Pilgrims And Strangers

Neal Pollard

The two Sundays Kathy and I spent in Israel were with the church in Nazareth, about two hours north of where we are staying near Jerusalem. An interesting fact in a nation where an overwhelming majority of citizens are either Jews, the largest group, or Muslims, still a significant, but smaller group, is that there is a fairly small number of those professing to be Christians. The congregation in Nazareth, which has around 40 members, is comprised almost entirely of Arab people. As I spoke with one of the men yesterday, he said something that will stay with me a long time. He talked about how Arab Christians are viewed by their fellow-citizens. If Jews sees him standing beside a Muslim, they think he’s a Muslim. As most Arabs in Israel are Muslim, that seems logical. They see him as a potential threat and enemy. But, Arabs who find out he’s a Christian, and there are so many ways to readily see he’s not a Muslim–clothing, customs, etc.–see him as infidel or even a traitor. His remarks were in response to the sermon I preached from 1 Peter 2:21-25 on how Jesus handled persecution. He says that the Arabic Christians can tend to feel like people without a country.

Now, while you and I do not share the unique circumstance of Arab Christians in Israel, there is a similarity we see from earlier in 1 Peter 2. Peter tells Christians, “ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (11-12). We’re going to “look” different, abstaining from fleshly lusts. We’re going to “act” different, keeping our behavior excellent doing good deeds. Whether we physically look like the people who observe us or we look different from them, our Christianity will be noticeable and observable. That’s not the same as doing your works in order to be seen of men (Mat. 23:5). Instead, living the Christian life–no matter what–will inevitably catch the attention of the people around us. 

I’m grateful for the object lesson I received. Pray for our Arab brethren, men and women in a spiritual sense who are “without a country.” Pray for our brethren in places where their faith in Christ is scorned and more overtly persecuted. Pray for us, that we will be salt and light which stands out and stands up for Jesus in our daily places where darkness persists.

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John and Carla learning a few Arabic words and phrases from the local Christians.

No Time For Worship!

Neal Pollard

According to Stephen Eckstein, Davy Crockett was among those who began a journey from north Alabama bound for the “promised land” of Texas in 1835. This group, who wanted to settle in that locale despite the drum beats of revolution and ongoing fighting with Mexico, was comprised mostly of members of the church of Christ. Crockett traveled with them as far as Memphis, Tennessee, but grew impatient of the delays. The group stopped to rest and worship each Sunday, and they became known as the “church on horseback and wheels.” So, on the other side of the Mississippi River, Crockett and 60 other volunteers rushed ahead of the group shouting “hurrah for Texas!” (History of the churches of Christ in Texas, 9). That group, sans Crockett and his cohorts, established the first Texas congregation of the Lord’s church on January, 17, 1836, at Ft. Clark, Texas, known today as Clarksville (ibid.).

48 days after the group’s arrival at Ft. Clark, Crockett was among 188 who died defending the Alamo in San Antonio, 412 miles south of Ft. Clark. While this is probably something lost to history, I wonder if Crockett’s personal history would have been different if he had stayed with the “church on horseback and wheels.” There is no indication that he was a part of the services or influenced by them or the members. Already a man of renown in politics and frontier settlement, he was also renowned for being full of himself. He and the rest of the Tennesseans who left the church members volunteered for six months of duty with the provisional government of Texas on January 14, 1836. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8th (Hardin, Stephen L., Texian Iliad, 117).

Crockett’s interests seemed mostly political and economic, which made him no different from most of his contemporaries. Yet, life might have been different for Crockett had he stayed with the group of Christians. He would not likely be the legend his death at the Alamo made him, but might His name have been in the Lamb’s book of life?

We find ourselves rushing headlong toward our life’s goals. In that rush, what time and place are we giving to our Lord and to His people? The world bestows no honor and glory on faithful service to Christ, but the Christ will bestow honor and glory beyond what the world can give or comprehend to all who take the time to honor Him. May our greatest desire be to win His recognition through lives of faithful obedience.

