TRY THE CONTEXT!

Neal Pollard

“Big dummy!” That can be a derogatory statement or the description of a large mannequin. Context makes all the difference! So it is with matters of infinitely greater significance. So much religious error exists because of a failure to consider the context of biblical passages.

Our friends in religion who believe that Jesus is a created being rather than one of the three everlasting personalities of the Godhead defend their view with passages such as Colossians 1:15, which says, “He is the firstborn of all creation.” A further study of the use of the word “firstborn” shows that it is used literally (Heb. 11:28) and figuratively (Heb. 12:23) in the New Testament. Context determines the difference. What is it in Colossians 1:15? The context says that Jesus made everything that was made (16-17). Did He make Himself? No, He cannot both be literally, physically born and be the One who created “all things.” Logically, Paul is speaking in a figurative sense, that in His human nature Jesus is “at the head of His class.” He is first in order, preeminent among men (18). As a human, He is above us and first among all of us.

Others of our friends teach salvation by faith only. They appeal to a couple of passages to assert this idea. One passage is Acts 16:31, where the Philippian jailer is told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is given as proof positive that salvation comes at the point of faith. Another text cited, the “golden text of the Bible,” says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This statement is made as part of a conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus.

In the case of the jailer, who saw the miraculous power of God in opening the jail doors and who asked what he must do to be saved, he is told to believe in Jesus. It is noteworthy to ask, “How much would the average Philippian jailer know about Jesus?” Thus, Luke adds the important detail that before we read of the man’s response, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him” (31). His response is found in verse 32, where he washes Paul and Silas’ wounds and is immediately baptized. This accords with the broader context of Acts, where believers are told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (2:38; 22:16).

In the case of Nicodemus’ instruction, Jesus’ makes the statement of John 3:16 in a certain context, too, a context that included talk of water (3:5) and an illustration from the book of Numbers. That illustration is very noteworthy for showing that more than belief is necessary for salvation. It concerns the serpents God sent upon the murmuring and complaining Israelites. Numbers 21:9 says, “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” How did salvation come, simply by believing in God’s plan or by believing AND looking? Likewise, the broader context of scripture shows faith and works joined together. Israel did not earn the saving of their lives by looking any more than we earn salvation from sin by believing and being baptized. Yet, God makes it as essential to obey today as He did during the wilderness wandering. Context bears this out.

Let us never be “scripture isolationists,” those who peel a verse away from its context or who rest our confidence in doctrines that have been thus constructed. God saw to it that we would have His word and will preserved. How wise of us to make sure we properly study it in context!

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Misusing The Bible

Neal Pollard

Ashley Despain now holds a dubious, ignominious distinction. Visiting an inmate in a Nevada, Missouri, jail, Ashley tried to sneak him marijuana and methamphetamines by sticking them into the binding of the Bible. Officials say they have seen many ways used to smuggle drugs to prisoners, but it’s the first time the Bible was the means chosen (via http://fox2now.com/2018/03/29/).

File that under “truth is stranger than fiction.” As incredible (and audacious) as that sounds, Ashley was not the first to misuse the Bible. How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of enriching themselves? Peter speaks of false teachers who exploit listeners with false words because of the teachers’ greed (“make merchandise of,” KJV, 2 Pet. 2:3). How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of defending personal sin or a sinful lifestyle? How many have tried to use the Bible as a billy club to pound their own hobbies, convictions, and opinions over the heads of others? How many have tried to use the Bible to peddle some false doctrine? Peter experienced that, too (2 Pet. 3:16). How many have tried to use the Bible to manipulate others into doing things they themselves aren’t doing? Jesus warned against that very thing (Mat. 23:4). How many have tried to use the Bible to tempt others into disobeying God? That’s literally a Satanic trick (cf. Mat. 4:6).

James warns potential teachers to be careful, examining themselves in light of the judgment (3:1). This is not meant to scare potential Bible teachers away, but instead should help us consider carefully how we use the Bible. Paul mentions some that misused the Bible, even if what they said was true. From prison, he writes, “ Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Phil. 1:15-17).

