Facing The Storm

Neal Pollard

Springtime in the plains is a notorious time for storms. I was driving through northwest Texas near the time when three storm chasers were killed southwest of me on Tuesday afternoon. They died pursuing the storm, not directly because of it. They were there because conditions were ripe for tornadoes. 17 people were killed by tornadoes in 2016, but 24 have already died in them this year. Hollywood has captured our awe and fascination with them since The Wizard Of Oz. We view storms as mysterious, ominous, powerful, and frightening. They come in so many forms—hurricanes, floods, blizzards, cyclones, and more. But “storms” are synonymous with fear and sorrow.

Wouldn’t you classify some of the major, traumatic events of your life as storms.  They build and threaten, they strike, then they leave aftermath. The storm may take but a moment, but recovery can take days, months, or even years. Not surprisingly, the Bible uses the storm metaphorically to describe such moments in our lives. David wrote, “I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest” (Psa. 55:8). The man we most associate with such figurative storms, Job, laments, “You lift up the wind and cause me to ride; And you dissolve me in a storm” (30:22). Most frequently, the Bible uses storms representatively to describe God’s judgment. But, as Job and David show, sometimes storms strike the innocent and undeserving.

What do we do when facing a storm? We heed precautions. We take shelter.  We wait and endure. We ask for and trust God’s protection.

The world is full of people riding out storms today. That includes Christians. These storms are assaulting their bodies, bank accounts, relationships, spiritual strength, and spirits. Some feel safely sheltered, while others feel as if they are barely holding on. How do we face our storms?

* Seek help from others (Heb. 12:12-13; Ecc. 4:9-10).
* Search for possible benefits from it (Psa. 66:10; Rev. 21:3-4; Js. 1:2-4; etc.).
* See God’s power to help in it (Psa. 18:19; Rom. 8:28-38; 2 Pet. 2:9a).
* Shelter in the place of safety (Exo. 33:22; Psa. 91:1; Mat. 7:24-27).

God doesn’t cause evil or sin, but He allows it. We will always struggle with the “why” of this. But, we can grow our dependence on our great, perfect God when we are being battered. He is faithful. He wants to help. Lean on Him through your storms!

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The Dilemma Of Discipleship: Doctrine Or Duty

Neal Pollard

Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”

Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).

We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.

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“Men Are A Dying Breed”

Neal Pollard

He said it in his prayer, this young man in his thirties who did not say it as a lamentation but as a petition that Christian men would be the spiritual leaders of their families that God wants us to be. No doubt, in the background of his prayer, he thought about the agenda of feminization that has targeted the males of society for several decades. But, predominant in his thoughts was the idea that men have too often abdicated their God-given role and responsibility. Whether or not they are good wage-earners, do”manly” things, and look and dress like the classic, rugged male, have they aimed to be the protector, leader, and example in the home, church, and society that God expects?  Truly, it was a challenging, exacting phrase.

In discussing the sins of Israel, God said to Ezekiel, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one” (22:30). God did a roll call of the prophets, priests, princes, and people of the land, and one by one He cites their dereliction and disobedience. It was not in their clothing style, hobbies, facial hair or hairstyle, or similar, superficial measurement. It was a matter of how they responded to God and fulfilled the responsibilities He had given them.

The world has a concept of what it thinks to be manly.  The Philistines said, “Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight” (1 Sam. 4:9).  For them, it was a fleshly matter devoid of God.  By contrast, Paul tells the church, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). True manliness is connected to faith, spiritual strength, and readiness. God needs a tribe of such men to stand up and be counted in this wicked generation.  He needs us to instill this spiritual leadership in our sons and other young men and new Christians who need spiritual leadership. May we accept that challenge and prevent men, as God defines it, from becoming a dying breed.

