“Heartaches”

Dale Pollard (Valdosta, GA)

Have you ever been in such emotional pain that your heart felt like it was literally aching? The worst pain in this life is not always physical. Often times it’s the emotional pain of saying “good bye” that can drive us to our knees. It can make us lash out in anger. It can make the toughest man alive break down in tears, and it can crush a young person’s spirit. Why would a God of love and compassion let such a thing happen? If He cares, but He can’t do anything about it, wouldn’t that mean He’s not all powerful? If He doesn’t care, but He has the power, doesn’t that mean He’s cruel?

If you’ve got “heart pain” in your life, the best thing you can do is draw closer to God. Don’t isolate yourself from the only true source of comfort and healing. Don’t throw your head up to the sky, as if looking for some eye-contact with God. Rather, let your head fall to the scriptures. God will tell you that His ways are perfect, His word has been tried and tested, and He is the shield for those who decide to take refuge in Him (Psalm 18:30).

He would also tell you that if you are a righteous individual, He’s going to deliver you from any trouble (Psalm 34:19). As a loving Father, God would tell you that He understands what you’re going through (Isaiah 53:3). God would tell you to hang in there because while there is suffering, heartache, and pain here, there is a place prepared by Him where none of that exists (John 14:2-4). God would ask you to draw near to Him, because if you do He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

We can’t always think of the appropriate words to say when someone is going through grief, but God always knows the right thing to say and He is perfect in all His ways. Bring Christ your broken life. He’ll fix it for you.

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Learning About Worship From Children

Neal Pollard

Thom Vaught gave the “elders remarks” last night after the Young Lions participated in their annual program of Scripture reading, song leading, prayer, and preaching. The fourteen first through six graders obviously listened well and learned much. Thom noted how we look at the Christian life as a marathon, but these boys (and the seventeen God’s Precious Daughters who hosted a tea in the fellowship hall at 4:00 PM yesterday afternoon for 80 Christian women!) were actually the next leg in a relay race.  Everybody seemed to leave the assembly last night so spiritually full and energized. Perhaps that was because of what we had seen (and learned) throughout last evening’s service.

…That genuine enthusiasm is infectious.
…That worship should be characterized by purity.
…That you cannot easily fake sincerity.
…That sometimes truth gets told most poignantly and effectively from such an innocent heart.
…That it is encouraging to see someone overcome their fears to lead.
…That we appreciate seeing those who lead us unashamedly show us their hearts.
…That worship should be joyful.
…That we should carry the experience of worship out the door with us into our lives.

When Thom asked those present last night who had formerly been through Young Lions and God’s Precious Daughters to stand along with the 31 children involved this year, it was overwhelmingly encouraging to see so many scattered among our healthy crowd last night who had received this wonderful training. The leadership training they have received through the years has contributed to the teenagers and young adults they have become, serving Christ and others. Some of them are married now. Others have graduated from preacher training schools or are students there. Others have gone on to Christian Colleges. They lead us in every phase of our worship regularly and effectively. We appreciate the men and women who came up with this program and all those who have served through the years. All of us are the better for it. Last night was a reminder of something Trent Woolley, who helped lead this year’s program, said to us, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 18:3).  I pray we will carry these lessons learned into worship with us next week and the weeks beyond that!

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WikiLeaks (And God)

Jeff Wiant (guest baker)

Up until this past election cycle I had never even heard of WikiLeaks. Months and endless press later, I have become very familiar with this website. For those who may have been living under a rock for the past few months, WikiLeaks is a website that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media that they receive from anonymous sources for the world to see. Just looking on their page the other day, I discovered links that would allow me to read private emails from a presidential candidate and her associates, secret files about global surveillance, private emails between top employees at Sony Pictures, and I could have even watched a classified video.

Through all of this browsing it made me start to wonder. With hindsight being 20/20, would the ones who wrote these emails or committed these acts have written or done things differently if they knew that in the future they would be exposed and the whole world would be able to see and judge them because of these leaks?

More importantly, this also got me thinking further about myself. Do I have any secrets that I would fear if they ever got out? Do I ever have thoughts in my head that are impure and unfaithful? Do I allow myself to continue to have these thoughts because, after all, I’m keeping them to myself? After all, who’s going to know?

Allow me to answer that question for us all:  GOD KNOWS! Like WikiLeaks in our world, God can, and does, unearth all these dark spots in our personal lives. But whereas there are still plenty of classified files and incriminating private emails out there that haven’t been, and won’t ever be, exposed by WikiLeaks, God already knows EVERYTHING there is to know about us.

As it says in Psalm 139:1-4, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.” God knows everything we do on the outside and the inside. Having that realization is very intimidating.

