Soldiers Of Christ

Soldiers Of Christ

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

Christianity is important to us. Making sure we live the right way is important to us. Because our loyalty to God is important to us, and because our lifestyle is characterized by avoiding evil, many believe that our mission in life is to defeat evil. Some Christians believe that this involves social activism or influencing public opinion. Nothing about this is intrinsically wrong, but it cannot be our primary focus. 

Evil exists, period. Humanity introduced evil when we disobeyed God. As we noted last week, evil is on borrowed time thanks to Jesus, but it will exist until the end of time. So, what’s our job if fighting evil isn’t top of the list? 

Christians are people who decide to follow God. That means living based on his moral code, not on humanity’s. That means we avoid practicing morally evil things. We recognize the influence that evil has on the world. We understand the consequences of choosing evil over God. 

Christians are recruiters! We’re a tight knit group of people with shared goals, views, and struggles. Part of our job is to keep each other strong (Gal. 6.10; I Pet. 1.22; Heb. 3.12,13). The rest of our job is to recruit people to populate heaven (Matt. 28.19; Acts 20.24; Jn.15). God also expects us to be good citizens and live quiet, peaceful lives (Rom. 13; I Pet. 2.13; I Tim. 2.2; I Thess. 4.11). 

Jesus defeated evil (I Jn. 3.8, 4.4; Col. 2.15), and he will personally destroy it forever at the end (Rev. 20; II Pet. 3.7). For now, though, evil is inevitable (I Jn. 5.19). Our job is to share God’s hope with those who don’t have it. By avoiding evil ourselves and helping others escape its influence, we help diminish its influence on the world! 

Tips For Improving Your Outlook

Tips For Improving Your Outlook

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

“Outlook” is one’s point of view or general attitude about life. It’s really the way one looks out at the world and sees it. Your outlook may be colored by a lot of things going on in the world right now. It’s easy to let the negative, scary, and discouraging events cloud our view. Are there some proactive measures we can take to improve that picture? Yes!

  • Invest in someone. Perhaps no one should have had a harder time keeping positive than the apostle Paul. Read all that he suffered and endured (2 Cor. 11:23-33). He repeatedly labored under the threat of danger (1 Cor. 15:30) and death (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6). Yet, he exuded positivity (Phil. 4:13,19; 2 Cor. 9:8). Surely one reason was Paul’s knack for investing in others. He mentored Timothy (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2), Titus (Ti. 1:4), and Onesimus (Phile. 10). He spent time nurturing and developing churches like Corinth (1 Cor. 4:14-15) and Thessalonica (1 Th. 2:7-8, 11). He was willing to run the risk of being disappointed by the people he invested in (2 Tim. 4:10). For every Demas, there was a Luke (2 Tim. 4:11). There is someone who needs to benefit from your wisdom, maturity, experience, and understanding. Seek them out and help them, for their sake but also for yours. 
  • Clarify your purpose. It is easy to reduce our view of this life to a daily grind we find ourselves working at. We can get lost in our routine, not unlike Martha whose outlook was distorted by hers (Luke 10:41). Being organized and fulfilling our responsibilities are vital, but what can help restore joy and meaning to all of it is regularly remembering why we engage in it all. Marriage, parenting, friendships, occupation, education, daily Christian living, church membership, and personal growth all serve a deeper purpose. Paul’s advice to slaves with earthly masters has broader application: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:23-24). 
  • Reduce media consumption. If you constantly monitor news and current events, you will stay discouraged and fearful. The media has always thrived on reporting on the worst events happening, and it seems there is more and more of it to report. The same kind of thing can happen with too much social media consumption. Polarizing, inflammatory posts and reactions can form a black cloud over you pretty quickly. When Paul urges us to ponder things that cause pleasure and delight (Phil. 4:8), I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking of anything like what the media is churning out. 
  • Increase personal interaction. Technology has steadily pushed so many toward isolation and disconnection. The pandemic forced this tendency further. Those monitoring the news cycle du jour (see previous point) retreat into virtual bunkers of suspicion against people of different colors, nationalities, and political persuasions. They become impersonal caricatures, grotesquely exaggerated and larger than life. How do you break through resulting prejudices? The Lord’s way was to be in people’s lives. Engage them. Listen to their stories. Grow empathy. Understand their hurts, fears, and needs. Realize their humanity and remind yourself how profoundly and infinitely God loves each and every one of them (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4). People can be broken, full of dysfunction, and even prickly, but we will brighten our outlook when we get out of our shells and into their lives. 
  • Focus on encouragement.  Several times, I heard the late gospel preacher, George Bailey, say, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package.” I have yet to meet a self-absorbed person who is happy with what they’ve filled themselves with. We’re just not wired that way. Paul’s central focus with the Philippians is on how to think right, their mindset and attitude. He urges placing others above self and looking out for others’ interests (Phil. 2:3-4). It’s amazing how God has wired us. When we find people to uplift and build up, it improves our own outlook. There are countless folks all around you who are struggling with their outlook. Compliment, express appreciation for, and gratefully acknowledge them. It’s a godly thing to do, but a side-effect will be what it does for you!
  • Look up and look ahead. Though not every time, usually my dampened outlook can be attributed to not only looking too much at this world and myself but also by not looking more at the world to come and God. It’s harder to focus on what’s invisible to the naked eye, but it’s crucial. Paul reminds us, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Spend more time in God’s throne room and His inspired library. Deepen your dependency upon Him. In doing so, focus more intensely on His promise of the world to come (John 14:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1ff). This life is temporary. Eternity is–well–eternal!  Looking up, you’ll see the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, and all-loving God (Psa. 139:1-18). Looking ahead, you’ll see victory (1 John 5:4). 