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The Lost Loved By The Lord

Neal Pollard

The prostitute on the street with a painful past who’s made dreadful decisions. The grownup who’s the product of unbelievable dysfunction and endured issues like abuse, abandonment, alcohol, and anxiety.  The teen who has never been shown true, Christlike love. The religious adherent whose idea of God and the Bible has been filtered through a trusted, but false, teacher. There are endless individuals who fall into the category of “lost” by Scripture (see the parables of Luke 15), even if they would not identify themselves with that word.

A particular challenge for those of us who “inherited” the knowledge of the truth from our homes is to recognize our dependency upon God for salvation. We look at our lives which, though littered with sin and shortcomings, do not have the disarrayed appearance of lives like the ones mentioned above. We’re basically “good.”  It is so easy for us to be like Simon in Luke 7:36ff. We know our Bibles. We invite Jesus along. We are aghast at how lost those lost people are. We cannot fathom that Jesus would want them. Then, we find ourselves as the one who loves little because we think we have little to be forgiven of. We do not serve Him like we should, but we feel pretty safe.

By contrast, the lost often do not become Christians because they feel so unworthy of forgiveness or see their past as insurmountable chains though they long for freedom. They don’t know, but they need to know, that God longs for them and wants them. They have immense value in His eyes, and, if they come to Him, He will say, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:48,50). Whereas pride might be our impediment, guilt is often theirs.

Each of us needs to find the balance between self-righteousness and self-loathing. If we are the Pharisee, we need humility. If we are the sinful woman, we need hope. But for that latter category, who we are in constant contact with, we must embrace and share the message that the Lord longs for them and sees their soul as precious enough to die for. They need to know He already did that as proof of His love (John 3:16; 15:13). Do you know somebody who is lost? Let them know the Lord loves them!

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“Devil Disease”: Illustration Of Galatians 5:15?

Neal Pollard

The Tasmanian Devil population is being decimated by a strange, deadly malady known as “Devil Facial Tumor Disease.”  It is a cancer that horribly disfigures an ever-growing portion of the carnivorous marcupial’s body until it suffocates or starves from lesions in the neck.   Horrific as the disease is, its means of spreading through that animal population is even more so.  The best guess of scientists is that the cancer cell is transmitted when the Devils bite each other during the course of fights.  In attacking their fellow species, they are infecting themselves and likely precipitating their own demise.  Their infamous ill temperament may be facilitating their own extermination.

False teachers troubled Galatia.  This troubled Paul, who by inspiration denounces especially the Judaising troublemakers in the latter part of the epistle.  Paul uses many graphic ways to describe their doctrine and approach.  It was “bondage” (5:1).  It nullified the effect of Christ’s atonement in their spiritual lives (5:2).  It indebted one in a way impossible to pay (5:3).  It estranged one from Christ, causing that one to fall from grace (5:4).  It hindered true obedience to God (5:7).  It was destructive leaven (5:9).  It was brought by troublemakers and persecutors (5:11,12).  It was fleshly (5:13, 16ff).   It led to spiritual destruction (5:17-21).  It was harmful to “one another” relationships (5:26).

Yet, the most graphic description in the midst of several is found in Galatians 5:15.  Paul warned, “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (NKJV).  Paul had just hyperbolically yearned that the troublers would figuratively mutilate themselves (5:12), but now he says those with such a divisive, ungodly methodology were destined to spiritually wound and even destroy them.

Liberalism is a dominating, troubling concern in spiritual Israel today.  The church faces so many battles centering on proposed changes that threaten to undermine its authority and identity.  Many want to change things clearly and principally set forth in scripture to suit their own desires and inclinations.  In some places, there is an outright push to denominationalize the church of Christ and pollute our pulpits and classrooms with blatantly false ideas.

