“Being A Christian Is Hard”

Neal Pollard

The church office receives a monthly publication called Faith Connect. In the latest edition, they include some data from Barna Group on faith in America. In a sidebar of statistics to an interview with Barna’s Vice President, Bill Denzel, writer Kelly Russell reveals what the research organization found in interviewing those who identify themselves as Christians. They report feeling:

  • “Misunderstood” (54%)
  • “Persecuted” (52%)
  • “Marginalized” (44%)
  • “Sidelined” (40%)
  • “Silenced” (38%)
  • “Afraid To Speak Up” (31%)
  • “Afraid Of Looking Stupid” (23%)

These findings accompany the assertion that America is a “Post-Christian nation,” having forgotten or rejected its roots, history, and former culture and practices (Summer 2017, 49-51). The thing that strikes me is how “Christians” report feeling. Barna did not exist in the first-century, and as such there is no record of any polling of the original Christians. But if there was, can you imagine the New Testament church answering the way these respondents did? I’m sure they felt misunderstood and persecuted. How could they not? Reading New Testament books like Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation, along with early church fathers, we’re sure the Jews and Romans sought to marginalize, sideline, and silence them from the marketplace to the temples and synagogues. Our ancient spiritual family members were arrested, murdered, driven from their homes and cities, ostracized, stolen from, ridiculed, and more.

How they responded to such treatment is instructional for us today.  Peter reports their feeling:

  • “Living hope” (1:3)
  • “Great rejoicing” (1:6; 1:8)
  • “Love” and “believing” (1:8)
  • “Joy inexpressible” (1:8)

There are a lot of imperatives and exhortations throughout the rest of this epistle, written to encourage them to hold onto their faith however poorly they were treated by the people around them. Peter wants them living holy lives, but he also wants them to appreciate how great living the Christian life is. That’s a message we need to take to heart.

I hope we never put the focus in our spiritual lives on how hard it is to be a Christian. It can be! But, what will make the greatest adversity bearable is keeping our focus on our purpose, our promise, our privileges, and our peace. There is no better life than the Christian life. May we focus on our opportunities rather than our obstacles!

carry-cross-600x350

A Proverb To Ponder

Neal Pollard

Now, not all our attenders are members,
And not all our members are attenders,
But if all our attenders were members,
And all our members were attenders

THEN…

We’d have more trouble menders,
More gospel defenders,
And more true soul-winners!

BUT…

We’d have fewer people offenders,
Fewer spiritual hinderers,
And fewer religious pretenders!

SO…

Let us all render a more tender surrender
To the Commander of a love full of splendor!
As we meander on this earth full of sinners,
Let us engender a life with the Lord at the center.

Coarse Discourse

Neal Pollard

Is it just me or are we much more open about using profanity in ordinary discourse? Our sitting president has exhibited an unprecedented amount of “curse words” in the public square, even if transcripts of historic documents reveal that a great many of the last several presidents have used language salty enough to make sailors blush. Hollywood reactors to the president have seemingly been trying to “trump” his salacious speech and have, in many cases, upped the ante in indecent language. Recent news story include Bette Midler, congresswoman Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Hillibrand (aka “Senator Potty Mouth,” via The Daily Mail) using shocking words that the thoroughly secular media acknowledges as inappropriate and indecent—at least measured by cultural norms and moors.

I have to admit being thoroughly baffled by church members, even teachers and preachers, who adamantly argue that Scripture has nothing to say about such things. Implicitly, even explicitly, their point is that such speech is legitimate for a follower of Christ. While we must be careful not to make laws God does not make in His Word, neither can we be so reckless as to hurt Christ’s cause by encouraging the Christian to mimic the world’s behavior, speech, or attitudes without discernment. When godless media, non-believing coworkers, classmates, and cul-de-sac compadres, and others in society associate certain words with the rebellious, humanistic lifestyle, shouldn’t we take pause?

