Categories
Christian liberty influence

Crane Flies

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

The Crane Fly is a misidentified and misunderstood creature. It looks like an enormous mosquito, so some will kill it for that reason. I often hear, “Don’t kill those, they eat mosquitos.” The crane fly is either killed for being a “mosquito” or protected based on misinformation about its eating habits. They do not have the anatomy to be predatory, according to Dr. Matthew Bertone with the NCSU Dept. of Entomology. They cannot bite humans, but they also can’t eat other mosquitos.

Some Christian liberties are like crane flies. We may understand that they are harmless in and of themselves (I Cor. 8; 10; Rom. 14.14), but we also understand that others may perceive them as being something they aren’t. To some, our Christian liberties are a mosquito: they see certain practices, lifestyles, clothing choices, consumptions, etc. as being sinful. Still others may see our Christian liberties as being hearty approval of some worldly behaviors, mistaking our enjoyment of this life (I Timothy 4.4) with godless living.

There is a middle ground. Flaunting our religious liberties is counterproductive and sinful (I Corinthians 8). Just because something is a gray area does not mean we should force other Christians to view it in black or white (Romans 14). On the other hand, it is every bit as wrong to condemn a Christian for enjoying a Christian liberty as it is to flaunt that liberty. Paul said, in the context of Christian liberties, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14.4).

So, what is that middle ground? There are, of course, the biblical principles of selflessness, courtesy, deference, discretion, confidence in our position on the matter (Romans 14.5, 20-23), etc. More often than not, though, we’re encouraged to simply avoid any Christian liberties because they may hurt others’ feelings. The middle ground is that we have a faith that is, “our own conviction before God. Happy is the man who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Rom. 14.22).

Some liberties need not be flaunted but may still be enjoyed privately, if we can demonstrate to ourselves and to God that they do not violate His commands in any way. Some liberties should be kept private so as to avoid causing a brother or sister to stumble (Rom. 14.21). That word for stumble is proskopto, which means, “to strike against something, or to make contact with something in a bruising or violent manner” (BDAG). If what we’re practicing is offensive to others because we’ve made it far more obvious than it should be, we’ve messed up. If we’re doing our best to be discrete and courteous in practicing Christian liberties (which are gifts from God), we’re on the right track.

The best crane flies are the ones we can’t see. No one thinks a mosquito is in the room, and no one thinks a “skeeter-eater” is in the room, either. We can avoid a whole lot of heartburn, headache, and even potential sinning when we keep our Christian liberties private. Or, we could play it safe and, “Not eat meat or drink wine, or do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Whichever path we take, we can never go wrong with the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12).

crane fly

Categories
Esther influence providence

“I Drive A Donkey”

Neal Pollard

There is an obscure Bible character that holds a great deal of fascination for me.  His name is Harbona(h) and his name only appears twice, both in connection with the account of Esther.  He is introduced in Esther 1:10 and plays a key role in this divine story of providence in Esther 7:9.  His name means “donkey driver.”  Granted, his name means more than that.  The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names says his name means, “Warlike; martial; a destroyer. Ass driver; the anger of him who builds” (Cornwall and Smith 96).  Harbonah was the eunuch in Ahaseurus’ court who informed the king of Haman’s treachery, saying, “Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Hanan made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!”  Ahaseurus, true to form, wasted no time and said, “Hang him on it.”  Thus, ended the life of the man who tried to end the life of the Jews, through whom the Messiah of the world would eventually be born.  Thus, Harbonah has an important footnote in the beautiful unfolding of God’s providence in the life and book of Esther.  His name is favorably included in only sacred volume God ever moved men to write.  That’s a pretty good legacy for a man whose name means “donkey driver.”

All of us are probably curious, if uninformed, about what our name means.  I once learned that my middle name, by which as a “junior” I am called, Neal, means “champion.”  Lest I should be exalted above measure, my first name, Gary, means “hunting dog.”  My surname, Pollard, means “tree topper.”  Thus, taken together, I can be proud to know that my full name means “champion hunting dog tree topper.”  Solomon wrote about a good name, calling it better than it is more desired than great wealth (Prov. 22:1) and better than a good ointment (Ecc. 7:1).  Regardless of what your given name means, what means most and how your name will be remembered on the lips of others, good or bad, is determined by what you do on this earth as is associated with that name.  So even if your name is Rafe Bosephus McGillicutty, that name will be sweet on others’ lips if how you wear your name honors the Lord and promotes His cause.