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Mansil Matthews, doctor, teacher and and preacher, who established the first church of Christ in Texas in 1836 at Ft. Clark, TX (with the group known as the “church on horseback and wheels.”

A Proverb To Ponder

Neal Pollard

Now, not all our attenders are members,
And not all our members are attenders,
But if all our attenders were members,
And all our members were attenders

THEN…

We’d have more trouble menders,
More gospel defenders,
And more true soul-winners!

BUT…

We’d have fewer people offenders,
Fewer spiritual hinderers,
And fewer religious pretenders!

SO…

Let us all render a more tender surrender
To the Commander of a love full of splendor!
As we meander on this earth full of sinners,
Let us engender a life with the Lord at the center.

THE KIND OF LIFE WE SHOULD LIVE

Neal Pollard

Most of us are familiar with the intimate words spoken by Jesus to His followers in John 14:1-6. They were words of active comfort for a man who was imminently facing the worst suffering humanity could ever know. Yet, from those gentle words of guidance, we find a beacon to show us what kind of life it is possible for us to live—no matter what!

We can live a fearless life (John 14:1). Our hearts don’t have to be troubled. That doesn’t mean we won’t face fears and uncertainties. How can we avoid it? But we can let our fears be subjugated to our Father. We can trust the Bible’s promises and follow its guidance on this (cf. John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).

We can live a faith-filled life (John 14:1b). A “theocentric” (God-centered) point of view will influence our decision-making and daily living. We can have assurance and conviction (Heb. 11:1), but we must have a faith accompanied by works of obedience (Js. 2:20). All of us have lives centered around something that we make most important of all. There are many noble things that could fill in that blank—profession, family, friends, or the like. These may be part of our identity, but they should not define us. Our faith should define us.

We can live a focused life (John 14:2-4). Jesus urges His disciples to focus on at least three things:

  • Focus on the Father’s house (2). Long for heaven.
  • Focus on the Son’s coming (3). Anticipate His return. We know death is an appointment followed by the Judgment (Heb. 9:27).
  • Focus on God’s fellowship (4). Long to be where God is and to follow where He leads. Let that desire lead you to fellowship with Him and His saints publicly and privately in your personal devotional life.

We live in a world full of distractions—technology, appointments, hobbies, politics, and sports. Never let any of those things get your life out of focus.

We can live a follower’s life (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the only way. We must shun the politically-correct notion that says there are many ways. We must live the exclusive way that Scripture teaches. We cannot serve God on our own terms. We must submit to His way and His truth, and we can enjoy the eternal life He offers.

Fame, fortune, fun, friendship, and such may draw and lure us. But none of those things will last. Jesus points to the kind of life we should live. May we be wise enough to listen.

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Examining Our Positions

Neal Pollard

Hans Kaltenborn was an ardent admirer and defender of Adolf Hitler and the “new Germany” ushered in with the Nazi regime. Despite diplomatic warnings of assaults upon Americans, Kaltenborn, an influential American commentator for CBS and NBC and of German descent, dismissed it as flawed and skewed information gathering by biased personnel. About to return home to the states to speak against such reports and warnings, his family went to downtown Berlin to do some last minute shopping. While out, the family found themselves in the middle of one of the endless S.A. parades. When his family refused to offer the Nazi salute, his son was physically assaulted and injured. Finally, someone intervened and the incident ended with no further harm. However, the transformed Kaltenborn was apoplectic. He made a report with the American Consulate in Berlin, but no charges were filed. As Eric Larsen writes, “the senior Kaltenborn ‘could remember neither the name nor the number of the Party identification card of the culprit, and as no other clues which might be useful in the investigation could be found’” (In The Garden of Beasts, 164). Despite this, Kaltenborn was now of a different mind!

There are many ways in which life can do the same thing to us.  We may be dead certain about marriage when we are single, about childrearing “pre-kids,” about our career when still in the classroom, about home ownership when in our parents’ home, dorm room, or apartment, and so on. But, life so often has a way of rudely awakening us from some well-meaning beliefs.

