The Religious Freedom Rally For Jack Phillips

Neal Pollard

It was my privilege to be in attendance at the “Religious Freedom Rally for Jack Phillips,” held on the campus of Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. If you do not know, Jack Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop, a business he opened and has operated since 1993. Because he refused to decorate a cake for a same sex couple, Phillips was sued. His case has gone through the various court systems and will be heard before the United States Supreme Court on December 5, 2017.

While the Event Center where it was held was not packed and overflowing, there were hundreds present. I met and walked in with a young man and woman from Sweden, who came to the United States primarily to cover this event for a Christian Magazine in their country. The rally’s speakers included the head of Catholic Charities, the managing director of Jewish values, a state senator, a congressman, part of Phillips’ legal team, university officials, Barronelle Stutzman (the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, who was sued by Robert Ingersoll because she refused, out of conscience, to make a floral arrangement for the same-sex wedding of Ingersoll and Curt Freed), and others.  There were many poignant moments and memorable quotes. A team member from the Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Phillips, said, “America did not give us freedom of religion. Freedom of religion gave us America.” Mrs. Stutzman still does not know if her case will be heard by the SCOTUS, and she stands to lose everything financially. Yet, she was gentle, meek, and soft-spoken, though obviously full of conviction. The tone was cordial and respectful, from every speaker to everyone in attendance. The rabbi, Yaakov Menken, said, after talking about ancient, longstanding forms of “political correctness,” that “what is new and profoundly disturbing is the use of civil rights to trample civil rights.” Last of all, Jack himself spoke. It was understated, almost matter-of-fact. He spoke eloquently and simply about the importance of our being able to act in accordance with consciences shaped by Scripture. Everyone spoke of the importance of believing and behaving in accordance with convictions that are dear because they are true.

Today was a stark reminder of the reality of forces who are actively assaulting faith in God and His Word. These are willing to do whatever they can to prevent us from doing what God has commanded us to do—share the pure, unaltered will of the One who gave us life and saved us from our sins. They are not bound by biblical ethics, so they will deceive, distort, manipulate, bully, attack, suppress, and fight divine truth. We are bound by a higher law, but truth, kindness, mercy, and love, as taught by God, will prevail. If not now, if not under our government and institutions, then undeniably at the very end of all things. Don’t lose heart. Whatever else you may lose at the hands of those described by Jesus in Matthew 5:44ff, some things cannot be taken away from us! Hold onto to those things.

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Religious Freedom Rally For Jack Phillips

Why Is The World Asking “Why?”

Neal Pollard

Today, everyone is hurting. Whether because of gun or knife violence or vehicular homicide, groups of people in our nation and other parts of the world are being torn from time and prematurely vaulted into eternity. We weep and mourn for the loss. We consider the enormous grief and heartache multiplied many families face from California to Florida, Connecticut to Texas, Colorado to Tennessee, Virginia to Nevada (and many other places).  Those whose voices we hear the most through all of this, like the national and local media, seem fixated on learning the perpetrator’s motive each time it occurs. Experts and analysts look at religious ideology or mental health issues. It seems as if they believe that if they can determine the motive, that will solve the violent epidemic that has disturbed the peace of so many people in our society. The danger of oversimplifying any specific tragedy notwithstanding, there are some right answers the world will have a difficult time embracing but that get us so much closer to resolving this plaguing problem. Why are these horrific crimes occurring?

  • The world has rejected God. Romans 1:28 says, “ And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper….” “Not proper” seems benign to us in the way we use the phrase in English (bad table manners, having your shirt untucked, etc.). Kittel says, “Paul has in mind what is offensive even to natural human judgment. The decision against God leads to a complete loss of moral sensitivity, the unleashing of unnatural vices, and hence the type of conduct that even healthy pagans regard as improper” (386). Paul tells us this improper conduct includes “all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife” and other things we see in these current tragedies (29, cf. 30-31). Read the context to appreciate the rotten fruit of such thinking.
  • The world has redefined sin. A worldview or value system is built bit by bit, choice by choice. Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). If we devalue human life through sinful practices like abortion or euthanasia, we plant destructive seed. If we glorify violence or imbibe in sins like pornography that objectify human beings, we plant desensitizing seed. Long ago, Isaiah warned, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (5:20). Such leads to weeds which choke out spiritual fruit.
  • The world has rebelled against biblical counsel. The absolute truth of Scripture is lost in the shuffle of worldly values. Jesus says, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31). He says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mat. 5:44). Paul echoes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). He also writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). The Bible urges us to be kind, unselfish, compassionate, and helpful through precepts and examples. The world has ignored the ethics of Scripture in preference of humanistic philosophy.
  • The world has replaced God with self as lord. What is the ultimate consequence of denying God the place that rightfully belongs only to Him? Isaiah referred to a worldly nation, saying, “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts” (65:2). Repeatedly, Scripture decries the folly of crowning ourselves king and dethroning God (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12; 16:25).  When a society writes its own rules or tries to live life on its own terms, it charts a path for heartache and disaster. How concisely Solomon says this, that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace (shame, reproach) to any people” (Prov. 14:34). When whatever a person says, wants, or believes is what goes, ultimately nothing is out of bounds for him or her.

