Identifying As A Christian

Neal Pollard

There are so many “identifying” stories these days. A white woman, Rachel Dolezal, identifying as a black woman, was back in the news over the weekend. A biological female who identifies as male and has taken testosterone, Mack Beggs, won the Texas girls wrestling title. In a recent interview, Dr. Keith Ablow suggested that such delusional (he is using the term in a psychological, not pejorative, sense) reasoning opens the door for a young person who “identifies” as a 65-year-old to receive Medicare benefits (foxnews.com). Really, every new case of “identifying” reveals the absurdity behind the thinking. All the wishing, wanting, and hoping in the world cannot change ironclad facts. As we used to say discussing reality of any kind growing up, “It is what it is.”

If there is anything more harmful than delusion, it may be denial. For centuries, good, sincere people have claimed to be Christians who have not followed what the New Testament reveals is necessary to become one. They have followed some humanly-devised plan or idea (accept Jesus in your heart by faith, say a prayer, believe the Holy Spirit gives you an experience of grace, etc.). Leaders and teachers who have devised such ideas do not do so from a sustainable, biblical source.  Repeatedly, whether in the gospels (Mark 16:16), the book of history (Acts 2:38; 22:16), or the epistles (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21), we find a simple, but essential, act that stands between one not being and being a Christian. But the idea that one can fail to do this and still be a Christian is pervasively taught, believed, and practiced.

Akin to this is the belief that one can claim to be a Christian, then live any way they wish. Their speech, conduct, and attitude can exactly mirror and mimic the world’s. Their aspirations, pursuits, and values can be completely worldly. But, when death visits a loved one or comes to them or at some similar time when it would be advantageous to claim so, they aver that they are a Christian. While they may have followed God’s plan to become one, they think of themselves as saved and safe even while walking in darkness (cf. 1 John 1:6-9).

It takes more than a claim. Facts are stubborn things. The ultimate source of what is factual is God’s Word. It educates us about gender (Gen. 1:27) and race (Acts 17:26). It educates us about who a Christian is (Acts 2). It educates us about faithful Christian living (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). If we wish to be accurate in the way we “identify” ourselves, we must let Scripture inform our view!

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Caesar’s Citizen Headline: “The Jerusalem Church Splits Over Politics!”

Neal Pollard

Barak monitored the results of the latest Imperial policies out of Rome. And he hashed it and rehashed it with his brethren at the fellowship meals, on his job at the fish market, and definitely, with vehemence, within his inner circle of friends and family.  Elchanan came from a long line of zealots, and, although he had become a Christian several years before, his leanings and passion about the matter were well-known to anyone who spent any time with him. Michael, Zechariah, and Esther voiced their empathy for Elchanan’s position, while Gaius, Claudia, Junius, and Manius, ever loyal to the politics of their native homeland, aligned themselves with Barak. Unfortunately, they all also were Christians who worshipped together or in neighboring congregations around Jerusalem. They got so caught up in it that they marched, they protested, they pledged allegiance with oaths, they argued, and they held one another in contempt and suspicion. Meanwhile, Jews and Gentiles all around them lived and died without hearing the message of Jesus and the purpose He died to make available to them. They did not associate those early Christians with love. They had no clue about the heart of the gospel message, the good news they needed in the unstable times in which they lived. They failed to see distinctiveness and kindness. They saw a mirrored reflection of their unregenerate selves. Mired in the smallness of contemporary concern, the church at Jerusalem, distracted from their mission, never taught lost souls, devoted themselves to service, or lived lives that showed utmost trust in Jesus and His power to save and transform. Predictably, these small bands of disciples circled their chariots around themselves and hid their lights under their baskets.

That’s not quite the way Luke records it. Politics was a constant, headline news matter in the first century. There was volatility and polarization. With the theatre and stadiums, there were no shortages of entertainment diversions, too. But, reading the book of Acts, you find a quickly growing band of disciples reaching the thousands in number precisely because they stayed above the sensual fray of politics or any other ephemeral concerns. They understand what lasted and what wouldn’t. From the first verse that records their collective activity, they were “devoted” (Acts 2:42). Their devotion was powerfully, primarily, and passionately Jesus and His will.

It doesn’t matter that we’re 2000 years removed from that, or that our situation isn’t exactly parallel. Our mission hasn’t changed. Our primary focus must be the same as theirs. Ever wonder who benefits the most from our getting mired in the mud of these carnal things? It isn’t Jesus!