I think we’ll always struggle with dark days and discouragement. Did Paul? Read 2 Corinthians and 2 Timothy. But, he and other Bible writers give us a laundry list of ways to combat these and make them temporary. David was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but He could still see divine presence, divine comfort, divine provision, divine blessings, and divine promise (Psa. 23:4-6). So can we!  It just may take adjusting the way we look out at the world. 

“Does Everything Happen For A Reason?”

“Does Everything Happen For A Reason?”

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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Carl Pollard
Have you ever been misquoted? Like when you say something and your friend takes that and runs with it, and they turn it into a phrase that you never even said to begin with. No one likes getting words put in their mouth, especially if they’re harmful or a lie. When it comes to Gods word, it’s no different. God has clearly shown us what He has said, and there’s not any need to add to it. Sadly some people have taken Romans 8:28, a beautiful verse, and have changed it to mean something entirely different.
 
“Everything Happens For a Reason.” You’ve probably heard this phrase used before. This phrase has hurt and angered a lot of people who experience a great tragedy. We often say these words to indicate that God is in charge of all things. Unfortunately, that thought has to be balanced with the knowledge that God created us in his image; therefore, we have free will and the right to choose. 
 
If you’re like me, we won’t always use that freedom correctly. As humans we make bad and harmful decisions, and much of the pain and suffering we experience is a result of a wrong choice. God is in charge of this world, but He has chosen to give us freedom to follow. Often, things happen in our lives because we, or someone else, made a wrong choice.
 
Romans 8:28 is the verse that people will point to when they use this phrase. Let’s take a moment to dig into this verse and see what is being said. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Is God behind every tragedy? Does God cause people to wreck? Does God cause all the good and bad that happens in the world? God doesn’t make everything happen for a reason because of this: He doesn’t control our every decision. We have free choice to live however we want, and those choices are often done out of greed or selfishness or a lack of care and concern for others.
 
So what does this verse mean? Paul is trying to make a very important point. God takes the good and the bad, and uses it to accomplish His will. God causes all things to work together for Good. He doesn’t cause everything to happen;  He takes what occurs and uses it for good. He can take a bad situation and use it to accomplish His will. Bad things happen and the world is filled with sin, but God can take a seemingly terrible situation and something good can come from it. Israel made many bad decisions, but God still used them to bring about the Messiah. God can take the terrible events in our lives, and use them as a way to grow His kingdom.
Why Doesn’t God Just Kill the Devil?

Why Doesn’t God Just Kill the Devil?