Brethren, in this frightening, dark, and uncertain atmosphere, a world which “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), we must share what we know! John says, “We know that we are of God…and we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (5:19a, 20). We have security, confidence, understanding, and hope, all because of God and His Son. Take courage and share that with everyone you can! It’s the only hope the world has!

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Audience Analysis

Neal Pollard

People, in talking about public speaking, will sometimes speak of “audience analysis.” What they mean is that you need to know your audience or you run the risk of being irrelevant, disconnected, and even possibly offensive. You may assume too much of them or sell them way short. Neither extreme is effective.

A wonderful sign for any congregation is the presence of especially non-Christian visitors, especially those from our community. Hopefully, we are doing something right when these visitors make repeat visits to our assemblies. However, too often, I fear that we have not done sufficient “worship neighbor analysis” or, equally, “Bible class neighbor” analysis. I recently was in a class when a teacher made a remark about how poorly a specific religious group scored on a Bible comprehension quiz. The remark itself was poignant and effective, but the cackling laughter from a few near the front of the class was easily heard throughout the classroom. I’m sure it was heard by two students sitting near them whose background is in that religious group. One is a brand new Christian and the other is a non-Christian visiting with him. Not only was the members’ reaction unnecessary, it displayed a lack of awareness of who else was present.

At times, we select songs from a century when “thees” and “thous” were commonplace and whose vocabulary was drastically different from how we speak today (“guerdon,” “cassia,” “pinion,” “dross,” and “hoary”). Even songs I have long been fond of read in ways that seem almost foreign to us today. Preparation for worship leadership should include a cognizance of how new Christians, young people, non-Christians, and the like will process or even if they can process such.

Specifically biblical or theological terms which we know people like our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates do not understand should not be uttered undefined. Making assumptions in an age marked by a growing lack of biblical literacy can undermine our effectiveness. It can make the most relevant message of all seem irrelevant and incomprehensible.

Of course, most fundamentally, one of the most unforgivable sins in the eyes of the typical visitor is to be ignored or made to feel invisible. We may hesitate to engage someone because we lack awareness of their “status” (visitor or member). Instead of risking embarrassment, scorn, or an expenditure of time, we walk past them or speak to someone we know we know. Perhaps, in believing that true seekers find, we let ourselves off the hook despite Jesus’ call for us to sympathetically consider others (Lk. 6:31; 1 Pet. 3:8).  Common sense should move us to see that we can attract or detract, depending on how we react.

Spiritual maturity will steer us to be mature, kind, patient, and self-aware. Basic thoughtfulness will help us prepare, speak, and act in ways that make us magnets for the Messiah rather than repellant from the Redeemer. The effort will be appreciated and, I truly believe, rewarded. If we need to, let’s break out of our bubbles of isolation and seek to see things through the eyes of others—especially “the little” (Mat. 10:42; 18:6-14) and “the least” (Mat. 25:40).

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“It’s Meant To Be”

Neal Pollard

Sometimes a person wants so desperately to do something that they rationalize their decision to do so by crediting God with “sending a sign” or by concluding that “it’s meant to be.” In an age where God communicates to man, neither by voice nor directly through His Spirit but by His Word, this can prove dangerous thinking. The dilemma often is when we pray for something having multiple choices or outcomes, and then we have to make a decision. Most of us have been in this position. We want God’s will to be done, and we cannot be 100% sure we did the right or best thing at the time.

The danger comes in confusing our own will with God’s will. We can be certain that we are making the wrong decision if what we seek to do is blatantly unwise or clearly in violation of what Scripture says. Congregations have claimed Spirit-guidance for unauthorized changes in worship or their women’s roles within the church, and they have even claimed feeling God’s working among them or receiving a sign indicating God led them to such innovation. Men and women have dissolved their marriages, having blamed God for the move by saying they felt, or were even led to the conclusion, that such a move (and subsequent involvement in a new relationship) was His will. This simply cannot stand the test of scrutiny.

