Do You Want A Better Life?

Neal Pollard

Who would answer “no” to that question? Who wants a worse life or a life that never gets better? But the better question is, “How do you get a better life?” Advertisers have so many answers to that, involving their currency or investment tool, their pill, diet, or workout routine, their travel agency or vacation destination, or product for your home, transportation, business, and the like. So many put so much into these promising plans, but still find their life wanting.

In religious matters, there is no room for subjective thought when it comes to what it takes to have a better life. We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. They point to their numeric size, number of programs they have, or how socially active they are. Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, not boasting of our achievements or comparing ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Genesis 4:1-16 points us to the first recorded version where more than one kind of worship was offered to God and how God rated them. But this chapter also paints a picture of two ways of living life.

Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses writes about him in this chapter. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls his works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 John 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). It seems that Genesis four shows us the better ingredients for a better way of living today.

  • Better living isn’t determined by age (1-2). Cain was the firstborn, a place of honor and privilege especially throughout the Old Testament.  But under the New Covenent, there is no spiritual advantage because of birth order. It is not a matter of firstborn, but a matter of being born again (John 3:1-7). Growing older should mean growing wiser, but reaching a milestone on a calendar does not equate to better living.
  • Better living isn’t determined by occupation (2).  Growing up, we might be tempted to see our occupation as the gateway to happiness and satisfaction, financial freedom and security, independence, and privilege.  When we look at Cain and Abel, what they did for a living wasn’t the determiner of the quality of their lives. Some occupations can stand in the way of better living, whether the nature of the job or the quality of the people one works with. Some can let their jobs stand between them and their relationship with God and His church. But, one can do right in unfavorable work circumstances, staying faithful to God.
  • Better living is determined by worship (3-4). That statement may be offensive to our multicultural world that says there are no absolute rights or wrongs. Contrast our culture’s thinking on this matter with what we read in Genesis four. Both Cain and Abel brought an offering to the Lord. God responded to both offerings, but He accepted one while rejecting the other. While many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal, we learn here that not all worship is equal. God “had regard for” Abel’s, but not for Cain’s. It does not say if Cain was sincere. It doesn’t seem to matter. We learn here that the worshipper and the worship offered rise and fall together. God regarded Abel and his offering, but rejected Cain and his offering. Can one offer God vain worship, and have God reject it but accept him? Apparently not.
  • Better living is determined by attitude (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God. He was very angry. His insides burned! His countenance fell. He took on an ugly look. We’re not told how old he was, but it almost sounds like a temper tantrum. Whether home training, lack of discipline, poor stress management, pride, jealousy, or anything else leads us to lose our tempers, all of them are matters only we can control. When we don’t control them, we’re responsible! Ill-tempered people are not living the better life! A positive life doesn’t require prospering, education, or earthly success. But you can’t have a positive attitude without mastering self.
  • Better living is determined by action (8-16). The word “sin” is first used in Genesis 4:7, but God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain was going to do to his brother (cf. 1 John 3:11-15). Bible writers speak of his deeds, offering, and way. These are all action words. After his sin, he is rebuked and punished by God and separated from God. Sin will not deliver what it promises. All actions have consequences (Gal. 6:7-9).

Someone said, “The line of Cain gives us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers, and poetry, but not one who walked with God.  In fact, Cain’s legacy led to a repeat of his violent ways by a descendant (cf. 4:23). Abel leaves no physical lineage, but he leaves a great spiritual heritage (Heb. 11:4). We each get to choose what kind of life we’ll pursue. It matters which way we decide.

cain-and-abel

Accept Jesus As Your Personal Savior

Neal Pollard

The phrase is abused by those in denominations. With it, they suggest that such is the totality of one’s responsibility in order to receive salvation. It is synonymous with the idea of the “faith only” doctrine of Christendom. Yet, it is biblical to the core. Observe.

