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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More Light Than Heat

Neal Pollard

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels his daughter, Ophelia, about Hamlet’s vows of love, saying, “When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat, extinct in both even in their promise as it is a-making, you must not take for fire” (Act 1, Scene 3). Her point is that passionate desire causes a man to profusely promise anything in order to get what he wants, but it may lack substance and trustworthiness. It appears more promising than it really is. We’ve likely all witnessed and experienced this. What good is a fire if it doesn’t produce heat?

When it comes to discussing religious matters, things can get pretty heated. Unfortunately, as the temperature rises, solid conclusions are elusive because there is much more emotion than illumination. Inasmuch as God’s Word is to be a light and lamp (Ps. 119:105), these are times where all are benefited by more light than heat. Too often, instead of proving or disproving something, we resort to personal attacks on the other person, assert a position appealing to a variety of alleged proofs or rationales without benefit of a singular Scripture, or we’ll abuse, distort, and contort a passage to say what it does not mean. As battle lines are drawn and trenches are dug, the two sides become wider and more intensely apart while the matter under discussion fades into the background. 

Because the New Testament repeatedly commands unity (Eph. 4:1ff; 1 Cor. 1:10-13), we must “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). Are there tangible actions we can take to pursue more light than heat in these matters that distress our unity?

  • Genuinely listen. That doesn’t mean merely hear what the other is saying, but listen open-mindedly, seeking to understand what the other person is saying. Don’t presuppose or listen with prejudice. Truly, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). 
  • Genuinely love. Love for God should be preeminent, but such love is not in opposition to brotherly love. In fact, they are intrinsically bound together (1 Jn. 4:20-21). While love does not mean compromising truth, it will prompt us to do what love requires (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8)—be patient, be kind, act becomingly, don’t be provoked, etc. 
  • Genuinely learn. Do we really know their view or merely think we do? This requires great self-examination and disciplined introspection. If we champion a position and have argued the matter before, we may think our fellow disputant believes what he or she does not actually believe. Preconceptions eclipse thoughtful interaction. We should ever be students, making sure we’ve not missed it. 
  • Genuinely long. Peace and unity will sometimes be impossible, but we shouldn’t let that be because we didn’t sincerely seek it. By lovingly seeing the other person as an eternal soul for whom Christ died (as well as any and all who would be influenced by the other person), surely we will strive to gently, civilly, and earnestly discuss the matter (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). 

We live in divisive times. They are carnal times, full of “bitterness and wrath and clamor and slander…with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). We must remember that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20). What does? God’s Word (Jas. 1:18-25)! Too often, we’ll be locked in matters of truth and error and must uphold truth. But let’s be so careful to discern when that’s the case and always speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Such will produce light rather than heat!

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“Good That Comes From Bad”

Neal Pollard

With a name like “Lamentations,” you know it isn’t a joke book. It’s not lighthearted or jovial. It’s the inspired record of Jeremiah’s tears and troubled spirit over the punishment of Judah for her idolatry and abandonment of God. It is graphic (see 2:20-21; 4:4-10; 5:11-14). Conditions became terrible for the nation (cf. 1:9-10). The book is filled with apocalyptic language and hyperbole (3:1-16).

In the middle of the prophesy, though, Jeremiah expresses the hopeful effect of all this calamity and reaping. The desired effect of captivity was three-fold, according to Lamentations 3:40. First, it was for self-examination–“Let us search out and examine our ways.” Second, it was for repentance–“and turn back to the Lord.” Finally, it was for spiritual development–“Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”

When we sin or even are caught in some long-term transgression, there will very often be consequences. If we fail to overcome it, the consequences will be unending and most serious. Yet, if we “come to ourselves” (cf. Luke 15:17) and let go of what is keeping us from being right with God, it can have those same three positive impacts on us. It cause cause us to engage in proper self-examination. It will hopefully lead us to repent. Then, this paves the road for us to grow close to God through proper spiritual development.

The ideal is to avoid spiritually spiraling out of control or into some sin problem. Yet, if or when we do, let us remember Lamentations 3:40. Good can come from bad.

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“Immediately”

Neal Pollard

The astute reader of the book of Mark finds the word 40 times in 39 verses (the Greek word most often translated “immediately” in Mark is actually found 44 times). It is a key word found consistently throughout the gospel but especially in the first six chapters. Usually, the word is used to quantify the time between Jesus performing a miracle and it taking effect. The point seems to be to show the power and Divine nature of Jesus. It is also a thread that runs throughout the book to highlight key thoughts and main ideas in this second book of the New Testament. The word is used to highlight the Father’s affirmation of Christ following His baptism (1:10), Jesus’ journey into the wilderness to triumph over the Devil’s temptations (1:12), the disciples’ decision to leave their occupation to follow Jesus (1:18,20), Jesus’ entering the synagogue to show unparalleled authority and power (1:21), the news and fame that followed Christ’s teaching and healing (1:28), and the immediate response of the one healed by Jesus–the first of many uses of the word “immediately” to highlight such (1:29-30). The proof for Jesus’ identity was immediate. The effect of Jesus’ miracles was immediate. The impact of Jesus’ miracles and teachings on friend and foe was immediate. Mark’s use of this word seems to indicate how overwhelming and unmistakable the proof of Jesus was.