Categories
attitude doctrine influence opinion tradition

Tolerating Different Opinions

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

20638721_440919206307154_5479040032968788217_n

Gary Pollard

Dale and I were recently talking about the marked differences in preference among gun owners, bikers, etc. He made the observation that those who are pro-fill-in-the-blank (revolvers vs magazine-fed, 1911 vs Glock, etc., cruisers vs sport bike, Chevy vs Ford, and so on) are often very enthusiastic about their preference and very hostile to what is the antithesis of their preference. 

To use the term in its purest and least twisted sense, there is very little tolerance concerning differences of opinion among those who are passionate about the same things. With motorcycles, those who enjoy cruisers might scoff at those who prefer sport bikes. “They’re more difficult to maintain, you can’t practically go long distances, they’re more dangerous…” Sport bikers might do the same, “Cruisers aren’t as fast or agile, they’re old man bikes, you lose so much power with a belt or shaft drive, they don’t look as cool…” We could go on forever, but if you have any interests where differences of opinion abound (which is just about any hobby or interest), you know what I’m talking about. 

We face the same things in the church. Culture influences our preferences in matters of opinion, and I don’t have to go into detail about those opinions or traditions. We’re aware of the range of preferences and the way we can be tempted to respond to opposing preferences. Of course, I’m not talking about doctrines that cannot and should never be altered, but of opinions and traditions that do not affect salvation. 

The same responses we observe in every other aspect of our lives – passionate support or passionate opposition – can sometimes be observed in the church. We exist in the world, but we are supposed to be different from the world. Matthew 5.43ff tells us that we should love our enemies. We sometimes treat those with different preferences in the church as enemies; the level of hostility that we (and I mean me, too) can show over those preferences proves this. Do we love them anyway? Are we praying for them? 

Matthew 5.46-48 points out (in principle) that if we’re only nice to those on “our side,” it means nothing. In fact, it’s wrong! Twice in this passage we are called to change and be different from everyone else. That is a salvation issue. 

The word “tolerance” has become perverted over the last generation or so, but we can’t forget that it does play a role in our faith. We must not tolerate false doctrine, but we must tolerate our differences in matters of opinion. This carries over to everything we’re passionate about! 

How we treat those who disagree with us will show others who we serve far more effectively than our professed beliefs will. Does our treatment of those with whom we disagree show that we are genuinely Christian, or does it serve as a perfect deterrent? This is up to us. As things slowly return to normal we can change the status quo in a very positive way – let’s make the best of it!

Categories
influence Jesus Jesus Christ salvation soul-winning

The Infamy Of The Edsel

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

16174665_10154303308455922_2453812807432667966_n

Neal Pollard

The Ford automobile named for Henry’s own son made its debut in 1957 after unprecedented hype. They had started planning and developing the Edsel back in 1955 based on consumer research, polls, and interviews. Ford thought it had tapped into the heart of the buying public with a car that would win its heart. It turned out to be a disaster in every way one can measure such–it was too big, too unreliable and poorly-made, too unattractive, too expensive, and, well, too weird. Even the name is strange. When Ford’s marketing department polled people about how they liked the name, many asked, “Did you say ‘pretzel’?” (info from “The Flop Heard Round The World,” Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 9/4/07).  While today the Edsel has become a collector’s item, selling for as much as $100,000 or more, it will forever live among the automotive lemons’ Hall-of-Fame lineup that includes such stellar machines as the AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevy Chevette, Yugo GV, and De Lorean DMC-12. 

Marketing can be a mean business. Especially is it risky when you take a proven, respected name and attach it to something that dishonors and degrades it–like “Ford” and “Edsel.” So many researchers have sought to identify why the Edsel was such a colossal failure, but the answer often goes back to the problem that “with too many hands working on the Edsel, the project had no direction” (“The Edsel Proved Why You Should Never Design A Car By Committee,” Chris Perkins, Road & Track, 1/23/17). 

What does all of this have to do with God and the Bible or Christ and the church? Well, several things.