   “Accept.” Jesus says, “He who rejects Me…has one who judges him” (John 12:48). We accept Jesus when we humbly receive the implanted word (James 1:21). 1 Timothy 1:15 says, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” We must accept Jesus’ will as well as the assertions He makes. The question is, “Have we fully accepted Jesus at the point of our belief in Him?” No! He commands us to repent (Luke 13:3-5) and be baptized (Mark 16:16). Refuse those commands and you have not accepted Jesus. Can we take only part of Him and be whole?

     “Accept Jesus as your…Savior.”  He came to this world for that purpose. Before Jesus’ birth, Joseph was told, “You shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is identified as the Savior throughout the epistles. 2 Timothy 1:5 and Titus 3:5 both say, “He saved us” by His mercy, purpose and grace. Salvation is the common need (Rom. 3:10,23) and there is no other way but Jesus to meet it (Acts 4:12). We cannot stop at accepting who Jesus is, but must further accept what Jesus has done.

“Accept Jesus as your Personal Savior.” The Bible teaches that Jesus’ redemptive work at Calvary was for the whole world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). Yet, will the whole world be saved? No! In fact, most will not be saved (Matt. 7:13-14). Even some religious folks will be lost (Matt. 7:21-23). Therefore, accepting Jesus must be done at the personal level! must act upon the saving knowledge of Jesus. As I will be held personally accountable for my life (2 Cor. 5:10), I cannot blame my parents, children, friends, people at church, people in the world, or even my mate for my disobedience. In my own mind, I must accept what the Bible says about Jesus and do what Jesus says do. Nobody can do that for me (Rom. 10:9).

The baggage surrounding the phrase is most unfortunate. The facts, as presented here,  must be understood. It is not as our religious friends teach, who share that as the totality of our responsibility, and yet it is true that each of us–while we have breath in the body and the hope of heaven–must accept Jesus as our personal Savior!

By The Name of Jesus

 

It’s Not Business; It’s Personal

Neal Pollard

Some years ago, when our sons were all teenagers and they were given a cell phone, there were times when they failed to use those to communicate if they got to their destination or answer when we needed to reach them. While I never did it, I was tempted on more than one occasion to contact the cellular provider and suspend their service. Why? Was it because I thought it was wasted cost? No. It was because it reflected a lack of thoughtfulness and responsibility. It wasn’t business. It was personal.

Hebrews 10:25 is a sobering, New Testament passage. It addresses the Christian’s attitude toward the sacred assemblies of the church. What makes it sober is its contextual attachment to the eternal ramifications of abandoning those assemblies. God speaks of “no more sacrifice for sins,” “severer punishment,” “vengeance,” and “terrifying” (26-31) in connection with sinning willfully, of which forsaking the assemblies is a contextual example. But, why is God so exacting about this matter of our meeting together? In a nutshell, it is because these times, to God, are personal. The Bible is full of references to God’s desire to be worshipped and receive our worship. He is worthy. As Creator, He has the right. But, in this passage, it is personal in the sense that what He commands is so helpful to you and me.

Written on the foundation of the fact that our High Priest, Jesus, has given us access to God (19), the writer urges us to do three things: (1) Draw near (22), (2) Hold fast, and (3) Consider. It’s the third one I want to briefly notice:  “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (24-25).

There should be a personal connection. Notice how the writer reveals this. He says “us” and “our.” He says “one another” twice as well as “together.” Christianity is not a solitary condition. We must see ourselves in connection with the rest of the body. Assembling is about seeing ourselves as a vital piece of a more important whole. Forsaking the assemblies is, for whatever reason, selfish and self-centered. It is done blind to the needs of others.

There should be a personal submission. The command is “consider” followed by two participles that tell us how to obey the command: “not forsaking” and “encouraging” (more on that in a second). So, in a discussion about the whole group, there is a command each must strive to obey. As it is a command, ultimately this is as personal as God and the individual. I fail to consider my role, I fail in my relationship with God.

