Why Is The World Asking “Why?”

Neal Pollard

Today, everyone is hurting. Whether because of gun or knife violence or vehicular homicide, groups of people in our nation and other parts of the world are being torn from time and prematurely vaulted into eternity. We weep and mourn for the loss. We consider the enormous grief and heartache multiplied many families face from California to Florida, Connecticut to Texas, Colorado to Tennessee, Virginia to Nevada (and many other places).  Those whose voices we hear the most through all of this, like the national and local media, seem fixated on learning the perpetrator’s motive each time it occurs. Experts and analysts look at religious ideology or mental health issues. It seems as if they believe that if they can determine the motive, that will solve the violent epidemic that has disturbed the peace of so many people in our society. The danger of oversimplifying any specific tragedy notwithstanding, there are some right answers the world will have a difficult time embracing but that get us so much closer to resolving this plaguing problem. Why are these horrific crimes occurring?

  • The world has rejected God. Romans 1:28 says, “ And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper….” “Not proper” seems benign to us in the way we use the phrase in English (bad table manners, having your shirt untucked, etc.). Kittel says, “Paul has in mind what is offensive even to natural human judgment. The decision against God leads to a complete loss of moral sensitivity, the unleashing of unnatural vices, and hence the type of conduct that even healthy pagans regard as improper” (386). Paul tells us this improper conduct includes “all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife” and other things we see in these current tragedies (29, cf. 30-31). Read the context to appreciate the rotten fruit of such thinking.
  • The world has redefined sin. A worldview or value system is built bit by bit, choice by choice. Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). If we devalue human life through sinful practices like abortion or euthanasia, we plant destructive seed. If we glorify violence or imbibe in sins like pornography that objectify human beings, we plant desensitizing seed. Long ago, Isaiah warned, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (5:20). Such leads to weeds which choke out spiritual fruit.
  • The world has rebelled against biblical counsel. The absolute truth of Scripture is lost in the shuffle of worldly values. Jesus says, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31). He says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mat. 5:44). Paul echoes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). He also writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). The Bible urges us to be kind, unselfish, compassionate, and helpful through precepts and examples. The world has ignored the ethics of Scripture in preference of humanistic philosophy.
  • The world has replaced God with self as lord. What is the ultimate consequence of denying God the place that rightfully belongs only to Him? Isaiah referred to a worldly nation, saying, “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts” (65:2). Repeatedly, Scripture decries the folly of crowning ourselves king and dethroning God (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12; 16:25).  When a society writes its own rules or tries to live life on its own terms, it charts a path for heartache and disaster. How concisely Solomon says this, that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace (shame, reproach) to any people” (Prov. 14:34). When whatever a person says, wants, or believes is what goes, ultimately nothing is out of bounds for him or her.

Brethren, in this frightening, dark, and uncertain atmosphere, a world which “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), we must share what we know! John says, “We know that we are of God…and we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (5:19a, 20). We have security, confidence, understanding, and hope, all because of God and His Son. Take courage and share that with everyone you can! It’s the only hope the world has!

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What To Do When Faced With A Sinking Ship

Neal Pollard

The ship is breaking apart. The timbers of civility. Crack! The planks of morality. Splinter!  The mast of critical thinking. Pop! As we hope to stay afloat, we cannot help but feel growing apprehension over the current state of our society. It’s not a matter of preserving or plastering over a past. It’s a matter of preserving peace in the present, but only if that means God’s people are serious about sharing the only possible remedy–Jesus! Yet, as it increasingly seems our country is ratcheted by prejudice, hatred, division, and rancor, we see the tranquility and calm from so many quarters threatened with the dark storms of violence and uncertainty.

In Acts 27, Paul was with 275 other passengers on a boat bound for Rome from Caesarea, and its captain decided to test the Mediterranean Sea at a turbulent time. A violent storm, known as Euraquilo, caught the ship and ultimately battered it to pieces. It must have been an apprehensive time for the passengers and crew. Luke says the wind was violent, the ship was driven, the sun and moon didn’t appear for days, violently storm-tossed, they incurred damage and loss, and that all hope of their being saved was gradually abandoned. I cannot imagine the helpless, vulnerable feeling they must have felt. At least not literally.

