Categories
character courage right and wrong values

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

Neal Pollard

There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker.  Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M.  His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach.  Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way.  When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice.  Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.

Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so.  Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.

These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature.  Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10).  Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction.  We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding.  Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term.  Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!

Categories
character equality unity

KING’S CRITERIA WERE RIGHT ON THE MARK

Neal Pollard

Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on a seasonable and rain-free day in August of 1963, but this speech, delivered to at least 250,000 people, is often remembered on the holiday in January named for him. This speech is one of the most important documents of our nation’s history and was a watershed moment in improving race relationships between black and white Americans.  Eloquently and poetically pointing out the injustices his race of people had endured and were enduring at the time, King looked forward to a new and improved day.  He hoped all people, whatever their race, would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He hoped to leave Washington, D.C., and return back to his home with a faith in the powers that ruled nationally and locally which would be translated into hope, brotherhood, and unity. His final call was to “let freedom ring” (via http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf).

Many people forget that Mr. King was a religious man, a preacher who often alluded to Bible characters and principles as well as directly quoting from it.  Inasmuch as he accurately referenced it, Mr. King was calling all people to God for guidance regarding right and wrong.  He said that character took priority over color.  He saw unity as right and division as wrong. He called for freedom rather than slavery, real or virtual.  While he was rightly championing these characteristics in the realm of racial equality, those principles doggedly stand regarding other matters.  Character, unity, and freedom matter in religious matters.

When we stand before Christ in the judgment, there is no indication that He will even take note of our race, ethnicity, or nationality.  He will look to see if His blood covers us.  Peter rightly says, “I most certainly understand that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34b-35). Corrupt behavior or disobedience will not be acceptable, no matter who we are.

Furthermore, anyone who fosters division is rejected by God. He hates “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19). He condemns it through Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.  In social or spiritual matters, I don’t want to be responsible for inhibiting a brotherhood God desires.  If I refuse to stand where He stands or if I stand where He doesn’t want me to stand, He will not accept it.

Finally, there is a freedom even more important than the noble cause King and his followers pursued. They wanted loosed from the manacles of a bondage imposed by others.  All of us, outside of Christ, are subject to a bondage we cause for ourselves.  Paul refers to this as being “slaves of sin” and “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness” (Rom. 6:17,19).  But, thank God, we can be “freed from sin” (Rom. 6:18). Then, we become slaves to righteousness.

Christians must care about racial equality, never treating someone different because of the color of their skin.  The way to right content of character, unity, and freedom is found in the book so often quoted by Mr. King.  No matter where or when we live, it will guide us toward an eternal home in heaven.

Categories
Bible character Christianity faithfulness preaching

The “Religious Condition Of The People”

Neal Pollard

After describing the “religion of the heart, not of the head,” scripture-less sermons of his contemporaries, a certain writer then focused on the consequent religious condition of the people.  He wrote,

The religious condition of the people very greatly corresponded to the teaching
of these preachers. The native common sense of some told them, that if God
gave a revelation to man, it certainly was one that man can understand.  That
it was unreasonable God should give a revelation of his will, and then need an
interpreter of it to the very men, for and to whom he gave it, so they studied it
for themselves, and learned many of its truths…

But the masses of the people did not study the Bible, made no effort to learn
what God had revealed in this Book to men, looked at it as a sealed Book to
them, made no effort to a religious life further than to live a respectable moral
life, obey the laws of the land, and maintain a reputable character among their
fellowmen…The religious life was one of impulse and feelings, days of sunshine
and cloud, moments of joy and hope, succeeded by long periods of doubt and
despair. They had no though of regular, faithful, self-denying obedience to God
bearing the fruit of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost.
(Lipscomb, David. Life and Sermons of Jesse L. Sewell.
Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1891. p. 35-36).

Lipscomb wrote concerning those in mid-19th Century Tennessee, but it was probably true of mainstream America at the time.  They experienced different religious influences, particularly the ideas of hardline Calvinism.  Yet, how similar it sounds to even our own day.  Some are willing to hold themselves personally accountable for knowing the Bible, God’s written revelation.  They know they need to study and follow it, and they are open to do that.  Yet, the masses still try to live a self-guided, vaguely “moral” life of doing good things without learning for themselves what God’s instruction book says.  As the result, they meander through life in a sort of rudderless fashion.  That is, they have no concrete guide and show no serious interest in what God wants them to do.  At least, their interest is not great enough to drive them to read, study, and try to understand the Bible.