There should be a personal obligation. Each of us is obligated to stimulate and encourage everyone else. It’s not just those who publicly lead worship or teach class. The reclusive saint who dashes out before services are over has missed this. The clammed up Christian who never reaches out to fellow saints but is closed to others misses this. The discouraging and unloving brother and sister rebels against their duty. I should never be focused on how well others are stimulating and encouraging me. Instead, I should be so lost in my efforts to be a blessing to others that I have no or energy to evaluate how others are doing.

There should be a personal anticipation. This is more than social and emotional. It’s spiritual and eternal. Those other aspects are means to that end, but don’t miss the end. Be a blessing to others at “church services” “as you see the day drawing near” (25). Not Sunday. Keep reading. The Judgment Day. I need to remember that “here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (13:14). One of the best places to stay reminded of that is through our assemblies, as our activities in class and worship and our teaching and preaching keep us anchored to that ultimate reality. This world is not my home!

Christianity is not about the business of going through the motions, even doing right things. No, no! It is personal. May that truth permeate our attitudes toward not just God, but His children.

1024px-business_plate_green-svg

But, They Were Certain!

Neal Pollard

Have you ever been absolutely sure about something, only to find out you were wrong? Maybe, it was the name of the band that sang your favorite song or the name of the third baseman on your favorite team when you were in elementary school. Sometimes, the stakes are higher and being wrong more costly than that.

Erik Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, is about a man and an entire bureau’s certainty that cost probably 6,000 their lives. And because they were so certain that a hurricane could not strike Galveston, Texas, a lot of people made fatal choices based on their own certainty—they were certain of houses that would stand, trains and tracks that would get them to their destinations, and that the slope of the coast would deter tidal waves and storm surges. Yet, in September, 1900, on Saturday and Sunday, probably the worst hurricane in modern history struck the exposed, helpless booming Texas city.

Some have been so certain about spiritual matters, but were wrong. They have been certain about what to bring God to worship (Gen. 4:2-3), about how to be saved from death (2 Kings 5:11-12), and about how to carry out God’s command (1 Sam. 15:13ff).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of some who seemed certain, but were certainly wrong. Depicting the Judgment scene, Jesus preaches, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mat. 7:21-23). These folks will have done religious acts in Jesus’ name. They will haven been certain they were on the right path, but Jesus says they will have been mistaken. They will not have done the will of the Father.

How many people will this ultimately describe? They have confidence in a preacher, a teaching, a tradition, a feeling, or a belief. Sadly, they have not even questioned whether or not it might not be what the Bible says on the matter. Jesus ends His sermon by talking about storms. This storm is more powerful than the one Larson writes about. It determines destiny (Mat. 7:24-27). We must base our certainty on the Rock!

ursuline_academy_galveston
Ursuline Academy in Galveston, Texas, before the hurricane.

Doing It Our Way Instead Of God’s Way

Neal Pollard

I have pondered lately about why there is such a growing tendency to overlook the plainly revealed will and mind of God in favor of what either lacks authority or violates His Word. It would be impossible to be exhaustive, lacking the ability to read the mind, judge the motives, and know the heart. However, in a general way, here are a few observations.

  • Feelings have taken priority over reason. Personal preference and one’s inner voice becomes the guiding star for one’s behavior and concepts, and truth gets dethroned. Hearts are hardened against revealed truth and decisions are made based on personal sentiment. In an attempt to avoid hurting feelings, escape ostracism, preserve an image with the world, and have its good will, individuals become their own judges, juries, and pardoners.
  • We have witnessed people of influence “get away with it.” For years, our national heroes and leaders, athletes, politicians, and celebrities, have “gotten away with it” (see both presidential candidates). If society’s elite and influential can do wrong and get away with it, why shouldn’t everyone else?
  • God does not practice instant retribution in the Christian Age. God does not execute immediate punishment upon the wicked or wrongdoer today. “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness…” (Acts 17:31). The fact that some do not get “caught” in sin in this life does not mean God won’t exact justice upon the impenitent ultimately, but because He does not immediately execute sentence against an evil work we can conclude He will not at all (cf. Ecc. 8:11).
  • Man has developed an insatiable hunger for instant gratification. Pleasure and passion, for many, have become stronger determining influences than eternity and judgment. When the flesh is in control, spiritual things are crowded out of the mind. Jesus says that one can only submit to one master, never two (Mat. 6:24). Flesh and spirit are warring parties (Rom. 8:4-8). Gratifying the flesh can kill concern over the consequence of misdeeds.