It would be easy to let our national unrest and storminess tempt us to act irrationally (like some on Paul’s ship were tempted) or to give in to fear. But, Paul did five things we should do as we try to respond to the current turbulence.

  • He listened to God (Acts 27:23-24). Nobody else had a better or equal solution to their dire problem. The only way to be saved was to listen to God. Paul sought to persuade the people of this. In the ruckus and tumultuous noise, listen harder to God’s Word! It’s an anchor in stormy waters.
  • He believed God’s Word (Acts 27:25). It’s one thing to comprehend something, but quite another to put your trust in it. What God promised must have seemed quite far-fetched, that this way would save everyone. But, Paul didn’t waver. He said, “I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (25). We are surrounded by people who need to witness our faith. As many as are persuaded will escape a shipwreck of faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19).
  • He encouraged hope (Acts 27:21-26). Despite the foolishness of their leaders, these people were given a message of hope. Paul says, “Keep up your courage!” (22,25). Despite the frightfulness of the moment, Paul offered a possible escape. Right now, you and I are uniquely positioned to give the only true hope available. It’s like an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19)!
  • He warned the disobedient (Acts 27:31-32). There were those trying to break from God’s Word and will and do things another way. They were trying to take matters into their own hands. Paul spoke up against this! Such was defiance against the divine plan. What a message for us, who justify their sins rather than repent of them. We need to keep the message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come before people (Acts 24:25).
  • He prayed faithfully (Acts 27:35). In this ordeal, Paul was a public example of prayer. Read every epistle of Paul’s and you’ll see his faithfulness in and dependency upon prayer. He appealed to the God he knew was the only hope for salvation. How much are we praying about the turmoil in our country (and world)? How much do those around us believe that we are dependent upon God?

Instead of focusing on the frightful winds currently blowing, let’s focus on the One who can calm the storm. Let’s get others to join us in that focus. Whatever happens to our nation, we must save as many souls as possible!

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The Dilemma Of Discipleship: Doctrine Or Duty

Neal Pollard

Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”

Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).

We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.

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Five Facts About A Faithless People

Neal Pollard

The percentage of Americans who identify as atheists doubled from 2007 to 2014 (Michael Lipka, Pew Research Center). But that hardly tells the whole story. Our culture is drowning in a political correctness that stigmatizes Christian Values and that makes nearly any public stand or statement regarding what Scripture says about such things as homosexuality, objective truth, the sanctity of life, and creation a point of fierce contention and object of greatest scorn. A moral erosion and slippery slope has been in motion for several generations that has brought us to our current position. The Bible foresaw such decline as comes when a people turn their backs on God (cf. Prov. 14:34). In discussing the universal problem of sin, Paul points out five facts about a faithless people (Rom. 1:18-32):

  • Faithlessness ignites God’s fury (18). Wrathfulness is as much a part of God’s nature as graciousness. In fact, we appreciate grace so much because God gives it when we deserve His wrath. Paul says the object of His wrath is all ungodliness and unrighteousness. The unrighteous behavior Paul specifies is “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” They don’t live the truth and they don’t want the truth to be told. Paul ends the section by pointing these out as those who practice ungodliness and heartily approve of those who do the same (32). It is clear that those who remain faithless are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
  • Faithlessness ignores the facts (19-20). Paul says that faithlessness is not due to an absence of facts, but a willful ignorance of them. He says that even the faithless can see God as they look inside themselves and outside themselves at the creation. It takes a deliberate effort to arrive at a position of unbelief. So much has to be continuously ignored.
  • Faithlessness includes futility (21). Faithlessness is built upon a flimsy foundation. It’s the slab of speculation. The faithless spend their lives running from the facts in favor of a worldview that makes no sense, gives no purpose, and instills no hope.
  • Faithlessness involves folly (22-23). It’s not just empty, it’s foolish. Paul’s words here are akin to David’s words in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, that “the fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Paul describes intelligent people who have made the most fundamentally foolish decision of all. They exchange faith in an infallible God for faith in fallible man.
  • Faithlessness instigates a fall (24-32). Paul pictures how a person arrives at wholesale immorality. One must first turn from God and run the other way. Then, God lets them go to find out what lies at the end of that broad way. He gives them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (24), He gives them over to degrading passions (26), and He gives them over to a depraved mind (28). The lusts led to the wrong object of worship and submission. The passions led to unnatural desires. The depraved minds led to every imaginable behavior, a long list of actions that have in common the fact that they lead to spiritual death. It encompasses both the perpetrators and those who validate them and tell them it’s OK to do them.

