positions we have long held. This can certainly be a dangerous affair, and some have allowed life to change their positions from what is true to what is false (what Jesus says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage because of a family situation, unscriptural changes in worship because of children attending church who have adopted such, etc.). But few of us will go all the way through life without reconsidering especially some conscience or judgment matters.

There are also a great many of our friends who have been taught religious error on God’s plan of salvation, the singular, undenominational nature of the church, what God wants in worship, women’s role in church and worship leadership, and the list goes on. This can be such a difficult challenge for anyone, to revisit long-held and deeply-believed positions in light of what the Bible says.

For all of us, there must be an abiding humility that approaches scripture without the blinders of prejudices, preconceived notions, and influences like family, friends, church, and so on. That is uncomfortable, but essential—for all of us!  We may come to find that something we’ve clung to so tenaciously must be rejected or that something we rejected must be embraced. If we ever get to that place, may we have the kind of heart that puts the will of God above our own will. Without such, we cannot hope to make heaven our home.

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Hans Kaltenborn

Coping With Thorns

Neal Pollard

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:

  • The reality of the thorn (7)
  • The reproach of the thorn (7)
  • The reason for the thorn (7)
  • The result of the thorn (7)
  • The response to the thorn (8-10).

Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.

No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.

Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.

Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,

As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.

Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!

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Who Is The Greatest?

Neal Pollard

  • The preacher who dazzles with his insight, personality, influence, popularity, or following?
  • The teacher who is the students’ favorite?
  • The member who is “balling” (making a lot of money and having a lot of success in business)?
  • The family with the biggest house and nicest automobiles?
  • The one with the best academic pedigree, with the proverbial alphabet soup behind their name?
  • The folks who are best known and most influential in our community?
  • The ones who are incredibly fit and attractive?
  • The greatest debater, philosopher, and reasoner we know?
  • The elder who is most successful in his career?
  • One who seems to combine a great many or even all of these attributes?

It could be one of these individuals, but despite and not because of the specifics just mentioned. But, we so easily fall into the trap that causes us to think that those criteria are what make one greatest.  Such can cause us to vest blind trust in them or put them in a higher place than is right. Worse, we can try to be motivated to define and promote ourselves as greatest through these means.

The tendency is so fundamental. Jesus warned against it in places like Matthew 20:25-28 and 23:12. His disciples, like James (4:6-10), Peter (1 Pet. 3:8; 5:5-6), Paul (2 Cor. 10:12-18), Jude (16), and the rest, at least implicitly, address the same trap. We all fight the desire to be seen so as to be admired. We may do so through our marriages, our children’s accomplishments, our economic status, our apparent importance, our having it all together, our professional prowess, or any other asset we feel responsible for having. If we use these things to place ourselves above and/or push others below, we are disqualifying ourselves for greatness in the only way that matters—God’s way. False modesty isn’t the answer, either.

We must look at ourselves as dependent creatures. It’s all His and without Him we’d have nothing!
We must look at ourselves as devoted stewards. It’s all His and He expects us to use it wisely, on His behalf!
We must look at ourselves as divine instruments. It’s all His and He works through us to do His will!
We must look at ourselves as dutiful slaves. It’s all His and so are we, living and serving at and for His pleasure!

The warning and disclaimer is that this transformation must happen at heart-level, rooting out thoughts and attitudes that, while fleshly, are so easy to embrace. If the weeds of pride aren’t dislodged from deep within, this effort will prove impossible. But, if it could not be done, God would not have spent so much time instructing us to live and walk by the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh and mind. It is the old song, “None of self and all of Thee.” To the degree we adorn that mindset and make that transformation, to that degree we will achieve greatness God’s way!

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I Sin Against The Lord When I Don’t Pray For You

Neal Pollard

Jonathan Martindale punctuated an unforgettable worship service yesterday morning with one of the most thoughtful prayers I have ever been privileged to be a part of. What made it so effective was the people and issues he prayed about. This is not exhaustive, but here are some of the specific people he prayed for among his beautiful words.

  • Individuals in nursing homes that are facing the end of life (they believe they are prepared for eternity, but are not)
  • Individuals who are in college who are not being adequately equipped for the challenges and skepticism being thrown at them (both those who are fighting for their faith and those who have started to drift)
  • Individuals who are have been rocked by broken families
  • High Schoolers who are dealing with temptation
  • Junior high youth (trying to figure out who they are in life and those dealing with depression)
  • Elementary kids that have not made the decision to follow Christ yet but still need prayers to learn Christ correctly and led to that decision.
  • Those who are in the world who are perfectly content with where they are but still do not have Christ
  • Those who are good moral people but don’t have Christ
  • Those who are in the world and caught up with various vices (drinking, drug use, pornography)
  • Those who have fallen away (and our being visionary and courageous to help them)

That prayer reflected true thoughtfulness, contemplating those who are lost or drifting. While I’ve heard other prayers devoted to groups of people, I cannot remember one exactly like Jonathan’s.

