SEARCHING FOR THAT SLIPPERY SERENITY

Neal Pollard

It was painful to watch my Georgia Bulldogs pulverized by the Auburn Tigers (my fellow Bronco fans can easily relate this year). Yet, later that Saturday evening, I found myself smiling and even cheering for a familiar face who was calmly embracing a signature win against college football’s number three team, Notre Dame. Level-headed. Even-keel. Happy. None of those words quite captured the way I wanted to describe Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt (former general of my beloved Dawgs). It was Dan Walken (USA Today, 11/13/17, 1C,6C) who found the one I was searching my mind for: “serene.” He is peaceful, placid, poised, and phlegmatic. But, as Walken points out, it’s not because the Hurricanes have ascended to number two in the Coaches and Press polls. He has been that all along, even the day he was fired at Georgia (his .740 winning percentage, 145-51, is the highest in college history for any coach ever to be fired). He was criticized for not being able to win the big game—which he still hasn’t. Second to that, the fan base was agitated that he was too concerned about his off-season mission work. There’s such an interesting story about how Richt came to faith, and how deeply his faith drives his life. Walken’s article mentions nothing of that, but few people who know about Richt fail to know how profoundly religion effects his life. It is, unquestionably, what drives his come-what-may serenity.

What characteristic best describes me? I know several I’d like for it to be, but, ultimately, I don’t get to describe myself. The people who know me or know about me get to do that. While the word “serene” is not found in most English translations, it is a biblical concept. 91 times, the New Testament uses a word (εἰρήνη—eirene) that is usually translated “peace.” Luke 11:21 has “undisturbed” (NASB). It can describe harmony between governments or in personal relationships, but it also describes a state of well-being within. In fact, that’s usually the way New Testament writers use it. Jesus says He offers a peace superior to what the world can give (John 14:27). A mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom. 8:6). The God of hope can fill you with peace in believing (Rom. 15:13). This peace passes all comprehension and guards your heart and mind (Phil. 4:7). It can rule your heart (Col. 3:15). It can be yours in every circumstance (2 Thes. 3:16). Repeatedly, Scripture promises peace to the disciple of Christ.

But our world continually scrambles to find it, much less maintain it. It seeks to achieve peace through alcohol and drugs, firearms, money and things, achievement and success, and other earthly things to plug that void. If at our core we do not fill ourselves with the peace of God, we will find ourselves futilely searching and never finding tranquility and undisturbed calm. Richt was able to smile and be joyful at the press conference that centered around his dismissal. You and I can embrace joy and steadiness in the darkest, most painful, moments of life. We never want false hope or empty peace. But a life directed and submissive to the pure, unadulterated Word and will of God leads to unshakable peace. No matter what comes our way!

Would people say I am serene? What about you?

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A Tangled Mess!

Neal Pollard

Late in 2010, Jason Good was surveying timber in Meigs County, Ohio, when he came upon a bizarre sight. Three huge whitetail deer were dead, floating in a creek with their antlers locked. It was an 11-pointer, a 10-pointer, and an 8-pointer. The landowner, Brien Burke, figured that two of them were fighting when the third came in on the opposite side. Then all three were so tightly locked together that they could not pull loose (Field & Stream, Steven Hill, 12/5/10, online ed.). How sad that three beautiful, majestic creatures got themselves tangled up so much in a fight that they fell into a creek and drowned. Fighting brought these deer to a tragic end.

The same thing can happen in our human relationships. James writes, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:13-18).

Wise, understanding people prove such through gentle wisdom. The opposite have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in their hearts. James says that where this is, there is disorder and every evil thing. How often do we forfeit peace and gentleness due to a large dose of selfish ambition? We tangle with others and hurt them and often hurt ourselves. At its worst, we can inflict spiritual death. When that happens, we are in just as much trouble. What we need in our relationships with others is the wisdom from above, described in James 3:17. But we must sow peace to reap the fruit of it. Let’s be at peace with men and God!

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What To Do When Faced With A Sinking Ship

Neal Pollard

The ship is breaking apart. The timbers of civility. Crack! The planks of morality. Splinter!  The mast of critical thinking. Pop! As we hope to stay afloat, we cannot help but feel growing apprehension over the current state of our society. It’s not a matter of preserving or plastering over a past. It’s a matter of preserving peace in the present, but only if that means God’s people are serious about sharing the only possible remedy–Jesus! Yet, as it increasingly seems our country is ratcheted by prejudice, hatred, division, and rancor, we see the tranquility and calm from so many quarters threatened with the dark storms of violence and uncertainty.

