Resolutions Reinforcements–#1

Neal Pollard

Did you make any resolutions for 2018? Dan Diamond cited a statistic I’ve often found, that over 40% of Americans make them every year and only about 8% succeed (Forbes, 1/1/13). Websites like statisticsbrain.com break it down into all kind of categories, but they amount to body and soul, material and spiritual. If you are among those who have made resolutions for this year, you probably find yours also fitting into those two categories–weight loss, financial health, relationships, and spiritual growth, for example. With the statistical odds against us, we’re going to need help, right? I thought I’d devote some attention to things we can do to reach our goals. It certainly will raise my own accountability, and hopefully it can provide some practical encouragement for you, too.

The first resolutions reinforcement I suggest is “specificity.” Instead of saying, “I will be a better person,” “I will read my Bible more,” “I will get out of debt,” or “I will eat healthier,” take some time to articulate some specific goals. These general ambitions are great, but the more nebulous they are the harder they are to quantify and track. For example, one of my goals is to lose 20 pounds. While I’ve lost those 20 pounds several times through the years, I realize it’s not good for my health for me to carry them around again. With that specific goal, I have a plan. It works whenever I utilize it. It is neither complex or gimmicky. I will count calories (I have an app that helps me track that).

I have taken some time to do that with five specific goals for my year. I wrote each of them down, stated specifically. Each is measurable. My aim is to pull that little list out at least daily and see where I am with each. There are some sensitive, uncomfortable items on that list, but when I revisit it those are the ones I want to achieve the most. That piece of paper allows no justification, excuse-making, or equivocation. It just stares right back at me, ironclad if only in ink.

May I encourage you to pray about this. Here is my prayer for today regarding my goals: “Father, please help me to take specific steps today, tomorrow, and every day to reach these goals. Help me to achieve them so that I can better serve and glorify you.” Here is a reminder of something God has said to us: “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Prov. 16:3). 

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WHEN MISUNDERSTOOD

Neal Pollard

It will happen, at least occasionally. A remark you make gets taken out of context, will not be correctly heard, or will be heard through the personal filters of the listener. Your facial expressions and body language may not accurately express your feelings or at least not tell the whole story. People may ignore the adage, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” While that truism may be naive and certainly not entirely true, we’ve all been on the receiving end of others’ misunderstandings of what we’ve written, said, or done. What do we do when we feel we’ve been unfairly treated by the misunderstandings of others? Consider the following:

  • Try to understand others better.  Everybody has been through the same thing. I need to make sure I’ve not misunderstood intonation, intention, motivation, emotion, or information. It’s easy to happen.
  • Don’t obsess over the hurt. The world has enough victims, and the perpetual victim is exhausting. I cannot afford to fixate on the fracture. I am usually best served to let it g.
  • Rejoice in the great company you are keeping. Jesus’ whole life and ministry was misunderstood by the religious leaders of His day. Their misunderstanding was certainly not the meat of His mission. His eyes focused on the bigger picture. He was perfectly sinless and still unjustly treated. I can rejoice when I’m in a similar position, sinful though I am.
  • Turn to God, not gossip. This is hard! The urge to lash out and retaliate can seem irresistible, but it’s definitely possible. How much greater peace and harmony would come if we resolved to pray (even for the “misunderstander”) when misunderstood?
  • Redouble your efforts to spread salt and light. I may be tempted to throw up my hands and say, “What’s the use? If this is what I get, I quit.” That doesn’t sound so good when I can read it in print. Instead, I need to strive harder to do good.
  • If necessary, clarify but with utmost love and kindness. But, let me do some serious soul-searching and ask, “Is it really necessary?” Can I turn my cheek(s) and move on? If I truly cannot, I need to cleanse my heart of sinful anger and act in genuine love and kindness toward my “aggressor.”
  • Remember that wisdom is justified of her children. Ultimately, the body of work that is your life will leave a clear impression. Most people who know us know more about us than we think. They see what side of the ledger our lives are lived on and they draw conclusions accordingly. I just need to be characterized by righteousness and good works.
  • Be sure you are communicating clearly. Communication is a problem in every medium and relationship. Some do better than others, but all make mistakes. When I am misunderstood, I need the humility and honesty to step back and ask if I asked for a reaction through unclear meaning or veiled messages.