It reminded me of Samuel’s words to Israel after the coronation of Saul. They had sinned against God by rejecting Him as their king. He assured them of God’s care, adding, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23). It seems that, in principle, we can be guilty of sinning against God and our spiritual family by not praying for them. James encourages praying for one another when sin infiltrates our lives (Jas. 5:16). The church prayed for Peter (Acts 12:5). Paul wanted Thessalonica to pray for him (1 Th. 5:25; 2 Th. 3:1). So did the writer of Hebrews (13:18).  So often, Jesus and His inspired spokesmen urged His followers to carefully, considerately pray for each other.

Let’s take every opportunity to do that today. Sit down and make a list of people—especially those who may get overlooked. Then, pray for them. Be as specific as you can about them. Talk with them and find out what they need from us in prayer. What a hedge of protection we may be giving one another by taking the time to pray for each other. What a huge blessing we can be for one another through prayer!

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What Vision Is

Neal Pollard

It is the ability to see what a thing could be. A carpenter, looking at a tree, sees with a trained eye much more than others can see. With his expert shaping, appropriate tools, and seasoned patience, he can make out of that tree what was once only in his mind. The Lord needs people, from the leadership down, who look at the community, each other, their income, and their abilities and see what could be done. It takes no effort, emotion, or education to say, “It can’t be done!” That’s what is expected. Vision sees what could be.

It is the ability to not obsess over what a thing has been. Due respect is owed to the labors of the past, and due recognition is owed both its successes and failures. The past, however glorious, will have ample samples of both. Yet, the people, plans, and programs of today and tomorrow should not be shackled and chained exclusively to was has been. Vision is not always settling for being “has beens.” “Will be” is what Paul seemed more focused in pursuing (cf. Phil. 3:10-12). Biblical vision recognizes that doctrine cannot change, but methods, technology, tools, and people invariably do. Vision asks how people living in the present time can best reach people living in the present time and prepare them for an endless eternity.
It is the ability to trust in what God can make it be. No plan would succeed without God’s hand in it. I love the prayers where brethren plead, “Help us in the things that are right and defeat us in the things that are wrong.” Among the Bible’s heroes are those who factor God into the plans and say, “We are well able” (Caleb, Num. 13:30). “I can do all things” (Paul, Phil. 4:13), “There is nothing too hard…” (Jeremiah, Jer. 32:17), and “No good thing does He withhold” (the sons of Korah, Psa. 84:11). Our vision can be bold when “our” is God and us! Since God made the sky, the limit exceeds even that! Our giving, our ambitions, our goals, and our sights should be set to reflect our belief in that fact.
Where will we be this time next year? In five or ten years? Vision plays a role in that. Vision attempts to see the unseen, forget the past, and trust the One who holds past, present, and future in His all-powerful hand. With those truths factored in, let us dream big dreams!

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Wanting To Want To

 

Neal Pollard

Do you want your marriage to flourish and grow?
Do you want to read through the Bible this year?
Do you want to lead someone the Savior to know?
Do you want to live life without worry and fear?
Do you want to lose weight and be healthy and fit?
Do you want to attain to more financial discipline?
Do you want self-confidence, courage, and grit?
Do you want to get better at caring and listening?
Do you want a closer place near the heart of God?
Do you want to trust Him when trouble finds you?
Do you want to have heaven after earth you’ve trod?
Then it all must begin with you wanting to want to! —NP

Call it desire, motivation, or willpower.  Whatever you call it, it is central to succeeding at whatever your goals are. What does it take to become a Christian? Wanting to! What does it take to defeat the sin in your life? Wanting to! What does it take to break bad habits and repeated blown judgment calls? Wanting to! What does it take to be a stronger, more faithful Christian? Wanting to! That is not to minimize or ignore our dependence on God and the strength He provides. But He is not going to overwhelm or overtake our will and make us do or be something. He did not operate that way in the age of miracles.