We have an obligation to seek searchers and point them to “the Book.” We also have a responsibility to ourselves, to faithfully delve into the Sacred pages, discern God’s will and then be changed by it.  The masses will likely always be as they were in Lipscomb’s and our day.  Our task is to go deeper and help others do the same.

Categories
character Christianity endurance trouble

Her Closet Was Her Refuge

Neal Pollard

42-year-old Sefa Cebeci was with her husband in a seven-story building in Duzce, Turkey, when just before 7:00 P.M. local time on November 12, 1999, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook the city.  The building collapsed, and when all was said and done nearly 1,000 people were dead—including Sefa’s husband who was right beside her.  Despite rescue team leaders from some countries calling off the search for survivors after three days, an Israeli team pulled her from the rubble after nearly 5 days without food and water.  She would have to have an arm amputated and her kidney failure from dehydration nearly killed her.  She was able to survive in freezing temperatures for 105 hours under tons of concrete. How? A closet fell on top of her and protected her from her collapsed house.  Her closet became her refuge (facts via BBC News articles, 5/11/13 and 11/17/99).

Have you ever noticed a Christian whose life seemed to be crashing in all around them?  You would not imagine they could survive the spiritual carnage.  Yet, they survive.  The reasons certainly vary, but one variable that has to be in place for them has to do with their “closet.”  Do you remember in Jesus’ great sermon that He said to “enter into thy closet” to pray rather make a vain, public show of prayer (cf. Mat. 6:6, KJV)?  That word “closet,” variously translated “inner room,” “your room,” “private room,” and “inner chamber” is one found almost exclusively in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the gospels.  It is translated “storehouse” or “warehouse” (Luke 12:24; Mat. 24:26), but also “bedroom” or “chamber” (Gen. 43:30; 2 Ki. 6:12; Zodhiates, Spiros. The complete word study dictionary: New Testament 2000: n. pag. Print).  It refers to any place of privacy where one cannot be easily seen (ibid.).

Isn’t that where spiritual survival is made or broken, not necessarily and not primarily in our public assemblies or fellowship activities but in private?  When I am alone, do I seek refuge by entering into the closet of prayer, study, and private devotion?  In happy, prosperous times, I should be found there.  It will prepare me for calamitous, catastrophic events.  When my life is shaken to the core, I will survive if in my closet.

Jesus does not specify what kind of reward enjoyed by those whose prayer life is genuine rather than showy, but certainly there is no greater reward than enduring the trials of life spiritually intact. We may come away scarred and hurt, but we will survive!  Be a spiritual survivor!  Spend as much time as you can in your closet.

Actual photo of Sefa Cebeci in an Istanbul hospital (1999)

 

Categories
attitude character Christianity

“How’s Your Day Going?”

Neal Pollard

As we go about our day, we often hear that question.  It is an exercise in pleasant politeness, and at times it is asked with genuine, heartfelt concern.  It can also be not only asked mindlessly, but answered in the same manner.  Some are conditioned to say “fine” without stopping to assess.  Others are more curmudgeonly bent and can spout off a litany of complaints without breathing hard, if asked for an assessment of how their day is going.

As we reach the anniversary of certain events in Boston and West, Texas, or as we think back to recent tragedies in South Korea, Malaysia, or Washington state, both those who survived unscathed, who bear permanent scars, or who even perished had no doubt been asked the equivalent of that question.  Probably, some were cheerful and positive and maybe some were more negatively inclined.  Yet, especially for survivors, their view of each day was understandably and permanently altered.

Here in the land of freedom and opportunity, we can easily take for granted how well, materially and physically, things are for each of us.  Catastrophes and tragedies often alter that.  Pain and loss rearrange our priorities and refine our perspective.  Those hard events can help us see that happiness and fulfillment do not depend on external forces applied to us but radiate from within us.

I cannot help but think of the undoubtedly grimy, malnourished, and mistreated preacher scratching out those inspired words from his likely poorly lit and intemperate climes.  Body worn and disfigured from beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, endless road and boat trips, eyesight failing, and heart burdened with concern for churches and individuals, Paul could still say, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).  How could one improve on that general approach to life and each day?  May God help us to appreciate the blessings and opportunities we are given today, and use them as advantageously as possible to achieve the glorification of God! Make today a great day.

Categories
character influence leadership

What Is Your Name Associated With?

