Wisdom Calls, Can You Hear?

Wisdom Calls, Can You Hear?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

 

Brent Pollard

Last week we noted that one has two reliable sources of wisdom: God and one’s parents. However, we might alter this slightly to include the adjective “godly” to describe our parents. If one’s parents are not godly, then they cannot offer much in the way of wisdom. Everything else is a tertiary source of wisdom. This truth invites harmful consequences for the one listening to the wrong source of wisdom. Solomon warns that sinners seek to seduce you with their words (Proverbs 1.10-19). 

But what do we mean by “sinner”? We have in mind those who habitually sin, not just those who have yet to enter a covenant relationship with God. In other words, these individuals make no pretense of doing good or being righteous. Solomon’s example seems extreme to us since we have a blood-thirsty gang willing to kill to plunder others’ property. How could anyone be seduced into committing an act God hates (Proverbs 6.16-19)? Unfortunately, it is not as difficult as you might think. 

Adolph Hitler remains an easy illustrative target because he is so infamous. However, during an economic depression, Hitler rose to power, promising a return to prosperity. Hitler convinced the Germans that only the Jews stood between them and their restoration. Hitler was charismatic, and he had helpers like Joseph Goebbels, able to package his message for easy consumption. How many otherwise “good” Germans turned a blind eye to atrocities committed under the pretense of creating the thousand-year reign of the Third Reich?  

When Patton discovered the atrocities committed at Buchenwald, he brought the locals into the concentration camp to see what had happened there. Some still feigned ignorance, but one eyewitness at the time declared that one could smell death in the air even outside the camp. “Death” has an unmistakable smell. Visitors to the concentration camps of Europe have told me that the scent lingers today. It is inconceivable that they didn’t know that something nefarious happened behind the locked gates of Buchenwald.   

I’ve watched enough documentaries to note how many older Germans living during that time say that Hitler had them under a spell. And some of the Hitler youth have struggled to adjust to the post-war world. But today, it is common for Germans to refer to the events of the Second World War as the liberation of Germany by the Allied Forces. In other words, contemporary Germans see the period of Nazi rule as an occupation even though the citizenry widely supported Hitler at that time. 

But what of a “softer” despotism? We have U.S. politicians parroting the Marxist ideology of redistribution. (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”) And younger generations are quick to point out the disparity between the salary of the CEO and the employee, even though the CEO may have blood and sweat equity invested in his business and that no job would exist for the employer without him. And there is this disconnect between those desiring that we plunder the “rich” and redistribute to the “poor” and the “foot soldiers” willing to “Occupy Wall Street.” The latter may be ready to commit violence to achieve revolutionary goals, but those sympathetic are likewise content to stay silent as the rabble fights. Lest we forget, the failed economic ideology of Karl Marx has never worked anywhere it has been tried. Furthermore, it has given us men like Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, who have killed far more of their citizens than even Hitler did of the Jews.  

It is much easier to follow a multitude to do evil than we care to admit. Thus, Moses warned against such (Exodus 23.2). It is a matter of companionship. As Paul warns, if we surround ourselves with evil people, it will corrupt our good morals (1 Corinthians 15.33). On the other hand, if we tolerate the presence of evil, we will discover its shared nature with yeast that permeates the dough into which one introduces it (1 Corinthians 5.6). This cascading effect is one of the reasons a church must practice discipline when needed (1 Corinthians 5.1ff).  

Lady Wisdom’s call stands in stark contrast (Proverbs 1.20-33). But, like the effort required to enter the narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14), one must be determined to hear her voice over the noisy crowds (1.21). Lady Wisdom is especially desirous to grab the attention of three groups: simpletons, mockers, and fools. Simpleton sounds derogatory but means that one is gullible. Aren’t the gullible especially vulnerable to the misinformation supplied by the tertiary sources of earthly wisdom? Indeed. And it is not necessarily a matter of ignorance, but lack of experience making them simpletons.  

Mockers, also called scoffers, are those flouting God’s authority. As with the simpleton, this does not mean one is stupid. Instead, a mocker chooses to be such by his disposition. Like the pharaoh to whom Moses spoke, mockers ask, “Who is God that I should hear His voice?” (Exodus 5.2) Finally, we have the fool. As we have said previously, “fool” has nothing to do with intellectual capacity. A biblical fool is a morally deficient person despising wisdom and discipline. Thus, the fool is “happier” living without the intrusive “advice” of a Creator God. 