For more evidence of this you can also look at Hebrews 4:12-13, which states, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

We will all be judged. Not just based on what our family, friends, and the rest of the world see, but based on the EVERYTHING that God sees. You can’t hide anything from God. Knowing this, are there changes we need to make in our lives? Are there things we need to do and think about differently?

The good news is that it’s never too late and God is a forgiving God. If we do sin, we need to confess these sins to God ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). I challenge you to live with the knowledge in the front of your mind that God is always watching and listening. There are no secrets with God and there is no misleading God. Live the life He requires and you will receive your eternal reward in Heaven.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

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Jeff (holding Dallas)

Petrified!

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen the incredible collections of petrified wood in some of our National Parks or Monuments, or maybe you have seen individual examples in any number of other places. A geology site briefly explains how material becomes petrified:

Petrified wood is a fossil. It forms when plant material is buried by sediment and protected from decay by oxygen and organisms. Then, groundwater rich in dissolved solids flows through the sediment replacing the original plant material with silica, calcite, pyrite or another inorganic material such as opal. The result is a fossil of the original woody material that often exhibits preserved details of the bark, wood and cellular structures (geology.com/stories/13/petrified-wood).

There are a few interesting aspects to this process—the burial, the protection, the replacement, and the resulting appearance.

Twice in the gospel of Mark, the writer uses a term to describe the condition of His disciples’ hearts. In Mark six, they have seen him feed the 5,000 men and immediately thereafter they are in the boat in a strong wind when Jesus came walking on the water. They were troubled and fearful, amazed and marveling “for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (52). Ironically, the second incident happened in a boat following Jesus feeding thousands of people again. They misunderstand Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the religious leaders, and Jesus laments, “Is your heart still hardened?” (8:17).

BDAG defines this word, πωρόω, in this way: “To cause someone to have difficulty in understanding or comprehending, harden, petrify, make dull, obtuse, blind, close the mind” (900).  The truth was buried from their understanding, their preexisting, preset points of view blocking its penetration, and the result was their missing the important point. The truth couldn’t get through to their petrified hearts.

Why do we fail to understand basic, vital Bible truths, like the essential nature of baptism, the abrogation of the Law Of Moses (including the Ten Commandments), the emotionally difficult teaching of Jesus about marriage, divorce, and remarriage in Matthew 19, God’s law regarding sexual purity, and the like? Why do we struggle with worry, fear, and doubt? Why do we lack the courage to boldly share Jesus with the lost? Often, the answer to each of these and similar questions is the same as why the disciples feared and faltered.

We should pray for our hearts to stay soft, receptive, and moldable to Jesus. We cannot let our ignorance, resistance, or outside influences to harden our hearts. In fact, that very prospect should make us, well, petrified!

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What Are You Consuming?

Neal Pollard

A 17-year-old girl had a stomach ache so bad that she had to go to the hospital. She had lost her appetite, she could barely walk, and doctors for three years had simply given her pain medicine for her inexplicable abdominal issues. The girl’s family had paid over $7000 in medical tests to determine the root cause. The emergency visit, with two CT scans, finally revealed that the massive “tumor” inside her was actually hair—which had formed into a massive hairball. It was her own hair, which she had been compulsively eating for years. The next doctor visit will be for counseling to see if she suffers from trichotillomania (compulsively pulling out one’s own hair) and trichophagia (eating it) (via opposingviews.com).

Apparently, no one ever saw her doing this. It took time for the problem to grow and develop. Yet, there were symptoms that steadily worsened and became more apparent. It was a problem that required help to solve. It is a problem that will require continued efforts to overcome.

This young lady graphically illustrates a pervasive spiritual problem.  Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus illustrates this principle speaking of normal, digestible food (not hair) as not defiling a person but rather that which comes from within a person defiling that one. He says that such things as evil thoughts, sexual sins, sinful attitudes, and sins of the tongue “proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:23).

No one may see us engage in it. It may take time for the symptoms to show up in our lives, but they will eventually show up in such things as our attitudes, speech, dress, and conduct. It will not go away by itself without efforts on our part to get rid of it and to stay free from it. Whether we perceive the pain of the problem or not, it is doing damage to us and we must take steps to remove it from our lives.

What are you consuming? Is it consuming you? Get help. Get rid of it. Get over it. The Great Physician stands ready to help, if you will go to Him!

