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.

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REDEMPTION AND PEARL HARBOR

Neal Pollard
Al Capone’s lawyer was nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was a slick, successful lawyer whose smooth, professional skills continually kept Capone from being imprisoned for his organized crime activities. For his skill, Easy Eddie was paid lavishly and protected like royalty. He lived the high life. He was likely a co-participant in illicit activity himself. Whatever his motivation, Eddie went to the authorities in 1931 and came clean about Scarface Capone, testifying against the mob. That decision most likely led to his losing his life, being gunned down on the streets of Chicago eight years after testifying against his former boss.

Eddie, also known as EJ, had a son. That son went to the Naval academy, graduated, and due to the attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was dispatched from the U.S. Naval Training Center in San Diego, CA, on December 8, 1941, to join the fight in the Pacific Theatre. Butch O’Hare would go on to win the Medal of Honor and be killed in action, the victim of friendly fire, about two years later. Chicago’s main airport, O’Hare International, is named for Easy Eddie’s son. The O’Hare name no longer was inextricably linked to crime, but to valor instead.

While some have worked hard to build the case that Easy Eddie had a change of heart (among them, Frank J. Wilson, the Treasury Department investigator who called Eddie one of his best undercover men in bringing Capone down on tax evasion), it matters little concerning the moral of the story. It was Butch’s valor and patriotic service that redeemed the family name and led the “second city” to rename its airport “O’Hare.” Butch overcame the dubious shadow cast by his father’s activities to restore honor to his surname. Yet, it was the surprise attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, and the loss of 2,350 lives at Pearl Harbor mobilized Butch and so many others just like him.

Likewise, it was Jesus’ appearance as a man and vicarious death on the cross that redeemed mankind. As all are sinners (Rom. 3:23; 5:12), all needed the efforts made by Jesus to give us the opportunity to overcome the ignominy of our past. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son through the seed of woman to redeem us all (Gal. 4:4-5). His Son, though fully human (cf. Phil. 2:7-8), was unlike the rest of humanity in that He never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21). And when we take His name, the name of Christ, we can overcome whatever dark shadows hung over our past.

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Eddie and Butch

Why We Are Here

Neal Pollard

It’s so easy to lose sight of our purpose. Even as Christians, our identity can become the things that are associated with this earth and this life. We can move along the road of life, unmindful of why we’re hear and what we’re to be doing with our time. Since at least my college days, I have asked God, “Help me make the most of my opportunities to Your glory.” He has opened doors I did not even know existed. These have not happened because of who I am, but all of it has happened because of who He is. That doesn’t mean that any of us can sit back passively until God makes things happen, but it is an exciting thing to try and order your life in such a way that He can use you for His purposes in the brief time we have on this earth.

The longer we live, the more we see our utter dependency upon Him and understand that “it is God who causes growth” (Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). The Bible is His Word revealing His will, and we serve at His pleasure for His glory (Phil. 2:13). We can never forget that as long as we live in this life. None of us is indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, for the brief period of time we’re here, we are a tool in God’s hand (cf. Rom. 6:12-13). We should work hard and prepare ourselves for service, but it’s exciting to watch God open doors and make things happen!

Life has its difficult moments, dark days, trials, temptations, and disappointments. But no life can compare to the Christian life. With all the temptation to be distracted by issues that will ultimately not matter to the dead and those in eternity, let us reflect daily on why God has us here.

If you would make for self a name, to seek for glory or for fame,
At life’s quick end, you’ll know the shame of serving self, not God.

If you make pleasing men your aim, and fawn and fumble for their acclaim,
When life is done, an empty same, of serving self, not God.

But if for Him you will proclaim, and let His glory be your flame,
At life’s great end He will exclaim, “Come home, O servant of God!”

—NP

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PEWAUKEE’S DRESS CODE

Neal Pollard

Pewaukee is a small city in southeast Wisconsin, home to a high school whose most famous alumni is probably Houston Texan NFL superstar J.J. Watt. But the high school is not in the news due to the recent philanthropic gesture of Watt in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but for another decision that resulted in a media tidal wave against the Waukesha County school district. Specifically, reaction is against a school policy “requiring all ‘dress-wearing’ students and guests to send photos of their attire before they can buy tickets to the Pewaukee High School homecoming dance next month” (Annysa Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/15/17). Though the policy actually was enacted in 2015, the email reminder to families  last week created a backlash from some students and parents. One mother complained, “The girls are essentially being held responsible for the wayward thoughts (administrators) think boys have” (ibid.).  There are policies aimed at boys, too, but the school superintendent “said it was girls who forced the district to impose the pre-dance check by pushing the boundaries of appropriate attire at school formals” (ibid.).  While some parents seem upset that the school district is not trusting their judgment, others seem not to want to be told what to do or to have arbitrary boundaries set.

