A Tangled Mess!

Neal Pollard

Late in 2010, Jason Good was surveying timber in Meigs County, Ohio, when he came upon a bizarre sight. Three huge whitetail deer were dead, floating in a creek with their antlers locked. It was an 11-pointer, a 10-pointer, and an 8-pointer. The landowner, Brien Burke, figured that two of them were fighting when the third came in on the opposite side. Then all three were so tightly locked together that they could not pull loose (Field & Stream, Steven Hill, 12/5/10, online ed.). How sad that three beautiful, majestic creatures got themselves tangled up so much in a fight that they fell into a creek and drowned. Fighting brought these deer to a tragic end.

The same thing can happen in our human relationships. James writes, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:13-18).

Wise, understanding people prove such through gentle wisdom. The opposite have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in their hearts. James says that where this is, there is disorder and every evil thing. How often do we forfeit peace and gentleness due to a large dose of selfish ambition? We tangle with others and hurt them and often hurt ourselves. At its worst, we can inflict spiritual death. When that happens, we are in just as much trouble. What we need in our relationships with others is the wisdom from above, described in James 3:17. But we must sow peace to reap the fruit of it. Let’s be at peace with men and God!

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Before You Type Or Talk Today

 

Neal Pollard

A pick, a poke, a controversy,
Hit and run, a verbal grenade,
We may see it as clever, though without mercy
And own it like an accolade

But are we making people think
When what and how we say it scars?
If it causes a stir, a strife, a stink
Instead of edifying it maligns and mars?

People should be thinking anyway
And what they think should be of good report
Let’s meditate on what we say
Not load up on sarcastic, sardonic retort.

The world already knows that tactic
And uses it at the drop of scarf and hat
It brightens no story, dresses up no didactic
But stokes the fire and escalates the spat

Here’s something requiring greater skill
You won’t find it in general practice
Restraint and kindness, grace and good will
Be a rose in a field of cactus.

When entering today the public sphere
And the marketplace of varied ideas
Let the Jesus in you shine bright and clear
So they can look at you and believe He is!

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Enmities

Neal Pollard

“Enmities” is a work of the flesh, found in Galatians 5:20. It’s something we may not quite understand. How do “enmities” arise and is this something you and I may fall prey to?

  • Enmities arise by holding a grudge.  In fact, it can be very difficult to know when you cross the line from the one to the other.  When you harbor feelings of resentment toward someone from an offense real or imagined, it will eventually grow into hostile feelings and possibly hostile acts.  The old law warns against bearing a grudge and even makes it antonymous (i.e., opposite) with love (Lev. 19:18).  The Lord tells us what to do when we have a problem with a brother or sister (Mat. 18:15ff).  If we do not follow this, to whom are we listening?
  • Enmities arise through prejudice.  Prejudice occurs on much more than the basis of the color of one’s skin or one’s ethnicity.  Prejudice is nothing more than a preformed opinion, one formed without all the facts but instead through “insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes” (Encarta Dictionary).  How often, based on how we think, feel, or believe another to be, do we work ourselves up against another and allow enmity to rule our hearts?
  • Enmities arise when the mind is set on the flesh (Rom. 8:7).  Paul is contrasting the Old Law with the gospel of Christ in this context, but he reveals a compelling principle.  When we fail to live spiritual lives, but instead make our decisions driven by our passions and fleshly inclinations, we open ourselves up to works like enmity.  Incidentally, this same bent will lead one further and further down the road of those ensuing works in Galatians 5.  Notice that this hostility is pointed toward God and His law (cf. Jas. 4:4), but it will impact our demeanor and attitude in all relationships.  This hostility plays out “in the flesh” (Rom. 8:8), the very activities and attitudes upon which Paul focuses in Galatians 5:19-21.

Are you and I immune from “enmities”?  We can strengthen ourselves against such
especially through the “antidote” of love in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  Love actively seeks and strives for others’ good.  If we sincerely give our hearts to loving others, our brethren or the lost, we will have a harder time harboring hostility and hatred for them.  Maybe if we will take the time to know others better and try to get insight into their circumstances, struggles, and challenges, it will temper our feelings toward them.  It will certain demonstrate that we are led by the Spirit and not by the flesh!

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NO SMILE RULE!

 

Neal Pollard

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana are among the states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from  problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

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You Sure Do Have An Attitude!