A famous example of the folly of such thinking comes from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In 1938-39, Hitler brilliantly and bloodlessly divided his enemies through economic and political strategy. On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s troops occupied Poland and took it over. Incidentally, that day was the anniversary of one of their biggest military victories. On September 1, 1870, they overran Sedan in a day of war and strategy that long stood as a symbol of Germany’s military might. Throughout Germany, the populous lined up behind Hitler, optimistically concluding that a new world order led by Germany–no matter how achieved–“was meant to be.” Hindsight now shows how mistaken a notion this was. On May 2, 1945, Hitler committed suicide. the next day at 2:41 A.M. in a Reims’ schoolhouse, General Gustav Jody signed Germany’s unconditional surrender…five years, eight months, and two days after the occupation of Poland. Of course, world supremacy by a country led by a murderous madman was not “meant to be” nor was it “divine guidance.” Yet, many Germans in the late ’30s and early ’40’s thought so (For more information, follow this link.

Let us be careful not to confuse what we want with what God wants. May we never transpose selfish desires with divine guidance. Otherwise, we may stand to lose more than our nation and freedom (cf. Prov. 14:12). By shaping our mind and hearts through faithful, unprejudiced Bible study and constant prayer, we will be in a better position to recognize–when faced with tough choices–which one better glorifies God and achieves His purpose in this world.

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Polish citizens being overrun on the day Germany occupied in 1939.

Are You A Bread Squeezer?

Neal Pollard

Samuel Feldman may hold the distinction as the most famous bread vandal in history.

He did $8,000 worth of damage to bread and cookies throughout the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, area. He was going around “poking, pinching, and squeezing” bags of bread and packages of cookies. Finally, one store, suspecting Feldman, put him under surveillance and caught him three times in the act. He is charged with two counts of criminal mischief. Two years of aggravation and loss, caused by an idle person with a mean streak (from Reuters News Story, 9/23/00).

There is always at least one bread-squeezer in any group. The church may even sometimes harbor a few bread-squeezers, too. These are the sore tails, nitpickers, storm clouds who live to rain on others’ parades, those who seem to enjoy causing friction and irritating others, those who hold petty grudges, and general pot-stirrers. They are the busybodies (2 Th. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13). Solomon calls one a worthless and wicked person “who spreads strife” (Pr. 6:14; cf. 19–“who spreads strife among brothers”). Paul laments lovers of controversy because they provoke “envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction” (1 Tim. 6:4-5).

These bread-squeezers flatten a congregation’s moral, squeeze the worst side out of others, and pick and poke at everyone from the church’s leaders to any other Christian whose name passes between their cross-hairs. They taint the productivity, good will, good deeds, attitude, and joy of a congregation. They brighten entire rooms just by making an exit.

Are you a bread-squeezer? How do you reply when asked, “How are you?” How well do you speak of other Christians? Are you moody? Do you lash out at others when you feel you have been wronged? Do you give the cold shoulder? Do you not speak to others, only to complain that others are unfriendly because they didn’t approach you first? Do you wear your feelings on your sleeves? Are you the type that prefers the role of critic, since there are plenty of others to be the “cheerleader”? If so, then you are a bread-squeezer!

A bread-squeezer is as needed in a congregation as Feldman was needed in Bucks County! He was entirely destructive and he caused others to pay for his bad behavior. Barnabas wasn’t a bread-squeezer (Acts 4:36). Neither was Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32). Certainly, Jesus wasn’t! The church is always in need of more encouraging, uplifting, positive, happy, and contented members. Don’t squeeze the bread!

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Proud Of My Father 

Dale Pollard

I was cleaning out the basement and found a box of old photos. You know the kind of photos I’m talking about. Cheesy, dated, and awkward family photos. There was a reason we had them hidden in the darkest corner of our house. They weren’t worthy to be put on display, but they were also too precious to merely throw away. As I flipped through them, I stumbled across some ancient photos of my dad. In one picture he had an afro and this corny smile on his face. In another picture, my dad was standing by an old pickup truck wearing a long and baggy cut-off T- shirt. He had 80’s frame glasses on with large lenses, and a truckers hat that barely sat on his head.