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Going Places (GUEST BAKER: Trent Woolley)

Trent Woolley

The other day I stumbled upon this rather innocuous quote – “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before” (Life’s Little Instruction Book).  Obviously, this quote is talking about travel, but I would like us to think of it as challenging ourselves to do things that we may have never done before. So, let’s take a look at some things that might help us, as a church, go places that we may have never been before:

  •   Volunteer to teach a class, or help teach a class, or help teach others how to teach a class
  •   Offer to pick-up someone who needs a ride to church
  •   Spend a month at the greeting table getting to know our visitors
  •   Prepare and present a 90 Seconds of Power
  •   Pray with an elder
  •   Commit to visit all the shut-ins this year
  •   Write a note of encouragement to all our members whose last name begins with R,
  •    or M, or C…
  •   Host a devotional for: the teens, the young professionals, the young families, the
    tweeners, the seniors
  •   Teach the congregation a new song, or an old song we don’t know
  •   Stand at one of the doors and greet everyone who comes in

    This is just a short list of some places we might have never been before, I’m sure
    there are other places that we all would like to try and go to.

    And if we start to think “I can’t do that”, let me remind us of what God tells us in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded, you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

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The Religion Of Resolutions

Neal Pollard

Have you ever wondered about the origin of New Year’s resolutions? I have. If they are to be trusted, the folks at the History Channel denote the Babylonians, nearly 4,000 years ago, as the founder of such culture-wide determinations. It was as part of a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu. Later, at the prompting of none other than Julius Caesar, the Romans, again as a nod to a god—Janus, the two-faced god who looked backward and forward—observed the advent of a new year with the intent of improving areas of their lives in need of such. Sarah Pruitt, author of the piece, claims that Christians, since early times, have approached the new year to rededicate themselves to Christ. Pruitt seems to be indicting so many today who observe this holiday in a purely secular fashion, and wonders if such humanistic emphasis is why so many resolutions fail (source).

It is noteworthy that the history of making resolutions is so closely tied to religious devotion. Perhaps this is because we, as human beings, recognize our innate inadequacy. Paul, feeling it necessary to defend himself against unnamed critics of his work, wrote, “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant…” (2 Cor. 3:4-6a). Paul, so accomplished as a Christian, preacher, leader, mentor, missionary, and more, was always striving to do more for Jesus. He was not trying to earn God’s love and approval. Whether looking back at his successes or failures, Paul, in his love for his Lord, wanted to serve Him more effectively. He told Philippi that he pressed on (Phil. 3:12), “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). He advised the conscientious Christian to follow his example (Phil. 3:15-16).

Christianity is not a religion of annual intention. It is the religious of daily determination (Luke 9:23). January 1 is an ideal time to reflect, review, and resolve, but is far from the only time.  In a significant sense, each new day for us involves a resolve within ourselves to deny self and dedicate to the Savior. As I have done every year of my adult life, I will again set out objectives and goals, physically, financially, and familial. Yet, the most important will involve my faith. As always, these will need review, not just in January, but throughout the year. In my prayers today, I prayed for every Christian who resolves to conquer a sin problem, reach a lost soul, be more active in their local congregation, and any other noble aim for the Master. If you make some such specific resolution and would honor me with the privilege of partnering with you in prayer about it, please email me (mrnealpollard@gmail.com) and let me know. Then, let me know how it goes and especially tell me about your success. May God bless each of us with the resolve to be more faithful in our relationship with Him.

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Remarkable Statements, In Historical Context

Neal Pollard

AD 30—Tiberius, who became cruel and mad, was the Roman Emperor when the church was established. Under his reign, right around the time of Pentecost, Rome was filled with terror after the murder of his once trusted advisor turned traitor, Sejanus (tribunesandtriumphs.org). Sanderson Beck comments that he was “preoccupied with sexual and sadistic perversions” the last several years of his life (he is believed to have been murdered)(san.beck.org). Jerusalem was directly governed by Rome. Acts, though probably written in the 60s, begins its historical chronicle around AD 30.