Pewaukee High School has boundaries about clothing. Dads and moms, have you taken the time to consider what that is for yourselves and for your children? When Paul speaks to women about clothing and uses such words as “proper,” “modestly,” and “discreetly” (1 Tim. 2:9), have you thought about what that will mean within your family? We have such a golden opportunity as stewards of influence, godliness, purity, and modesty. The world benefits from distinctive Christian living that reflects itself in a variety of ways, including modesty. “Dress code” is a phrase often used in a pejorative, contemptible way, but all of us have one. May ours reveal a thoughtful premeditation toward reflecting the glory of our wonderful Redeemer.

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WE ARE RACING UP A MOUNTAIN

Neal Pollard
Ueli Steck was the world’s greatest free-soloist climbing. He was routinely snatching up new records in the part of the sport of mountain climbing that is most dangerous. It was not unusual for him to attempt dangerous routes without ropes and other safety gear. The Swiss alpinist was, as you would imagine, about as fit as a human being can be, and he attempted what most cannot (and would not). He was described by friends and fellow competitors as focused, deliberate, and thoughtful. He did not climb for the beauty of the nature around him–which he often only briefly glimpsed. No, he was a mountain marathoner. Speed climbing, as it is considered, was something Steck wanted to apply to higher mountains in the Himalayas–the final frontier for mountain climbers. He did, setting several records in the loftiest part of the world. The 2015 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year died earlier this year doing a climb on one of the western routes up Mount Everest, without supplemental oxygen, falling 1,000 meters during an early morning climb.

While you and I would not consider ourselves world class athletes, we are in a race (cf. 1 Cor. 9:26; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7). How often does it seem not only like a steep race course, but a perilous one, too? Many times, it will seem tempting to simply give up the trek toward heaven. What it takes for us to succeed comes right out of Steck’s “playbook”–focus, deliberation, and thoughtfulness. It is easy to forget why we are climbing. Or, we fail to properly plan or execute our plans. Or, maybe we just do not think about what the purpose of our rapid climb up this mountain is. We are not climbing for earthly recognition or monetary reward. Of course, we are not going solo, either. We have each other for support. Even when we feel alone in our meteoric ascent, we will safely and triumphantly summit as we rely on our Savior! God has given us the tools, resources, and make up to endure exceedingly difficult and complicated turns in the course upon which we find ourselves. Time is going by so quickly, but the way does not get less steep or challenging. Let us keep our resolve to race up the mountain until we get there and not put ourselves into a position to fall! We can, like others before us (Heb. 12:1), succeed!

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Photo of the late Euli Steak

The Eye Of The Beholder

Neal Pollard

The theme of our recently completed lectureship was, “Every Man Did What Was Right In His Own Eyes.” This seems to be the summary statement of this entire period of Bible history. It is interesting that this idea shows up more than in just the two verses where the statement appears (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Samson wanted the woman of Timnah because “she looked good to” him (Judges 14:3,7; literally, “she was right in his eyes”). In reality, she was a loose, treacherous, and idolatrous woman, but she seemed right to him. In that dark story about the Levite man, the elderly Ephraimite man, the Levite’s concubine and the Ephraimite’s virgin daughter, the old man, seeking to placate the wicked Benjamites, offered the women to them “to do with them whatever” they wished (Judges 19:24; literally, “the good in your eyes”). Obviously, what was right in these men’s eyes was reprehensible and vile. It is one of the most extreme examples of wickedness recorded in the Bible.

Elsewhere, the Bible says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15a), and “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2a). We often think things seem right when they are far from it (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25; 18:17).  After talking about those who mix up right and wrong and good and evil, Isaiah tells us why they do this. He warns that they “are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21).

In the world, the church, and our own lives, we are tempted to do what is right in our own eyes. We justify habits, relationships, desires, religious practices, lifestyles, and choices about which God warns in His Word by ignoring that and rationalizing, rewording, and reframing them. We use emotional arguments. We twist Scripture. In the end, when we do these things, we reject God’s authority and seek to become the standard ourselves. The book of Judges was written, in part, to show us what happens when we do it and how God feels when we do it.  The well-worn phrase goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That may be. But right and wrong is not such as is in the eye of the beholder. That is determined by the One who possesses “the all-seeing eye” (Proverbs 15:3).