But as Lady Wisdom warns, her unheard pleas will become a calamity for those refusing her counsel. And on that day, not only will she not be an advocate at one’s side, but she will join the chorus of laughter at their downfall (1.26). Lady Wisdom sounds cruel, but truthfully, she is just a strict teacher. She knows that one eats the fruit of his own way (1.31, cf. Galatians 6.7-8). Thus, she leaves you to your own devices. And the isolation one feels when facing the consequences of his actions is not even abated by the knowledge that God’s grace is available to forgive. The fallen one wishes he could call on Lady Wisdom but realizes that all she can tell him now is, “I tried to tell you.” 

David illustrates this feeling of loneliness in facing the consequences well in Psalm 51. Do you recall his misery? He could feel the separation between himself and God. He cried out to God to restore the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51.12). As recompense, David would then teach others (Psalm 51.13). We might add that bargaining is a noted process of grief. David was grieving. It mattered not that David knew God could forgive him because he still felt that loneliness that began when Nathan pointed the finger at him and said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12.7). Lady Wisdom was absent from David. Even if present, all she could have done was remind him of what he had done wrong. 

Today, Lady Wisdom still calls. Can you hear her? You may have to strain to listen to her over the world’s noise. But do not spurn her invitation lest you share the fate of the simpleton, mocker, and fool. Instead, hear her offer of security and peace of mind (1.33) and accept her counsel.   

The Entertainer And The Executioner

The Entertainer And The Executioner

Neal Pollard

They were born within four days of each other, both on the European continent. Both adored their mothers and resented their drunken fathers. Both grew up knowing real poverty. Both were incredibly intense and ambitious. Both were mesmerizing performers who commanded crowds. Both sported the same, strange mustache and bore a striking resemblance.

One became a comedian who made people laugh. The other became a dictator responsible for the death of millions. Neither were moral giants, but each used their influence for very different ends.

It doesn’t matter where or when one is born. To a certain degree, we do not have to be defined by the home we grew up in. Being poor is not an automatic determiner of either success or failure. Our looks are a neutral commodity. Our talents and opportunities are a blank canvas we choose to decorate as we please.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is a Divine reminder that we all take what God gives us and decide what we will do with it. Nothing is foreordained or forced upon us. We determine, both by action and inaction, to be a servant or slothful. What we must be aiming for is much greater and higher than earthly ambition, whether to be loved or feared by the world. Our purpose must be to be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). The good news is that where, when, and how you were born is a fact, but it does not have to define you. If we empty ourselves of ourselves and let Him fill us, He will define us!

THE DIFFERENCE OF MORE THAN A YEAR

THE DIFFERENCE OF MORE THAN A YEAR

Neal Pollard

Have you ever researched famous people born on your birthday? I have. I share a birthday with Babe Ruth, Bob Marley, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Queen Anne, Isidor Strauss, J.E.B. Stuart, Tom Brokaw, and, of course, a great many others. Two of the more fascinating, by contrast, were born a year apart. The one born in 1911 was a man. The one born in 1912 was a woman. He was an American patriot and two-term president. She was the companion of a Nazi dictator. He was shot, but survived. Her end was presumably self-inflicted. He lived into his 90s. She died in her 30s. He was Ronald Reagan. She was Eva Braun.

Both were born in two-parent households of modest means. Both had Catholic backgrounds. Both were second-born children. Both were athletes in their youth. Both possessed a talent for the arts. Both were fiercely loyal.

There is much more that could be said by way of comparison and contrast, but consider this. They were born and raised into the world at almost the same time. They were both born with the freedom to choose. Both found themselves in a place of great influence. Why was their ultimate influence so different from one another? It is surely more complex than can be measured from so great a distance of time and geography. Yet, it is a question played out an infinite number of times every day.

The day you were born, you were given a set of resources: time, talent, inclinations, opportunities, and influencers. For all of us, some of those resources present challenges and some present advantages. In other words, all of us have problems to overcome and privileges to leverage. In every case, we get to decide what we do with what we are given.

One of the applications of the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:14-30) is stewardship. Each man was given resources. Each was held accountable for what he did with them. Each made choices regarding them. Each reaped what he sowed.

I do not know how my final epitaph will read. It will certainly not be American president or German dictator’s companion. For that matter, it will not be Hall of Fame baseball player, British royalty, actor, composer, or broadcast journalist. 

I know how I want it to read–Faithful Christian, faithful husband, faithful father, faithful preacher, and faithful friend. Am I using my resources to work toward that goal? The only way I get to choose my legacy is by building it day-by-day, decision-by-decision. The same is true of us all. That means we must all use time wisely (Eph. 5:16) to forge it. By doing so wisely, we can be numbered among those to whom the Lord, at the end of it all, says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat. 25:21). 

