TRY THE CONTEXT!

Neal Pollard

“Big dummy!” That can be a derogatory statement or the description of a large mannequin. Context makes all the difference! So it is with matters of infinitely greater significance. So much religious error exists because of a failure to consider the context of biblical passages.

Our friends in religion who believe that Jesus is a created being rather than one of the three everlasting personalities of the Godhead defend their view with passages such as Colossians 1:15, which says, “He is the firstborn of all creation.” A further study of the use of the word “firstborn” shows that it is used literally (Heb. 11:28) and figuratively (Heb. 12:23) in the New Testament. Context determines the difference. What is it in Colossians 1:15? The context says that Jesus made everything that was made (16-17). Did He make Himself? No, He cannot both be literally, physically born and be the One who created “all things.” Logically, Paul is speaking in a figurative sense, that in His human nature Jesus is “at the head of His class.” He is first in order, preeminent among men (18). As a human, He is above us and first among all of us.

Others of our friends teach salvation by faith only. They appeal to a couple of passages to assert this idea. One passage is Acts 16:31, where the Philippian jailer is told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is given as proof positive that salvation comes at the point of faith. Another text cited, the “golden text of the Bible,” says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This statement is made as part of a conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus.

In the case of the jailer, who saw the miraculous power of God in opening the jail doors and who asked what he must do to be saved, he is told to believe in Jesus. It is noteworthy to ask, “How much would the average Philippian jailer know about Jesus?” Thus, Luke adds the important detail that before we read of the man’s response, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him” (31). His response is found in verse 32, where he washes Paul and Silas’ wounds and is immediately baptized. This accords with the broader context of Acts, where believers are told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (2:38; 22:16).

In the case of Nicodemus’ instruction, Jesus’ makes the statement of John 3:16 in a certain context, too, a context that included talk of water (3:5) and an illustration from the book of Numbers. That illustration is very noteworthy for showing that more than belief is necessary for salvation. It concerns the serpents God sent upon the murmuring and complaining Israelites. Numbers 21:9 says, “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” How did salvation come, simply by believing in God’s plan or by believing AND looking? Likewise, the broader context of scripture shows faith and works joined together. Israel did not earn the saving of their lives by looking any more than we earn salvation from sin by believing and being baptized. Yet, God makes it as essential to obey today as He did during the wilderness wandering. Context bears this out.

Let us never be “scripture isolationists,” those who peel a verse away from its context or who rest our confidence in doctrines that have been thus constructed. God saw to it that we would have His word and will preserved. How wise of us to make sure we properly study it in context!

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The Courage To Try

Neal Pollard

About nine months ago, a man walked into our building a day after being immersed into Christ. He had been searching diligently for the truth, a man whose hunger for the Bible caused him to study his Bible for hours every day (including on audio at his job as a metal fabricator). He continues those habits today.

A man whose life is as interesting as his name–Roberto Yrey–has been a blessing to us at Bear Valley.  One of the reasons I’ve grown to love him so much was on full display last night. Each Wednesday, a different man delivers a 90-second devotional talk. Last night, Roberto spoke. Don’t misunderstand. He writes devotions, short sermons, and articles all the time in order to articulate his understanding of a Bible chapter or topic he has been studying. He changed his mind multiple times before settling on the one he delivered last night. If you were there, you know that Roberto was nervous. He has told several of us how difficult public speaking is for him. His only previous public speaking opportunity was a Scripture reading during a devotional back during the holidays.

What he chose to speak about last night so aptly reveals a mindset that makes him so endearing. His message was that you don’t have to know everything to study with someone. Don’t be afraid to tell someone, “I don’t know.” It’s OK if you don’t know or understand everything. He encouraged us, “Say, I don’t know but let me ask someone who might know. Or let’s fellowship and find the answer.”  But his message was to not let the fear of not knowing keep you from talking to someone about the Bible.

I admire the fact that Roberto had the courage, as a babe in Christ, to speak to a room full of people some of whom have been preachers and teachers for decades, teachers in our Bible school for many years, and are mature, seasoned Christians. But I admire him even more for practicing what he was preaching. In our midst last night were two visitors–Estevan (there for the first time) and Sean (who’s become a regular attender with Roberto for several months). He had the courage to invite them. Today, we baptized Sean into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. A young Christian has already brought a friend to Jesus. All it took was the courage to try, to do what anyone can do who is moved by simple, trusting faith to just do what God has told us to do. I don’t know about you, but Roberto’s example helps me have the courage to try harder!