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

This is a question that has been asked for centuries. If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He just kill Satan? In order to adequately answer this question we will need to look at a few different aspects of the Devil himself, as well as the attributes of God.
It’s not hard to find evidence of a world filled with sin, and logically it would make sense for God to just destroy the source of the problem…or would it? Let’s notice a few things about Satan.
Where did he come from? In Genesis 1:31, God sees His creation and it says, “everything was very good.” All of God’s work was perfect. From this we can conclude that Satan started off as good and became evil. While Scripture doesn’t reveal his exact origin, it says enough for us to draw a logical conclusion. For example, 2 Peter 2:4, Matthew 12:24, and 25:41 point to Satan as the leader of a groups of angels that have abandoned heaven. So we have to ask, why was Satan cast out of Heaven?
Based on the previous verses and what we read in Jude 6, the angels were created with free choice. And Peter explains that the angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4). We read the phrase “The Devil and HIS angels” so Satan was most likely the leader and instigator of this rebellion in heaven. Satan tried to rebel against God and failed miserably and will face the consequences of his actions (Revelation 20:1-3). Since Satan cannot win against God, he now wants to get payback by taking his anger out on God’s creation.
So why doesn’t God destroy Satan? Aside from the fact that he’s an angel and killing him would be different from killing a human, we run into another issue.
Even if Satan were destroyed, man would still sin. James 1:14 tells us that as humans we are carried away by our OWN desires, and these desires lead to spiritual death. Satan doesn’t cause everyone to sin, at every location on earth, because he doesn’t have this kind of power. Even if God destroyed Satan, there would still be sin on earth.
There is one other aspect we must look at in order to answer this question; What is the definition of good? Without evil, how can good exist? If God is good, then evil must exist. Without darkness, how can we recognize light? There is balance and perfection in everything.
We are given free will, and if there were no other choice except faith in God, we would not have faith by choice. We would have faith by force. I think about when I was younger and got in a fight with my siblings. Mom would force us to hug each other. That hug was not done out of love, but by mom telling us to get it done. Do you prefer to be loved by choice or by force?
Satan will get what he deserves, but God is defined as a God of love. If God took away our free choice (either to serve Him or sin) then He would be a God of Force. God has the power to destroy Satan, but in doing so we would still be in a fallen world filled with sin. God loves us enough that He wants us to come to Him by choice. This is something each one of us should strive to do.
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Crane Flies

Crane Flies

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

The Crane Fly is a misidentified and misunderstood creature. It looks like an enormous mosquito, so some will kill it for that reason. I often hear, “Don’t kill those, they eat mosquitos.” The crane fly is either killed for being a “mosquito” or protected based on misinformation about its eating habits. They do not have the anatomy to be predatory, according to Dr. Matthew Bertone with the NCSU Dept. of Entomology. They cannot bite humans, but they also can’t eat other mosquitos.

Some Christian liberties are like crane flies. We may understand that they are harmless in and of themselves (I Cor. 8; 10; Rom. 14.14), but we also understand that others may perceive them as being something they aren’t. To some, our Christian liberties are a mosquito: they see certain practices, lifestyles, clothing choices, consumptions, etc. as being sinful. Still others may see our Christian liberties as being hearty approval of some worldly behaviors, mistaking our enjoyment of this life (I Timothy 4.4) with godless living.

There is a middle ground. Flaunting our religious liberties is counterproductive and sinful (I Corinthians 8). Just because something is a gray area does not mean we should force other Christians to view it in black or white (Romans 14). On the other hand, it is every bit as wrong to condemn a Christian for enjoying a Christian liberty as it is to flaunt that liberty. Paul said, in the context of Christian liberties, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14.4).

So, what is that middle ground? There are, of course, the biblical principles of selflessness, courtesy, deference, discretion, confidence in our position on the matter (Romans 14.5, 20-23), etc. More often than not, though, we’re encouraged to simply avoid any Christian liberties because they may hurt others’ feelings. The middle ground is that we have a faith that is, “our own conviction before God. Happy is the man who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Rom. 14.22).

Some liberties need not be flaunted but may still be enjoyed privately, if we can demonstrate to ourselves and to God that they do not violate His commands in any way. Some liberties should be kept private so as to avoid causing a brother or sister to stumble (Rom. 14.21). That word for stumble is proskopto, which means, “to strike against something, or to make contact with something in a bruising or violent manner” (BDAG). If what we’re practicing is offensive to others because we’ve made it far more obvious than it should be, we’ve messed up. If we’re doing our best to be discrete and courteous in practicing Christian liberties (which are gifts from God), we’re on the right track.

The best crane flies are the ones we can’t see. No one thinks a mosquito is in the room, and no one thinks a “skeeter-eater” is in the room, either. We can avoid a whole lot of heartburn, headache, and even potential sinning when we keep our Christian liberties private. Or, we could play it safe and, “Not eat meat or drink wine, or do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Whichever path we take, we can never go wrong with the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12).

