One Of The Hardest Biblical Positions To State

Neal Pollard

There are few statements or pronouncements that are clearer than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9, yet perhaps none, in our current culture, is more intimidating to state. Jesus contrasts His will on marriage, divorce, and remarriage with the already existent stance of the Law of Moses. He says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (19:8-9).  From this brief response (the Pharisees ask the question, testing Him in verse three), we see:

  • The teaching transcends time and culture—“From the beginning…and I say to you”
  • The teaching transcends all other authority—“I say”
  • The teaching transcends only believers—“Whoever”
  • The teaching transcends the caveats and conditions men have tried to place on the matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (not the specific law with its exception).

Yet, despite the clarity of Jesus on the subject, in the spirit of Christ we want to always approach this with utmost compassion, patience, and tenderness. Souls are at stake. Often, children are involved. Emotions are inevitably involved. A cold, callous treatment of people’s lives will surely draw Divine disapproval. That’s why Jesus’ stated position on this matter is one of the hardest to take. But, that cannot mean that we refuse to stand with Him in His teaching. However, we should ask why it is so hard to stand where the Bible stands on this matter?

—Learned men have stated different positions from this.
—Divorce is so prevalent in our culture.
—All of us have family members who are in marriages that violate Matthew 19:9.
—Marriage involves one of mankind’s greatest drives and needs (cf. Gen. 2:18-25).
—Leadership in more and more congregations refuse to deal with marriage, divorce, and     remarriage in the classroom, pulpit, or the hands-on shepherding of the local church.
—Few of us relish the role of being “the bad guy” (the one who has to break heartbreaking news to husbands and wives).

I could lengthen the list of reasons, and you could add several to it, but if the list grew to hundreds of reasons, we have one sobering, gut-wrenching question to ask, “Do any of them nullify the strength of Jesus’ teaching?” If Matthew 19:9 were not in the Bible, fewer preachers would have lost jobs, fewer elders would have lost favor, and fewer churches would have seen members go to congregations accommodating their marriages. But, Jesus warned that His way was difficult (cf. Matt. 7:14). He tells aghast disciples that discipleship requires whatever sacrifice is necessary to follow Him (Matt. 19:10-12). That message must be shared lovingly, gently, and patiently. There can be no other way (cf. Eph. 4:15). The harsh, unkind, or mean-spirited will deal with the Judge of all (cf. 1 Pet. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1). However, what will be the case for those who neglect, change, or distort what Scripture says to accommodate people? Perhaps there’s no way to ask that question without evoking a visceral reaction from those who have reinterpreted Jesus’ words, but in light of eternity it must be asked. Balance looks for biblical truth in between unbiblical extremes. However unpleasant a position that may put us in, that is the place we must always humbly stand. But, the only enduring place to stand is on the rock solid foundation of Christ (cf. Mat. 7:24-27; 1 Co. 3:11). God give us loving, but courageous, hearts to stand there.

16026538371_0dfe26b678_b

A Lot Happens In 25 Years!

Neal Pollard

Today is Kathy’s and my Silver Anniversary. The day we got married, the president was the first George Bush. Johnny Carson was hosting the Tonight Show (his final show was on our wedding night). Gas was barely over a dollar per gallon. We lived in a sleepy, west Alabama town (the thought of living in either Virginia or Colorado and traveling overseas was nearly as unthinkable as the internet). In some ways, of course, it seems like longer ago than 25 years, but in others it seems like yesterday.  But, you learn a lot along the way—some lessons coming easy but others more difficult.  In 25 years of marriage, here are a few things you learn.

  • You inevitably face some huge tests. There’s pain, tears, and fears, but, with God’s help, they are tests you can pass. While there can be abiding happiness, it does not come without adversity.
  • The road takes unanticipated turns. You are glad you cannot see the future, but that it comes to you only one day at a time. Taken all in all, you would not change the journey.
  • You must guard your heart and your life. The devil does not want couples to stay married, happily or otherwise. You can be drawn away (Jas. 1:13-15), and others can attempt to lure you away from your mate (Prov. 5:15-23). The hearts of married people can become polluted as easily as anyone else’s (Mark 7:21-23). You must guard your heart at all times (Prov. 4:23).
  • Trust is sexy. Untrustworthy behavior, deception, lying, broken promises, etc., is so damaging to a relationship. However, a spouse with a trustworthy character helps create a climate of peace, security, and confidence. This translates to attractiveness. We want those we feel close to. Distrust prevents intimacy.
  • The journey truly grows sweeter. With every change and new phase, there are challenges, losses, and adjustments. But the cumulative intimacy, the battle scars, the moments and memories, the happy days, the sweet surprises, and the rest combine to make an exciting, satisfying journey. Knowing a person better and deeper day after day makes life better, and brings poignancy to the heavenly insight, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-12).
  • The little things are big things. Opening a door, an arm around the shoulder, unloading the dishwasher, love notes, flowers, putting lids up and down, noticing changes in hairstyles and nail polish, appreciating a meal, cleaning up after yourself, and similar “little things” can promote or undermine the overall quality of married life. Life is made up mostly of “little things.”
  • Of all your common interests, nothing compares to serving Christ together. Actions and activities done in service to Him contain better super glue than any hobby, vacation, life event, or mutual interest. Whether hospitality, evangelism, mission work, devotions and worship, Bible study, and such, these shore up the marital foundation and form an incredible, common bond.