What will be your motivation? There are so many potential incentives. There’s the love God has shown us (2 Cor. 5:14). There’s the fear of hell (Mat. 10:28). There’s the yearning for heaven (John 14:1-3). There’s the concern about how we influence other’s destiny (Mat. 5:14-16). There’s the love we have for God (1 Jn. 4:19). There’s the longing to be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2). For each of us, some motivations are more powerful than others. Whatever it takes to be more for God in this needy world, latch onto it and pursue it. You can do it because you won’t be doing it alone. God gave you the church, His Word, prayer, and a personal will to help arrive at the ultimate goal. Don’t let up. Don’t look back. Don’t lose hope. Want to want to!

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4 people have motivated me to run over the past 19 years: Kathy, Joe, Bob, and Wes. Today was a 6 miler in the snow when it felt like 4 degrees. 

The Best Thing To Do For The Body This Year

Neal Pollard

When it comes to caring for the physical body, I have a lot to learn. While I work out nearly day, my most developed muscle is the table one. I will be working to use that muscle far less this year. But judging from all the new faces in the gym this morning, there are a lot of people who are going to be exercising their bodies who haven’t been doing so—at least for the next few days or weeks.

When it comes to caring for the spiritual body of Christ, I have even more to learn. Helping the church grow, develop, and fulfill its purpose better is a challenge that grows more daunting with each new year as our culture changes, our own distractions mount, and our sight is so easily eclipsed by the influence of this world. With that in mind, there is something we can do for His body that will give it its best opportunity to please God.  It centers around what we do with the Bible, as a church.

We must have confidence that God’s Word will give us what we need to have to be what we need to be. Through such, we will be “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). It takes the Word to cause “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Isn’t this what Paul is also saying to Colosse, when he urges them to hold fast to the head so that the body would grow “with a growth which is from God”? (Col. 2:19).  We cannot hope to strengthen and protect Christ’s spiritual body locally without consulting the training manual of the Great Physician.  Let’s make that specific and practical:

  • Preachers must lovingly preach even the difficult subjects (i.e., God’s law of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the distinct plan of salvation, the undenominational, singular nature of the New Testament church, God’s sexual ethics, the role of men and women, God’s pattern of worship, personal purity, etc.) and be a living example of the believer as their ethic is driven by that Word.
  • Elders must shepherd guided by the infallible Word and not with personal favoritism, deciding solely on popularity or what the majority favors, bending to political correctness, fear of offending influential members, and the like.
  • Deacons must function in a way that shows discipline, dedication, devotion, and discretion which is shaped and guided by the New Testament pattern for their works.
  • Members must follow with love, esteem, and cooperation when their leaders urge them to follow God’s truth, even if it’s distasteful to us or challenges our comfort and complacency.
  • Individual Christians must discipline their hearts and minds to be open and submissive to what they encounter in Scripture rather than be defensive and rebellious.
  • Families must dedicate themselves to studying and honoring the Word at home, in their daily lives, to grow and mature in the Words of truth.
  • Each of us must see the mandate to save souls, repeated throughout the New Testament, as a personal responsibility for which God holds us all accountable.

Isn’t it exciting to think about how much stronger the body of Christ where we are might be this time next year? If each of us will allow God’s inspired word to be the beacon and guide of our lives, His body is going to be powerful, noticeable, and desirable. We will draw men to Christ. We will be the picture of spiritual health. As you make your resolutions, won’t you determine to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you (Col. 3:16).

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NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR THOSE WHO FAVOR INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC

Neal Pollard

People who have rejected the teaching that singing in worship must be without the addition of mechanical instrumental music have appealed to culture, to the permission of silence, to aesthetics, to emotion, to tradition, to preference, and the like. As we examine Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, seeing the imperatives in each place (“let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”—Col. 3:16; “be filled with the Spirit”—Eph. 5:18) and the participles that reveal how to obey the imperatives (Eph.: “speaking…singing…making melody…giving thanks”; Col.: “teaching…admonishing…singing”), we rightly say that God specifies what He wants and through such excludes what does not fall within these categories. No one will successfully build a case for Divine authorization or approval, and church history will have turned centuries of pages before it is even found introduced in Christian worship.

Having said that, we have at times failed to step back and look at some of our own attitudes toward the music portion of our worship that may reveal some deficiency in our musical offering to God. As a musical instrument may drown out, overshadow, or become the central feature of worship music, so may our own minds and attitudes. How?