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My Social Media Pledge

Neal Pollard

  • I will try to use social media to encourage and edify others (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 14:26b).
  • I will avoid the shocking, inflammatory, and divisive tactics increasingly characteristic of S.M. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; Prov. 12:18; Prov. 15:2,4; etc.).
  • I will ask, “Would I say this in the way I am saying this?,” if face to face with this person or this group of people (Prov. 23:7).
  • I will not use Social Media to pick fights or put people on the defensive (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1ff).
  • I will not be Nellie Nitpicker and Contrary Charlie. About. Every. Single. Little. Thing.
  • I will respect that my connections have connections that are not Christians and I want to be sure to say what I say in accordance with Ephesians 4:15 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
  • I will sever connections with individuals who consistently display a lack of self-control with their words and attitudes. Souls are too precious.
  • I will abhor the thought of doing what would put Christ to an open shame (cf. Heb. 10:29).
  • I will double-check myself to avoid bragging and self-promotion (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
  • I will conquer the desire to have the last word, pile on, or fight fire with fire (Mat. 5:39-42).
  • I will not let the false teaching, bad attitude, or meanness of another be my rationale for behaving in a way that brings Christ shame or jeopardizes my own soul (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
  • I will always be trying to set the table for productive evangelism or retrieving the wayward (Jas. 5:19-20; Col. 4:6).
  • I will always try to portray the doctrinal, moral, and ethical values of my Lord, thus avoiding reflecting and glorifying whatever values conflict with His (Mat. 5:14-16).
  • I will try to promote, not pummel, the bride of Jesus, appreciate, not attack, the elders, and unite, not untie, wherever possible.
  • I will shun passive aggression in myself first, but also in others.
  • I will deal with dirty laundry in its appropriate way, which is not on Social Media.
  • I will actively try to show grace to everyone, including cantankerous curmudgeons.
  • I will, foremost, realize my own imperfections and try every day I use Social Media to do so in the way Jesus would, if He had Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, a blog, LinkedIn, etc. In a way, through you and me, He does. I will let that sink in!

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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

 

EVERY NAME IMPORTANT

Neal Pollard

Today marks 16 years since the most infamous and iconic attack rocked our collective consciousness. Each year, there is a solemn ceremony conceived in such wisdom and executed with a poignancy that never abates. That is the reading of the names of those who died in the 911 Attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The soft music playing behind the readers accents the mood, punctuated by every reader mentioning the name of a family member they lost that fateful day. September 11th resonates with us so deeply because it was an attack on our country, but also because of the death of each and every individual who perished that day. Behind each name are family members, memories, joy and sorrow. Each person, in such a dramatic, untimely way, was taken from time into eternity. God loved and loves each one with an infinite, eternal love and wanted each one to be saved. Christ gave His life to provide salvation for each one. The Bible was written for the benefit of each one. The Lord’s church was meant to pursue and teach each one.

Though each individual is numbered among such a large group, around 3,000 of them, each one means more than the whole world (Mat. 16:26). This touching memorial is a tribute to the overall value of human life. It reminds us that we are surrounded by individuals all possessing an eternal soul.  Everyone you see today is heading toward eternity. Each one will either hear “well done” or “depart from me” (cf. Mat. 25:31ff). What is said about God’s attitude toward those victims specially remembered today is true of every person we meet and see today.

May we have our hearts stirred by the sobriety of that truth. May we never lose sight of our urgent responsibility to share the message of Christ with the people in our lives. As moving as the ceremony that occurs each year in New York City on September 11th, we really cannot imagine what the Day of Judgment will be like. Each person who ever lived, including you and me, will hear our name called (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). As important as our own name is, every name is important. Let us pray that this realization will propel us to tell the best news of human history and help someone find the only way, truth, and life.

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Having Real Wasabi

Jackson Davidson

Who here likes wasabi?  Who here even knows what wasabi is?  It’s a spicy, green plant used in or with many Japanese foods like sushi, and chances are,  you’ve never had the real thing.  Only thirteen percent of wasabi is the real thing.  Most is just horseradish colored green.  And the reason that most is fake is that there just isn’t enough to go around.   Wasabi is one of the hardest foods to cultivate. One plant takes fifteen months to grow.  If there is too little sunlight, the plant won’t grow.  Too much, and the plant withers and dies. Aso, the pure spring water that flows through the plants has to be 13-18 degrees Celsius.

In many ways, this is like denominations.  Many churches claim to be the right church and make it look quite convincing.  Others try to be right, often times trading out the truth for opinion.  Matthew 24:24 says,  “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive”

We should also consider Psalms 18:30,  which says “as for God, His way is perfect, the Lord’s word is flawless, He shields all who take refuge in Him.”

We have to be careful to make sure we as the church are teaching the truth, God’s perfect way, and are Wasabi in its pure form, and not Wasabi that is just green horseradish.

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