  • Acts 2:41—“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
  • Acts 4:4—“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
  • Acts 5:14—“And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.”
  • Acts 6:7—“The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
  • See also Acts 12:24 and Acts 19:20,

AD 62-63—Nero, described as licentious, cruel, tyrannical, murderous, criminal, arson, vain,  perverse (tribunesandtriumphs.org) and, by historian Donald Wesson as a “cross-dressing exhibitionist” (ancient.eu), spearheaded the first organized persecution of Christians (N.S. Gill, ancienthistory.about.com). Tacitus says he blamed the Christians for his own burning of Rome. Many are the accounts of the cruel ways Nero put them to death (eyewitnesstohistory.com). Eusebius reports that Nero put both Paul and Peter to death (Church History, Book 2, Ch. 25). Before his death, Paul would report of such rapid growth throughout Nero’s reign. Peter’s outlook could not have been brighter.

  • Colossians 1:23—“if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

AD 90s—Domitian, best remembered as “the evil emperor who murdered thousands of Christians” (tribunesandtriumphs.org), reigned when John wrote his epistles and the book of Revelation. He was notorious for his cruelty and detachment from reality. John writes Revelation in large part to steady the Christians to withstand the onslaught of persecution caused by Domitian. His message to the Christians during the reign of Domitian was consistent:

  • 1 John 4:4—“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
  • 1 John 5:4—“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
  • Revelation 1:6-7—“He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

How bad did things look, from an earthly perspective, during the reigns of evil rulers like Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian? The thing is, the early Christians did not look at things from an earthly perspective. As those trying to walk in the footsteps of New Testament Christians, will we imitate their faith and that perspective?

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Christian, Who Are You?

Neal Pollard

  • You Are An Insurance Agent—Life (Philippians 2:16), Health (cf. 1 Peter 2:24), and Fire (2 Peter 3:9-10).
  • You Are A Tour Guide (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 8:31).
  • You Are A Soldier (Ephesians 6:10ff; 2 Timothy 2:1-3).
  • You Are A Slave (Romans 6:17).
  • You Are A Firefighter (Jude 23).
  • You Are An Ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  • You Are A Priest (Revelation 1:6).
  • You Are A Conductor (2 Corinthians 2:14; 9:11).
  • You Are A Day Laborer (John 9:4; cf. Matthew 20:1ff).
  • You Are A Farmer (2 Timothy 2:6; Luke 8:5).
  • You Are A Fisherman (Matthew 4:19).
  • You Are A Gem Distributor (Colossians 1:27).
  • You Are A Taste Tester (Colossians 4:6; Hebrews 5:14).
  • You Are Royalty (Revelation 1:5-6).
  • You Are A Student (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • You Are A Body-Builder (Ephesians 4:16).
  • You Are A Restorer (James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1).
  • You Are A Physician’s Assistant (Hebrews 12:12-13; cf. Mark 2:17).
  • You Are A Standard-Bearer (Philippians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:13).
  • You Are A Builder (1 Corinthians 3:10).
  • You Are A Judge (John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 6:2).
  • You Are A Nutritionist (1 Timothy 4:6).
  • You Are A Maintenance Worker (Phlippians 2:2; Titus 3:8,14, KJV).
  • You Are A Cleaner (2 Timothy 2:21; James 4:8).
  • You Are A Runner (1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 2:2; 5:7; etc.).
  • You Are A Boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26).

I’d be amazed if I did not leave out several of our job titles and descriptions. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of work for all of us to do. The next time we find ourselves figuratively twiddling our spiritual thumbs, wondering how we can be involved, let’s draw from the exhaustive inventory of tasks the Lord has left us!  Remember, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23).

laborer

Characteristics of Hope

Neal Pollard

An epistle centering around the superiority of Christi as our all-sufficient One would certainly be expected to contain a message of hope. While some had apparently given up Jesus as their hope (6:4-6), the writer of Hebrews had a higher estimation of those to whom he writes. for one thing, they had a legacy of good works and brotherly love and benevolence (6:10). His desire was that they would continue to stay strong. In expressing this, the writer suggests hope as an integral tool to keep them hanging onto their faith in Christ. In these final ten verses of Hebrews six, he mentions three qualities of hope that would help them–and will help us–hang onto our hope in Christ no matter what.

This hope is durable (11). Look at the language he uses. This hope was tied to an assurance that would endure “until the end.” It was a hope that would lead them to “inherit the promises” (12), just as Abraham’s hope in God led him to his inheritance (13-17). God desires to show us, as heirs of the promise through Christ, His unchanging purpose (17), so He guarantees that promise through an oath build upon the foundation of Himself. Hope which is guaranteed by the very nature and character of God is hope that will outlast anything! Nations rise and fall. Presidents serve only one or two terms. Supreme court justices, at most, can serve only a lifetime. Our hope transcends time.