Neal Pollard

Some names ring not just with familiarity, but downright notoriety.  Walenda is a name synonymous with daring, high wire acts.  Falcone is associated with mobsters and organized crime.  The Hearst family has long been connected with newspaper publication, Forbes with finance and fortune, Morgan with banking, and Bronte with literature.  Hilton and Kardashian? Well… Certainly, we could make a long list of surnames synonymous with particular endeavors bringing either fame or infamy.  In the Lord’s church, the name Nichols, Jenkins, Winkler, and others evoke an even more positive image of souls reached through a shared legacy of full-time service to the Lord.

Each of us has been endowed with a precious commodity, the name bequeathed to us by our forbearers.  Often, they have worked hard to polish and protect that name, to honor it and leave it as a legacy of character rather than shame.  It does not take much for us to tarnish that name and leave behind a name our descendants must live down.  All it takes is one person to leave a notability which embarrasses.  Just ask the Hitlers, O’Hares, Ingersolls, Bordens, Stalins, and Kevorkians.

Of course, the most important thing about our name is spiritual.  Do I wear the name of Christ?  If I claim to wear His name, what do I do to honor, glorify, and spread the good influence of His name?  When people see my name, do they associate it with Christ and all good attributes that should go along with that?  We want to live so that when we stand before Christ, we will hear our names called with those who spend eternity with Him in heaven!  How you are doing with your name? How are you doing with His name?

Categories
character Christianity church love personal offenses

Handling Offenses: Talking It Out

Neal Pollard

Would you believe that not everyone always agrees with what I teach and preach?  Of course, I may not always know—at least directly—that someone disagrees with my message.  Yet, my greatest respect is for that brother or sister who has a problem with me and tells me so!  When they address that to me in kindness and love, I am left with much greater admiration for them.  The same respect is reserved for those who handle those occasions when my words or behavior might come across hurtful with gentle directness. Perhaps it is because subtleties like pouting, passive aggression, silence, and withdrawal are easily missed by one so slow of wit as myself.  Perhaps it is because of the great disdain I, and most others, feel for sharp-tongued tactics like gossip and slander.  “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed” (Pr. 27:5). This challenges me to follow such good examples and pursue active peace than passive aggression.

Talking out our problems is a sign of the church understanding the family aspect of its nature.  Happy is the physical family who finds functional ways to work through its problems, knowing that each member is imperfect and prone to do what offends.  The church is no different, though the blood that binds us does not course through our veins but poured forth from the cross of our Savior. Together, we comprise the “house of God” (1 Ti. 3:15).  What a precious relationship, meant to be treasured!

Talking out our problems is the best way to clear up misunderstandings and misperceptions.  It is possible to misjudge the heart, motives, words, and actions of others. Avoiding the problems or persons may work to avoid unpleasant conflict, but it leaves the problem to fester and grow worse.

Talking out our problems is the biblical pattern.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus lays out the way to resolve “internal problems” within His body.  To choose a different route is to deviate from the way He has chosen.

Another great proverb says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (Pr. 28:23).  May God help me to embrace that truth and pursue it, all while we “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). That does not mean avoiding the unpleasant or saying the difficult.  Some times tackling the unpleasant and difficult is our surest way to “make for peace…”

Categories
character Christianity youth

News Headlines Of The Prom Season

Neal Pollard

  • “Alcohol Enforcement Stepped-Up For Prom Season” (wowt.com, 4/7/14).  Why?
  • “Prom Season Can Be Dangerous Time For Teens” (www.martinsvillebulletin.com, 4/11/14).  Just one statement in the article reads, “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website adds that statistics indicate alcohol-related peer pressure is strongest at prom time, due to the large number of parties in a short period.”
  • “Some Schools Prohibit Party Buses For School Buses” (tbo.com, 4/7/14).  A principal in the Tampa Bay area interviewed in the article said, “…the most common discipline-worthy incidents at school dances tend to be drinking alcohol before or during the event, fighting, trespassing and inappropriate dancing. ‘The dancing is not like it was when I was in high school,’ he said.”
  • “Prom And Wretched Excess” (Chicago Tribune, 10/23/05).  A Long Island, New York, principal, Kenneth Hoagland, interviewed for the article says, “Twenty years ago…seniors went to the beach after their prom dance and then to someone’s house for breakfast. Now, he says, prom is a weekend-long orgy that every year has become incrementally more excessive, with small fortunes spent on ostentatious attire, stretch limos stocked with liquor, and ‘booze cruises’ from a local harbor.”
  • “It’s Your Prom! Make It Safe, Healthy, And Fun” (www.cdc.gov/family/prom/index.htm).  The information page includes cautions about the pressures teens who attend the prom feel to drink alcohol, use drugs, and have sex during the weekend’s activities.
  • “What Happened To Modest Prom Dresses?” (CNN, Carl Azuz, 5/9/12).  The article reveals that 35% of prom dresses sold by David’s Bridal are from the line called “Sexy,” a style defined by “low-cut backs, high-cut hemlines, and skin-showing cutouts.” Houston Chronicle blogger Mary Jo Rapini, interviewed by Azuz, says a shift in parenting values where parents allow their kids to wear on such occasions what their own parents would not have explains some of what has happened to “modest prom dresses.”