However, one is naïve who believes only one side (i.e., the “left”) is attacking biblical center.  There are too many from another direction who are equally damaging and vicious in their attacks on the body of Christ.  In one sense, they are more dangerous due to their contention that they are rooting out all false doctrine and exposing all error.  Where they are doing so with proper ethics, attitude, and balance, they are to be applauded.  Yet, there is a mentality that seems wholly obsessed with full-time heretic detection, slandering brethren, and scrupulously elevating minutia as on par with Christ’s doctrine.  They unnecessarily divide brethren and split congregations.  They polarize and draw away disciples after themselves.  They are fight-pickers, seemingly eager to engage in lengthy, unending diatribe and debate to the exclusion of other Christian obligations, of righteous, Christlike conduct, and of a charitable spirit that “is not rude…keeps no record of wrongs…does not delight in evil…” (1 Corinthians 13:5,6).

Yet, a pattern seems to be emerging among such contentious brethren.  First, they are increasingly turning on one another.  Further, they are succeeding in infecting themselves by their biting and devouring.  Then, they are facilitating their own demise—that of their influence, reputation, trustworthiness, and respectability.  However, they have also viciously wounded good men and women from among us in the process.  It is an epidemic that deserves closer attention and needs eradication.

If there is biblical center, it can be abandoned in more than one direction.  The antidote is Christ-like love that leads to love of truth and kind treatment of brethren.  To do less leads to horrific disfiguring of the body of Christ.

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NOTE: THIS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN OVER A DECADE AGO. SCIENCE CONTINUES TO CONFIRM THAT THE DISEASE IS SPREAD BY BITING OCCURRING IN FIGHTS…

Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.

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Struggling Through Our Troubles

Neal Pollard

Have you ever had a problem or struggle that started out small but kept growing until it was larger than life? Did it come to consume your thoughts, keep you up at night, and become an overwhelming obsession? Maybe you devoted a lot of emotion to it.

Just by virtue of living on this earth, we will struggle (Job 14:1-2). Job knew struggle and turmoil! He lost one thing after another. His life seemed to unravel before his eyes.  Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying, “When you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” Have you ever found yourself struggling at the end of your rope of faith? You are certainly far from alone in that. We certainly see Job dangling there, asking, “Why was I ever born?” (3:11) and “Why can’t I go ahead and die?” (3:20-22). David was there (Psa. 22:1). So was Jeremiah (ch. 37-38).

Of course, trouble takes on many forms and comes from many directions. Any number of passages can help us cope with the struggle of trouble, but consider Psalm 10. It refers to the wicked seven times and to the afflicted four times. It also speaks synonymously of the wicked as the greedy (13), evildoer (15), and those of the earth (18). It speaks of the afflicted as the unfortunate (8,10,14), humble (14), the orphan and oppressed (14,18). We know that our trouble can come from the wicked, but it can also come from no one source we can identify though it hurts just the same. Consider this Psalm about our troubles and what we can do about them.

Our perception in times of trouble (1-11). Our vision can become blurry by tears or rage, but our point of view is altered when trouble comes. The psalmist goes through this. He sees God as being distant (1). He saw the wicked as being in control or prospering (2-11). God seemed far away and life seemed unfair. The majority of every generation is wicked, and each generation of God’s faithful must reconcile the seeming success of the wicked and oppression of the affilicted righteous. We don’t begrudge the psalmist for his struggle to see through spiritual eyes. We can relate.

Our prayers in times of trouble (12-15). The psalmist admits his own struggle, then he shows us how to overcome it. His first response is to pray. He asks God to deliver (12). He asks God to remember (12-14). Finally, he asks God to vindicate (15).

Our praise in times of trouble (16). Before the prayer he’s perplexed and indignant. Afterward, he has insight, peace, and greater confidence. He springs from his knees with new perspective. Doesn’t prayer do that for us? The psalmist acknowledges God’s nature—“Lord” (Jehovah, five times in the Psalm), position—“King”, and duration—“forever and ever.” Do we spend more time focusing on the source of our troubles than on the solution?

Our proper perspective in times of trouble (17-18).  The psalmist is confident at the end of this psalm, saying, “you have heard” and “you will strengthen and listen.” Do you approach God that confident in His ability and desire to do what is best? We can be as confident as he is that God hears and helps when we hurt.