Why does Paul mention these faithless ones? It is proof of divine inspiration, because although this was written 2000 years ago it perfectly describes the current culture. But, there is a more important reason for Paul to write this. This horrible condition has a remedy. The theme of Romans is contained in the four verses prior to this section. The gospel has the power to save us from this. The solution is faith. Faith saves (1:16) and it gives life (1:17). The world is being swallowed by spiritual darkness, but God’s light is brighter. We who have faith have the light. We must share it. When we do, we help people have the most important possible commodity: faith!

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SCATTERED THOUGHTS ABOUT “OUR SONGS”

Neal Pollard

Disclaimer: I clearly recognize my own fallibility and potential short-sightedness on this and all matters.  Please be assured that the following is written with deepest love for the Savior, the saved, and the lost sinner. Prudence, wisdom, and Christ-like love should characterize all such discussions as these, and that is my intention. 

  • There is wisdom in an evangelistic congregation looking for more psalms, hymns and spiritual songs written in the late 1900s and the 2000s.
  • Our congregations need to be seeking talented people to write words and music for new songs that connect in melody and wording with those living today.
  • The songs in our songbooks (other than those directly quoting Scripture) are neither inspired nor infallible.  To note any archaic or befuddling words, lyrics, or tunes is not inherently sacrilegious.
  • Proper respect should be maintained for members, old or young, who love and are edified by our older songs.
  • Proper respect should be maintained for members, old or young, who love and are edified by our newer songs.
  • “Newer songs” do not automatically equal spiritually inferior or unscriptural songs.  “Older songs” do not automatically equal spiritually superior or scriptural songs.  Of course, the opposite is true of both types of songs.
  • It is neither wrong to sing every verse or omit one or more verses of a song.  A few songs make less sense, however, if verses are omitted.
  • Greater attention should be paid to the “horizontal aspect” of our singing; As our singing is to “teach and admonish one another” (Col. 3:16), we must be sure that we pay attention to this dimension of congregational singing.
  • As always, our task is not to judge the worshipfulness of anyone else but to be sure we are constantly striving to worship in song in spirit and truth, with understanding (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:15).
  • It’s just as wrong to refuse to sing as it is to add to the command to sing.
  • While we never want to be fake or contrived in our emotions and expressions, we should give thought to what we convey as we sing in worship—enthusiasm or boredom, joy or consternation, interest or apathy, etc.
  • Suggestions for improving our singing in worship does not equate to a  “liberal agenda.”
  • Projecting songs is not a panacea for most of these issues.  However we read our songs, we must strive to focus on praising God and teaching each other.

FURIOUSLY ENRAGED

Neal Pollard

Paul recounted his conversion on several occasions and spoke of his attitude toward  Christianity before embracing it himself.  Of the many ways he described his pre-Christian life, think about what he said in Acts 26:11.  He describes it as being “furiously enraged” at Christians. He ravaged the church (Acts 8:3). He breathed out threats against them (Acts 9:1).  He had the power and desire to punish them (Acts 22:5).  He was a violent aggressor toward Christians (1 Tim. 1:13).   What changed him?

The word of Christ did (Acts 27:14).  Jesus taught that among the conditions of heart is the good and honest one (Luke 8:15). The teaching of Christ can change people’s minds and attitudes.

A changed view of Christ did (Acts 27:15).  Though Scripture does not explicitly tell us his view toward Jesus before his conversion, His vicious reaction to “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 22:4) reveals that he was absolutely opposed to the view of Christ asserted by the disciples, that He is Lord (cf. Acts 2:36).  Yet, on the road to Damascus, encountering Jesus, Paul immediately begins to acknowledge Him as “Lord” (see how Luke emphasizes the Lordship of Christ in Saul’s conversion in the account in Acts 9—1,5,10,11,13,15,17).  A person will have a dramatic attitude adjustment toward Christ who comes to acknowledge and appreciate Him as Lord and Master.

A more profound life’s purpose did it (Acts 27:16-21).  Christ outlines His purpose for Saul—a minister (16), a witness (16), opening people’s eyes (18) as his own were.  Whatever the focus of a person’s life, it is not as meaningful as when Christ is in the center of that focus.