Is there room in Paul’s admonition to Ephesus (4:29; 5:4) and Colosse (4:6) or Jesus’ public discourse (Mat. 12:34ff) for the kind of words that so many in society still find shocking and inappropriate? Are the principles of godly influence (Luke 17:1), salt and light (Mat. 5:14-16), example (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12), and the like not enough to cause us to feel strongly about how we use our words with people? Do we feel like well-chosen swear, scatological, and smutty words are essential to successfully relate to and connect with the rougher elements of society in an effort to win them to Christ?

We can relate to and reach people without resorting to irreverent and indecorous words. We can keep pure in speech without becoming isolationists in society. It does not have to be an either-or proposition.  May we realize that what we say (and how we say it! See Gal. 5:20, Rom. 3:14, and Jas. 10, for example) will impact people like we do not realize and in ways that we do not realize. It extends well beyond just our speech, but our words paint a picture of us for the very people we should desperately want to reach for Jesus. Please, give thought to the power of your words (cf. Prov. 18:21).

597px-profanity-svg

BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION

Neal Pollard

I was asked by a preacher from Texas to go and provide emotional support to a family of brand new Christians he reached with the gospel. In a tragic circumstance, the matriarch of this family was in the hospital Sunday morning to have a gallstone removed and doctors accidentally severed the hepatic portal vein going into her liver. This led to multi-organ shutdown that ultimately ended her life. In this atmosphere of unanticipated emotional pain and suffering, family had gathered from all over the country to see her before doctors removed the lines keeping her alive. I was unable to communicate very much comfort or support because most of them spoke no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. I sat in the waiting room with them throughout the afternoon, watching their anguish but having little more than smiles and sympathetic looks to offer. The matriarch’s granddaughter spoke good English, but it was hard to expect her to continually provide translation as she struggled with her own grief. Hopefully, they knew I cared and will allow the church to provide further encouragement. Thankfully, we have several members who do speak Spanish fluently who could help in ways I cannot.

As I was driving home and thinking about the best way to quickly learn Spanish, I had another humbling thought. How many opportunities do I pass up with people with whom my communication barrier is not language? There are some other, more sinister barriers that can keep us from speaking up for Christ in situations He is counting on us to take advantage of. There is fear—fear of rejection, opposition, or being ostracized. There is apathy—failure to consider or care about the eternal destination of the souls of those we encounter. There is selfishness—as we are so absorbed in our own pursuits that we do not open our hearts to the lost in our lives. There is sin—the presence of personal lifestyle issues for us that render us ineffective as sharers of the gospel message. These and other matters are much more frequently the roadblocks that keep us from reaching out to the people we encounter.

It will help us, I believe, to remind ourselves daily that this world is not our home and that every person is heading to an eternity that swiftly comes. We must have the courage to share with people how to prepare for that, to understand the great love God has for them and His desire to save them. We must keep the conviction strong that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that His applied blood is their only hope for such. We must care about people, enough to pray for boldness and wisdom, enough to walk through our open doors, and enough to share the good news with them. People are at the heart of our purpose as Christians. Let’s serve them by sharing the good news whenever, wherever, and however we can.

language-barriers-in-training

Serving the Living God 

Carl Pollard

I know I’m not old enough to say this, but when I was younger I used to lay in bed at night and try to imagine what God looked like. I would try to put a face to Him, I’d wonder what He was doing, and I would ask myself if God knew that I was thinking about Him. I still ask those same questions to this day. I’m sure that most if not all of you who are reading this believe that there is a God, and that He does see and hear all that we say. So the question I’d like to ask is, “since there is a God that has all power, why do we sometimes have difficulty following the commands that we find in the Bible?” I’d like to look at a verse that may help us realize the importance of following what God has told us to do as Christians.

Jeremiah 10:12 says, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.”

God has ALL power. There isn’t an area that He is lacking power in. He controls the weather, He created us, and, as Jeremiah 10:12 said, He made this earth that we live on. I believe that we sometimes forget just how powerful God truly is. Since God has all power, shouldn’t we be following what the Creator of everything has told us to do? In seven days He thought of everything we see around us. Think of it this way. We’ve never had an original thought. For example, I could say that I’m the only person to have ever thought about a pink Aardvark. But before I thought of pink Aardvarks, there was such thing as the color pink, and there were Aardvarks before I thought of them. So what I’m actually doing is taking two things that God created and putting them together. God has given us specific commands to do as Christians. Since God has given us rules on how to live, we shouldn’t have a problem following them. They may be difficult, but God knows how to take care of His creation. The thought of the God of the universe watching out and guiding me through life is a great comfort to me!