I hate to be misunderstood. But as with every other trial, I can often find blessings even in these distasteful situations. My prayer is that I will not be conformed to the world (or the worldly), but I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. That’s going to turn out for the best (Rom. 12:1-2).

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A Warm And Welcoming Church

Neal Pollard

Once, I received a call from a woman who watched our TV program. She shared her religious background with me, including the fact that she was raised in a church of Christ. While she was baptized many years before, she committed fornication, became pregnant, and had a child out of wedlock. She said that she publicly repented, coming forward to ask forgiveness. While some forgave, one prominent member wouldn’t let her forget her past sins. Ultimately, she left that congregation and soon after left the Lord’s church altogether.

She joined a large denomination in the area in 1985. She gave some interesting reasons for joining them. Reflect upon them for a moment.

(1) She received personal visits from church members.

(2) She was warmly welcomed by many who greeted her when she attended the services.

(3) She was quickly put to use in the church’s works.

Very simple formula, wouldn’t you agree? Some fundamental needs were recognized by that religious group: Approach. Accept. Assimilate. While their doctrine was wrong in vital areas, their practical wisdom was on target! While she traded truth for error regarding their teaching, she sought but didn’t find among God’s people the very things many seek today. None of the things she sought were wrong.

In the church, the main emphasis should be serving rather than being served. But look at what she sought. She sought personal contact from concerned people. The denomination responded. She sought acceptance, not of sinful choices, but of herself—the sinner. She received that. She sought ways to be involved, ways to serve. She was given opportunities despite some physical handicaps that restricted her.

There is much to do, much more than is being done, though we are doing much. Some bare essentials that all of us can be doing is visiting our visitors, making visitors feel like honored guests, and finding ways to include those who become members in the work of the church.

We have opportunities every week that walk through our doors. Are we doing our part to make ourselves a warm and welcoming congregation? People will form lasting opinions about the Lord’s church by what we do to make them feel welcome. Each individual Christian is accountable for visiting (Mat. 25:34ff), accepting (Js. 2:1-13), and including (1 Th. 5:11).  Let us glow with the warmth of Christ! Who knows who we will turn onto the narrow path or who we will help stay on it?

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The Gift That Jesus Gave

Neal Pollard

Often, during this time of year, there is an emphasis placed upon the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus—“gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mat. 2:11).  They understood how Jesus was worthy of worship (2:2,11) and celebration (2:10).  Their giving flowed from that recognition.

The book of Hebrews turns the tables and reveals the Jesus who is the gift-giver. The same Greek word used to describe the wise men’s gifts to Jesus is used twice by the writer of the epistle to talk about Jesus’ gift. He does so in the context of Jesus’ work as a High Priest, as contrasted with the gifts offered by priests under the Law of Moses. In Hebrews 5:1, the writer talks about the qualifications necessary to serve in that role—taken from among men, working on behalf of men in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin. Chapter five deals more with His qualification to serve and offer, but the writer does deal with the gift itself later on. Later on turns out to be chapter eight. The writer uses that same word for “gifts” in Hebrews 8:3-4 to talk about what Jesus offered. His gift is contrasted with those that cannot make the worshiper “perfect in conscience” (9:9). He gave His own blood (9:10) and with it obtained eternal redemption which will “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). The writer summarizes that gift, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10), as the gift that sanctifies us to God.