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THE HUMAN HEART (POEM)

Neal Pollard

That part of each man crafted by God
But unseen by mortal observation,
That figurative place of our emotions and thinking
Helping our spiritual station.
A place where we alone can nurture and tend,
To work to better or embitter
That directs our whole body and life on a path
That makes us a winner or quitter.
God put in place ways to help our own heart
Stay in tune to His perfect intentions.
To mold us and make us like Him in our thinking,
To stave off man’s wicked inventions.
The Bible, as His mind, He has given to mankind,
A heart monitor as well as a mirror.
It gauges our true selves and guides our footsteps,
If used it will make His will dearer.
He has given us music, a wide world of nature,
And people as living examples,
So much that exists we can see and by seeing
Can resist Satan’s slick sinful samples.
Yes, true, human hearts can be darkened and hardened,
Becoming a frightful container,
That holds in the worst, the depraved and perverted,
That becomes such a wicked retainer.
But such is the work of neglect and of lust,
A struggle that fights a higher objective,
For when in human hearts there’s willing submission,
They become more spiritually selective.
So spiritual battles are lost or they’re won
In a place where no other can see,
Keep your heart, you alone with heavenly help
Will determine your soul’s eternity.

Take Time To Be Holy

Neal Pollard

In 1 Peter 1:13-19, there are three commands that relate to something that must be done regardless of how much time it takes to complete.  They are, “fix your hope completely on grace” (13), “be holy in all your behavior” (15), and “conduct yourselves in fear” (17). There’s a fourth command of this type in verse 22: “Love one another from the heart.” All of these are done as the result of a salvation taught by the prophets and revealed to us. Because we’ve been saved, we should fix our hope on grace, be holy in behavior, conduct ourselves in fear, and love one another from the heart. Considering what God has done for us, we should be eager to do what He tells us to do. At the heart of the discussion, Peter calls for holiness. “Holy” is found 10 times in 1 Peter, but there are synonyms in the book, too (“behavior” or “manner of life”—7 times; “do good” or “right”—13 times).  We want to be holy, do good, and behave, and this letter says a whole lot about how that looks. It’s faithfulness in suffering, distinctiveness in daily living, and keeping heavenly in focus. It’s captured in Peter’s petition (2:11). Our world places more emphasis on happiness than holiness, and if you have to choose one the world says choose happiness. But, God calls us to choose holiness. How do we do that?

  • Look within (13). Moral behavior begins in the heart.  So, he says to keep sober in spirit and fix your hope on grace. These are both heart matters.
  • Look out (14,17). Sanctification and obedience appear together in three different verses in chapter one (2,14,22). Holiness is a matter of obeying the truth. This has a negative aspect (14—“Don’t be conformed”) and a positive aspect (17—“Conduct yourselves in fear”). To be holy, we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled and be vigilant. We’re going to look out for the traps and tricks of this world because we know we’re only strangers here.
  • Look up (15-16). This letter is about our need of God’s help to be holy. There’s a wide gap between our holiness and God’s holiness, and we can never forget that. Peter says to be holy like He is holy.  That is an endless aspiration, a goal we’ll never achieve but must constantly work at.
  • Look ahead (17). God is going to impartially judge according to each one’s work. We should be holy now because we will stand before the Perfect Judge some day.
  • Look back (18-19). I love the way Peter ends the paragraph. It gives us such hope! The way to take time to be holy is to turn around and look back—at our salvation (1:4) and at our Savior (1:2,21). I can’t look at sin in my life and glorify it, rationalize it, defend it, hide it, or minimize it. Peter reminds us why He had to die (2:24-25).

We take the time for what is most important to us—sports, social media, hobbies, work, shopping, and the like. None of that ultimately matters. As we do anything, these or other things, we must make sure that we are holy in heart and conduct. It’s worth the time and will be worth it when there is no longer time.

“Let’s Go Throw Rocks At The Campbellite Preacher!”

Neal Pollard

That one statement was what introduced my great grandfather to the gospel and is a big reason why my mom was raised in the church and why I was, too.  A “Campbellite preacher” (so named because of Alexander Campbell, a leading figure of the 19th Century who pleaded with people to throw off the division of denominationalism and restore simple New Testament Christianity) was in their Mississippi community, preaching at the local school house.  Several teenage boys, including my then 19-year-old great-grandfather, conspired together to stand outside and throw rocks at the preacher.  The big talk apparently came to nothing harmful, but standing out there my grandfather was convicted by the preaching.  As the result, he studied more deeply and carefully the Scriptures and found that the denomination he was a part of did not teach the same plan of salvation he read in the New Testament.

Plain, New Testament teaching and preaching, which faithfully and accurately handles the Scripture, has a profound effect on an honest heart.  One who is already persuaded that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, who is convicted that it was faithfully transmitted through time, can see from gospel preaching what God’s will is for “matters of life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).  Such allow the powerful Word to operate skillfully upon their hearts, being persuaded of its penetrating truths (Heb. 4:12).  Even one who may start out angry at the messenger but who is “fair-minded” (cf. Acts 17:11) will “receive the word with all readiness, and [search] the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things [are] so.”  Such an unprejudiced, open-minded attitude will serve such individuals well not only in learning how to become a Christian, but also in how to live the Christian life.  We must keep an honest and good heart if we will be the “good soil” Jesus praises in His parable of the soils (Luke 8:15).