To most people, those were embarrassing pictures. To most people, those were things that I should hang my head in shame over. But you know, all I felt was pride. I was so proud of who I came from, and as weird as he looked, I sat there defending his fashion choices in my mind. I’m proud to be the grandson of a preacher and the son of a preacher. But, there is nothing that fills me with more pride than the fact that I am a child of God.

There are so many reasons that I’m proud of that fact, but here is the main reason… because He loves me more than I deserve. Our sins put Christ on the cross. It was my sin problem that made Jesus cry out in agony, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). When we commit sin, we are participating in the very thing that Christ came to die for. And yet, despite all of that, my God loves me. My Father has still taken me in. He has shown unconditional love, a love stronger than any mortal could show. My Heavenly Father has offered salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and a hope of eternal glory.

I’m proud to be a child of God.

Dale is the associate minister of the Forrest Park church of Christ in Valdosta, Georgia. 

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Learning A Lesson From A Lantern

Gary Pollard III

For some reason, I’m a big fan of old fashioned lighting. I’m especially drawn to old kerosene lanterns because they’re simple and just cool. I went to light one of my lanterns (I might have a few of them…) and the flame wouldn’t stay alive for more than a few seconds. I thought, “Maybe the vent is covered in carbon and there isn’t enough oxygen for the flame.” So, I took it apart, cleaned it out, and put it back together. I was sure that it was the vent.

To my chagrin, the flame died within seconds even after the lantern was cleaned. Next, I trimmed the wick because it seemed too dark; perhaps having a fresh wick would allow the flame to stay alive. It wasn’t a stopped vent, so it had to be the wick. Sure enough, the flame died even with a fresh wick.

At this point I was stumped, so I gave up. The next day it occurred to me while putting gas in my car: the lantern was just out of kerosene! It was obvious to the extreme. I knew Chelsea would never let that one go. When I got home I put the kerosene into the lantern which, of course, was the solution to a simple problem that I overcomplicated.

This is a mundane example of a profound truth: we make mistakes as humans. Worse yet, some people put words in God’s mouth that He never used. “My God is a God of love– He wouldn’t condemn me just for this one little sin.” “God doesn’t care if we live the way we want.” Some use phrases like this with great confidence while overlooking an obvious truth: God has told us what He does and does not care about in His word. If we aren’t in the word listening to God and allowing Him to change us, our solutions will end in failure. There was only one solution to keep that flame going in my lantern. There is only one right way to follow God, and He’s told us how to do that! Life will be so much easier for the one who looks to God for answers before relying on his/her own wisdom.

Gary serves as youth minister for the Hope church of Christ in Hope, Arkansas.

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P.A.I.N.

Neal Pollard

Problems aren’t inherently negative.  Will you remember that? The middle-aged man with the persistent pain goes to the doctor, who discovers the malignant mass and gets him to the surgeon. The man’s life is saved by pain. The teenage Christian girl who endures the hurt of breaking up with the boy who is ungodly but who she loves feels pain. Eventually, though, as she raises her four children and enjoys marriage with a strong Christian man, she thanks God for that former pain. Illustrations of this point are endless.

How do you view your pain? By human nature, we tend to view suffering as the very worst thing that could happen to us. The anxiety of the medical test, the chronic disease that impacts every portion of our day and life, the permanent loss of a loved one through whatever events, or a rift in the family all can seem unbearable.

Will you remember that, as with the physical body and the emotional makeup, pain in our spiritual lives can have a positive benefit? We can learn from the painful thing. Pain can cause us to grow. Pain can serve as a spiritual refinery. After all, problems aren’t inherently negative. It is how we respond to the problems that makes all the difference. If we give up due to the problems we face, it’s devastating. If we sin in response to our pain, we fail and inflict damage on ourselves and others. If we blame God, we are in danger of allowing our pain to conquer us.

Despite those possibilities, though, none of these things have to occur. The encouraging thing is that how we respond to our problems is fully under our own control. We can be the example, in our suffering, that leads a lost soul to Christ or an erring Christian back home. We can be the role models others remember when they go down the road of trouble. We can bring glory to God by faithfully enduring such things.

Problems aren’t inherently negativeThank God for this.

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Keeping Our Thoughts On The Lord During The Lord’s Supper

Neal Pollard

“Three babies are crying across the auditorium… Somebody dropped a songbook… Everybody has a cough today… Oh, good… brother So ‘N So sure prayers nice prayers… My big toe sure is bother me… I think I forgot to write out the check for the giving again… Better do… Wow! Are we done already?”