But what do we give in return? We cannot repay His priceless gift. But God presupposes that we will be motivated to give. Jesus does, referring to worship in Matthew 5:23-24. He does again, referring to the monetary gifts of the wealthy and the sacrificial (Luke 21:1-4). The Hebrews writer will use Abel as an example of faith-fueled giving (11:4). But our most generous gifts to Christ, however moved by sincere love and unwavering commitment, is but a shadow and reflection of His gift. We give Him money, honor, time, energy, heart, and everything else we can, because He is the greatest giver of all. May we take the time, every day, to honor and give freely, to the Gift-Giver!

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Dispiriting Truths About Spirits

Neal Pollard

In one of those statistics so massive that it is hard to comprehend, Gallup reports that 187 billion liters (there are 33.8 ounces in a liter) of beer are drunk across the world each year. There are 24 billion liters of wine drunk globally each year. The U.S. ranks second in beer consumption and first in wine consumption, with no reports of hard liquor even included in this report (Andrew Soergel, US News, 10/2/14). Not only is alcohol a common feature at holiday parties and family events this time of year, it is woven into the fabric of just about every event you can think of in society.

The Washington Post relates that 33 million Americans are problem drinkers, which amounts to 14 percent of our population. Almost 69 million Americans report that they had been problem drinkers at some point in their lives, while 40 percent said they had engaged in binge drinking at least once in the past year (via Associate Press, 6/8/15).  Whereas we can so often get caught up in debates about social drinking, we may be ignoring the fact that a sizable number of Christians—whether new converts or longtime members—struggle with serious problems with alcohol. This is startling, given the Bible’s clear teaching and warning about drunkenness (cf. Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10; Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3).

The Bible warns us about at least four clarion facts regarding alcohol:

  • Alcohol can be addicting (1 Tim. 3:3,8; Titus 1:7).
  • Alcohol can be enslaving (Titus 2:3).
  • Alcohol can make one reckless (Eph. 5:18).
  • Alcohol can be costly (Prov. 23:29-35).

It seems wise to think about these sober warnings God communicates to us through Scripture. There should be a vigilance, in view of eternity, about a substance that not only can but endlessly has done so much harm to individuals, their families, and society. May we wake up to the problems alcohol is already causing in too many homes, including the homes of those trying to live the Christian life. May we help each other to overcome any obstacle that bars the way to heaven. Nothing here is valuable enough to sacrifice what awaits us there.

Build That Wall!

Neal Pollard

The partisan vitriol ramps up whenever subjects like border security and immigration are mentioned. It is a subject as much a part of the political divide as “Russian Collusion,” tax reform, and affordable health care. Let the politically passionate debate all those topics, but did you know Scripture talks about the importance of having a properly-built, fortified wall? There were walls erected around a city to protect it from external dangers. If the citizens inside were righteous, they were kept safe even against all seeming odds (2 Kings 18-19). If the citizens inside were wicked, no wall, however seemingly impregnable, would hold (Joshua 6).  But, I’m referring to a different kind of wall.

Scripture tells us that the individual must build a wall and properly maintain it, too. The way Solomon put it is, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Prov. 25:28). Words flow without restraint, many of which wound, offend, and separate. Anger and even rage can erupt over even the slightest or even perceived infractions. Personal conduct that indulges the flesh, from overeating to pornography to fornication, can be impulsive and destructive of self and others. Indecent thoughts, fed and fueled by the thinker, can crumble this vital hedge.

What a challenge for me on many levels! How easily do trials and setbacks in the normal functions of life, from standing in line to driving in traffic to dealing with customer service, set me off in unrestrained thoughts, words, and actions? How do I handle words of opposition, face to face, by written correspondence, or through some form of social media? How strong is my wall when I disagree with my mate, children, neighbors, or brethren?

Solomon teaches me that I can have control over my spirit. No cop out or blame game changes that. Whatever sinful thing I allow over that border into my life is guaranteed to be harm me! So, I must build a wall that preserves my spirit. My eternity literally hinges upon it.

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Seeing Through Others’ Eyes

Neal Pollard

What is the greatest trial?
What do men so despise?
The hardest climb and dreariest mile
Is seeing through another’s eyes.

