Categories
peace

A PROVEN RECIPE FOR PEACE

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

Peace conjures a number of different images in our minds; from hippies to nature’s beauty to inner calm to lack of anxiety. Nearly every group of people in the world craves peace – no rational human being wants to live in constant upheaval. We all want to have peace, but our world somehow is still getting worse and worse. Why is this? The prince of this world is not a being who desires peace (II Corinthians 4.4; Ephesians 2.2; John 12.31). His very existence is dedicated to bringing down anyone who believes in God (I Peter 5:8) and he has no care or concern for the fate or well-being of anyone on this earth. Total, lasting world peace will never be possible as long as time continues (see Romans 8.18-25: sin caused the earth to be subjected to futility). 

Total, lasting world peace may not be possible in this life, but this does not mean the world cannot experience any peace at all. How can we experience peace in our lives? 

Firstly, it has to come from us. The world will never act in a way that brings peace. Anytime the world wishes to better its conditions, it incites civil unrest, riots, protests, and other not-very-peaceful behaviors. Christians, however, are called to be different. I Timothy 2.1ff tells us that praying to God on behalf of all men, for kings, and all who are in authority will allow us to lead quiet and tranquil lives in all godliness and dignity. We can have peace by being obedient to government authorities – even if we do not agree with them politically – because God put them in place (Romans 13). If we want peace, we have to show that peace by how we live. Since man is naturally attracted to peace, our quiet, godly lives will draw others to Christ. 

Secondly, even if our world is in chaos we can have inner peace. Philippians was written to break up a nasty fight between Euodia and Syntyche. To have the “peace beyond what we can understand,” they had to rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable, not be anxious, and reach out to God for their every need. The same applies to us today! Do we get our joy from God or from worldly pursuits? Are we worried about meeting personal needs or do we rely on God (see Phil. 4.19; Matt. 6.25)? Do we try to fix our own problems, relying on our own strength, or do we place them in God’s hands and work with His guidance and providence? The Christian life is not easy, nor is it always peaceful, but the inner peace that a faithful Christian experiences, knowing that their name is in the book of life and that nothing in this short life can disrupt God’s love for them, makes every struggle in this life worth the pain. 

If we want peace, we have to be that peace. We have to live peaceful lives. We have to submit to governing authorities (as long as it is within the parameters of godliness). We have to be unified as a church. We have to look to God for all of our needs. We have to trust that He will take care of us, even if that isn’t in this life. If we can do these things, we will have peace.

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Categories
Christmas scruples Uncategorized

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

Neal Pollard

To be fair, there have been several passages I’ve neglected to apply to myself, but, given the time of year we are in, this is certainly one. Paul writes,

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:5-10). 

When we encounter a passage in Scripture, we are well-served to consider its practical application for daily life.

According to this passage, an individual is permitted to regard one day above another and another may choose not to do so. How might that apply to us today? What if one personally regarded December 25th over, say, August 17th (which, while it’s National Custard Day and National Thrift Shop Day, was an attempt to pick an ordinary day on the calendar)? Is that wrong? 

According to this passage, one may elect to observe a day (or not) and eat certain foods (or not) “for the Lord.” If they observe and eat, they aren’t wrong and should not be judged. Remember what Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Is application restricted just to customs under the Old Law, or could someone today act as our judge regarding some or all of these things? Even in Colossians, Paul was dealing with more than Judaisers. 

According to this passage, we must consider our actions in light of how they impact each other. As a local church and even an entire brotherhood, we don’t act in isolation because we are part of one big spiritual family. It also means each member, every weak and strong Christian, should first apply this passage to himself/herself and not just project it onto others. It is a two-way street. If one wants to personally show homage to Christ on a specific day, should he or she be respected and left alone to do that? That seems a fair application of this text.

According to this passage, we must watch judging our brother in matters like these. Further, we must avoid seeing him with contempt. That’s a strong word, meaning “to show by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain” (BDAG 352). Jesus reserved a scathing parable of two men praying in the temple for some because “they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Every weak and strong Christian, along with the rest of humanity, “will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That should temper my spirit and speech, especially in matters which upon fair investigation turn out to be matters of judgment.

When I was younger, I sadly admit that I passed judgment on Christians who sent me religiously-themed Christmas cards or put up a nativity scene in their yard. Any sign that they attached religious significance to this season I attributed to their being spiritually weak and inferior. In light of Romans 14, I believe I was wrong to do this. This was a personal liberty granted to them by God through Paul in that text. If, as I presumptuously assumed, I was their “stronger brother,” then I should not act as their judge in the matter. I should set an example of patience, compassion, and acceptance.

This passage does not authorize the church to observe Christmas or to conclude, as one wise brother put it, “If I can do it, we can do it.” Scripture is filled with condemnation for the church, in its worship and teaching, setting up what God set down and setting down what He set up. Paul, in Romans 14, is talking about an individual Christian engaging in a personal observance. In a mountain of doctrinal and moral crises, let’s be sure to put this in proper perspective. More than that, let’s be careful to avoid being in either the camp which looses where God has bound or which binds where God has given liberty. And let it begin with me.