Sometimes, this can happen to us in the all-important area of religion. As we stay in our Bibles and gain wisdom and experience life, we may reaffirm but also clarify and even change certain positions we have long held. This can certainly be a dangerous affair, and some have allowed life to change their positions from what is true to what is false (what Jesus says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage because of a family situation, unscriptural changes in worship because of children attending church who have adopted such, etc.). But few of us will go all the way through life without reconsidering especially some conscience or judgment matters.

There are also a great many of our friends who have been taught religious error on God’s plan of salvation, the singular, undenominational nature of the church, what God wants in worship, women’s role in church and worship leadership, and the list goes on. This can be such a difficult challenge for anyone, to revisit long-held and deeply-believed positions in light of what the Bible says.

For all of us, there must be an abiding humility that approaches scripture without the blinders of prejudices, preconceived notions, and influences like family, friends, church, and so on. That is uncomfortable, but essential—for all of us!  We may come to find that something we’ve clung to so tenaciously must be rejected or that something we rejected must be embraced. If we ever get to that place, may we have the kind of heart that puts the will of God above our own will. Without such, we cannot hope to make heaven our home.

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Hans Kaltenborn

Zadok The Priest

Neal Pollard

Zadok the priest was neither an Anglican Church member or even British. Many associate his name with Handel’s 18th century coronation hymn, written first for King George II. But, he was a significant, if minor, Old Testament character. We learn at least four great lessons from his character, as revealed in Scripture.

  • He was a versatile servant of God. He is introduced as “a young man mighty of valor” (1 Chron. 12:28), but also as a priest of God (1 Chron. 15:11). Thus, he was handy in a fight while also helpful in reconciling men to God. What an example of a five or two talent man, able to serve God in more than one way. God has blessed most of us with the ability to do many things well. We should be motivated to use those skills for Him.
  • He was a respecter of God’s Word. His predecessor, Uzzah, disregarded God’s instructions for transporting the ark and paid for that with his life. Zadok was at the head of the list of priests tapped to do it the right way, according to God’s word (1 Chron. 15:11ff). Nothing we see after this does anything except strengthen the view that Zadok submitted to the divine will. What a legacy to leave, known as one who simply takes God at His word and strives to be obedient to it.
  • He was a loyal friend. When Absalom rebelled against King David, many in Israel aligned themselves with this usurping son. However, Zadok remained true to David (2 Sam. 15). David relied on him, with Abiathar, to keep tabs on the insurrection while ministering in Jerusalem. David knew he could count on Zadok. In the same way, Scripture praises such loyalty. David’s son penned that “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). We should be a friend others can count on at all times.
  • He was a good judge of character. Whether choosing to serve David over Absalom or Solomon over Adonijah, Zadok was an excellent discerner of the right choice. In both cases, these were the righteous and God-approved choices. Even Abiathar, who stood with David over Absalom, got it wrong when Adonijah tried to supplant God’s will concerning David’s rightful successor. For this reason, Zadok took his place alongside Samuel as the only priests to anoint a king during the United Kingdom period of Israel’s history (1 Kings 1:39). It was this event Handel coopted to write his coronation hymn. God had bright hopes for those who feared Him, that they would be able to “distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Mal. 3:18). That was Zadok, and it should be us–regarding preachers, elders, teachers, as well as every child of God we have dealings with. We must grow in our ability to be capable fruit inspectors (cf. Mat. 7:15-20; John 7:24).

Thank God for Bible characters who show us, with their lives, the way to please Him with ours. The times may, in some ways, be drastically different from when Zadok walked the earth. But, with the time God gives us, we would do well to imitate these traits of this priest of God remembering that God desires us to be faithful priests for Him today (cf. 1 Pet. 2:1-9).

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Focus, Not Complacency 

Neal Pollard

Whether you are elated or despondent today, you face a serious danger as you absorb the reality of the election results. Prayer meetings for our nation transpired all around our country, even from brethren and friends in other nations. Individuals prayed fervently for God’s will to be done. What that will look like and what that will mean only time will reveal.  For many, relief replaces fear at the prospect of the “other side” winning. For others, disbelief and embarrassment, not to mention shock, have begun to roost.