That scenario probably happens in many a mind more frequently than we care to admit. The greatest memorial of all time can also provide one of the greatest mountains to climb– concentration and distraction. The Lord’s Supper is a congregational activity, but it is participated in by individuals. What does it take to maintain concentration on the significance of this feast?

Examination. See 1 Corinthians 11:28. We should examine our state of mind, taking care to dwell on Christ’s suffering sacrifice, His triumphant resurrection, our debt to Him, the depth of heaven’s love shown in this sacrifice, and the joyful hope we have through His act. We should examine our lives and see where we can live better and eliminate sin–checking our motives, morals, and mindset. Self-examination should mark this time.

Forgetting. We should forget the daily, mundane affairs of life. We are focusing on something of much greater and eternal significance. Other things should be shut out of the mind. This is the Lord’s time.

Fellowship. We take the Supper with every other saint present. This is a special moment of fellowship (Acts 2:42). In a sense, we are also taking it with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. The communion provides a bond of fellowship that has special meaning and ties together all baptized believers in fellowship with Christ.

One. We commemorate the Lord in the one body according to the instructions of the one Spirit with the one hope that Christ’s atonement saves us and gives us access to the Father. We honor that one Lord and follow the one faith in obedience to the will of the one God. the Supper unites us with God as well as each other (Eph. 4:4-6).

Remembrance. The Lord’s Supper is a time to reflect on the cross with its manifold significance. Until He comes again, the Lord’s Supper is an appointed, weekly, and mental trip back to His death (1 Cor. 11:26). One remembers, with the help of the gospel writers, the body wounded on the tree and the saving blood flowing from the body of God in the flesh.

Thanksgiving. The Lord’s Supper is a time for deep appreciation and gratitude. Because He suffered, we can have peace. Because He died, we can have eternal life. Because He arose, we can rise from sin to newness of life.

Paul had to remind Corinth that the Lord’s Supper was not just another meal (1 Cor. 11:20-34). Modern Christians, too, need always to keep that fact in mind when we lose focus and concentration or forget why we’re partaking. What we need, despite the distractions, is EFFORT! May the Lord’s Supper never grow old for any of us!

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Armchair Elders

Neal Pollard

He shouts at his TV with a mouthful of Cheetos. “I can’t believe you! Four receivers downfield and you throw it behind the line of scrimmage to a man who’s double covered! You’re pathetic. Must be nice to get millions of dollars to make awful decisions. Where do I sign?” After several additional one-sided conversations with the TV, Mr. Potato (first name: “Couch,” aka “Armchair Arnie”) dusts crumbs off his potbelly with those trademark orange fingertips and limps into the kitchen, stiff from sitting three hours, to get another snack before the second half of the NFL doubleheader.

Water cooler wide receivers. La-Z boy linebackers. The game’s true experts do not prowl the sidelines with headsets, nor do they actually suit up, strap on, and sweat it out. The guys with all the answers are the ones who would crumble with fear if placed on the same field with the athletes they so roundly criticize for bungling with the ball.

I have observed that the same temptation can occasionally strike some with regard to elders. Whether it be their judgment or painstaking decisions, their handling of a member’s problems or needs, or their overall “job performance,” elders get taken to task more often than they realize by pew chair presbyters. They may criticize elders for what they did or for their failure to act, for being too strict or too lenient, for showing favoritism or trying to please everyone, for being too conservative or too liberal–all with the regard to a single action taken or decision made.

There is a striking similarity to the “armchair quarterbacking” done by unfit, unqualified spectators at sporting events. Those who can’t are apt to criticize those that can and do. It is far easier to question and condemn the actions taken by elders without the benefit (and angst) of wrangling with problems and decisions oneself. How we can eloquently outline the plan of action we would take absent the pressure and responsibility of being in the position.

Let’s pray more for our elders and pass judgment less! Let’s support them with might, not scrutinize them under a microscope. They need our cooperation and submission (Heb. 13:17). They could do with less backbiting and murmuring (cf. 1 Co. 10:10).

That’s not to say that elders are beyond reproach and rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20). Occasionally, an elder or eldership may be deserving of question–particularly in the area of doctrine or their personal qualification. As a longtime Falcons fan, I had to endure the likes of Scott Hunter, Pat Sullivan, and June Jones! They were terrible quarterbacks, though much better than I could ever have been. Elders will answer directly to Christ for their shepherding of the local flock. We, as embers, will also answer for how we cooperated with and supported them. Let’s all resolve to get out of the chair and join them on the field (cf. John 4:35)!

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