Every day requires more practice, persistence, and prayer. Both of us are constantly changing and, hopefully, growing. It’s vital to stay in tune and in touch. But, I count Kathy as the greatest blessing after my soul’s salvation. I shudder to think where I might be without her and thank God that she has been by my side for a quarter of a century. My fervent prayer is that God will continue to bless my days with her heart, mind, and the rest of her and continue to bless my life through her as He has since I met her in August of 1990. My desire is to do my best to reciprocate these very things for her. May He grant me the ability to do so. Happy Anniversary to my favorite writer, my Sweet Pea, my Kathy!

18619895_10212448133896539_5898216597976843404_n
My dad was one year older than I am today in this picture (taken 5/22/92). 

“Just Divorced”

Neal Pollard

My sweet daughter-in-law, Chelsea, was incensed about how cavalier a “California-based” couple were about their divorce. She sent me the link to the article and it’s hard to believe this is not “fake news” or an April Fool’s joke written on a December day. The BuzzFeed News article, written by Remy Smidt and entitled, “These Parents Threw A Lit ‘Divorce Party’ To Make Their Split Less Awkward,” and subtitled, “Eat, Drink, And Remarry,” features a couple, married more than 20 years. They have two daughters, 20 and 18, who helped them plan their party. There was catered food, drinking, dancing, a “divorce cake,” and a life-sized poster of them both that says “just divorced.” Judging from the many comments below the story, a great many find their idea novel, noble, and neat. The daughters seem happy for them, the couple are cordial and friendly, and all that is missing is a line like “they each, separately, lived happily ever after” (article here).

In Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9, Jesus taught, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” In that context, He gives an exception that allows one to divorce and remarry (fornication, Mat. 19:9). Yet, He is anything but lighthearted when He says it. The situation when such divorces occur is most grave. To God, marriage is a sacred, solemn vow that, as is often stated, requires “for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, until death…” For a myriad of reasons other than Jesus’ stated exception, a great many husbands and wives give up on their marriages. They may not be lighthearted and all smiles, as Michelle Mahoney, Jeff Becerra, Rylie and Emma were, but they have about as much regard for God’s design and intention for marriage as this interesting family.

Through the ups and downs, the give and take, the good times and bad times that are inevitable between a husband and wife throughout time, something beautiful can be built. It requires growth, maturity, unselfishness, compromise, and mutual submission, but as God is the founder of this wonderful institution He knows how we can be best served. His regard for marriage is such that He uses it to illustrate the bond between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-34). Our society may be enamored with a disposable approach to something God meant to be permanent but may we be devoted to the daily effort and blessing of something God put in place at the very beginning of time. As we do, we will be blessed for it!

just_divorced

Daniel And Susan Bakeman

Neal Pollard

In the annals of American history there is a remarkable story you may not know.  Daniel Bakeman was born on October 9, 1759.  He married Susan Brewer on August 29, 1772, though not yet a teenager.  Soon thereafter, he joined the American army during the Revolutionary War.  Not only did he survive the war, he lived almost another 100 years.  When he died on April 5, 1869, he was most likely the last surviving veteran of the war that made us a country.  He lived about four years after the end of the Civil War.  As remarkable as that distinction is, he also was part of another world record that still stands to this day.  His marriage to Susan lasted until September 10, 1863, when she passed away.  That means the Bakemans were married for 91 years and 12 days!

I cannot find anything about the details of that marriage, though they left many descendants who carry, through various spellings of the family name, the names Bachman, Beckman, Bakeman, Bateman, and even Baker (genealogytrails.com).  Various archives indicate that Mr. Bakeman was spry and humorous to the end and that Mrs. Bakeman exhibited needlework she had done without the aid of glasses when she was 102.  They lived and died in a town called Freedom, and Mr. Wakeman holds the distinction of having voted in every election from Washington to Grant!