  • Jesus is the Perfect Man who offers something unique that cannot be outdone–salvation which is located in His body, the church (Eph. 1). This is what we have to offer this world, and this is what the world needs. 
  • Sometimes, we spend too much time in gimmickry, marketing hype, and mining for felt needs, and at the end of the day we wind up offering a cheap, poor, and disappointing product that dishonors and degrades His perfect name. May we ever respect the warning of Galatians 1:6-9. 
  • It is easy for us to lose sight of our mission and sense of direction, if Jesus is not the heart of our mission, purpose, plans, and activities. As disciples, He leads and we follow (Luke 9:23-26). 
  • We never want, as a church or as an individual, to sully His precious name by our association with it–whether by ungodliness, worldliness, legalism, mean-spirited, hateful behavior, doctrinal compromise, etc. I suppose that David’s name, as king of Israel, defamed God for a long time after his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:14). We should disdain the very prospect of such.
  • It’s not too late to correct even infamous blunders. Ford is not defined by the Edsel. It went on to produce some automobiles that more than restored its good name. That can be true for churches and individuals. Jesus would not have gone to the trouble to admonish Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea if they were a lost cause. The same is true of Euodia, Syntyche, the man in 1 Corinthians 5, and others.  There cannot “un-be” an Edsel, but there can be a brighter future.

The Ford Edsel became the focus of a great many studies by the likes of John Brooks and Bill Gates. Its failures helped many industries, not just the auto industry, learn from its basic mistakes. I think there’s insight in it for the greatest “business” of all–i.e., soul-winning. May we get the greatest name (Jesus) to the greatest audience (the world) through the greatest message (the gospel)! That’s a guaranteed recipe for the greatest success (salvation)!

ford-3886280_640

Categories
example history influence self-examination Uncategorized

THE DIFFERENCE OF MORE THAN A YEAR

Neal Pollard

Have you ever researched famous people born on your birthday? I have. I share a birthday with Babe Ruth, Bob Marley, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Queen Anne, Isidor Strauss, J.E.B. Stuart, Tom Brokaw, and, of course, a great many others. Two of the more fascinating, by contrast, were born a year apart. The one born in 1911 was a man. The one born in 1912 was a woman. He was an American patriot and two-term president. She was the companion of a Nazi dictator. He was shot, but survived. Her end was presumably self-inflicted. He lived into his 90s. She died in her 30s. He was Ronald Reagan. She was Eva Braun.

Both were born in two-parent households of modest means. Both had Catholic backgrounds. Both were second-born children. Both were athletes in their youth. Both possessed a talent for the arts. Both were fiercely loyal.

There is much more that could be said by way of comparison and contrast, but consider this. They were born and raised into the world at almost the same time. They were both born with the freedom to choose. Both found themselves in a place of great influence. Why was their ultimate influence so different from one another? It is surely more complex than can be measured from so great a distance of time and geography. Yet, it is a question played out an infinite number of times every day.

The day you were born, you were given a set of resources: time, talent, inclinations, opportunities, and influencers. For all of us, some of those resources present challenges and some present advantages. In other words, all of us have problems to overcome and privileges to leverage. In every case, we get to decide what we do with what we are given.

One of the applications of the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:14-30) is stewardship. Each man was given resources. Each was held accountable for what he did with them. Each made choices regarding them. Each reaped what he sowed.

I do not know how my final epitaph will read. It will certainly not be American president or German dictator’s companion. For that matter, it will not be Hall of Fame baseball player, British royalty, actor, composer, or broadcast journalist. 

I know how I want it to read–Faithful Christian, faithful husband, faithful father, faithful preacher, and faithful friend. Am I using my resources to work toward that goal? The only way I get to choose my legacy is by building it day-by-day, decision-by-decision. The same is true of us all. That means we must all use time wisely (Eph. 5:16) to forge it. By doing so wisely, we can be numbered among those to whom the Lord, at the end of it all, says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat. 25:21). 

berlin-3835504_960_720
Braun and Reagan shared a legacy that includes Berlin, Germany.
Categories
false teaching honesty influence teachers teaching truth Uncategorized

Walking 10 Miles To Avoid The “Bear”

Neal Pollard

Spoiler alert: This story does not make me look good.

It was 1984, and my family and I lived in Roopville, Georgia. We were enjoying one of those idyllic west Georgia October days, with temperatures cool enough for a jacket but the sun graciously, brightly beaming. It was a perfect Saturday to explore the woods, which is what my little brother, Brent, and I decided to do. I was 14 and he was 9. My parents owned several acres behind our house, and we boys felt adventurous. In such a mood, I decided I’d like to see how far those woods went, but rightly wondered if Brent was game for such a walk. Therefore, I had to have a ruse. We hadn’t walked too far when there was some noise nearby, and I went to work–concerned face, raised eyebrows, hushed voice, and panicked eyes. “Brent, I think I just saw a bear!” Trusting me to be a legitimate source of truth, he accepted my statement at face value. What was my solution to this sudden dilemma? Brent wanted to retreat back to the house, probably less than a quarter mile behind us. What sense did that make? Far better to keep walking away from the safety of our home deeper into the woods of neighbors and eventually strangers. As every older sibling knows, far too often seniority can trump sensibility. So, we ran from that “bear” for miles and hours. Eventually, our circuitous journey took us several miles south just outside the little town of Centralhatchee. We were gone for most of the daylight hours of that fateful Saturday, and the only credible decision I made that day was knowing we should walk north on Highway 27 to get back home. Suffice it to say, I was not hailed as the conquering hero upon our return that evening. But, throughout that walk, I built and strengthened the narrative that this lengthy sojourn was about escaping the razor-sharp clutches of my mythic bear. I mentioned it so often to Brent that day that it just became easy to tell my parents with such conviction. Under the vise of interrogation, my story unraveled. My punishment was swift and enduring.

