The Eye Of The Beholder

Neal Pollard

The theme of our recently completed lectureship was, “Every Man Did What Was Right In His Own Eyes.” This seems to be the summary statement of this entire period of Bible history. It is interesting that this idea shows up more than in just the two verses where the statement appears (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Samson wanted the woman of Timnah because “she looked good to” him (Judges 14:3,7; literally, “she was right in his eyes”). In reality, she was a loose, treacherous, and idolatrous woman, but she seemed right to him. In that dark story about the Levite man, the elderly Ephraimite man, the Levite’s concubine and the Ephraimite’s virgin daughter, the old man, seeking to placate the wicked Benjamites, offered the women to them “to do with them whatever” they wished (Judges 19:24; literally, “the good in your eyes”). Obviously, what was right in these men’s eyes was reprehensible and vile. It is one of the most extreme examples of wickedness recorded in the Bible.

Elsewhere, the Bible says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15a), and “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2a). We often think things seem right when they are far from it (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25; 18:17).  After talking about those who mix up right and wrong and good and evil, Isaiah tells us why they do this. He warns that they “are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21).

In the world, the church, and our own lives, we are tempted to do what is right in our own eyes. We justify habits, relationships, desires, religious practices, lifestyles, and choices about which God warns in His Word by ignoring that and rationalizing, rewording, and reframing them. We use emotional arguments. We twist Scripture. In the end, when we do these things, we reject God’s authority and seek to become the standard ourselves. The book of Judges was written, in part, to show us what happens when we do it and how God feels when we do it.  The well-worn phrase goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That may be. But right and wrong is not such as is in the eye of the beholder. That is determined by the One who possesses “the all-seeing eye” (Proverbs 15:3).

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Misguided Anarchists

Neal Pollard

In her excellent book about the many events leading up to World War I, Barbara Tuchman, in The Proud Tower, spends a chapter talking about the anarchist movements swirling particularly around Europe and the United States. It was the inspiration for several assassinations of important political figures, including one of our presidents—William McKinley. In the wake of the industrial revolution, many immigrant, uneducated, illiterate, and otherwise disadvantaged people, worked an incredibly high number of hours each week for less than living wages. They lived in deplorable conditions and had nearly no prospects of improving their plight or the plight of their children. A growing proposal around the industrialized world was to throw off all government and institute what amounted to a global commune with a total sharing of assets. It was not Communism because it did not want any organization or officials to rule and govern. Those who truly embraced the cause put total faith in man, in every case, to be noble and devoid of base motives like greed, power, and self-interest. It was anti-religious, anti-capitalist, anti-authority of any kind. Other than inspire attacks on famous people, the anarchists never came close to materializing their desired revolution. Rationale people knew there must be order and law.

Periodically, a similar movement rears its head even within the body of Christ. Christianity, in their view, is reduced to a single, undefined maxim: “Love Jesus.” While it can seem appealing, when it is viewed uncritically, it is unsustainable and self-defeating. When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment in the Law, He replied by saying it was a total love of God. He added that the second greatest command was loving others. Yet, throughout the gospels, Jesus expressed so many other specific commands for His followers that build upon that vital foundation. The men to whom He delegated authority to reveal His will and commands (John 14:26; 16:13) revealed His expectations of His followers. Pulpits and leaderships that deemphasize, avoid, or attempt to nullify these commands may be acting from high motives and noble desires, but they are more harmful than those anarchists of over 100 years ago. They encourage more than civil disobedience. They encourage disobeying the God who will one day judge mankind. Human governments may rule from corruption, self-service, and oppressive intentions, but God’s Word never does. What God commands for us is only for our good. How should we respond? We should humbly, reverently, lovingly, and totally submit to His reign and rule in our lives. May that be our highest aim!

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WISDOM IS VINDICATED BY ALL HER CHILDREN

Neal Pollard

There was an old joke or riddle that went, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” How would a man respond? If he said “no,” it was tantamount to confessing to being a wife beater. If he said “yes,” it suggested that he was a former wife-beater. Either way, the conundrum had him struck.  Have you ever had someone try to place you into such a bind?