Headlines like these are to be found ad nauseum.  They demonstrate that even the world acknowledges that Prom Night promotes immoral behavior.  I cannot help but ask why we as Christians either encourage or permit our children’s participation in an event with so many elements clearly “over the line.”  Why we would want to associate with something that involves a fundamental compromise of what is right in so many areas of Christian living?

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Paul teaches us that our bodies and minds belong to God.  That means that there are circumstances where the world will urge and pressure us to do things and go places that are worldly.  Let us carefully deliberate and always strive to be transformed rather than conformed.  Distinctiveness can certainly be unpopular with this world, but it may well give us the opportunity to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

 

Categories
attitude character

Eliot’s Motto

Neal Pollard

The president of Harvard University in the last part of the 19th Century, Charles Eliot, had for his motto the words of Edward Everett Hale. Hale had said, “Look up and not down; look out and not in; look forward and not back, and lend a hand” (McCullough, Mornings on Horseback, 197).  While Eliot was renowned for being in his own world and not being very observant of students or others, his motto was extraordinary!

The practice of that motto would do wonders for our world.  If all of us, as Christians, could translate the sentiment of those words into daily practice, we would keep the waters of baptism stirring.  These words, properly understand, call for divine dependency, unselfishness, vision, and service.  If I understand the help God gives me, I will reach out in faith.  If I understand my need to be concerned for the other person before I worry about myself, I will reach out in love.  If I understand the importance of forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I will reach out in hope.  If I understand the importance of my being useful and cooperative, I will reach out in service.

Hale did not invent these ideas.  He commandeered them from the greatest source of inspiration and motivation possible—the Bible.  In fact, consider these same profound concepts just from the Philippian epistle. Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13).  He says, “With lowliness of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (2:3b; cf. 2:4).  He says that forgetting the past and reaching for the future, he could “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14).  Throughout the letter, he urges these Christians to think about others and help them.

Taking on the challenge of that motto is not easy, but how rewarding it is!  How it rewards us is incidental; that is, we will receive joy in looking up, out, and forward. Yet, it will be rewarding for the many who will be touched and blessed because we had such a large view of life.  What is your motto?

Categories
character salvation unity

Chris Greicius

Chris, less than a week before he died.

Neal Pollard

Make A Wish Foundation has granted 310,000 wishes worldwide with the help of 30,000 volunteers in 49 countries as well as numerous, generous donors.  Very often, the wishes are granted to children with life-threatening conditions.  This is appropriate since this is the genesis of the now highly-successful collection of nonprofit organizations which grants a wish to a child an average of once every 38 minutes.

But it began in 1980 with a 7-year-old boy named Chris Greicius.  He wanted to “catch bad guys.”  His mom, Linda, was friends with a U.S. Customs Agent’s wife in Arizona.  Several individuals were able to solicit help, pull strings, and get Chris a police uniform in his size and a helicopter ride to tour the Arizona Department of Safety facilities. Four days later, Chris dies.  But he dies a happy little boy, and several people allow his dream to come true (info via wish.org).

Perhaps the most beautiful part of this touching story is the powerful impact for good that follows when people work together, selflessly, for a common cause.  When no one is looking for credit but everyone devotes their energy to a good and noble cause, who knows to what extent it can grow?  God’s people have that power, and David proclaims it, saying, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).  “Good” depicts the action and “pleasant” demonstrates the effect of it.

The function of evangelism campaigns, workshops and lectureships, mass mail outs, organized home Bible studies, friendship evangelism, Vacation Bible Schools, and the like can be the saving of souls.  When we see our congregational events and activities as opportunities to work together to reach the lost, beautiful results follow!  Heaven’s heart is touched by the earthly efforts of Christians to seek and save them (cf. Luke 19:10).  Who knows what profound, positive things follow the conversion of even a single soul?  So, let’s find ways to work with our Christian family to save souls from death (cf. Jas. 5:20)!