But what if we aren’t following what God has told us to do? There’s a saying that we all have heard that says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our actions are a direct window to how we truly feel. If I don’t do what God has commanded, then that’s like us saying to God, “I don’t truly believe that there are consequences to my actions.” But that is a deadly place for us to be, because God IS real and there ARE consequences to our actions. God is real and the consequences of our actions are very real! In the end, it comes down to this: Not obeying what God has said is a reflection of how real we make God out to be. If we truly believe He is real, then we shouldn’t have a problem doing what He tells us to do. As Christians, we serve the one true God, and He is very real. I pray that this fact will push us to obey the commands He has given us because our God is alive and we all have an eternity with Him if we do what He tells us to do.

Looking back at when I was younger, I’ve realized that I asked the right question, but the most important part of those questions is how I answer them. Will I show through my actions that I truly believe He is alive? Or do I doubt the reality of God by not taking His commands seriously? Let’s try to always prove God is alive by following what He has told us to do!

maxresdefault

THE KIND OF LIFE WE SHOULD LIVE

Neal Pollard

Most of us are familiar with the intimate words spoken by Jesus to His followers in John 14:1-6. They were words of active comfort for a man who was imminently facing the worst suffering humanity could ever know. Yet, from those gentle words of guidance, we find a beacon to show us what kind of life it is possible for us to live—no matter what!

We can live a fearless life (John 14:1). Our hearts don’t have to be troubled. That doesn’t mean we won’t face fears and uncertainties. How can we avoid it? But we can let our fears be subjugated to our Father. We can trust the Bible’s promises and follow its guidance on this (cf. John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).

We can live a faith-filled life (John 14:1b). A “theocentric” (God-centered) point of view will influence our decision-making and daily living. We can have assurance and conviction (Heb. 11:1), but we must have a faith accompanied by works of obedience (Js. 2:20). All of us have lives centered around something that we make most important of all. There are many noble things that could fill in that blank—profession, family, friends, or the like. These may be part of our identity, but they should not define us. Our faith should define us.

We can live a focused life (John 14:2-4). Jesus urges His disciples to focus on at least three things:

  • Focus on the Father’s house (2). Long for heaven.
  • Focus on the Son’s coming (3). Anticipate His return. We know death is an appointment followed by the Judgment (Heb. 9:27).
  • Focus on God’s fellowship (4). Long to be where God is and to follow where He leads. Let that desire lead you to fellowship with Him and His saints publicly and privately in your personal devotional life.

We live in a world full of distractions—technology, appointments, hobbies, politics, and sports. Never let any of those things get your life out of focus.

We can live a follower’s life (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the only way. We must shun the politically-correct notion that says there are many ways. We must live the exclusive way that Scripture teaches. We cannot serve God on our own terms. We must submit to His way and His truth, and we can enjoy the eternal life He offers.

Fame, fortune, fun, friendship, and such may draw and lure us. But none of those things will last. Jesus points to the kind of life we should live. May we be wise enough to listen.

blaine_mansion_during_renovation

Do Brotherhood

Neal Pollard

Hayden Holland, who obeyed the gospel less than three years ago, taught his first Bible class last night at Teens in the Word. It was an excellent, hour-plus long study of the parallels between serving in the military and living the Christian life. In this very practical study, Hayden mentioned the Army’s concept of brotherhood. The fraternity and bond built by basic training and the structural philosophy of the armed forces creates this sense of brotherhood among soldiers.  Without fellowship, he said, disputes will pull soldiers apart. Throughout his lesson, Hayden urged us to “do brotherhood.” Brotherhood is a noun, meaning “the feeling of kinship with and closeness to a group of people or all people” (Dictionary, version 2.2.1, 2016). Peter uses the word in 1 Peter 2:17, a word, according to BDAG, meaning, “A group of fellow-believers, a fellowship” (19; cf. 1 Pet. 5:9—“brethren”). Hayden’s exhortation to us was to do what it takes to create that feeling and fellowship.  Saying we are brethren, even acknowledging and teaching what God says is necessary to become part of that brotherhood, is insufficient of itself.  There is something to be done!