We cannot do it alone, without God. The fact is, we must totally surrender to Him. His guidance must be embraced. His will must rule. His strength must be accepted. Truly making Him Lord means making His Word the governing influence of our hearts and lives. Such a humble, honest, and heartfelt submission will help us defeat a mindset set on minding our thoughts and ways over His (see Isa. 55:8-9).

Grandpas' Bibles
My grandpas’ Bibles (Mom’s Dad’s on the left, Dad’s Dad’s on the right). 

 

 

 

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

Good Deeds

Neal Pollard

Good deeds don’t make the nightly news.  When a person serves or is nice to others, it rarely goes beyond the circle of occurrence.  That’s OK, because Jesus urges us, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before me, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mat. 6:1).

That probably wasn’t a problem for Titus, since the Cretans weren’t renowned for doing good deeds. In fact, a Cretan prophet said of his fellow-citizens, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Ti. 1:12). How would you like to live in a neighborhood or work on your job with such charming people as that? Paul calls them lying, wild, evil animals and slaves to their stomachs.

So, Paul spends some significant time in his letter talking about good deeds. There were some on Crete, particularly Jews, who by their deeds denied God and were “worthless for any good deed” (1:16). Thus, he urges Titus to show himself a pattern of good deeds (2:7). These deeds were not to earn salvation (3:5), but instead to please God. Notice how Paul emphasizes deeds in this letter.

  • Good Deeds Show The Right Example (2:7). I heard about a pair of identical twins.  One was a preacher and the other was a doctor. It was impossible to tell the two apart. A woman approached one of them and asked, “Are you the one that preaches?” He said, “No, ma’am. I’m the one who practices.” Paul tells Titus to show himself a pattern of good deeds in three areas: (1) Through sound teaching, (2) Through a serious life, and (3) Through his speech.
  • Good Deeds Show Where Our Passions Lie (2:14). Christ wants us zealous for good deeds. Wrongly directed zeal is destructive.  The Jewish zealots of the first-century helped bring about the demise of Jerusalem. But, a zealot with the right cause and conduct is powerful!  If we appreciate that we’ve been redeemed from every lawless deed (13), we’ll be zealous for good deeds. It should be natural for us, when saved from our sins, to be passionate about it to the point that our lives boil over with gratitude! That shows up in good deeds.
  • Good Deeds Show Our Faith In God (3:8). Paul urges Titus to share with all believers the need to be ready for every good deed (3:1). What will motivate us to do these good deeds? God’s mercy (3:5)! What will this motivate us to do? Share the good news (3:7-8). The world walks by sight and not by faith. Our challenge is to rise above that disbelief and show by our deeds our faith in the God who saved us from our sins! Our challenge is also to rise above the strife and division of those who profess to believe but whose lives yield evil deeds (3:9-11).  Doing good is broad and takes in the whole will of God for us, being all He wants us to be in marriage, parenting, the church, our neighborhood, the workplace, the nation, and in our relationships (cf. Titus 2). What will our good behavior in all these relationships tell others? Simply, that God is the guide of our lives and we put our trust in Him.
  • Good Deeds Meet Pressing Needs (3:14). Paul ends the letter by mentioning four Christians by name. The last two, Zenas and Apollos, would need financial help. Paul’s encouragement in Titus 3:14 seems directly related to this need. Whether it’s supporting missionaries or weekly giving, we are God’s hands on earth to help the needy when we give.

The old adage is true.  “Actions speak louder than words.” Paul writes of some who profess to know God, but in works deny Him. What a reminder that the Lord will not say, “Well said,” but “well done!”  Dorcas was a woman “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). The woman with the Alabaster box did what she could (Mark 14:8).  What about us? What will be said about our deeds?