It has been said that the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. If you are striving to serve Christ and fulfill your purpose as a Christian, there is at least some likelihood that you will be opposed and even accused in some way. Jesus discusses that very matter in Luke seven. He’s teaching His disciples and compares His generation to children who criticize no matter what a person does—some criticizing people for being too somber, others criticizing people for being too festive. Jesus uses that illustration to speak of how God’s enemies criticized John the Baptist and then Himself. The criticism revealed that if John had acted like Jesus and Jesus had acted like John, the critics would still have been dissatisfied.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus did not give us a manual for handling labeling, libelous critics? He does not say to write books or articles, preach sermons, get on TV or the radio, and the like, spending the precious resources of time, money, and influence countering the charges of those who are seemingly not content unless they can bully or intimidate their prey into conforming to the gospel according to them—the arbitrary standard for others they have created and uphold.

Here is Jesus’ summation: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”  What does that mean? Look at the offspring of the teaching. What is the result of Jesus’ ministry? People are taught the truth, led to live the way God wants, and are pointed to the narrow way. Criticisms notwithstanding, that’s the fruit.  Speaking of which, Jesus also uses that analogy in the sermon on the mount. He begins and ends the analogy with the idea that “you will know them by their fruits” (Mat. 7:16,20).  But, this is a fair test for everyone.

What is the fruit of the hypercritical attacker? Not only ask if what they teach is technical true, but do they meet the tests of honesty, consistency, kindness, fairness, and love. Do they demonstrate the spirit of Christ, bear the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrate the Christian graces, fulfill the inspired definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, act like the new man, and the like? So often, we do not stop to inspect the inspector. Whether we do or not, the Lord will inspect the work of us all at the end.

Each of us must focus on pleasing God and being absolutely sure that we are submitting to His authority and obeying His will. The standard of judgment at the last day will not be the man-made rules of even the potshot-takers, but instead the words of Christ (John 12:48). Let us be careful to grow in our knowledge of His will each day so we can discern between divine expectations and human regulations. At the end, what we should desire is heavenly vindication. The rest will ultimately take care of itself.

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The Ever-Fixed Mark

Neal Pollard

This phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to describe love. While it is an apt, poetic description of love, it also is the perfect modifier of God’s Word. If there is a word to describe the current culture, it is “change.” Our world is enamored with it, constantly changing its mind, its values, its standards of right and wrong, its worldview, and its priorities. Swept up in all of this are societal attitudes about so many things.

What was once right is now wrong. What was wrong is now right. And while not every instance of this is wrong, so many of them are the product of mankind pushing the envelope of previous norms and standards of decency. Let me cite some specific examples:

  • The definition of marriage
  • The definition of gender
  • Sexual mores
  • The sanctity and humanity of the unborn
  • The view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • Male and female leadership roles
  • The move from monotheism to polytheism (one God to many Gods)
  • The existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ
  • The ethics of honesty, hard work, and service

Our list could be much longer, but these representative items have all fallen victim to the world’s push for what it sees as greater freedom, satisfaction, and happiness. Those who rely on the Bible as their infallible guide already know how the story turns out for those who make themselves the standard. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). More solemnly, Solomon says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). In Paul’s day, suppressing, speculative, sensual, and subverting souls rejected God in deference to self-guidance with destructive results (Rom. 1:18ff). Thus it will always be when man builds upon the foundation of himself.

What happens with us, individually and collectively, when we build upon the rock of Scripture is survival in the severest tests (Mat. 7:24-25). When we see Scripture as something to change us rather than something subject to our changes, we have a sure standard by which to chart our lives. Antecedent societies have experienced the trauma of spiritual self-determination (cf. Prov. 14:34). In a world enamored with unrighteous change, may we determine to fix our gaze on the ever-fixed mark of Scripture!

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Doing It Our Way Instead Of God’s Way

Neal Pollard

I have pondered lately about why there is such a growing tendency to overlook the plainly revealed will and mind of God in favor of what either lacks authority or violates His Word. It would be impossible to be exhaustive, lacking the ability to read the mind, judge the motives, and know the heart. However, in a general way, here are a few observations.