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Braun and Reagan shared a legacy that includes Berlin, Germany.

“It’s Meant To Be”

“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.

What Would YOU Do?

What Would YOU Do?

Neal Pollard

On the one hand, Brunhilde Pomsel says she knew nothing but on the other says she saw the “ranting, rowdy man,” the “raging midget” that her boss, Joseph Goebbels, could become. Though usually sophisticated and elegant, if arrogant, he was the propaganda minister for Hitler’s Nazi regime, culpable in the murder of millions of Jews and other Nazi targets, and she was his secretary. She’s 105-years-old and is the star of a documentary film, A German Life, set to be released soon (The Guardian, Kate Connelly, 8/15/16, “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-Year-Old Secretary: No One Believes Me Now, But I Knew Nothing”). One of her most poignant comments was this:  ““Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have.”

After the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell…”

Her point, even if uttered in rationalization, is pretty poignant. It’s so easy to look back on horrific actions like those perpetrated by the Nazi machine and say we’d die fighting it. But, the rank and file of the German people in the 1930s and 1940s were “normal” people. I’m sure it would have been possible for someone like Brunhilde to keep herself in a bubble from the truth, but I’m not sure it exonerates her. I’ve read too many books about so many who secretly and openly defied the evil of that fascist government to protect the innocent, especially the Jewish people.

One of history’s hardest challenges has been to go against the flow of culture and society. Scripture reveals some of those struggles, like faced by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Imagine facing the “rage and anger” of a ruthless king who demanded you to sin, and saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18). Then imagine seeing him “filled with wrath, and his facial expression” being “altered” toward you. While the event was transformational for the king, they still needed the courage to be distinct in their times.

It is frightening to think of how our country has changed in such a relatively brief period of time. As morality erodes and attitudes toward God and the Bible change for the worse, we have opportunities to stand. The ruling powers may not seem as evil as Nazism does in the rearview mirror, but their hostility toward Christianity is becoming clearer. While we remain the respective, obedient citizens Scripture commands us to be (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2), let us be willing to stand with the likes of Peter and John and always say, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

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Recruiting Children

Recruiting Children

Neal Pollard

It was Adolf Hitler who famously said, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community’” (Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich).  Recently, an AP article by Zeina Karam and Vivian Salama reports of ISIS militants luring children from Iraq and Syria to fight in the battles they are waging across the middle east.  One photo shows two children posing with automatic weapons as an Islamic militant fighter has his hand affectionately on one of their shoulders (The Denver Post, 11/24/14, 13A).  Lest our culture get too sanctimonious, ideologues in our educational, political, and media realms have long been indoctrinating our youth on matters like radical feminism, abortion, homosexuality, climate change, evolution, and the continuing list is lengthy.  The world has long known that the way to effect and control philosophical change is by reaching the hearts of children.

Once, in the context of teaching about possessions and stewardship, Jesus made the observation that “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8b).  Have we, in the body of Christ, ever conceded to the spiritual enemy regarding our children?  Do we let the world set the standard of right and wrong? Arrange their priorities? Set their moral compass and define their worldview?

At no time is the human heart more impressionable and moldable than in the days of youth.  What can we do to reach the hearts of our children? Consider these areas:

  • Worship.  To me, a most practical disadvantage of programs like “Children’s Church” is that it deprives children of the culture and environment of worship, where they not only practice engagement but also group participation.  Since children are such quick and able learners, we can teach them so much about praise and adoration to God with each other in worship (cf. Psa. 95:6).
  • Acts of service.  Rather than creating an atmosphere that caters to children’s desires, why not create opportunities that teach them the value and importance of service, unselfishness, and giving. By helping them serve, we open their eyes to the joy and fullness of heart that follows doing for others (cf. Acts 20:35).
  • Fellowship.  Why not do more as a church and as individual families to emphasize the beauty and joy of Christians being together? Involve children in preparing for these times and making them an active part in times spent together with others—teaching them requisites like good manners, courtesy, thoughtfulness, and respect for adults.  It will live and grow in them as they pass from childhood to adulthood (cf. 1 Th. 5:11).

Give thought to other areas where we can reach the hearts of our children, helping them  to remember their Creator at their tender age (Ecc. 12:1).  They are such a vital resource to the heart of God, so much that He calls them “a gift” (Psa. 127:1).  May we not, by neglect, default, or shortsightedness, let the world shape and influence them. Through both the church and Christian homes, may we “recruit” our children to love and follow God with all they are (cf. Mat. 22:37).