In Acts 27, Paul was with 275 other passengers on a boat bound for Rome from Caesarea, and its captain decided to test the Mediterranean Sea at a turbulent time. A violent storm, known as Euraquilo, caught the ship and ultimately battered it to pieces. It must have been an apprehensive time for the passengers and crew. Luke says the wind was violent, the ship was driven, the sun and moon didn’t appear for days, violently storm-tossed, they incurred damage and loss, and that all hope of their being saved was gradually abandoned. I cannot imagine the helpless, vulnerable feeling they must have felt. At least not literally.

It would be easy to let our national unrest and storminess tempt us to act irrationally (like some on Paul’s ship were tempted) or to give in to fear. But, Paul did five things we should do as we try to respond to the current turbulence.

  • He listened to God (Acts 27:23-24). Nobody else had a better or equal solution to their dire problem. The only way to be saved was to listen to God. Paul sought to persuade the people of this. In the ruckus and tumultuous noise, listen harder to God’s Word! It’s an anchor in stormy waters.
  • He believed God’s Word (Acts 27:25). It’s one thing to comprehend something, but quite another to put your trust in it. What God promised must have seemed quite far-fetched, that this way would save everyone. But, Paul didn’t waver. He said, “I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (25). We are surrounded by people who need to witness our faith. As many as are persuaded will escape a shipwreck of faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19).
  • He encouraged hope (Acts 27:21-26). Despite the foolishness of their leaders, these people were given a message of hope. Paul says, “Keep up your courage!” (22,25). Despite the frightfulness of the moment, Paul offered a possible escape. Right now, you and I are uniquely positioned to give the only true hope available. It’s like an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19)!
  • He warned the disobedient (Acts 27:31-32). There were those trying to break from God’s Word and will and do things another way. They were trying to take matters into their own hands. Paul spoke up against this! Such was defiance against the divine plan. What a message for us, who justify their sins rather than repent of them. We need to keep the message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come before people (Acts 24:25).
  • He prayed faithfully (Acts 27:35). In this ordeal, Paul was a public example of prayer. Read every epistle of Paul’s and you’ll see his faithfulness in and dependency upon prayer. He appealed to the God he knew was the only hope for salvation. How much are we praying about the turmoil in our country (and world)? How much do those around us believe that we are dependent upon God?

Instead of focusing on the frightful winds currently blowing, let’s focus on the One who can calm the storm. Let’s get others to join us in that focus. Whatever happens to our nation, we must save as many souls as possible!

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Not All Peace Is The Same!

Neal Pollard

“Peace” is a geopolitical term associated with such terms as talks, treaties, accords, and the like. It’s the political antithesis of war. Of course, the term is co-opted by a wide variety of people in society, but so often peace is a misunderstood concept.  Or, people turn to the wrong source for peace.

The primary New Testament word for peace means “a set of favorable circumstances involving tranquility” or “to be without trouble, to have no worries, or to sit down in one’s heart” (Louw-Nida). BDAG defines it as harmony in relationships, a state of concord, and state of well-being. But, what is sometimes asserted as peace is not necessarily peace as God defines it.

There is false peace (1 Th. 5:3).  Paul addresses the words of those characterized as “in darkness” (4-6), lacking sobriety (7-9), as offerers of peace and safety in the face of destruction. These people are not after the right kind of peace and Paul implies they are “destined for wrath” and condemnation (9).  People who want peace on their own terms, living sinful lifestyles in rebellion against the will of God, advocate false peace. Whether or not they achieve some measure of that in this life, they are not destined to enjoy it eternally.

There is forged peace (1 Th. 5:13). Paul teaches that peace and harmony between people is something that must be worked toward. He tells the Christians to “live in peace with one another,” and then he proceeds to tell them how this is done. It includes submitting to the church’s leadership (12-13), and it calls for church leadership to give the church family whatever is needed from admonition to encouragement (14) and to lead the congregation to pursue peace and follow their example (cf. 15-22).  The kind of harmony and unity God wants is not accidental or incidental. It is the product of diligence and determination.

There is the Father’s peace (1 Th. 5:23).  Paul begins both epistles to the Thessalonians by tying together true peace and the Heavenly Father. Here he writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God’s peace is comprehensive, complete, and conquering. It strengthens one now and saves one at Christ’s second coming. Contrast this peace with the peace offers. Jesus does. He tells His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).

Right now, people have a growing desire for peace. There are turning in many directions for it. Ultimately, it won’t be found in the White House, the military, on Wall Street, or from within our own resources apart from the Father. Let us strive to forge peace between ourselves as His people, and model and offer it to a lost world desperately desiring it.

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