  • Feelings have taken priority over reason. Personal preference and one’s inner voice becomes the guiding star for one’s behavior and concepts, and truth gets dethroned. Hearts are hardened against revealed truth and decisions are made based on personal sentiment. In an attempt to avoid hurting feelings, escape ostracism, preserve an image with the world, and have its good will, individuals become their own judges, juries, and pardoners.
  • We have witnessed people of influence “get away with it.” For years, our national heroes and leaders, athletes, politicians, and celebrities, have “gotten away with it” (see both presidential candidates). If society’s elite and influential can do wrong and get away with it, why shouldn’t everyone else?
  • God does not practice instant retribution in the Christian Age. God does not execute immediate punishment upon the wicked or wrongdoer today. “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness…” (Acts 17:31). The fact that some do not get “caught” in sin in this life does not mean God won’t exact justice upon the impenitent ultimately, but because He does not immediately execute sentence against an evil work we can conclude He will not at all (cf. Ecc. 8:11).
  • Man has developed an insatiable hunger for instant gratification. Pleasure and passion, for many, have become stronger determining influences than eternity and judgment. When the flesh is in control, spiritual things are crowded out of the mind. Jesus says that one can only submit to one master, never two (Mat. 6:24). Flesh and spirit are warring parties (Rom. 8:4-8). Gratifying the flesh can kill concern over the consequence of misdeeds.

We cannot do it alone, without God. The fact is, we must totally surrender to Him. His guidance must be embraced. His will must rule. His strength must be accepted. Truly making Him Lord means making His Word the governing influence of our hearts and lives. Such a humble, honest, and heartfelt submission will help us defeat a mindset set on minding our thoughts and ways over His (see Isa. 55:8-9).

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My grandpas’ Bibles (Mom’s Dad’s on the left, Dad’s Dad’s on the right). 

 

 

 

Misguided Malice

Neal Pollard

I served the Livingston Police Department in Sumter County, Alabama, as a reserve officer for two years. I had a uniform and a badge, though the service I rendered was as chaplain.  The relationship between law enforcement and citizens there was very positive, but I remember talking with officers about the media bias and agenda of liberal politicians they witnessed locally and nationally. This was nearly a quarter century ago, long before the advent of social media and nearly omnipresent camera phones and videos which can be deceptive both for what they show and what they do not. In light of baffling events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the last few weeks, as well as the inane calls to defund police, it is hard not to think that huge numbers of people have been duped by political rhetoric and a thoughtless mob mentality. While no profession can be completely free of corrupt individuals (who should be found out and prosecuted with full vigor), the existence of law enforcement and peace officers is a vital cog in the wheel of civilization and order in society. Eliminating these agencies is tantamount to removing a fence keeping a pack of bloodthirsty pit bulls from a neighboring playground full of children.

It is a characteristic of worldliness to disdain authority.  The Christian’s attitude and response is to be different. To Christians living in a world with not a fraction of the liberties we enjoy in society today, Paul instructed, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:1-5). There are sobering, inescapable truths here which should be revered by those who are servants of God. God is mentioned five times in these verses, and He is intrinsically tied to earthly authorities. They are from God (1), established by God (1), an ordinance of God (2), and ministers of God (4).

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the earmarks of difficult times. So many of these traits are evidenced in the growing anarchy of the present day—revilers, unloving, irreconcilable, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, and reckless (1-4).  In addition to such attitudes and actions being sinful, they are too often misguided. Police are symbols of law and order, and they are easy targets for those who commit or are effected by lawlessness. It seems that more of our passion and animus should be directed toward criminals and less toward our crime stoppers.

Let us take to heart Peter’s counsel to persecuted Christians and “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right [we] may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:13-15). If we can rationalize and argue away this Bible truth, why can we not do the same with any other timeless principle of Scripture? May God help us all to hold tightly to the Light of the Bible, that the world may see how it should respond in this troublesome world.

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Do We Need Permission?

Neal Pollard

For several years while in Virginia, I enjoyed going out with a couple of dear Christian brothers to hunt for Civil War relics.  Of course, hunting on federal property was a serious crime and was unthinkable. However, so many of the personal properties owned by residents in the Richmond area were treasure troves of those artifacts. Their woods and fields held bullets, shells, buckles, buttons, and the like. Dave Young, Jr., always followed the same procedure before our hunts. He would go see the homeowners where we wanted to hunt, people he had known, built friendships and done business with for years. If we got their permission—sometimes the thoughtless or unethical practices of other hunters made them inclined to refuse us—then we would go on their property and hunt for relics. It was their land and their right to permit or deny. If we had ever chosen to hunt one of those places without permission and got caught, it would have been a silly argument to say, “They did not tell us we couldn’t hunt here.”

This example is crude and imperfect, but I think it illustrates a principle most can understand. It is not natural to construe someone’s silence as permission. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith and practice in religion, we attempt that very approach.