Like Paul, we have a stewardship (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 3:1-2). Let’s be faithful stewards! None of us will probably try to smuggle drugs with a Bible. But, in every sense, let’s be sure to be “accurately handling” it (2 Tim. 2:15)!

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HOW IS TRUTH DETERMINED?

Neal Pollard

Recently, I received some feedback on a recent article (Truth Is Truth, No Matter Who Disagrees With It). Negative feedback is not rare, but expected when we put ideas down on paper (or on electronic media like blogs). This feedback was not personal, nor unkind. Yet, it reflects the thinking of so many who shun the idea of absolute, objective truth. Consider the major arguments made by the one who wrote:

—No matter what you believe, the majority disagrees with you.
—You are no smarter or more sincere than those who disagree with you.
—Everyone is certain their religion is right, but this is a function of the brain and proof of nothing
—Conflicting views within the “Restoration Movement” shows the fallacy of being certain about truth
—Certainty is dangerous because it does not allow for change

The last three arguments seem more of a confrontation of certainty than arguments against truth, but consider each of these individually.

Does the inevitability of disagreement nullify the idea of absolute truth? If someone argues our answer that two plus two equals four, and were able to get a majority to side with them that the answer is five, does that nullify the truth of what two plus two equals?

If a person with demonstrable intellectual capacity and apparent sincerity nonetheless avers that two plus two equals five, do we rewrite the laws of addition and reprint the textbooks? If not, why not? Is it not because we can take two of something, add it to two more of the same something, like integers or apples or books, and find the inescapable, universal truth that now there are four?

Can any religion be certain that they are right, but be wrong? Universalists believe everyone will ultimately be saved. Those who believe that murdering those they deem “infidels” pleases their God and they teach others that this is truth. Cults often dub their leaders the Messiah. On what basis would we object or oppose any religious tenet, like these, without an objective standard of truth?

Does the imperfection of people in applying revealed truth impugn the reality of absolute truth? It will never be suggested that anyone is perfectly interpreting or applying the perfect standard of truth, including those trying to restore New Testament Christianity (which, incidentally, implies belief in a perfect, objective standard of truth). But, does that mean restoration can or should be rejected for ideas which clearly contradict what the New Testament says (i.e., “sinner’s prayer’ versus how the New Testament teaches people were saved)?

If there is a conflict between the certainty of New Testament teaching and the desire for change, which is to be preferred and chosen? The religious world has changed a myriad of things that the New Testament explicitly teaches must be done or taught a certain way. Isn’t it a faulty premise to choose change proposed by men, when it assaults a certainty revealed by God?

That there is religious confusion and division is indisputable. It is disheartening. The Bible warns that articulate, polished religious leaders would teach things contrary to the revealed truth of the New Testament (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19). Let us never put confidence in man, but let us ever put confidence in the truth of Scripture.

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Resolutions Reinforcements–#7

Neal Pollard

Already, we have looked at six reinforcements for our resolutions: (1) Specificity (Resolutions Reinforcements–#1), (2) Prayer (Resolutions Reinforcements–#2), (3) Tenacity (Resolutions Reinforcements–#3), (4) Hope (Resolutions Reinforcements–#4), (5) Self-Control (Resolutions Reinforcements—#5), and (6) Accountability (Resolutions Reinforcements–#6). I’d like to close this series of articles with one last tool of support. To keep our resolutions rolling, may I suggest “reading.”

Especially if you are not a reader, that may sound like drudgery. However, consider the fact that God thought it important enough to have His will and thoughts written down in a book. Certainly, the Bible will help shape, encourage, and assist us in every noble goal. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” How do we know what God considers to fall within these categories? We must read His Word (cf. Psa. 119:105).

Whatever your goals, there are probably plenty of books devoted to the subject (cf. Ecc. 12:12). If you have financial, physical, relational, or spiritual goals, seek out books by those of proven ability in those areas. Perhaps you can ask people who are excelling in the areas where you wish to improve what books they’ve read and would recommend. Some time ago when he still lived at home, my son Dale passed along a book one of our deacons, Scott Phillips, shared with him on finances, entitled Rich Dad, Poor Dad. One of my elders, Dean Murphy, recently recommended The Speed of Trust for effective leadership. Rick Randall, a faithful member here, recommended a faith-building resource called The Truth Project. Just yesterday, Mike Vestal encouraged me to read a book by Gary McIntosh on church growth that was relevant to a goal I have regarding Bear Valley. Connect yourself to readers in your congregation and your circle of friends.