As remarkable as his military distinction is, his marriage distinction deserves higher honor.  He fought in and survived a war that lasted less than ten years.  He endured hardships, who knows how many ups and downs, and undoubtedly some trying marital moments en route to almost a century of marital bliss.  They were together to the end, an exaggerated example of commitment and highest love.

You will almost certainly fail to break the Bakemans’ record for length of marriage, but you might exceed what they enjoyed for depth and breadth.  What are you doing to build upon the highest love for your spouse?  What daily investments are you making?  Your marriage will be remembered by those who know you.  How it will be remembered is something over which you exert full control.  Make it a legacy of lasting love!

IMG_3673

Twenty-Four Blessings Of Being Married To A Godly Spouse

Neal Pollard
My dad performed the wedding ceremony for Kathy and me at the Manchester church of Christ in Georgia on May 22, 1992, which, as I’ve been reminded, was also the last show for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. It was also the day Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia joined the United Nations. But, all in all, it was a quiet, ordinary day in the world. For me, it was anything but ordinary! It was day one of a life that has been full of surprises, enjoyments, discoveries, and a full array of experiences. Certainly, there have been some lows but also many more highs. It has, in so many ways, been full of blessings. Anyone who marries a faithful Christian can anticipate so many blessings. Consider just a few:

  1. A companion who loves your soul.
  2. A mate who puts God above you.
  3. A spouse who will influence your children to love God.
  4. One who is bearing the fruit of the Spirit to live life with.
  5. One who stays connected to God faithfully, in Bible study and prayer.
  6. One with whom your most important activities revolve around Christ.
  7. A partner who gladly embraces her God-given role and place.
  8. A mate who holds you accountable to the role and place you should fill.
  9. One who is not chasing the world’s ideals, not being led by its values and expectations.
  10. A companion with whom your conversations constantly involve the spiritual.
  11. One who knows what good clean fun looks and feels like.
  12. One whose orientation is to serve and not to be served.
  13. A spouse who creates trust and confidence that sustains you even when you are apart.
  14. A consort who loves the body of Christ, the church, and who is interested in its members.
  15. One whose greatest beauty (and attractiveness) is to be found beneath the surface.
  16. A partner who will treat you with respect and dignity, not demeaning you or running you down.
  17. One who is more focused on pursuing your happiness than passively waiting for you to cause theirs.
  18. A spouse with whom your most fulfilling moments are spent serving your Lord.
  19. One who looks for opportunities to reach your neighbors and other associations for Christ.
  20. A mate whose emotions are most stirred by spiritual things.
  21. A lover who is exciting and alluring because of her faith and not in spite of such.
  22. One who forms goals with you, short-term and long-term, that point toward eternity and lead toward heaven.
  23. A help-meet you become more desirous of growing older with every day you are growing older.
  24. A partner you like more the more you know her because she’s being transformed more into the image of Christ each day.

What an enjoyable exercise, literally counting the blessings of a life lived with a faithful Christian mate. Please do not interpret this as a suggestion that marriage is trouble-free, challenge-free, conflict-free, and pain-free. It is none of these, but persevering through the troubles, challenges, conflicts, and pain can be one of the forces that strengthen our marriages. Let us build marriages that cause us to celebrate our anniversaries, having a deeper appreciation for the person God gave us to walk through this vail of tears with—a person with whom we can find enormous nuggets of fulfillment and genuine joy in even life’s darkest episodes. Have you let your mate know how much they mean to you? If not, why not stop whatever you are doing and tell them. Even better, show them! They are one of your choicest blessings!

1841_10153365202705922_7472942622346703449_n

THE PATTERN FOR MARRIAGE

Neal Pollard

Matthew 19:1-12 records an incident where, because the Pharisees are trying to test Jesus (vs. 3), He has occasion to reveal His will about marriage.  As we analyze this text, we find several notable facts about marriage. These verses show us the mind and will of God on an institution that is increasingly under assault. Consider four facts about this great passage of Scripture.

This is from the Christ. One of the more common arguments made even by supposed biblical scholars is that Jesus never condemns homosexuality. But what does He do? He defines marriage (4-5). The law of exclusion says that what God doesn’t authorize in His Word is forbidden in doctrine and practice. The Lord has authorized marriage as an institution between man and woman. He did not have to say, “…but not between a man and two or more women” and “not between a man and an animal” and “not between two people of the same gender.” He makes clear what He sees marriage as being.