It may appear uncomplicated,
Completely cut and dry,
But our skills may be overrated,
As we try to see through the other’s eye.

We don’t know what they’re thinking
Can’t know their circumstance
Or how abruptly their heart is sinking
From our outward, presumptuous glance

Their motivation quite hidden,
About their intentions we have no clue,
Reading minds God made forbidden,
We can’t see from their point of view.

Instead, the chore is vital,
As we look on from without,
Our object is entitled,
To every benefit of the doubt.

Let’s pray for them, be their servant,
Love them with a Christ-like love,
Show a kindness warm and fervent,
Trust the All-Seeing-Eye above.

Treat them how we’d want to be treated,
Treat them strictly by The Book,
Leave their heart to the One seated,
Who can watch with a perfect look.

The challenge becomes less daunting
When we cut it down to size
And we give what we’re always wanting
A loving look from through Jesus’ eyes.

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Working Together To Survive The Hunt

Neal Pollard

1 Peter 5:8 calls the devil a roaring lion prowling around seeking someone to devour. It is obvious that Peter’s readers would have seen or at least heard about these kings of the jungle for the analogy to make sense and be practical.  Lions lurk, longing for lunch.

In the savannas of East Africa, their meal of choice is usually either the wildebeest or zebra. Despite this, these two animals continue to graze and migrate together. In fact, because they are chief prey of the lion (and other big cats), they need to stick together. Various observers and experts give different explanations for why. Zebras have great farsightedness and the wildebeests have excellent peripheral vision, but each are poor at seeing what the other sees well. Others explain that wildebeests have mouths better suited for short grass while zebras’ are made for the long grass that grow intermittently together on the plains. Still others point to the zebras superior memories, recalling the safety routes of the previous year, and the wildebeests uncanny ability to find water even when such is scarce. Probably, it is the combination of these facts that cause the symbiotic relationship between these two large mammals. They do not all survive, but the vast majority do. The reason is because they utilize their own abilities but also because they rely on the abilities of others.

In a letter where Peter is addressing a people who were at times spiritual prey, he does more than use the simba simile. He urges Christians to stick together and look out for one another. He calls for sincere, fervent, from the heart love for one another (1:22; 4:8). He urges complaint-free hospitality toward one another (4:9). He commands serving one another (4:10). He teaches there to be mutual humility displayed toward one another (5:5). He ends the letter exhorting an affectionate, loving greeting of one another (5:14). As much as anything, this is a recognition of mutual dependence.

If we understand that we are not at home in this world (2:11) and are living and longing for the inheritance in heaven (1:4), we should come to understand our mutual need of each other. That does not just mean looking for others’ help, but also giving it. This is by God’s design. Notice, for example, the proactive protection we provide each other by being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…” (3:8-9a). Right before the lion passage, Peter talks about different groups looking out for and helping each other (5:1-6).

Any of us, through suffering, temptation, doubt, or some other factor, could drift away from the safety and security of the fold. Let us be more than mindful of each other. Let us depend on each other to survive the hunt and make it to eternal safety.  I will face the lion many times in this life, and I depend on you to help me survive.

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Putting A Price Tag On The Value Of Our Youth

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you’ve seen the news story about the six year old boy who made $11 million dollars this year on YouTube reviewing toys. Ryan, of Ryan ToysReview, has been reviewing toys since he was three years old. He has over 10 million subscribers to his channel, which had a 40-week streak of most viewed YouTube channel this year. He even had NBA star Kevin Durant appear in one of his video reviews in September. His videos are described as simple, innocent, and personable (Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, 12/11/17 via www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix).

That’s incredible! Such savvy, drive, and entrepreneurship. One of the traps we need to avoid is selling the intelligence and abilities of young people short. That’s even truer in the church than in the world.

When I look at our youth, I see perhaps the most evangelistic demographic in our congregation. Teens invite classmates to church just to “see what it’s about.” Then, our other teens reaching out and welcoming them into the group. They have a fearlessness about them that can drive the rest of us to greater effectiveness in this arena.