When it comes to how we live and serve in this life, we have to have God’s approval for whatever we do (Col. 3:17). When He tells us what His will is on any matter, our response to that should be thoughtful, careful, and submissive.  To be otherwise would be thoughtless, careless, and rebellious—with God’s stated desires.  To think that God would give us physical life, generous physical blessings, incredible spiritual blessings, spiritual life, and powerful promises on a continuous basis and we could ever be callous or cavalier about what He wants reveals an unfathomable audacity. Frank Chesser once depicted such an attitude this way, saying, “It has no respect for either the sound or the silence of God’s voice. It only does what the Bible says in a given area because it happens to agree with the Bible on that point. At the first sign of conflict, it will have its own way ever time” (The Spirit of Liberalism 18).

Church music in worship often gets isolated from the larger principle.  How we worship God in song, whether with or without mechanical instruments, is just one specific of a much broader principle. God has told us what He wants for church music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Whatever we do must meet His expressed will. Projecting songs, using songbooks or shape notes, having a song leader, or singing in parts or four-part harmony still falls within the category of His command that we sing. But this same principle covers everything we do in worship as well as the specific commands He has for us regarding our work as a church, our response to His grace in order to have His salvation, and the like.

Our culture teaches us to ask, “Why can’t I?” It encourages us to say, “You didn’t say I couldn’t.” But, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The humble spirit of a grateful, grace-receiving child of God, when viewing the will of God, should always be, “Do I have permission for that?”  Such is neither cowering fear or abject slavery.  It is adoration and reverence for a Lord who gave everything that we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

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Some of my relics from back in the day

The Logical Progression Of The Line

Neal Pollard

Suddenly, it has become imperative that bathroom concessions be made for those who are struggling with gender identity issues. The comprehensively consuming coverage it has garnered, the blistering backlash against any opposing of this baffling blurring of the lines, and the preeminent priority this has become for a problem pestering a puny percentage of the population is actually not surprising. At least, it should not be.

The premise behind “transgender rights” is the same as that behind gay rights, but also the “right” to choose abortion, the “right” to become sexually active before marriage, the “right” to divorce and remarry at will—as well as the “right” to commit adultery. Neither does this clamor for rights reserve itself to matters identified in scripture as sexual sins. The watchwords of our culture include “feel,” “want,” “choose,” and the variants of “I,” “me,” and “my.” Self has been enthroned and each call to express, practice, and flaunt each co-opted right is expected to be not just tolerated by everyone else, but wholly embraced by them.

If you think our society lost its collective mind overnight, you have not been paying attention. If you think that this sickening syndrome was born in the 21st Century, you are likewise mistaken. We are seeing the spoiled fruit of sinister seed planted by mankind in every generation since the first generation.  There is a moral ebb and flow in every civilization and generation, but the issue is ever-present. The majority succumb to the temptation to crown our desires and condemn the declarations of Deity.

It was an illuminating moment, looking at Mark 8:34-35 last night during Teens In The Word. Michael Hite pointed out a thread used by Mark that’s summed up in those two verses. Several times, Mark speaks of what individuals “want” or “desire.” Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist (6:19). Her daughter wanted his head as payment for the dance which pleased Herod so much (6:25). Herod did not want to refuse her (6:26). People did whatever they wished with John the Baptist (9:13). Jesus speaks of those who desire to be first (9:35). James and John wanted a position of prominence (10:35). Jesus warns about those who desire greatness (10:43-44). But, if we desire to come after Jesus—to be His disciple—we must put self to death! This is a radical idea, one completely rejected by the world. Instead, the world says to keep moving the line to wherever you want it. You decide! You’re the boss. Discipleship acknowledges that God and His Word determine where the lines are drawn. We follow Jesus and stay behind His lines.

But Jesus does not ask us to do what He did not do to the greatest degree. Facing His imminent death on the cross, Jesus prayed in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). All these words, variously translated “desire,” “want,” and “will” in Mark’s gospel, are from a single Greek word meaning “to desire to have or experience something; wish to have” (Louw-Nida, BDAG). Jesus followed His Father’s will and denied His own. In essence, He says to us in Mark 8:34-35, if you want My salvation, you must do the same thing. The world doesn’t get that, but we must! This life is not about getting everything we want. It’s about self-denial, murdering self-will, and following Jesus. It’s about staying within His lines when it comes to everything. That’s a message we must gently share with a world bent on a self-destructive, self-guided journey!

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“Moral Leadership?”