This is from the creation. Other passages tell us Christ is actually the Creator (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2). So not only does He, as Deity, designate what marriage is—He designed it in the first place. Jesus reaches behind changes made to God’s marriage law under the Law of Moses and cites how God designed it “from the beginning” (4). Anything that does not conform to His pattern in this text runs counter to God’s original intent. You may not that this excludes more than same-sex marriage. It excludes adulterous marriage (vs. 9) as well as sex outside of marriage (this is implied here: “joined to his wife,” not “girlfriend”; of course, “fornication” or “sexual immorality” is dealt with explicitly in many other New Testament passages). Jesus goes back to the creation to state the pattern for marriage as being one man and one woman for life.

This is a command. It is not a command that you have to be married, but if you do get married you must conform to Christ’s will concerning it. We see this in the force of Jesus’ “but I say unto you.” He is exerting His right of authority, even showing His law trumps the Law of Moses. A person who is looking to be married must make sure their relationship conforms to His command.

This is controversial.  It is not just the homosexual community who balk at Jesus’ words here. I have close family members (and so do you, probably) whose marriages are at odds with what Jesus commands in this context. Jesus Himself forewarns that this is a difficult and narrow teaching (10), a rejected teaching (11), and a teaching that calls for extreme sacrifice (12). I dare say there is as much blowback from the heterosexual community as the homosexual community where this passage is clearly taught. In either case, it comes down to whether we will follow the command of the Christ, the Creator. Our submission or rebellion cannot change the immutable (i.e., unchangeable) nature of Divine truth.

Marriage is a beautiful gift given by a loving God. Though society may corrupt it and seek to redefine it, but the will of God stands forever. May we have the courage, humility, and strength to take Him at His word and conform our lives to it—on this and every subject.

Dangerous Clothing!

Neal Pollard

Have you ever heard of clothing that puts you in the hospital?  A 35-year-old woman in Adelaide, Australia, had to be treated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital for loss of circulation.  She was on an IV for four days! Why? The official report used scary words like “hypoattenuation,” “oedema of muscles,” and “myonecrosis.”  The bottom line was that her skinny jeans were too tight.  Coupled with squatting frequently while helping a family member move and wearing these overly compressed pants, her legs and lower extremities were so numb that she could not walk (via jnnp.bmj.com).  The truth is truly stranger than fiction.

Is there any dangerous clothing in your closet or wardrobe?  Especially as summer weather heats up, some reveal clothing that could be dangerous to themselves and others.  Consider this.

  • Clothes may be too tight.
  • Clothes may be too short.
  • Clothes may be otherwise too revealing.
  • Clothes may contain provocative words or sexually suggestive phrases.

Frustrating for both those trying to defend or condemn immodest clothing is the fact that Scripture does not give specific guidelines for clothing God finds either acceptable or unacceptable.  True, we can point to how God clothed the first couple in the Garden of Eden, but they had the right to see each other completely unclothed.  We can talk about the priests’ garments under the Old Law, but they wore it doing things, offering animal sacrifices and worshipping with mechanical instruments, that keep us from binding that as a pattern for clothing today.  New Testament passages about modest clothing (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4) seem to primarily address over-dressing, though the principle about clothing which can easily produce lust may be applicable.  Yet, especially clothing that strongly resembles lingerie and undergarments, extremely short-shorts, clothing that clearly outlines parts of the body that should not be publicly seen, and the like can be dangerous for the wearers and the observers. God made men and women sexual creatures, and clothing that “feels” and “looks” sexy can stir feelings in people toward people they do not have the right to feel.

As we assess the clothing in our wardrobes, it is good to ask some important spiritual questions:

  • Does it help me present my body as a sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1)?
  • Does it reflect that I am conforming to the world or being transformed by God’s will (Rom.12:2)?
  • Is it an “anything” that causes my brother to stumble (Rom. 14:21)?
  • Is it “lust-producing” (cf. Mat. 5:28)?

Frustratingly, this requires some common sense and some thoughtful examination.  Individuals must use propriety in the absence of a “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.”  Yet, neither should we feign ignorance in a world where fashion designers tout clothes that are “hot,” “sexy,” “dangerous,” or the like.  No preacher or Bible teacher can force their personal standards of modesty on anyone else, but he or she can appeal to the heart and ask that Christlike love for the souls of others be exercised.  After all, clothes can be dangerous even if they don’t land you in the hospital!

Who Can Find An Excellent Wife?

Neal Pollard

An excellent wife, who can find?
Her worth is far above gems.
Rack your brain and search your mind,
To find a brightness that time never dims.

Her husband implicitly trusts in her,
For this he will lack no gain,
She is trustworthy and spiritually sure
For as long as her days remain.