  • Being distracted by the age of the song (it’s too old or too new)
  • Being distracted by the pitch of the song (it’s too high or too low)
  • Being distracted by the pace of the song (it’s too fast or too slow)
  • Being distracted by the notes of the song (the song leader is leading it wrong)
  • Being distracted by who the song leader is or his appearance
  • Being distracted by how many verses are sung (too many or too few)
  • Being distracted by the aesthetics of the song (thinking about how it sounds more than what it says)
  • Being distracted by our own ability (proud of how good we sound or so embarrassed at how we think we sound that we keep quiet or fail to speak, teach, etc.)
  • Being distracted by the person/people next to us (concerned about what they think of us rather than what the message of the song is)
  • Being distracted by our familiarity with a song (frustrated that we don’t know it or knowing it so well that we sing from memory without engaging the heart)
  • Being distracted by matters outside the song (people-watching, thinking of other things, etc.)

Though I’ve never heard it said, have we constructed a theology that believes the only sin in our worship in song is adding an instrument to it? If we refuse to sing, sing with improper attitude, sing without heart and mind engaged, and the like, do we believe we are OK since we did not add to what God authorized.

In Matthew 15:9, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for worshipping God in vain due to their “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Context reveals the specifics of their wrongdoing. But that word vain means “pertaining to being without any result; to no avail” (Louw-Nida; “to no end,” BDAG). Review the examples of distraction above. Can those render worship in song with no result, avail, or end? Absolutely! Perhaps we need to emphasize within our own assemblies how equally necessary it is to be worshipping God “in spirit” as it is “in truth” (cf. John 4:24). The bottom line of this whole matter of church music is striving to please God in our worship. That is not limited to a single issue or somebody else’s issue. It is as individual and personal as each of our own relationship with God.

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The Gift (POEM)

Neal Pollard

 

The manger scene was sweet and mild,
But it was only a part of the plan,
The gift was not given by the swaddling child,
It was paid by the blood of the Man.

His Bethlehem birth was a crucial cog,
Without which His death could not be
But the people who spit, the soldiers who flog
And the pagans who nailed Him did not see

That by God’s prescient sight they helped complete
A present He meant for all men,
Unwitting, unwilling, they led down that street
The Hero who paid for our sin.

The gift was not delivered when He said, “It is done,”
We are miserable if He yet lies in the tomb,
He rose on that Sunday, this victorious Son,
As He’d come from the virgin’s blessed womb.

The gift has been given, this great grace of God
And He asks every person to receive it.
Those who obediently respond with salvation are shod
What a gift it is for all who believe it.

The Religion Of Resolutions

Neal Pollard

Have you ever wondered about the origin of New Year’s resolutions? I have. If they are to be trusted, the folks at the History Channel denote the Babylonians, nearly 4,000 years ago, as the founder of such culture-wide determinations. It was as part of a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu. Later, at the prompting of none other than Julius Caesar, the Romans, again as a nod to a god—Janus, the two-faced god who looked backward and forward—observed the advent of a new year with the intent of improving areas of their lives in need of such. Sarah Pruitt, author of the piece, claims that Christians, since early times, have approached the new year to rededicate themselves to Christ. Pruitt seems to be indicting so many today who observe this holiday in a purely secular fashion, and wonders if such humanistic emphasis is why so many resolutions fail (source).

It is noteworthy that the history of making resolutions is so closely tied to religious devotion. Perhaps this is because we, as human beings, recognize our innate inadequacy. Paul, feeling it necessary to defend himself against unnamed critics of his work, wrote, “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant…” (2 Cor. 3:4-6a). Paul, so accomplished as a Christian, preacher, leader, mentor, missionary, and more, was always striving to do more for Jesus. He was not trying to earn God’s love and approval. Whether looking back at his successes or failures, Paul, in his love for his Lord, wanted to serve Him more effectively. He told Philippi that he pressed on (Phil. 3:12), “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). He advised the conscientious Christian to follow his example (Phil. 3:15-16).

Christianity is not a religion of annual intention. It is the religious of daily determination (Luke 9:23). January 1 is an ideal time to reflect, review, and resolve, but is far from the only time.  In a significant sense, each new day for us involves a resolve within ourselves to deny self and dedicate to the Savior. As I have done every year of my adult life, I will again set out objectives and goals, physically, financially, and familial. Yet, the most important will involve my faith. As always, these will need review, not just in January, but throughout the year. In my prayers today, I prayed for every Christian who resolves to conquer a sin problem, reach a lost soul, be more active in their local congregation, and any other noble aim for the Master. If you make some such specific resolution and would honor me with the privilege of partnering with you in prayer about it, please email me (mrnealpollard@gmail.com) and let me know. Then, let me know how it goes and especially tell me about your success. May God bless each of us with the resolve to be more faithful in our relationship with Him.

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