Neal Pollard

Unavoidably, you do! And consider what hinges on what kind of attitude you have. Often, the difference in winning and losing is attitude. Happiness and sadness is a matter of attitude rather than circumstances. Failure and success is determined, many times, by what kind of attitude we have toward the task. Even one’s attractiveness and repulsiveness are, many times, gauged by his or her attitude in life.
You, the Christian, have an attitude! You can be a sour-faced, negative, paranoid, bitter, fearful, stressed out, unhappy, grouchy, withdrawn, depressed, whiny, angry, hypercritical, pessimistic, suspicious, and therefore poor specimen of a Christian. Or, you can be a hopeful, interested, enthusiastic, peace-filled, joyful, bright, forgiving, compassionate, holy, pure, winsome, righteous, smiling beacon of light in a world filled with tons of negative, disgruntled, and chronically unhappy people.
Since your sins are forgiven, your Lord and Master is unmatched, your life is blessed, and your future is exciting, isn’t it natural that you should have a good attitude? A good attitude can transform the people around you, positively impact your circumstances, win the hearts of rivals and enemies, transform your own inner trouble, and give pleasure to the God of heaven. You didn’t know you had that much influence, did you? But you do! Use it for good by wielding a good attitude.
Salvation to restore a sin-sick soul, forgiveness for a guilty heart, and acceptance from a loving God despite our unworthiness are often more unbelievable to folks than any physical feat to attain. If our attitude reflects the consequences of having received those things, we can appeal to untold others to achieve the same state of life by following our lead. So, how’s your attitude?
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OPTIMISM

Neal Pollard

Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.

They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….”  The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.

They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”

They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.

We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better.  He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.”  All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!

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Fickleness

Neal Pollard

Here is my estimation of Peyton Manning’s few seasons in Denver so far: “Football fans frenetic for a famous flinger fawned over his fabulous finesse. A few festive, favorable football seasons fashioned full fondness for this fabled figure. Following his foot foibles and flawed, flat functioning, fickle followers flung their festering frustration field-ward, filling the field with foulness. Finally, this furtive footballer fell from fame, fun, and fondness from these fanatics. Forsooth, feelings fade, flag, and falter in fast fashion.”  That’s probably not completely fair, but it was a fun foray for me. Somebody stop me!

I will say this about human tendency—we are quick to crown our heroes and often quicker to dethrone them.  Janet Jackson captured the collective psyche of humanity with her song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” No one is safe or immune from the clutches of people’s capricious whims.

No one has ever been treated in greater fair-weathered fashion than Jesus Christ. On Sunday, He entered the city of Jerusalem to a welcome from a multitude of people crying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mat. 21:9). The whole city was “moved” by Him (Mat. 21:10). By Friday, the multitudes were crying and crying louder, “Let Him be crucified!” (Mat. 27:22,24). Same Man. Same city. Certainly some of the same people. Polar opposite sentiment in just five days time. Their excited plea changed from crown Him to kill Him. Adoration was overrun by anger. How baffling!

Looking back, we can be filled with such indignation. Yet, when we look at our own lives, does our estimation of Jesus change with the events we endure in life? How do we feel toward Him in good times? Desperate times? When we struggle? When we are afraid? When we’re disappointed or betrayed? When we fail? When we’re lonely or loved?  Some live life on a spiritual roller coaster, vacillating between devotion and denial. The slightest trigger can change our tune from “How I love You!” to “How could You?!”

Faithful endurance must be our rudder. We can develop the mindset of the beleaguered Job, who cried, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).  How it must please God to see steady, unwavering devotion from His saints, determined to stick with Him through thick and thin. Let’s be grateful that He does that for us! “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

Enemies Of Contentment

Neal Pollard

Contentment is a learned trait (Ph. 4:11). It is a disciplined trait (1 Ti. 6:8). It is a commanded trait (He. 13:5).  Yet, it is such a rare trait! Some, like Dr. Rick Hanson, have written elaborate explanations for how contentment is a science, a matter of utilizing the neural capacity of the brain to hardwire positive experience into “contentment, calm, and confidence” (Hardwiring Happiness, New York: Harmony, 2013).  What he relegates to science, which we would attribute Christ as the creator of (Col. 1:16-17), is something even more and higher. It is something we learn from living life as His disciple. It is a spiritual discipline, gained from imitating Christ and His blueprint for living in this world. That said, we must watch out for the landmines to living the happy, satisfied, and fulfilled life God intended for us whatever circumstances we face in life (cf. 2 Co. 12:10).

  • Envy. Envy is “a state of ill will toward someone because of some real or presumed advantage experienced by such a person” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T., 1996, p. 759). It is hard to be content with my circumstances when I am focused on how much better I think someone else has it. In fact, I will be full of resentment rather than contentment. Ironically, feeding this mindset makes joy and satisfaction impossible!
  • Ungratefulness. Paul marked being ungrateful as a sign of “difficult times” (2 Tim. 3:1,3). Have you noticed how some people, however hard life beats them up, remain upbeat? Maybe you conclude that they are just naturally inclined to be positive. But what about people who seem miserable and dissatisfied despite countless advantages and blessings? Gratitude, like contentment, is a learned discipline. When we don’t learn it, we darken our hearts with the evil of ungratefulness. Not being thankful is a link on a deadly chain that leads one to a lost state. Paul said some knew God, but “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
  • Greed. You will notice that some of heaven’s harshest words are reserved for the greedy (Lk. 12:15; Rom. 1:29; Ep. 5:3; Co. 3:5; 1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pt. 2:3,14). It is lumped in with the most despicable of behaviors. What is it?  It is a desire to want more than others whether we need it or not. We think in terms of material possessions, and while that is a significant aspect of greed it can extend to the relationships, perceived happiness or popularity we witness others having. Our society tells us to pursue “top dog” position, letting no one have more or be more than you. That mentality kills contentment.