Neal Pollard
This is how Seth Fiegerman at Mashable summarized new Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent moves, an array of social activist “statements” that includes an Apple gay pride parade and declaring himself homosexual, calling to attention to perceived environment and climate change, and associated causes. Fiegerman also synonymously dubbed his activism as “moral authority” and “staking out moral ground.”   The evocative title of the article is “Apple’s new moral era begins” (6/8/15). As a happy “Macster” with an iPad and iPhone, I am not a frustrated PC user looking for an opportunity to rage against the Apple machine.  It is what it is.
Whether or not you agree with Cook, he is most certainly assuming definite moral leadership.  Indeed, it is not overstating things to say he is “moralizing,” as vehemently as any preacher, professor, or reformer could.  In his powerful position at one of the most influential companies in the world, Cook is spending his leadership capital in a profound, definite, and specific way.  However, it is not as if he invented moral leadership.  Anyone with any influence in any point in history is wielding moral leadership, staking out moral ground with at least some degree of moral authority.  The defining question is, “Whose morality?”
The Bible defines morality.  As the product of a transcendent, all-powerful authority, the Bible is the only legitimate standard of morality.  It outlines a specific way of living, using words like godliness (see especially 1 Tim. and 2 Pet.), moral excellence (2 Pet. 1:5), detailing a moral lifestyle (cf. Gal. 5:22-23), and the like. It also forbids a specific way of living, using terminology like immoral and immorality.  Its standard is specific.  Consider a few examples:
  • If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality (Lev. 20:14).
  • Divorcing your wife and marrying another woman is adultery, unless your wife is guilty of sexual immorality (Mat. 19:9).
  • A man who had his father’s wife was guilty of immorality (1 Cor. 5:1).
  • Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of gross immorality and going after strange flesh (Jude 7).
  • Along with a covetous, idolatrous, drunk, or swindling person, God says to avoid the immoral (1 Cor. 5:11).
  • Immoral men are placed alongside homosexuals, kidnappers, liars and perjurers as contrary to sound teaching (1 Tim. 1:10).
  • Esau selling his birthright is called immoral (Heb. 12:16).
There are many other examples of Scripture defining morality, often by pointing out its opposite.  People who use their influence to lead people to do the immoral are certainly exerting moral leadership, but it is leadership contrary to the heart and will of God.  There is a vital need for you and me, as those who love and trust God’s Word, to exert true, moral leadership, to exalt His morality.  A saying attributed variously to Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Aked, is very familiar to most: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”  May we step forward and exert moral leadership that honors God.

“To Protect And To Serve”

Neal Pollard

This now famous motto came into the public consciousness as part of a contest run by the Los Angeles Police Department’s internal magazine, BEAT, in 1955. Officer Joseph Dorobek submitted the winning entry with “to protect and to serve.” Nearly 60 years later, it continues to be seen on the side of the department’s patrol cars and serves to “embody the spirit, dedication, and professionalism” of the LAPD’s officers (via joinlapd.com).

With so much animus and distrust of law enforcement in some circles right now, it can be easy to forget their vital role of keeping peace and enforcing the law.  Without them, anarchy and violence would reign, with no one to restrain the lawless from violating and harming those incapable of defending themselves.  While there are unethical, lawless individuals in every profession, many who hear reports against law enforcement never stop to ask whether there is ever bias on the part of the reporters.  Perhaps it is a bias against law, authority, or the perceived power delegated to those wielding a badge.  It is good to remember that God has appointed the governing authorities of each locale (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).

God does not have an official position in His Kingdom for watchdogs or police officers to police the actions of others.  He made us creatures of choice and He allows us to choose good or evil.  While occasionally there are preachers and other members who are self-appointed to such a position, the concept is foreign to Scripture.  However, He did organize the church with elders who protect (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2) and deacons who serve (1 Tim. 3:10,13).  In fact, all members are to be servants of Christ (Gal. 5:13).  Preachers are to preach the word, and when they declare the whole counsel in love (Acts 20:27; Eph. 4:15), they will sometimes convict the hearts of the hearers.  Particularly elders, who are commissioned to protect and serve the flock, deserve our respect and esteem (1 Th. 5:12-13).  Especially is that vital in an age that disdains authority.

It was an honor for me to serve as a reserve police officer in Livingston, Alabama, for a couple of years in the early 1990s.  I was able to see the dedication and sense of honor held by these extraordinary men and women. Let us honor those public servants of God (Rom. 13:6) and those spiritual servants of God (1 Th. 5:13)!