The point is, resolutions are about making improvements. Often, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Usually, you’ll have to spit out some bones. Always, you can mine at least some nugget from a book on a subject of your interest that can help you grow. I encourage you to “study up” on ways to maintain and shore up your resolve. Filter it all through the lens of Scripture. Then, most importantly, don’t be a forgetful hearer but rather a doer (cf. Jas. 1:22).

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Why Is The World Asking “Why?”

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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Learning A Lesson From A Lantern

Gary Pollard III

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

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

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

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

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

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“Wait Until Fall”

Neal Pollard

It was a beautiful experience, talking with our newest brother in Christ last night. It was beautiful watching him be bombarded with love and attention from member after member. Listening to him tell his story built my confidence in the simplicity of the Bible when a person reads it without prejudice or agenda. What an affirmation that God has a will for us and He made sure it was understandable to the seeker. As Jesus put it, “Seek, and you shall find” (Mat. 7:7).

Roberto has been seeking. As he has been attending a large, area Community Church, he has also been studying his Bible. He’s been a diligent student. Along the way, he read the repeated emphasis upon baptism as a necessity for salvation. This prompted him to approach his church and ask if he could be baptized. He was told that they baptize in the fall, and he could be baptized then. His immediate concern? What if I am killed in a car wreck or my phone blows up when I charge it? There was no manipulative or badgering teacher filling his head with such scenarios. Instead, he could make the connection between a command from God and the consequences of disobeying it.

He started Googling the importance of baptism and eventually found World Bible School. This led him to connect with Terry Pace, a Christian in Flint, Michigan, who studied with him. Roberto wanted to know if he could be baptized. Terry went to work. Terry’s son, Sam, happens to preach at the Northwest congregation in Westminster. One of the Northwest members, Allan Javellana, met him to study with him on Monday and found out he had sufficient understanding to be baptized. Since he lives close to Bear Valley, Allan brought him to our building where Wayne Nelson let him in. Allan stressed with Roberto the importance of working and worshipping with a group that is trying to answer Bible questions with Bible answers.

On Pentecost, they asked “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They were told (Acts 2:38), and they acted that day (Acts 2:41).

On the road to Gaza, the eunuch asked Philip (who had preached Jesus to him, Acts 8:35), “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). They stopped the chariot right there and then, and he was baptized (Acts 8:38).

At Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, this Gentile asked Peter to come over from Joppa (Acts 10:23ff). Cornelius knew Peter would be speaking words by which he could be saved (Acts 11:14). When it was clear that God wanted Gentiles to be saved (Acts 10:44-47), Cornelius and his household were baptized on the spot (Acts 10:48).

In the prison in Philippi, the jailor asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). He’s told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), Who they proceed to teach him about (Acts 16:32). Armed with this knowledge of the Savior, this jailor “immediately…was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:33).

Nobody waited because God’s answer was “now.” What has changed from then to now? What would make a different answer acceptable today? Roberto is another, amazing example of what a receptive heart does when faced with God’s Word and will. Simply, humbly do what He says. Oh, that I will approach God’s Word the same way!

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It Will Work!

Neal Pollard

  • Planting gospel seed (cf. Luke 8:11) will result in people of all ages, backgrounds, and nations becoming Christians.
  • Overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21) will soften hard-hearted enemies.
  • Approaching a wayward brother or sister in lovingkindness (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20) will bring some back to faithfulness.
  • Faithful attendance will stimulate to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
  • Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from the heart and with purpose will help us and everyone else who is present (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
  • Spending time together and getting to know each other will make us closer to one another (Acts 2:44; 4:32).
  • Investing in a heartfelt relationship with God will lessen anxiety and increase peace and joy (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).
  • If the church stays committed to souls and service, it will grow (Acts 6:1-7).
  • Speaking to (rather than about) those who we feel have offended us results in greater harmony and reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-17).
  • Culture is met mightily by transformed, sacrificial representatives for Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).
  • We will win more in the world if we are not trying to simply embrace and imitate it as it is (Jas. 4:4).
  • Emphasizing leadership will result in people rising up to lead (cf. Ti. 1:5-11; 1 Th. 5:12-13).
  • Homes united in dedication to putting Christ’s kingdom first will have a high rate of success in raising faithful children (Pr. 22:6; Eph. 6:1-4).
  • If we will consult Scripture for answers to our dilemmas, we’ll uncover the best solutions possible (Ps. 119:105).