I knew better. I wanted this adventure and I wanted company. One needs a calculator to compute the number of bad decisions cascading from my developing prefrontal cortex. But, in my heart of hearts, I knew I was lying to Brent. In time, I believed the lie myself. We survived my harebrained scheme, but my credibility took a hit.

“Honesty is the best policy.” That’s true of character. It’s no truer than for anyone in a position to teach someone else God’s Word. Some teachers themselves are deluded and believe a lie (2 Th. 2:10-12). Others “are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such an eternal task befalls the teacher (Jas. 3:1). We must be honest with the text, honest with our conclusions, and that starts by being honest with ourselves. We’re leading people somewhere with how we live and what we say we believe is right and wrong. Let’s handle that with care. It’s about both the journey and the destination (Mat. 7:13-14).

51443429_2225973147661676_5918745592820924416_n
Exceedingly stylish pic of me and the bro a few years before the Centralhatchee Bear Escape.
Categories
church church (nature) church function influence Uncategorized

Dark Churches

Neal Pollard

I was intrigued by an article written by Janet Thompson of crosswalk.com. The eye-catching title asked, “Why Is The Church Going Dark?” She meant this literally. Her complaint was about the design of many auditoriums having dim lighting and being windowless, almost like a movie theatre or concert venue. She wondered if this was to reach a younger generation or to set a certain mood. 

While I prefer a well-lit room, there is a more significant concern. Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14-16). His words have nothing to do with church building designs, LED lighting, or window sizes. Preaching to His disciples, Jesus wants us to know that those reflecting His light cannot be hidden, but shine in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. 

  • Dark churches are situated in neighborhoods that know nothing about them.
  • Dark churches are so indistinct that the world can see no difference between themselves and those churches. 
  • Dark churches have no vision or plan to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
  • Dark churches exist to assemble, but not much more.
  • Dark churches focus inwardly, but neither outwardly nor upwardly. 
  • Dark churches operate from fear and prefer the safe route, taking no risks and attempting only what they can produce.
  • Dark churches are disconnected from the Light of the world.

It is good for us to constantly challenge ourselves, when setting budgets, making plans, gauging our true priorities, or evaluating the leadership or the pulpit. Are we doing what will help us be “Light-Bearers” or what will cause us to be “Dark Churches”? What an important question! Our actions determine the answer. 

dark churches

Categories
death example influence Uncategorized

The Influence Of Papaw Mitchell

Neal Pollard

May 14, 2004, was the day I preached my maternal grandfather’s funeral. It was a signal honor to do so. He had passed away early on Wednesday morning, May 12. The morning he passed, I wrote this about him:

Within you today are a temper and trends
A view toward the unfolding tomorrow
Have you stopped to question on what that depends
From what spiritual bank you do borrow?

Though each person forges his own internal road
Based on unique decisions and conscience
Before him to help pave it is an influence to goad
A role model, an example bestowed.

For those so endowed with a godly loved one
One righteous, driven by the Giver of grace.
To see their own faith is to look at one done
A journeyman who victoriously ran his own race.

I know one like that, a follower of Him
Who led much family both of flesh and of faith
Who shaped hearts and lives in times good and times grim
Who laid course that to follow was safe.

When we all get to heaven and give praises unending
Who knows what will be or how we’ll appear?
I know that for anyone in that Paradise spending
That all who shaped our faith will be clear.

Everyone that knew Harold Edward Mitchell, Sr., was closer to heaven because of his influence. He lived over 90 years, converting from denominationalism in young adulthood and ultimately serving decades as an elder. At his funeral, I shared five facts about my “Papaw Mitchell.”