This is not to say that one should rashly decide about the Lord. The book of Mark is part of God’s way to convince man about who Jesus is. Take the time to read it and learn of Him. Like the other three gospels, Mark contains the miracles, teaching, claims, and events in Christ’s life at the end of which one must ultimately make a decision concerning who He is. Remember, though, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Weigh the evidence, and then decide. Follow the example of so many in the book of Mark and let the power and person of Jesus have an immediate impact on your life and your soul.

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Learning To Pray From A Man After God’s Own Heart

Neal Pollard

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), they were asking the most qualified instructor. However, they had a good teacher from the background of their own heritage in David. The book of Psalms is at times a songbook and at other times a prayer journal. Numerous examples of David’s prayers are contained in this beautiful book of Old Testament poetry. In Psalm 141, for example, we have several characteristics of prayer from a man after God’s own heart (cf. Acts 13:22).

First, David’s prayer was urgent (Psalm 141:1). He writes, “Lord, I cry out to You; make haste to me!” David saw prayer, not as a last resort, but as a first retreat. Since David knew God was able to help, he wasted no time in bringing matters into God’s own hands.

Then, David’s prayer was intense (Psalm 141:1b). He continues, “Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.” You will not hear rote memorization of prayers or lackadaisical lethargy in David’s prayer. David cried out to God. He is pleading with God. These are indicators of a fervent prayer life, which God includes as typical of righteous people of prayer (James 5:16).

Further, David’s prayer was sincere (Psalm 141:2). He treated his prayers as if they were actually offerings or sacrifices. He says, “Let my prayers be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” He was willing to lay open his prayers to the All-Seeing eye for His scrutiny. The entirety of this psalm reflects no superficial piety or pretentiousness. David simply laid his heart before God.

David put obvious trust and hope in the power of prayer. He had confidence in God’s ability and he had cognizance of his own dependence upon God’s ability. Never wait to turn to prayer until the need is desperate. The man after God’s own heart made prayer a staple in his religious diet. So should we.

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Cure Them With Kindness!

Neal Pollard

A comedienne draws attention for being mean-spirited and cutting when roasting a White House press secretary recently. While cringe-worthy, it’s hardly an isolated incident. Nor is it confined to Washington politics, being seen across the spectrum of society. Civility has taken a beating in the current culture. Social media may be a breeding ground for insults, attacks, hostility, and animosity, but it’s hardly confined to just that forum.

Make no mistake, a lack of kindness is a hallmark of worldliness and unrighteousness. It is the antithesis of a quality God demands of the Christian. Ephesians 4:32 commands, “Be kind to one another….” The original word translated “kind” here is found seven times in the New Testament, and it is a divine quality. In fact, in six of the seven references, God demonstrates it. In Ephesians 4:32, it is to be exhibited by us in view of God’s having shown it to us through Christ. It means “pertaining to that which is pleasant or easy, with the implication of suitability” (Louw 246). It causes no discomfort, meets a high standard of value, is morally good and benevolent, and is beneficent (BDAG 1090). In common usage in New Testament times, the word, when referring to people, was synonymous with being decent, of good disposition, gentle, good-hearted, and morally upright (Kittel 1320). In other words, people in society could and did recognize its presence in people. Its absence is also, sadly, noteworthy. 

The old adage “kill them with kindness” might imply utilizing kindness to get an advantage or revenge on someone unkind, making us look good and them look bad. God calls for something more out of those of us striving to hold up the Light to a dark world. The world is sin-sick, and rude, coarse, hateful attitudes, words and actions are but a symptom of this. We have the medicine the world needs, even if it fails to see its need. Some will be drawn to it when they see it in us. 

Paul counsels Rome with inspired advice that will help us cure the rude, ugly, spiteful, and vicious behavior we often encounter. He says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21). Look closely at what he says. Avoid the payback mentality. Go to great lengths to preserve peace. Leave revenge to God. Don’t stoop to the world’s level. 

This imitation of God with revolutionize the places where we practice this. The moral malignancy plaguing our world cries out for medicine, and we as Christians know where to access it. Let’s discipline ourselves to use it, even in the face of those spreading the spiritual sickness of spite. 

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