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Categories
church church (nature) church function church growth church of Christ friendliness Uncategorized

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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Categories
faith Jesus Jesus Christ obedience salvation Uncategorized

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

 

Categories
lost sin Uncategorized

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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Categories
compassion forgiveness grace Uncategorized

A NEW WAY TO HANDLE PRODIGAL SONS

Neal Pollard

Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord.  It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10).  His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too.  It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown.  “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).

Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons.  Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant.  There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God.  The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.

How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time!  As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind.  The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father.  Yet, the father allowed the son to depart.  The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home.  The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected.  He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed.  In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.

We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23).  We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness.  We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home!  Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!

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Categories
acceptance tolerance Uncategorized

Let’s Not Mistake What Some Mean By “Tolerance”

Neal Pollard

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian declared war on establishments which wished to decline services to those of the LGBT community. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes bakery, were driven out of business by a lawsuit in the wake of their refusal to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. According to Todd Starnes,

They faced boycotts and picket lines and other wedding vendors were threatened with similar action if they did business with Sweet Cakes. The family’s young children received death threats and the store’s  social networking platforms were overrun by militant LGBT activists posting obscene and profane messages (read here).

On top of that, they were ordered by the court to pay the couple $135,000 in emotional damages.

The Kleins refused on the grounds that it violated their “deeply-held religious beliefs” (ibid.). Anyone familiar with the Bible could understand the roots of their conviction, even if those ones don’t agree with the Bible (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Unfortunately for the Kleins, “tolerance” was not extended to them. Freedom of religion did not cover their attempt to freely practice their religion in their daily lives.

We have seen forces within our country, in politics, education, the media, and the like, pushing a moral agenda that is often cloaked under the guise of creating tolerance for absolutely everyone. But such is a logical impossibility. For those who see the Bible as their unalterable, unchanging guide, there are moral, ethical, and doctrinal absolutes. Nothing, be it culture, situations, or moral shifts, can alter and change God’s commands. In other words, killing the unborn does not become morally acceptable just because our nation passed a law. We do not want our money to fund what we deem sinful. Fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and any other sexual relationship the Bible identifies as sinful does not cease to be so just because the culture embraces it. We don’t want to be forced to accept what we believe, from Scripture, to be unacceptable to God. Yet, the very articulation of such conviction is increasingly rejected. That seat at the table of civil discourse has been removed and stuck in the corner (if not thrown into the yard).

For some, tolerance has come to mean acceptance of their world view and philosophy. It is not extended to those who disagree or who advocate a divergent point of view (isn’t that what tolerance means?). But, such is inevitable. There is no such thing as absolute tolerance. Immorality and morality, biblically defined, cannot peacefully coexist. Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:11-13). It is a struggle against powers and forces. It requires a firm stand and a resistance. Not a physical, literal fight (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5). It’s a battle of the mind. It depends on the rank and file of people having properly trained, sharpened consciences, formed and spurred by God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.

Jesus says this is to be expected (John 15:19). Peter (1 Pet. 4:12) and John (1 Jn. 3:13) echo it.  Our task is to find the honest hearts and minds (Luke 8:15) who are seeking truth amid the cacophony of cultural noise. And, no matter what it costs us, hold onto truth and teach it to our children (cf. Deut. 6:1ff) which every way the cultural wind blows. Jesus did not call us to be tolerant (Rev. 2:2,20), but rather teachers of truth in love (Eph. 4:15). May we never lose sight of that.

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Categories
grace

Can He Accept Me As I Am?


Neal Pollard

Can God accept me as I am?  I know me better than I know anyone else—my thoughts, feelings, motives, intentions, desires, temptations, and attitudes.  I know I have sin in my life, and I have for many years.  I know I struggle today and I will continue to struggle until He takes me home or He comes again.  Can He accept me as I am?

No!  Not without a heart of resolve or an attempt to please and serve Him.  Not without obedience to the best of my ability.  Not without submitting to His Word and His plan.  Not if I am defiant and self-ruled.  Not if I continue to serve sin in order to get more grace.  Not if I am trying to write the rules or make it on the basis of my righteousness.  Not if I feel I can somehow earn His acceptance or do enough good or avoid enough bad to force His hand and make Him accept me.  Can He accept me as I am?

Yes!  He made the plan.  He set the promises and defined the conditions.  His Son offered the sacrifice.  He has the power and ability to cleanse my sins as I walk in the light.  After I have lived the way He wants me to, to the best of my ability, He provides the grace that bridges the gap between my best and perfection.  He refers me to Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the Prodigal Son, the woman who was a sinner, Peter, Saul of Tarsus, prostitutes, and sinners, the tax collector praying in the temple, the rabble, and the rest, and He says this is what is possible for you!

Can I accept that He can accept me?  Perhaps that is the question that needs addressing first.  His grace and my obedient faith is the roadway to divine acceptance.  Heaven depends on my accepting that!