Whatever your age, position in life, race, education level, or physical address, are you teachable? Do you receive the word in humility (Jas. 1:21)?  James says that your soul’s salvation is ultimately at stake.  Whether it regards becoming a Christian or living the Christian life, keep an open and tender heart!  You’ll be eternally grateful that you did.  So may many of your descendants!

I Have Learned…

  • That some people are not happy unless they’re in a fight with someone.
  • That there are still lost people hungry for to know God’s will for their lives.
  • That it is so easy to make excuses and so hard to make the effort.
  • That I still have so much to learn, so far to go, and so little time to do it.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the right.
  • That some people do not believe it’s possible to lean too far to the left.
  • That some people get “preach the truth” but not “in love.”
  • That some people know how to be loving, but are unwilling to preach the truth.
  • That there are some who believe they are judge, jury, and executioner.
  • That some preachers decide what to preach based more on popular opinion and felt needs than honestly, courageously seeking to preach the whole counsel of God.
  • That some run roughshod over others while hypersensitive to their own rights.
  • That some can tell you what the preachers’, elders’, and deacons’ jobs are, but think their only job is to tell you that.
  • That many of God’s people are striving to live right every day, often at great personal sacrifice and despite great opposition.
  • That there are some who do good all the time, and would be mortified for others to know it.
  • That some make sure others know every good thing they do.
  • That everybody is extremely busy, but some are better time managers than others.
  • That with some people you are guilty until you can prove you are innocent, and you may still be guilty in their minds.
  • That no one can hand you success, prosperity, or discipline.  God gives you the tools, but neither He nor anyone else can make you develop and sustain them.
  • That elders and preachers who work together create a bond that holds the local church together.
  • That we have overemphasized specialization (evangelism training, youth workers, Bible class teachers) to the point that many feel unqualified and “opt out.”
  • That every one of us that gets to heaven will get there with much help from God and brethren.

—Neal Pollard

Burying Your Resentment

Neal Pollard

Linda Sides, wife of one of the preachers at Sixth Avenue church of Christ in Jasper, Alabama, shared a startling picture with me that she took in a West Virginia cemetery.  The backstory, as much as is known, is interesting.  Apparently, a mother did not want to be cremated but her two daughters went against her wishes.  Another child, a son, had a gravestone made with this epitaph:  “IN MEMORY OF MY MOTHER IVA PRITT WHO PASSED AWAY JANUARY 1, 1978, AND TO HER TWO DAUGHTERS WHO WENT AGAINST HER WISHES. MAY THEY BURN IN HELL. ALWAYS THINKING OF YOU. D.”  We don’t know what kind of relationship the siblings had with each other or with their mother prior to the matriarch’s death.  What we know is that the grudge held by the son has been memorialized for at least 37 years through the engraving on that marker.  By this time, perhaps all the children have died, too.  Where they went for eternity is unknown, but it’s quite possible this man went to his own grave carrying the burden of bitterness and resentment.

Perhaps few have carried their vendettas with such graphic vehemence as Iva’s son, but I have known quite a few whose verbal clues reveal as virulent a strain of visceral irritation.  In the Bible, Herodias was said to have “had a grudge against him (John) and wanted to put him to death…” (Mark 6:19).  She was living in sin and righteous John preached against it. Her response was to feel resentment for what he had done.  Sometimes, an accurate message is received with absolute acrimony. A different Greek word is used in James 3:14 “pertaining to feeling resentful” (Louw and Nida, 1996, n/p).  In reading James, this is a feeling that they may have had toward the world but more likely against their own brethren.  How many churches have had works stalled and stopped, have experienced an atmosphere of severe tension, or have even been split because of unresolved bitterness and resentment?

With resentment being so harmful to ourselves and others, how can we bury it?  First, let it go.  This is an intentional exercise and will not occur without conscious mental effort and energy. Read Ephesians 4:31-32.  Second, give it to God. Stop carrying it and hand it to Him.  All cares can be safely transferred to His capable hands (1 Pet. 5:7).  Finally, mend fences.  Remember Paul’s encouragement that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).  You are not accountable for the peace-breaking disposition of others, but you are “so far as it depends on you.”

Do you have any “headstones” to destroy?  Do you have hatchets to bury—including the handles?  Don’t waste any more time. Let it die and bury it!