He directed us to the seven values touted by the army—“loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity, courage, and selfless service”—as examples of how we can “do brotherhood” in the Lord’s Army (cf. Eph. 6:10ff). Doing brotherhood means taking time to listen to and help our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are struggling. It means spending time together, engaging in each others’ lives. It means being faithful to live out what we say we believe daily, in the world and in the absence of our church family, because we love them and don’t want to let them down. It means talking out our problems and disagreements. As we work to see ourselves as a part of something bigger than just ourselves, the effect is revolutionary. Non-Christians see the bond we have with our brethren and it draws them. Jesus told His disciples that this brotherly love would be their identifying mark to a searching world (John 13:34-35).

How often it has been observed that Christianity is more than a state of being; it requires a life of doing. The brotherhood consists of all those within the body of Christ. But, that “group” has to be maintained, sustained, and retained. Such requires action! My action and your action. Let’s be sure we are “doing” brotherhood!

17862689_10212031358357411_591145317067498345_n

Wanting To Want To

 

Neal Pollard

Do you want your marriage to flourish and grow?
Do you want to read through the Bible this year?
Do you want to lead someone the Savior to know?
Do you want to live life without worry and fear?
Do you want to lose weight and be healthy and fit?
Do you want to attain to more financial discipline?
Do you want self-confidence, courage, and grit?
Do you want to get better at caring and listening?
Do you want a closer place near the heart of God?
Do you want to trust Him when trouble finds you?
Do you want to have heaven after earth you’ve trod?
Then it all must begin with you wanting to want to! —NP

Call it desire, motivation, or willpower.  Whatever you call it, it is central to succeeding at whatever your goals are. What does it take to become a Christian? Wanting to! What does it take to defeat the sin in your life? Wanting to! What does it take to break bad habits and repeated blown judgment calls? Wanting to! What does it take to be a stronger, more faithful Christian? Wanting to! That is not to minimize or ignore our dependence on God and the strength He provides. But He is not going to overwhelm or overtake our will and make us do or be something. He did not operate that way in the age of miracles.

What will be your motivation? There are so many potential incentives. There’s the love God has shown us (2 Cor. 5:14). There’s the fear of hell (Mat. 10:28). There’s the yearning for heaven (John 14:1-3). There’s the concern about how we influence other’s destiny (Mat. 5:14-16). There’s the love we have for God (1 Jn. 4:19). There’s the longing to be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2). For each of us, some motivations are more powerful than others. Whatever it takes to be more for God in this needy world, latch onto it and pursue it. You can do it because you won’t be doing it alone. God gave you the church, His Word, prayer, and a personal will to help arrive at the ultimate goal. Don’t let up. Don’t look back. Don’t lose hope. Want to want to!

img_4387
4 people have motivated me to run over the past 19 years: Kathy, Joe, Bob, and Wes. Today was a 6 miler in the snow when it felt like 4 degrees. 