One thing that has been emphasized in the days and weeks leading up to this historic election is that, no matter what, the church must step up and increase its militancy and evangelism. We must work and serve in bigger and greater ways. That has not changed. The kind of change and improvement this (and every) country needs most can only come from Christ. People of both (or neither) political parties still live in view of the Second Coming, the Judgment, and an eternal destination in either heaven or hell.

After warning about the futility of trusting in earthly governments, militaries, and the like, the Psalmist instructs, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You” (Psa. 33:18-22). May that forever be the anthem of the people of God!

The only thing that is over is a political election. The church’s mission is as daunting, daring, and divinely-directed as it has ever been. However you view the national decision, please continue to see the heavenly vision. We are not here to make America great again, though most of us would desire that. We are here to help reconcile the world to Christ (2 Cor. 5:20; Mat. 28:18-20). I love the way my son, Dale, said it yesterday: “After the election, after the selection, I’m still thankful there was a resurrection that gives us direction.” That is the focus that must keep us oriented to our reason for being on this earth.

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THE LITTLE GRAVES THAT HAVE NO NAME

Neal Pollard

Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge, a 26-year-old Irish soldier, was one of 10 million people killed in World War I.He died July 31, 1917, in Belgium. He was a poet, and he wrote the following before the war:

And now I’m drinking wine in France, the helpless child of circumstance.
Tomorrow will be loud for war, how will I be accounted for?
It is too late now to retrieve a fallen dream, too late to grieve
A name unmade, but not too late to thank the gods for what is great;
A keen-edged sword,a soldier’s heart, is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame a little grave that has no name.
(Gilbert, Martin. The First World War, Holt & Co., NY, 1994, 353).

Ledwidge sounds neither devout nor decent, but his last stanza rings loudly. This poor, fallen man glorifies the soldier, prolific even in anonymity. Glory rather than shame is to be memorialized in an unnamed grave.

Greater far than those whose spirits departed on plains and beaches of Europe or Asia or even Canaan during Joshua’s days are those who lost their lives in service to God. In the great memorial of Scripture they are mentioned, but without their names. One day, in heaven, their identities will be known as the Lord reads the names of those written in His Book of Life.

The writer of Hebrews speaks about many such unnamed heroes of the spiritual war that endures generation after generation. Among those are unnamed prophets of valor (Heb. 10:32-34). Unidentified women are remembered for their faith (35).

Following them, the writer holds up the generic others–children of God persecuted and even killed (10:36-38). Together they form that multitudinous throng of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1. Under centuries of dust, sand and silt lie their unmarked graves. God does not even reveal their names to the reader. But they sacrificed and persevered in hope of eternal life. They gained approval through their active faith (11:39). They stand as an example and a motivation for Christians today (12:1).

Throughout the world there are scores of Christians toiling in obscurity. For every big-name preacher and high-profile teacher and widely known missionary, thousands of godly mothers are training their children to follow Christ and running their homes with grace and virtue (Ti. 2:5; Pr. 31). Without recognition, elders are praying for, shepherding, defending and feeding lambs in places as far away as India and Africa and as close as Indiana and Alabama. Hidden from the watchful pens of our sharp-sighted editors and authors are saints, as soldiers, fighting Satan without ceremony or earthly commendation. One day their bodies will fail and fall into graves, known only to family and friends, but unmarked in the graveyard of brotherhood greats.

Too, in the church, day by day great things are done by saints that never make the bulletin, announcements, or bulletin boards. Masked by their modesty, they brighten many lives by walking in the light. The elders, preachers, or deacons may never know so much of what they do, but God sees and will reward them. When they lay their armor down, they may sleep in an unmarked plot in the cemetery of church history, but with God they will have greater fame than those who etched their mark in the annals of the world.

So, fight (1 Cor. 9:26)!

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Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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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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