Whatever science is involved in contentment, there certainly is also an art. Better said, it is a spiritual discipline. You incorporate it only through diligence and persistence. Be aware of the enemies of contentment and root them out! You will be the beneficiary, and so will everyone who knows you.

THE FOLLY OF CHRONICALLY PLAYING THE WORSHIP CRITIC

Neal Pollard

I’ve known individuals whose sole purpose in the assemblies has seemed to be to critique those who lead the worship or show up to engage in it, from their appearance to their aptitude.  While we certainly need to avoid having someone blatantly engaging in sin and error (that’s an article for a different occasion), if that is one extreme then hypercriticism of the worship and worshipper can be another.  If you or someone you love is tempted to play this deflating part, consider the following.

  • It’s unwarranted.  Who earns the right to be the official analyst of the worship?  How does one properly and fruitfully engage himself and herself in John 4:24 worship while assuming this presumptuous activity?  The Bible nowhere portrays such a one in a positive light.  One critic of another’s worship we do read about is unflatteringly presented and unfavorably analyzed by God in Luke 18:9-14. We should ask why we feel it necessary that we grade and rate others present with us before the Great I Am.
  • It’s unscriptural. This can be the case in many possible ways.  First, if we gossip or speak about someone rather than addressing it with them, that’s wrong (1 Pet. 2:1; Mat. 18:15). Second, if our tone is biting, sarcastic, and unloving, that’s wrong (2 Tim. 2:24; Eph. 4:15).  Third, if in being critical we ourselves are not properly engaged in worship, that’s wrong (John 4:24).
  • It’s unwise. It is so easy to undermine and squander one’s own influence who reduces himself or herself to nitpicking others in the assemblies.  It can cause others to lose respect for us and even seek to avoid us.  This is especially important to remember if, in a close and final analysis, what we criticize does not rise to the level of meriting such criticism.
  • It’s untenable.  The critic is exposed as doing what he or she is condemning others for—i.e., not offering acceptable worship.  It’s somewhat like the child who sees a sibling with eyes open during the prayer and who tattles to mom and dad, who promptly ask, “How do you know?”
  • It’s unwelcome. The chronic complainer, sooner or later, develops a reputation for such.  It causes others to avoid them for fear of the carnage it could create.  The Corinthians were urged to be edifiers in their assemblies (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12,26). The worship critic works against that ever-present need.
  • It’s unbelievable.  How incredible that one would misuse the assemblies to nitpick minutia when the Creator, the Savior, and the Revealer are present and expecting worship from all present!  What a gross misunderstanding of our role as Christians to abuse the time in such a way. In fact, it is utter audacity.

There may be a bit of the critic in all of us.  Certainly, we should be striving to make worship better in every practical way we can. That involves teaching and training. It involves singing songs with words we actually use and understand. It involves probably 1,000 other things, but let’s not get so lost in the pursuit of “improving” that we forget to do what we assembled to do:  worship God!

THE GIRL ON THE WINDOW OR THE AISLE?

Neal Pollard
Two women sitting on a plane
They didn’t seem acquainted
The “aisle one” seemed in anger and pain
The other by cares seemed untainted
“Window woman” smiled with a beam
As past their row I filed
The other was cursing at a full steam
She was ruffled, rankled and riled
After the flight, we all stood to go
I watched as the ladies departed
The grouser was healthy, with youthful glow
But from her my eyes quickly darted
To watch the other one get to the aisle
I marveled at what I could see
Her left arm was mangled from something vile
She was amputated above that same knee.
I heard her, soft-spoken, tell of her surviving
A car fire that happened last June
But she lost her dear husband, who was driving.
They were so in love. Yes, she lost him too soon.
But the twinkle reappeared as thought about him
And anticipated their ultimate reunion
She still had much to live for, she wasn’t a bit grim
For with Christ she said she had sweet communion.
Soberly, I left still thinking about this
As the jet bridge I left for the concourse
There was “aisle girl” causing a scene hard to miss
Yelling until she was almost hoarse.
Apparently the airline had failed to upgrade
Her from lowly coach up to first class
She was special, important, so went her tirade
But her language was lowbrow and crass.
I thought about me in that moment
All healthy, without big losses or trouble
How I handle my blessings or treat my opponent
When I’m tried, am I gold or am I stubble?
Some people’s problems eclipse ours, it’s true
But we all have our crosses to bear
Yet, when you’re under pressure, they see what’s in you
Will they want what you’ll inevitably share?
I went on my way after what I witnessed that day
Resolved to live in true, Christlike style
Every thought, feeling, deed, and think that I say
Is like that girl on the window or the aisle.