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CORONA VIRUS

CORONA VIRUS

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Now that I have your attention…
I want you to think about the furthest place you have ever traveled from home. For me, the furthest I have been is Cambodia which is approximately 9,320 miles from where I live in Alabama. There are a lot of places we could travel to that are very far away. There’s Africa, Asia, Russia or Antarctica, but there is one place in our relationship with God that is further than any place on earth.
Jesus, when he was talking about the final judgment in Matthew 25, tells of people who will be cast away from God. In verse 34,  He says there will be sheep on His right and tells us of the blessing they will receive– an eternal life with God. They received this because of their good works they did on earth and their willingness to follow God.
Verse 41 says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This word “depart” is a very interesting word. It is the Greek word “poruomai,” which is described as, “go away [or to keep] walking the way you originally were headed.” These people have already made their choice. In life they were already headed for destruction. God just tells them to depart or to keep walking the way they had already chosen to walk.
This place is one of eternal separation from God. This is the farthest place we could be from our heavenly home. I know that no one wants to go to this place, yet sadly many are unknowingly drifting away from God. Some even choose to live a sinful life and are throwing away an eternity of perfection for a brief moment of pleasure.
The good news is that God is a God of love. He wants us to be with him, and we have the opportunity to repent and turn to God. As you’ve been reading this, I want you to think about the direction you are walking. Is it toward eternal life or an eternity of suffering?
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 Homesick For Heaven 

 Homesick For Heaven 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

There is so much debate out there as to what Heaven will actually be like. Some make the argument that we just can’t know for sure. We know that there will be no tears in Heaven, so since that is the case there will definitely be some meatloaf there. Because in a place where there is no meatloaf present, I would cry. Now with that out of the way, let’s look at three quick promises about Heaven.

First there is the promise of “relationship.” In Revelation 21:3 it says, “He will dwell among us…” Not just any relationship, an actual relationship with Jesus Christ.

The second promise is that of “Relief.” In the very next verse it says, “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” How many of us can’t wait for that day?

Now the third promise is one that is pulled from a verse that many people do not like to read. In Revelation 21:8 we see that there is a promise of “refuge.” You see, Heaven is going to be so great because of who will not be there. After we get a glimpse of what is promised to those who love Him (James 1:12), we see what is promised to those that don’t. Yet even here we see a blessing. Heaven is going to be place that is absent of, “…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars…” Heaven is going to be a place filled with family. The faithful Church family.

I’m going to Heaven! It’s a choice. It’s a choice to live right and follow Christ no matter what. You have the ability to say it confidently and you should never have to wonder if you’re going to Heaven. It’s a promise! Take hold of that promise, because it’s the only thing that matters.

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Why Is A Generation Leaving Religion?

Why Is A Generation Leaving Religion?

Neal Pollard

Pew Research Center recently revealed that “Four in ten millennials (those, according to this source, currently between 23 and 38) now say they are religiously unaffiliated”(fivethirtyeight.com). The data seems to indicate that “today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good” (ibid.). A contemporary study put out by the American Enterprise Institute reveals at least three reasons why: (1) They didn’t have strong religious ties growing up, (2) Their spouses are more likely to be nonreligious, and (3) They feel religious institutions are not relevant for shaping the morality and religion (or nonreligion) of their children. Parental example, dating choices, and biblical literacy and faith, then, are major drivers in this discussion. 

Those polled revealed their thinking. A majority felt that religious people are less tolerant of others, less informed or even intelligent than their secular counterparts, and less necessary for shaping their family’s moral viewpoints. At least, reading this one study and the authors’ interpretation, it seems that leaving church is a deliberate lifestyle choice of people who at least sometimes are encouraged out the door by poor examples of faith. 

Notice the startling closing paragraph of the article, which states,

Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper (“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back,” 12/12/19, Cox, Daniel, and Amelia Thompson-DeVeaux). 

I found it important to share those findings for these reasons:

  • It is a matter of crisis. People abandoning God’s Word and will is foreboding (Judges 2:10ff; 2 Timothy 3:1ff; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:3ff). It is happening, and it must matter to us. It does to God. 
  • It is a matter of correction. The home can change course if it is on the broad way. Individual Christians can improve their ethics and morality in public (Ephesians 4:25ff). Soul-conscious Christians can make the most of our opportunities to share Jesus in Christlike fashion (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We must change what we can change. 
  • It is a matter of consequence. A culture does not get where ours currently is as the result of sincere devotion to Christ and His Word. Hosea 4:6 is incredibly relevant. The law of sowing and reaping is immutable, for good and bad (Galatians 6:7-8). Whatever we exalt as guide is leading us somewhere.
  • It is a matter of courage. The only way I can see for this to change is for you and me to not just believe something or hold a conviction. The early Christians didn’t confine their faith to the holy huddles of the assemblies. They stood up for Jesus every day and every way. 

Two of my three sons are millennials and the third is only a couple of years too young to qualify. This is, largely, their generation. They and their faithful Christian peers are faced with reaching them, and they need our help. Talk to them and have honest conversation about how to raise your effectiveness together in stopping and reversing this exodus. This is not about preserving a comfortable lifestyle, which is threatened by sin (Proverbs 14:34). This is about preserving souls, which will face Jesus some day (Matthew 25:31ff). 