In our search for relevance, effectiveness, and success in our present world, let’s not overthink it! Whatever the question, if it matters (2 Pet. 1:3), the Bible has the answer. It will work!

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LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACE FOR JESUS

Neal Pollard
Periodically, we read or hear of “sightings” that unbelievers have a field day with. I refer to “Jesus sightings,” people are claiming in such things as clouds, Cheetos, dental X-rays, cooking utensils, windows, walls, and trees. Wikipedia even has an entry for it (“Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena”). People vehemently defend the idea that these are intentional, divinely sent images. Meanwhile, secular and agnostic witnesses to such claims gather up baby and bathwater together, using such superstitiousness to show how deluded those in Christendom really are. Yet, while responding to superstition in religion would be a fitting use of time, another thing comes to mind when hearing these sad stories. It is a reminder that people are looking for Jesus in all the wrong places.
They want some heavenly sign, some overwhelming feeling, some sensory sensation, and some sort of religious fireworks to create or validate their faith. While God has embedded plenty of these in the marvels of nature and creation, through the product of answered prayer that defies logic or explanation, and by the amazing process of transformation that occurs when people follow Christ, He calls on us to seek for Him in a much less electrifying and cataclysmic place.
When we pick up God’s Word and regularly, intently read, meditate, and study (cf. Psalm 1) it, we see Jesus come alive in powerful, sustaining ways! When we walk with the Lord each day, the resulting relationship built on His character and our trust in Him is powerful! When we actively serve Him and others and put into practice what He teaches us through the Bible, we see Jesus in a vivid way. Daily Christian living, the longer we practice it, brings Jesus into unmistakeable, clear focus. Maybe that is what these “seers” truly desire, and what they need is our help to truly find Him. Let us take that as a challenge and help people really “see Jesus” (cf. John 12:21; Heb. 2:9).

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We Can Only Share What We Know 

Neal Pollard

I found a treasure in a chest of drawers in my parents’ house this week. It was a Mother’s Day present I gave my mom when I was 8 years old. Actually, it was a project our third-grade teacher helped us put together. It was a recipe book concocted by us students without any adult assistance. The spelling and the recipes confirm this fact. My two recipes were “Peanut Butter ‘Crisbys’” and “Lemon Pie.” The first recipe was brief, but profound:

Put 3 C. rice crisbys in a bowl. Then
put 2 tablespoons peanut butter in.
4 C. Sugar.
Put in oven at 200 for 30 min.

The second recipe was more complex:

Put 4 eggs in the pan
Put 3 cups of lemon mix in
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 C. “flower”
Put in pan and cook for 1 hour at 200 degrees.

I assure you that nearly every recipe in this small book showed about as much culinary acuity. Why? We had been in the kitchen, but we had no concept about ratios, temperature, or baking times (or even if we used stovetop or oven). The result were “recipes” that would have been problematic to follow or eat.

What a challenge to me as I try to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18)! I want to move beyond a childlike knowledge of Scripture and move on toward maturity (Heb. 5:11-6:1)! May I never be so lacking in knowledge that I cannot tell someone what to do to be saved, help someone know Christ, or speak about any matter pertaining to life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). May I have the humility to never “think more highly of” myself than I ought to think (Rom. 12:3). Otherwise, I may look naive or ignorant when asserting my expertise in a matter where I need considerable growth.  I must bring the same humility to such complex subjects as marriage and parenting, as well as Christian living. That is not to say that I should not grow to the point where I cannot be helpful, but instead temper my advice and assertion with deference and cover it with lovingkindness and patience.  On multiple occasions, the younger me made this mistake. In fact, I am still prone to do so. It reminds me to grow what I know and be careful not to share what goes beyond that.

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