She’s shrewd and savvy, industrious
And constantly on the go,
To the poor and needy she’s generous
Through her deeds others her husband they know

Though out and about, her household she serves
How well she looks to its operation
Her children and husband give the praise she deserves
They claim her with pride and elation

Mere physical charm and beauty do not measure
The excellence of wife or of mother
But her fear of the Lord makes her a true treasure
And crowns her with charm like none other.

Giving Away Your Wedding Ring

Neal Pollard

Brooklin Yazzle, a Mesa, Arizona, wife and mother, apparently handed out her wedding ring with the Halloween candy last week.  She had taken off her ring and put it in a candy jar to help her children carve pumpkins.  Later, things got hectic and she absentmindedly dumped her ring along with the candy into a candy bag to give to children.  Complicating things, among her treats were plastic rings.  She has made an appeal through the news to get it back, stating that while it isn’t worth much monetarily it has great sentimental value (FOX News).

Many of us can relate to such a mindless blunder.  To my everlasting chagrin, I lost my wife’s High School class ring back while we were dating (she married me anyway!).  It is not uncommon for a person to remove their wedding ring to work or play, but removing it in such cases is to protect it from harm or loss.

The American Community Survey and the Daily Beast collaborated to provide a list of the “Divorce Capitals of the U.S.”  The ignominious top ten list, from “top” to bottom, is: (1) Panama City, FL, (2) Sierra Vista, AZ, (3) Charleston, WV, (4) Medford, OR, (5) Reno, NV, (6) Deltona, FL, (7) Pueblo, CO, (8) Palm Bay, FL, (9) Jacksonville, FL, and (10) Grand Junction, CO. In six states, the divorce rate is between 12.64-14.35% per 1,000 people, age 15 and older (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, and Oklahoma). Yet, the best of states still average 6.05-7.65% (Ashley Reich, The Huffington Post, 11/4/13).

This survey is but an example of a trend that is only tempered by a falling marriage rate, as more and more couples are living together without the sanctity of marriage. It shows that the dissolution of marriage is not confined to one area of the country, or more like in a “Red” or “Blue” state.  Are there steps we can take to keep our wedding rings?

  • Spend time together.
  • Have shared interests.
  • Focus on pleasing your spouse more than being pleased by him/her.
  • Make marriage a priority, not an afterthought or a “no thought.”
  • Make spiritual investments together (devotions, prayer, serving, etc.).
  • Spend time with couples whose marriages are healthy and happy.
  • Practice hospitality together.
  • Keep romance alive.
  • Keep Christ King of your home.
  • Avoid pettiness.

This list is not exhaustive, but it already gives all of us areas to work on and improve in.  We should remember God’s feelings, who said, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Let’s hold on to our wedding rings!

SEXUAL DEVIANCE

Neal Pollard

On this trip to Cambodia, there have been insights into some things I did not know and reminders of things I did know.  Polygamy is routinely practiced in the villages, trafficking of minors to wicked and perverse men is a problem, and promiscuity is getting more common.  Some of these issues are matters of exploitation, while others are matters of choice in the culture.  However, these kinds of departures are to be found all over the world.  In our own country, a great many live together and engage in a sexual relationship without the thought of marriage.  Divorce without biblical reason and remarriage is commonplace.  Homosexuality in the last few years has been a cause celebre, something you are confronted with just about everywhere you turn.

To say something is sexually deviant does not mean that it is not popular in a culture.  If deviance means “different from what is considered to be normal or morally correct” (Webster), a lot of things condemned in scripture are considered normal by people today. The world may not see these departures are deviant, but what the world thinks cannot overthrow the will of God.  God made us and knows how we best function in every area of life.  He also created sex as a blessing for people to enjoy within the boundaries He has set.  We deviate from that standard to our own individual hurt and to our own society’s peril and demise (cf. Prov. 14:34).  Jesus warned that what came out of man’s heart defiles him, defilement that includes evil thoughts, fornication, adultery, coveting, wickedness, and sensuality, among other things (Mark 7:20-23).

No country or even time has a monopoly on sexual deviance. The Bible warns about it in both testaments, with even graphic illustrations of the problem and how God feels about it, but He does so because He knows what’s best for us.  The couple (or individuals in the marriage) who turn to pornography to “spice up” their marriage will suffer for it. Those who tinker with God’s marriage plan in whatever way will see the bitter fruit of it.  What God wants is for us to see what He has laid down for us to follow, strive to follow it, and enjoy the great reward that comes in doing things His way!  We must not deviate into deviance, but will do so to our own hurt! Let’s keep confidence that His way is the only way and it is the best way.