When I look at our youth, I see tenderheartedness. It doesn’t just drive them to be baptized or to publicly respond to the invitation. It moves them to be compassionate, to help the unfortunate or to be concerned for those who others may overlook. They are shamed by their sins and moved by praising the greatness of God.

When I look at our youth, I see a boundless resource of energy. They are active and alive, and when they channel that to serve–whether our elderly, the homeless, or each other–it’s exciting to see. You see it when they get together, talking and laughing. So many of us feed off of their vitality.

When I look at our youth, I see hope and idealism. Life too often depletes them of these priceless commodities. We need to do more to build them. Hope is about confident expectation, and isn’t the Christian life to be founded upon that (Romans 8:24)? Idealism may be seen as having higher expectations than are realistic, but it’s this mountain-moving faith that causes churches to grow and do what only can be done when God is factored into the equation. He is perfect and able (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Through their evangelism, example, energy, and expectation, our youth are of inestimable value to the church as a whole. Let’s nurture them and help them grow. Let’s give them opportunities to make an impact right now. All of us will reap infinite value from these infinitely valuable ones (cf. Matthew 18:1-6).

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Biggest Misunderstandings About Public Responses

Neal Pollard

There are a couple of examples of public responses to the gospel message in the Bible, both in Acts.  One is positive and the other is negative.  As Peter was preaching that God has made Jesus Lord, the Pentecost crowd interrupted him with the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  As Stephen was delivering a similar message, his audience stopped listening and they cried out with a loud voice before putting the preacher to death (Acts 7:54ff).  Mention is made of a one another response that could apply to the corporate assembly, confessing sins (Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9).  How public the setting was when Peter called for Simon to repent we do not know for certain (Acts 8:18-24).  So, why do we end our sermons with a call to publicly respond?  Is this simply borrowed from the denominations or is it just a rote tradition devoid of deeper purpose?

Often, we have explained the invitation as being an “expedient,” which I think it is.  When we speak of an “expedient,” we refer to a practice that is thought convenient, practical, suitable or appropriate but neutral (neither right nor wrong) and a-biblical (not found in the Bible but not unbiblical).  It is a sensible activity.  Hopefully, the sermon contains a call to change and is persuasive in nature.  Maybe, the person comes in the door that day convicted of his or her need to become a Christian or repent of public sin.  Affording a moment that makes it easy for one needing to obey Christ in one of these ways to do so is appropriate.

I have been in assemblies in this country and overseas that do not have such a time set aside or that do so at other times during the gathering—some do so at the beginning of the service so that a person can worship without being alienated from God (cf. Mat. 5:24), some invite anyone who needs to publicly respond to remain standing after the lesson and a song, some encourage people who need to respond to write their need on a card or piece of paper and hand it to an usher, the preacher, the elders, or someone designated to collect such communication.

While I think it is good for us to consider that there is more than one way to do this and that we are not mandated to do it at all in the assembly, I believe our current arrangement is a fine way to try and help people who need to make spiritual changes and improvements.   Yet, someone who feels the need to make such a response often hesitates or decides against it.  Certainly, the problem on such an occasion might be fear or delay, but is it ever due to some misunderstanding such a one has?  Here are a few of the biggest misunderstandings people have about responding to the invitation:

  •  Nobody but me is struggling with sin in their lives.  Truth: Romans 3:23.
  •  It is a sign of weakness to respond publicly.  Truth: Luke 15:10, 17
  •  Everybody will look down on me, judge me, or gossip about me if I respond.  Truth: Luke 15:28-32
  •  People will distance themselves from me if I respond.  Truth: 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.

Maybe you are thinking this or something similar.  May I assure you that every righteous person on earth and all the inhabitants of heaven would like nothing better than to help you be right with God.  Death and the Judgment loom, and we cannot let anything keep us from making proper preparation for them.  So, if you need to respond today or any day, won’t you come?

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