 

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(L) Sean being baptized today by Allen Javellana, who studied with him. (R) Roberto preaching at Bear Valley last night.

Misusing The Bible

Neal Pollard

Ashley Despain now holds a dubious, ignominious distinction. Visiting an inmate in a Nevada, Missouri, jail, Ashley tried to sneak him marijuana and methamphetamines by sticking them into the binding of the Bible. Officials say they have seen many ways used to smuggle drugs to prisoners, but it’s the first time the Bible was the means chosen (via http://fox2now.com/2018/03/29/).

File that under “truth is stranger than fiction.” As incredible (and audacious) as that sounds, Ashley was not the first to misuse the Bible. How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of enriching themselves? Peter speaks of false teachers who exploit listeners with false words because of the teachers’ greed (“make merchandise of,” KJV, 2 Pet. 2:3). How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of defending personal sin or a sinful lifestyle? How many have tried to use the Bible as a billy club to pound their own hobbies, convictions, and opinions over the heads of others? How many have tried to use the Bible to peddle some false doctrine? Peter experienced that, too (2 Pet. 3:16). How many have tried to use the Bible to manipulate others into doing things they themselves aren’t doing? Jesus warned against that very thing (Mat. 23:4). How many have tried to use the Bible to tempt others into disobeying God? That’s literally a Satanic trick (cf. Mat. 4:6).

James warns potential teachers to be careful, examining themselves in light of the judgment (3:1). This is not meant to scare potential Bible teachers away, but instead should help us consider carefully how we use the Bible. Paul mentions some that misused the Bible, even if what they said was true. From prison, he writes, “ Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Phil. 1:15-17).

Like Paul, we have a stewardship (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 3:1-2). Let’s be faithful stewards! None of us will probably try to smuggle drugs with a Bible. But, in every sense, let’s be sure to be “accurately handling” it (2 Tim. 2:15)!

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The Benefits Of Finding Ourselves In Scripture

Neal Pollard

Given his job, the Ethiopian of Acts 8 was one of that country’s most important people. Yet, he was more than important. He was very religious, apparently a proselyte (convert) to the Jewish faith. He didn’t restrict his religion to the assemblies. He read his Bible even when he was going about his secular tasks (Acts 8:28). Though he could not enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1), he made the long and grueling trip from northern Africa to Palestine and was returning home. Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament passage he was reading when Philip joined him in his chariot. Reading Acts 8:32-33, we recognize the place as Isaiah 53:7-8. The Eunuch was trying to find out about who Isaiah wrote about, “of himself or of some other man” (Acts 8:34). Philip preached Jesus to him and he became a Christian (Acts 8:35-39).

Those are essentially the facts. Yet, I wonder how coincidental it was that the Eunuch was reading from that part of Old Testament scripture. This African official likely had a scroll containing the entire prophecy of Isaiah, which was not divided into the individual chapters like they are today. It would seem that the context in which Isaiah 53 occurs would be of particular interest to this man. Flip forward a few chapters to Isaiah 56. Isaiah is telling foreigners and eunuchs not to look down on themselves (3-5).

This official of Candace was very likely not some hopeless non-Jew looking for a crumb from the Jews’ table. He had the great hope and promise of Scripture. Perhaps this portion of Isaiah was of particular motivation and inspiration to him. For Philip to explain that the time of that prophecy had now been fulfilled, that access to this promise was now available, certainly led the Eunuch to urgently respond and enthusiastically react. Jesus was the One referenced in Isaiah 53, but he (the Eunuch) was the one referenced in Isaiah 56. No, not just him, but all like him–one from the “all nations” of Isaiah 56:7 who could reap the benefits brought by the “Sin-bearing Servant” of Isaiah 53 and the one who would “sprinkle many nations” (52:15).

I hope that you read your Bible with the same hunger and expectation. Perhaps there are portions that bring you greater hope and expectation, that speak with greater poignancy to your life’s circumstances. The Bible is a book filled with wonderful, relevant promises. Trust them. Let them bear you along through the rough spots of life. God designed the Bible to be a book of hope and inspiration, but it cannot do us any good unless and until we consult it! Find yourself in the Bible!