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The Influence Of Papaw Mitchell

The Influence Of Papaw Mitchell

Neal Pollard

May 14, 2004, was the day I preached my maternal grandfather’s funeral. It was a signal honor to do so. He had passed away early on Wednesday morning, May 12. The morning he passed, I wrote this about him:

Within you today are a temper and trends
A view toward the unfolding tomorrow
Have you stopped to question on what that depends
From what spiritual bank you do borrow?

Though each person forges his own internal road
Based on unique decisions and conscience
Before him to help pave it is an influence to goad
A role model, an example bestowed.

For those so endowed with a godly loved one
One righteous, driven by the Giver of grace.
To see their own faith is to look at one done
A journeyman who victoriously ran his own race.

I know one like that, a follower of Him
Who led much family both of flesh and of faith
Who shaped hearts and lives in times good and times grim
Who laid course that to follow was safe.

When we all get to heaven and give praises unending
Who knows what will be or how we’ll appear?
I know that for anyone in that Paradise spending
That all who shaped our faith will be clear.

Everyone that knew Harold Edward Mitchell, Sr., was closer to heaven because of his influence. He lived over 90 years, converting from denominationalism in young adulthood and ultimately serving decades as an elder. At his funeral, I shared five facts about my “Papaw Mitchell.”

  • He loved his family. He wasn’t gregarious, but rather reserved. Yet, he taught his family the right way to live and how to face death, to know what ultimately counts, what was right and what was wrong.
  • He had a sense of adventure. From semipro baseball as a teen to seeing the entire country in retirement, a lifelong cotton farmer had a wider view of the world. He came of age in the depression and endured some terrible grief, but no one could remember hearing him complain. 
  • He worked hard. He wasn’t a waster of resources, least of all time. He was up with the sun and down with the sunset. He instilled that work ethic in his children and grandchildren. 
  • He put Christ above all else. As a Christian, he took what the Bible guided him to do and be in life at face value. His life went beyond mere rule-keeping. He kept the rules, but he loved the rule-maker. You could see Jesus living in him.
  • He was ready to die. That’s the most important thing any of us could have said of us.

I saw grandpa the Monday night before he passed away. He was able to talk, but it was the first time I saw him that I felt he might not live forever in that earthly body he took such good care of. It was probably the first time I thought seriously about my own mortality. Our spirits are engineered for eternity, but our bodies of clay wind down more each day. In the fifteen years that have passed since then, I am more aware of that than I was even then. Our pilgrimage here won’t go on indefinitely, though we’ll live as long as God lives.

Examples like my Papaw motivate me to clear the hurdles from my path and stay dependent upon God to help me, like him, to finish my face. To die faithful and prepared means to live faithfully and make preparation. One day, someone will speak at your funeral and mine. What can they honestly say about the example and influence we will have left on others?

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Papaw (L) and Uncle Larry (my mom’s older brother), probably between 30-40 years ago.

The Problems Of A Two-Headed Snake

The Problems Of A Two-Headed Snake

Neal Pollard

A woman in Woodbridge, Virginia, saw a rarity in her front yard: a two-headed copperhead snake. The snake only has one heart and one set of lungs, but each head has its own brain. This produces multiple problems. Both heads want to eat, and since eating takes time the snake is vulnerable to predators for twice as long. Second, each snake wants to go its own way. That means they can’t respond very quickly when under attack. Even getting water can be precarious, as one head can drag the other down when drinking. An expert at the Wildlife Center of Virginia said, “Based on the anatomy, it would be better for the right head to eat, but it may be a challenge since the left head appears more dominant” (Dana Hedgpeth, The Washington Post, 9/24/18). Experts also say that these internal conflicts prevent these rare “dual-cephalic” creatures from living very long.

James tells us that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (1:7) and implies that double-mindedness reflects impurity of heart (4:8). The first instance of the word relates trusting God or doubting in times of trials, and the second relates to following a spiritual leader, whether the devil and the world or God. It is hard to run with the devil and walk with God. So often, there’s the temptation to try to do both. But, this conflict is so basic and so contradictory that it will contribute to our spiritual death. It makes us vulnerable to attack. 

What this requires is decisiveness. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mat. 6:24). We must choose who we will listen to (Josh. 24:15). Otherwise, we will remain in peril and we will ultimately, spiritually die. Paul put it this way, that “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). The struggle is real, but the problem must be overcome. We must strive to be singleminded in our dedication and devotion. That means we can’t live for the world and the Lord. It is an either/or proposition. Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). Let’s make the right choice and simplify everything. Let’s honor one head and make it the right one (cf. Eph. 1:22). 

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