“NO MATTER WHAT” OBEDIENCE

(video by Wes Autrey)

Neal Pollard

I cannot imagine anyone present yesterday morning to witness Janice Lee baptized into Christ could have failed to be touched at a very deep level.  J.J. and Lila Brennan had been studying the Bible with Janice, and she came to the conclusion that she needed to be baptized for the forgiveness of her sins.  So, she came to the front after my sermon and made that desire known.

She was in a wheelchair because she suffers left side paralysis as the result of a stroke.  She is also on oxygen.  Several ladies and a few of us men took special measures to help her into the baptistery.  She could walk, slowly, gingerly, and with much difficulty.  The ladies helped her up the stairs, while we stood in the water to receive her and help her the rest of the way.  Each step was tenuous and required the utmost effort on her part. Once she was finally in the baptistery, we carefully lowered her under the water and brought her back up.  Very quickly, her deeply felt emotions gently bubbled to the surface.  She softly cried, recalling difficult things from her past, and she said, “I forgive those who’ve sinned against me.”  The joy and peace on her face is something impossible to adequately describe.

What did this new sister in Christ demonstrate yesterday?  Resolve!  Afterward, I found out not only that she had to deal with the consequences of the stroke, but she is afraid of water.  Yet, she saw the need of her soul as preeminent over any obstacle she might have cited.  The constant need of oxygen, the paralysis, and the phobia were outweighed by the Lord’s command.  Her faith was so strong that they were not insurmountable barriers.  She refused to let them be!

The difference at the Judgment, in part, will be that some will offer excuses for why they did not obey the Lord while others, through genuine, trusting faith, will not need to make excuse.  They will stand before Christ, who will see His blood covering their transgressions.  What does it take to go to heaven? A “no matter what” obedience!

V__7BB1(Photo taken by Kathy Pollard)

GOD HATES SHORTS!



Neal Pollard

 You may be thinking that the title is presumptuous, opinionated, and even out of line.  Let me disclaim what follows by asserting that God does not hate all shorts.  He does, however, hate the following types of shorts.

But not these. 🙂



GOD HATES SHORTCUTS.  At least, He hates humanly devised shortcuts for which He has given no authorization.  Man has devised shortcuts to salvation that cut out divine commands.  He has made shortcuts in ethics and morality to justify and rationalize behavior God condemns.  We should examine such “shortcuts” carefully to make sure they are not detours off of the narrow way.

GOD HATES SHORTCHANGES.  In Malachi 3:8-10, God condemns His people for “robbing Him” in their giving.  They did not give with appropriate gratitude and generosity.  Those who fail to put Him first (cf. Matt. 6:33) are shortchanging God of the time, talents, resources, and service He deserves.  

GOD HATES SHORTSIGHTEDNESS.  When we make decisions based on instant gratification or immediate benefits without giving thought to longterm implications, we often make a mess of our lives.  This is true of church plans, the person we choose to marry, unbiblical changes to the church and teaching to attract the unchurched, and the like.  Certainly, one can be too deliberate and methodical to the point of lethargy and apathy.  Yet, neither is it proper to leap before adequately looking.

GOD HATES SHORTCOMINGS.  God’s hatred for sin is so great that He sent Christ to the cross as payment for it.  Sin is falling short of God’s mark.  The sobering thing is that all of us come short of God’s glory as the result of our sin (Rom. 3:23).  The great news is that while God hates shortcomings, He deeply loves shortcomers.  That’s also why He sent Jesus to die for us.

God hates these shorts, but He has provided an alternative regarding all of them.  By full and trusting obedience, we avoid shortcuts.  By recognizing our debt and feeling heartfelt gratitude to God for paying it, we avoid shortchanging Him.  By growing in wisdom and Christlikeness, we avoid shortsightedness.  By walking in the light as children of God, we avoid the eternal ramifications of our shortcomings.  That’s because God loves us!