My Daily “To-Do” List

Neal Pollard

  1. Be Productive With Your Time (Eph. 5:16).
  2. Be Pure In Your Heart (Mat. 5:8).
  3. Be Proactive In Your Relationships (Eph. 5:21-6:4).
  4. Be Peaceable With Your Provokers (Rom. 12:17-21).
  5. Be Purposeful With Your Life (Rom. 8:28).
  6. Be Praiseful With Your God (Psa. 150).
  7. Be Pleasant In Your Demeanor (Prov. 16:24).
  8. Be Prayerful In Your Decisions (Phil. 4:6).
  9. Be Patient In Your Challenges (1 Th. 5:14; Psa. 37:7).
  10. Be Positive About Your Future (Phil. 1:20-21; 4:13).
  11. Be Persistent In Your Evangelistic Pursuit (1 Cor. 9:19-22; Mat. 28:19).
  12. Be Pitying Of The Downtrodden (Prov. 19:17).
  13. Be Picky About Your Associates (1 Cor. 15:33).
  14. Be Passionate About Your Spirituality (Rom. 12:11).
  15. Be Perseverant In Your Trials (2 Th. 1:4).
  16. Be Prospective In Your Opportunities (Gal. 6:10).
  17. Be Petrified Of Falling Away From God (Heb. 6:1-6; 10:26-31).
  18. Be Powerful In Your Faith (Luke 7:9; 2 Th. 1:3).
  19. Be Persistent In Your Study (2 Tim. 2:15).
  20. Be Penitent In Your Sins And Failures (2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 3:19).
  21. Be Plentiful In Your Gratitude (1 Th. 5:18).
  22. Be Permeating In Your Influence (Mat. 13:33-34).
  23. Be Profuse In Your Generosity (3 John 5; Prov. 11:25).
  24. Be Prolific In Humility (Mat. 23:12; 1 Pet. 5:5).
  25. Be Pining For Heaven (Heb. 11:16; Phil. 1:23).

to-do-list-tools

A Footprint, A Fingerprint, And An Imprint

Neal Pollard

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What will they put on your headstone?” It’s the kind of fundamental questions that accompany us all along the road of life. We want to have significance, to serve purpose, and to matter.  Whether motivated by legacy or something larger than self, the thoughtful periodic evaluate the difference they are making to those whose lives they touch. Of all people, Christians should take that matter seriously.  Consider this.

You Are Leaving A Footprint. Your decisions are observed by friends, family, and even those who only know you incidentally or even not at all. You are a leader.  So many people will eventually wind up somewhere because of what you do with and in your life. Paul could say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). In the most dramatic facet of this fact, people will be led toward an eternal destination through your influence. You are leading people toward or away from heaven. It’s in your heart, attitude, words, priorities, conduct, and passions.  To a line of folks longer than you could imagine, you are yelling, “Follow me!” Ask yourself, “Where am I going?”

You Are Leaving A Fingerprint. You are touching people’s lives. Your hands are in a variety of endeavors—your occupational life, your social life, your personal life, and your spiritual life. You are a servant of something and someone. Paul says it’s inevitable (Rom. 6:16). Everyone works at something, even if it’s laziness. It’s a legacy of labor. Where will people remember that your hands were most often seen? Will your chief legacy be whatever your occupation was? Your civic service? Your material accumulation and notoriety? Your pursuit of pleasure? Or will it be your involvement in people’s lives and with people’s souls? Consider this challenge, to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble” (Heb. 12:12). Your hands will find something to do (cf. Ecc. 9:9). Make it count for God.

You Are Leaving An Imprint. Isn’t it sobering to think that all of us are associated with some quality. When our name is brought up, something—either directly or indirectly—is attached to it. For some, it will be: “grouchy,” “gossipy,” “complaining,” “foul-mouthed,” “critical,” “selfish,” “dishonest,” “arrogant,” “icy,” and the like. Fair or not, such broad labels are typically made interaction by interaction. For others, it will be: “humble,” “sincere,” “encouraging,” “dependable,” “loving,” “joyful,” “godly,” “positive,” etc.  You may feel yourself plain and insignificant, but you will leave an indelible impression on others throughout your life.  Even the one talent man, who tried to bury his talent, had to give an account for it (Matt. 25:14-30).

Leadership, labor, and legacy. These are gifts given by God to us all. What a powerful opportunity, one that lies before us daily! The great news is that if we don’t like the footprints, fingerprints, and imprints we have left and are leaving behind, we can change course. My favorite version of A Christmas Carol (and the best version!) is the one starring George C. Scott. He captures the remarkable transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a malevolent miser who becomes a merry mirth-maker. Charles Dickens shows us that anyone is redeemable if they’ll genuinely and fervently change. Of course, the Bible beat him to that message (Rom. 12:2; Acts 3:19; etc.).  Our time here is so short. May we all have the wisdom to know what is most important and pursue it relentlessly.

george_c_scott_fixed