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Learning A Lesson From A Lantern

Gary Pollard III

For some reason, I’m a big fan of old fashioned lighting. I’m especially drawn to old kerosene lanterns because they’re simple and just cool. I went to light one of my lanterns (I might have a few of them…) and the flame wouldn’t stay alive for more than a few seconds. I thought, “Maybe the vent is covered in carbon and there isn’t enough oxygen for the flame.” So, I took it apart, cleaned it out, and put it back together. I was sure that it was the vent.

To my chagrin, the flame died within seconds even after the lantern was cleaned. Next, I trimmed the wick because it seemed too dark; perhaps having a fresh wick would allow the flame to stay alive. It wasn’t a stopped vent, so it had to be the wick. Sure enough, the flame died even with a fresh wick.

At this point I was stumped, so I gave up. The next day it occurred to me while putting gas in my car: the lantern was just out of kerosene! It was obvious to the extreme. I knew Chelsea would never let that one go. When I got home I put the kerosene into the lantern which, of course, was the solution to a simple problem that I overcomplicated.

This is a mundane example of a profound truth: we make mistakes as humans. Worse yet, some people put words in God’s mouth that He never used. “My God is a God of love– He wouldn’t condemn me just for this one little sin.” “God doesn’t care if we live the way we want.” Some use phrases like this with great confidence while overlooking an obvious truth: God has told us what He does and does not care about in His word. If we aren’t in the word listening to God and allowing Him to change us, our solutions will end in failure. There was only one solution to keep that flame going in my lantern. There is only one right way to follow God, and He’s told us how to do that! Life will be so much easier for the one who looks to God for answers before relying on his/her own wisdom.

Gary serves as youth minister for the Hope church of Christ in Hope, Arkansas.

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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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Why We Need The Word

Neal Pollard

Many know that Psalm 119 is the greatest, inspired tribute to the Word of God known to man. 176 verses, eight verses under the heading of every Hebrew letter, grace these pages of our Bibles. All but a few verses mention some synonym for God’s Word. So many individual studies can be made of themes and thrusts in Psalm 119, but by reading it one discovers David giving many benefits or needs for studying the Bible. Consider what is no doubt an inexhaustible study.

  • To keep from sinning against God (11)
  • I am a stranger in the earth (19)
  • The influential can be against us at times (23)
  • Our soul often melts from heaviness (28)
  • To keep our eyes from worthless things (37)
  • To have an answer for him who reproaches us (42)
  • It causes hope (49)
  • For comfort in affliction (50, 76)
  • It causes righteous indignation (53)
  • It leads us to seek God’s favor with our whole heart (58)
  • It makes us choose better companions (63)
  • It brings good judgment and knowledge (66)
  • It prevents apostasy (67)
  • It makes us more attractive to the God-fearing (74)
  • That I may live (77, 93, etc.)
  • For revival (88)
  • For greater understanding (99)
  • To be upheld and safe (117)
  • To have a proper sense of self (125)
  • For a proper sense of values (128)
  • For proper emotional investment (136)
  • For righteous zeal (139)
  • For a proper sense of dependency (147)
  • It brings confidence (152)
  • It gives us the proper sentiment toward the world (158)
  • To develop a proper “praise life” (164)

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It Will Work!

Neal Pollard

  • Planting gospel seed (cf. Luke 8:11) will result in people of all ages, backgrounds, and nations becoming Christians.
  • Overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21) will soften hard-hearted enemies.
  • Approaching a wayward brother or sister in lovingkindness (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20) will bring some back to faithfulness.
  • Faithful attendance will stimulate to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
  • Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from the heart and with purpose will help us and everyone else who is present (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
  • Spending time together and getting to know each other will make us closer to one another (Acts 2:44; 4:32).
  • Investing in a heartfelt relationship with God will lessen anxiety and increase peace and joy (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).
  • If the church stays committed to souls and service, it will grow (Acts 6:1-7).
  • Speaking to (rather than about) those who we feel have offended us results in greater harmony and reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-17).
  • Culture is met mightily by transformed, sacrificial representatives for Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).
  • We will win more in the world if we are not trying to simply embrace and imitate it as it is (Jas. 4:4).
  • Emphasizing leadership will result in people rising up to lead (cf. Ti. 1:5-11; 1 Th. 5:12-13).
  • Homes united in dedication to putting Christ’s kingdom first will have a high rate of success in raising faithful children (Pr. 22:6; Eph. 6:1-4).
  • If we will consult Scripture for answers to our dilemmas, we’ll uncover the best solutions possible (Ps. 119:105).