16th-Century Scottish historian, John Knox, wrote, “No one else holds or has held the place in the heart of the world which Jesus holds. Other gods have been as devoutly worshipped; no other man has been so devoutly loved” (Haythum Khalid).  That is true for those who come to take Him as He is presented in the Bible. In the public marketplace where ideas are sold and traded, we will encounter people whose mindset toward Christ and His Way mirrors that of Paul’s before He was converted to Him.  Our task is to live Him in our lives and, if possible, share His Word.  If their heart is good and honest, the Word will change their view of Christ and their view of their life’s purpose.  If that happened so frequently in the unfriendly environment of the Roman Empire of the first-century, it can happen in our current culture!

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PINPOINTING THE PROBLEM

Neal Pollard

Terrorist madmen shoot up a school in Pakistan and kill over 100 people, mostly children.  A politically correct society is close to forbidding biblical teaching on matters that violates its bombastic code.  Pluralism (all religious paths are equally valid) and syncretism (blending two or more religious belief systems into a new system) seem to grow more popular in the religious philosophy of a great many.  An erosion of morality and ethics seems to daily redefine acceptable norms and boundaries so that things not long ago thought outrageous are now not just tolerated but celebrated.  The culture of unbelief and agnosticism spreads while the spirit of humble dependency upon God seems to shrink.  When we pause to consider all of this, our head can spin and we can begin to question how this happened and so quickly.

Paul often writes that we are engaged in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-13; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:12). While we will witness violence, hatred, gross immorality, an anything goes mentality, and the like, lost sinners are not the enemy.  They embrace the thinking and values of the enemy, but Paul says such people are ensnared and held captive by the enemy (1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Tim. 2:26), “caught” (Gal. 6:1), and “subject to slavery” (Heb. 2:15).  New Testament writers pinpoint the source of this enormous problem as:

  • The ruler of this world (John 12:31; 16:11).
  • The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).
  • The prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).
  • World forces and spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12).
  • The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19).

Peter simply calls him our adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  In the gospel, Jesus often alludes to him as the enemy.  From Christ’s temptations in Matthew 4, we learn that he has been given the power over “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (8).  They are his to dispense and disperse (9).  New Testament writers pinpoint this domain with its unrighteous thinking simply as “the world” (Jas. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17).  All who submit to living according to the thinking and values of this world are submitting to this ruler, god, prince, force, and evil one. They are pledging allegiance to his way and being guided by his leadership.

We can see the devastating effect this is having on the peace and the practice of the masses.  Yet, we must resist it in our individual lives.  Perhaps Paul said it most concisely when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Many of the spiritual problems in our lives can be pinpointed to our following the wrong leader.  May God give us the wisdom and discernment to see through his destructive schemes!

The “Moral Compass” Of The Modern Culture

Neal Pollard

If a nation or people will move back toward the Bible, it must overcome three philosophical barriers.  I mentioned these in an earlier blog (https://preacherpollard.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/why-ridgedale-church-of-christ-is-getting-slammed/).  Here are the three barriers:

  • The Cultural Sickness Of Subjectivity.  Subjectivism, in its final form, makes the individual “god” and their views supreme. Thoughts and feelings trump a rational look at an individual matter, and even searching for an objective viewpoint is disdained.
  • Society’s Warped View Of Tolerance.  Rather than “hate the sin, love the sinner,” the mantra is “there is no sin and no sinner.”  Though everyone has a line in the sand somewhere, no one wants anyone putting their behaviors on the other side of the line.
  • The Average Person’s Ignorance Of The Bible.  Of course, we are getting past the point where the average person believes the Bible or has a favorable view of it.  The fruit of the seeds of biblical illiteracy is more than immorality.  It includes prejudice against the Bible and contempt for those who seek to upheld it in most any forum.

Certainly, those professing to follow the Bible and its guidelines have hurt their own cause through ungodly attitudes, hypocrisy, isolation, and prejudices of their own.  Christians must be willing to make the first (and even second and third) steps (cf. Mat. 5:41).  We must model biblical teaching with righteous lives (Mat. 5:14-16; 1 Pet. 2:9).  We cannot expect the world to act Christlike, but we must expect that Christians will not be worldly.  We can effect the change we want to see, and, in time, align the culture’s moral compass with the Creator’s.