What is the greatest trouble we can face in this life? A disfiguring accident? Financial ruin? Loss of a parent, spouse, or child? The deterioration of health? The fall of our nation? Through Christ, none of these are too difficult to overcome. This Psalm reminds me that God still cares and He won’t abandon me. You and I can look at the cross and the church and be reassured of that. We know we can trust God (Rom. 8:28). God is able and willing to help us through every trouble.

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WISDOM IS VINDICATED BY ALL HER CHILDREN

Neal Pollard

There was an old joke or riddle that went, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” How would a man respond? If he said “no,” it was tantamount to confessing to being a wife beater. If he said “yes,” it suggested that he was a former wife-beater. Either way, the conundrum had him struck.  Have you ever had someone try to place you into such a bind?

It has been said that the only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. If you are striving to serve Christ and fulfill your purpose as a Christian, there is at least some likelihood that you will be opposed and even accused in some way. Jesus discusses that very matter in Luke seven. He’s teaching His disciples and compares His generation to children who criticize no matter what a person does—some criticizing people for being too somber, others criticizing people for being too festive. Jesus uses that illustration to speak of how God’s enemies criticized John the Baptist and then Himself. The criticism revealed that if John had acted like Jesus and Jesus had acted like John, the critics would still have been dissatisfied.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus did not give us a manual for handling labeling, libelous critics? He does not say to write books or articles, preach sermons, get on TV or the radio, and the like, spending the precious resources of time, money, and influence countering the charges of those who are seemingly not content unless they can bully or intimidate their prey into conforming to the gospel according to them—the arbitrary standard for others they have created and uphold.

Here is Jesus’ summation: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”  What does that mean? Look at the offspring of the teaching. What is the result of Jesus’ ministry? People are taught the truth, led to live the way God wants, and are pointed to the narrow way. Criticisms notwithstanding, that’s the fruit.  Speaking of which, Jesus also uses that analogy in the sermon on the mount. He begins and ends the analogy with the idea that “you will know them by their fruits” (Mat. 7:16,20).  But, this is a fair test for everyone.

What is the fruit of the hypercritical attacker? Not only ask if what they teach is technical true, but do they meet the tests of honesty, consistency, kindness, fairness, and love. Do they demonstrate the spirit of Christ, bear the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrate the Christian graces, fulfill the inspired definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, act like the new man, and the like? So often, we do not stop to inspect the inspector. Whether we do or not, the Lord will inspect the work of us all at the end.

Each of us must focus on pleasing God and being absolutely sure that we are submitting to His authority and obeying His will. The standard of judgment at the last day will not be the man-made rules of even the potshot-takers, but instead the words of Christ (John 12:48). Let us be careful to grow in our knowledge of His will each day so we can discern between divine expectations and human regulations. At the end, what we should desire is heavenly vindication. The rest will ultimately take care of itself.

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STUBBORN TRUTHS

Neal Pollard

—And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Mat. 19:9).
—Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
—For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom. 1:26-27).
—And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all…There is one body (Eph.1:22-23; 4:4).
—And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19).
—A woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11-14).

Passages like these are hotly debated, denied, and derided by those who either cast them against other Scripture or subjugate them to current cultural expectations. Those who desire to accept verses like those above as simple truth are often thought to be ignorant or, worse, dangerous.

The same book reveals the person and sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals the nature and attributes of God. It tells us where we came from and where we are going. It speaks of grace and faith. We accept these truths at face value. But when we come to passages that go against the grain of popular opinion (in or out of religion), cultural mores, or religious orthodoxy, we somehow attempt to say they do not say what they say they say. Jehoiakim’s scribe’s knife and his brazier fire did not eliminate truth (Jer. 36:23). It actually intensified the message against him (36:29ff). The number of academic degrees, religious followers, or oratorical skill will not change the truth of Scripture. It is what it is. Our role is to humbly submit to it or forever beat ourselves against it. May we love and revere God enough to always do the former.

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