  • He loved his family. He wasn’t gregarious, but rather reserved. Yet, he taught his family the right way to live and how to face death, to know what ultimately counts, what was right and what was wrong.
  • He had a sense of adventure. From semipro baseball as a teen to seeing the entire country in retirement, a lifelong cotton farmer had a wider view of the world. He came of age in the depression and endured some terrible grief, but no one could remember hearing him complain. 
  • He worked hard. He wasn’t a waster of resources, least of all time. He was up with the sun and down with the sunset. He instilled that work ethic in his children and grandchildren. 
  • He put Christ above all else. As a Christian, he took what the Bible guided him to do and be in life at face value. His life went beyond mere rule-keeping. He kept the rules, but he loved the rule-maker. You could see Jesus living in him.
  • He was ready to die. That’s the most important thing any of us could have said of us.

I saw grandpa the Monday night before he passed away. He was able to talk, but it was the first time I saw him that I felt he might not live forever in that earthly body he took such good care of. It was probably the first time I thought seriously about my own mortality. Our spirits are engineered for eternity, but our bodies of clay wind down more each day. In the fifteen years that have passed since then, I am more aware of that than I was even then. Our pilgrimage here won’t go on indefinitely, though we’ll live as long as God lives.

Examples like my Papaw motivate me to clear the hurdles from my path and stay dependent upon God to help me, like him, to finish my face. To die faithful and prepared means to live faithfully and make preparation. One day, someone will speak at your funeral and mine. What can they honestly say about the example and influence we will have left on others?

grandpa mitchell and uncle larry
Papaw (L) and Uncle Larry (my mom’s older brother), probably between 30-40 years ago.
Categories
Christian living example influence Uncategorized works

Make It A Momentous Monday

Neal Pollard

  • Pick out a local church leader and pray for him and his family for several minutes, being very specific in your petitions on their behalf.
  • Email a missionary to encourage them and get an update on how their work is going.
  • Buy a gift card and try to give it anonymously to a young or struggling family you know.
  • Thoughtfully select several people to compliment and encourage by writing on their Facebook wall or other social media platform.
  • Briefly visit a brother or sister in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • Ask a co-worker, classmate, or neighbor what you can be praying for them about.
  • Listen to a book of the Bible in its entirety on your commute.
  • Let go of a grudge or deep-seated resentment.
  • Do an unexpected deed of kindness for a random stranger.
  • Speak to someone you see regularly about your faith–what God is doing in your life, what’s going on at church, etc.
  • Spend some one-on-one time with one of your children (playing a game they enjoy, going for a walk, taking them out to eat, etc.).
  • Show love to your mate in some tangible way you know he/she enjoys (speak their “love language”).
  • Practice pleasantness with everyone you meet today, being mindful of your facial expressions and body language.
  • Carve out some time for meaningful, personal devotion (including Bible reading, singing, and prayer)–make worship more than a Sunday matter!

None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus!  See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.

candle-335965_960_720

Categories
influence Uncategorized

THE MYSTERY OF INFLUENCE

Neal Pollard

Several years ago, a fourteen-year-old girl named Shannon Smith was shot to death in her own back yard. A bullet lodged in her brain. Though already tragic and horrific, the story was made more tragic by the inexplicable nature of the shooting. Police, judging from the trajectory made by the entry would, concluded that the bullet fell from the sky. Somewhere nearby, some unknown person had fired a gun for no known reason. The bullet completed its path of travel inside an unsuspecting teenager. Tragic, indeed!

Who fired the gun and why? The action pales next to the consequence. Someone aimlessly fired a weapon. A child died and parents were left to mourn her loss. It was all so unnecessary and avoidable!

Christians are a special people, a God-possessed, holy group (1 Pet. 2:9). The world sees Christians (Matt. 5:16). They react to children of God, either “glorifying” (Matt. 5:16) or “blaspeming” (2 Sam. 12:14) Him. Christians are either transformed from worldliness or conformed to it (Rom. 12:2). Conformity carries tragic consequences.

Influence is an inevitable burden carried by every Christian. Others watch what we do, hear what we say, and evaluate our judgments. What we wear, how we talk, where we go, and with what we entertain ourselves may seem harmless or at least harmful only to us. Yet, we can aimlessly fire and eternally wound another’s soul by our influence.

The man or woman who fired that gun may not realize even now what they did with one “harmless” squeeze of a trigger. Maybe they will not know on this side of time. Just so, we may be shocked on that day to realize how many or exactly whom we influenced. We’re on a spiritual battlefield (Eph. 6). Let’s be careful not to shoot at the wrong side! We may wind up doing harm to the very people we’re commissioned to save. Let’s watch our aim!

635556363784254557-phxdc5-5gjqo8l36pjzj76wfkp-original
Shannon Smith (undated photo)