In our search for relevance, effectiveness, and success in our present world, let’s not overthink it! Whatever the question, if it matters (2 Pet. 1:3), the Bible has the answer. It will work!

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We Can Only Share What We Know 

Neal Pollard

I found a treasure in a chest of drawers in my parents’ house this week. It was a Mother’s Day present I gave my mom when I was 8 years old. Actually, it was a project our third-grade teacher helped us put together. It was a recipe book concocted by us students without any adult assistance. The spelling and the recipes confirm this fact. My two recipes were “Peanut Butter ‘Crisbys’” and “Lemon Pie.” The first recipe was brief, but profound:

Put 3 C. rice crisbys in a bowl. Then
put 2 tablespoons peanut butter in.
4 C. Sugar.
Put in oven at 200 for 30 min.

The second recipe was more complex:

Put 4 eggs in the pan
Put 3 cups of lemon mix in
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 C. “flower”
Put in pan and cook for 1 hour at 200 degrees.

I assure you that nearly every recipe in this small book showed about as much culinary acuity. Why? We had been in the kitchen, but we had no concept about ratios, temperature, or baking times (or even if we used stovetop or oven). The result were “recipes” that would have been problematic to follow or eat.

What a challenge to me as I try to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18)! I want to move beyond a childlike knowledge of Scripture and move on toward maturity (Heb. 5:11-6:1)! May I never be so lacking in knowledge that I cannot tell someone what to do to be saved, help someone know Christ, or speak about any matter pertaining to life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). May I have the humility to never “think more highly of” myself than I ought to think (Rom. 12:3). Otherwise, I may look naive or ignorant when asserting my expertise in a matter where I need considerable growth.  I must bring the same humility to such complex subjects as marriage and parenting, as well as Christian living. That is not to say that I should not grow to the point where I cannot be helpful, but instead temper my advice and assertion with deference and cover it with lovingkindness and patience.  On multiple occasions, the younger me made this mistake. In fact, I am still prone to do so. It reminds me to grow what I know and be careful not to share what goes beyond that.

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Surrounded By Hungry And Thirsty People

Neal Pollard

I was a child when I saw news coverage of the famine in Ethiopia, the mass starvation, the distended stomachs, and the deaths from malnourishment. I had never seen anything like this, and I was deeply saddened by the images on the screen. If you had asked me if I ever expected to see or know about anything more tragic than that, I would surely have said no. Now, decades later, I routinely see something much more tragic. I can observe it whenever I wish, though it’s not something that ever gets easier. Noah Icenhour, the fine, new associate minister at the Mabelvale church of Christ near Little Rock, Arkansas, shared a concept with me that he read from N.T. Wright about our culture. Describing why so many are swallowing foolish, harmful ideas, whether false religion, fleshly indulgence, materialism and greed, evolution, atheism, narcissism, or the like, he says that so many are consuming these things because they are so hungry and thirsty that to satisfy and slake these inner yearnings they are willing to consume even sources that are polluted.

We are surrounded by spiritually hungry and thirsty people. They long for purpose, meaning, and value, but so often they seek it subjectively. Or they go to an improper source to satisfy these. Consequently, they squander their precious lives pursuing the wrong things, a path that Jesus describes as one in which “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Mat. 7:13). Spoken or unspoken, they are crying out for proper direction. They want their lives to matter. While the majority (Mat. 7:14) will refuse the biblical answer, I am convinced that our society is full of people who are honestly searching. They would be open to hearing the Bible’s answers to these preeminently important questions of origination, motivation, and destination.

Today, wherever you find yourself and whatever else you are doing, will you have the compassion and concern enough to look for and seek to help the kind of person I’m talking about? Let’s pray for courage and wisdom, and walk through the open doors we find. In so doing, we will be aiding hungry and thirsty souls who will ultimately go somewhere to satiate their cravings. With us in their lives, they can find true bread (Jn. 6:35) and living water (Jn. 4:14). Such will lift them now and save them eternally! May our hearts be touched enough by their dire condition that we cannot help but help.

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