This hope is tangible (18). These Christians needed to count on a refuge in difficult times (see 12:4), and we desire the same thing in our lives! Knowing that God is so trustworthy, we are encouraged to “take hold of hope” that is found only in Christ. To say that we can take hold of hope and that it is set before us means that it has substance. In a world where nothing seems certain, evidence from scripture, nature, order and design of the universe, and so much more allows us, by faith, to grab this hope. He had already told them to hold onto that hope in Christ earlier in the letter (3:6) and to encourage this response he points them to scripture (cf. 3:7-11; Psa. 95:7-11). Scripture helps us see the solid hope we have in Jesus.

This hope is stable (19). It is an anchor. Anchors keep a vessel from drifting, an appropriate illustration since the Christians were tempted to drift from Christ (2:1). By maintaining their hope, they could anticipate three blessings: (1) sureness, (2) steadfastness, and (3) the service of the sacrificial Savior (19-20). All three of these descriptions of this Almighty anchor underline the security found in keeping ourselves anchored in Christ. Those who keep Jesus as their hope are able to weather the most horrific storms of life!

As Christians, we may find ourselves ready to abandon Jesus as our hope. So many things attempt to pull us from Him. Let us draw encouragement from this inspired writer, as surely these first Christians did, and rejoice in these changeless characteristics of hope!

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The Reality Of Jesus Christ

Johnson Kell

He was born of a virgin and when He was about thirty years of age He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. And being full of the Holy Spirit He began His ministry walking the dusty roads of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, performing miracles and preaching the gospel. And He did go out carrying His own cross toward Calvary, and He did hang there for hours writhing in anguish and pain. And He did cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He did die there, shedding His blood for the sins of the world.

But there was a resurrection and He spent forty days with His apostles providing many proofs of a bodily resurrection–the tomb was found empty. And after forty days He spoke to them for the last time and as they watched intently He disappeared through the clouds on His way back to heaven. Some time later, when Stephen was being stoned to death, he cried out, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”

And so we have the assurance that our Savior is at His Father’s side making intercession for each one of us. And we can recall in the letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Colosse, where he cried, “Christ in you the hope of glory!” So as we are born-again children, we, too, can say, “Christ in us the hope of glory!”

This was and this is the reality of Jesus Christ.

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The Logical Progression Of The Line

Neal Pollard

Suddenly, it has become imperative that bathroom concessions be made for those who are struggling with gender identity issues. The comprehensively consuming coverage it has garnered, the blistering backlash against any opposing of this baffling blurring of the lines, and the preeminent priority this has become for a problem pestering a puny percentage of the population is actually not surprising. At least, it should not be.

The premise behind “transgender rights” is the same as that behind gay rights, but also the “right” to choose abortion, the “right” to become sexually active before marriage, the “right” to divorce and remarry at will—as well as the “right” to commit adultery. Neither does this clamor for rights reserve itself to matters identified in scripture as sexual sins. The watchwords of our culture include “feel,” “want,” “choose,” and the variants of “I,” “me,” and “my.” Self has been enthroned and each call to express, practice, and flaunt each co-opted right is expected to be not just tolerated by everyone else, but wholly embraced by them.

If you think our society lost its collective mind overnight, you have not been paying attention. If you think that this sickening syndrome was born in the 21st Century, you are likewise mistaken. We are seeing the spoiled fruit of sinister seed planted by mankind in every generation since the first generation.  There is a moral ebb and flow in every civilization and generation, but the issue is ever-present. The majority succumb to the temptation to crown our desires and condemn the declarations of Deity.

It was an illuminating moment, looking at Mark 8:34-35 last night during Teens In The Word. Michael Hite pointed out a thread used by Mark that’s summed up in those two verses. Several times, Mark speaks of what individuals “want” or “desire.” Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist (6:19). Her daughter wanted his head as payment for the dance which pleased Herod so much (6:25). Herod did not want to refuse her (6:26). People did whatever they wished with John the Baptist (9:13). Jesus speaks of those who desire to be first (9:35). James and John wanted a position of prominence (10:35). Jesus warns about those who desire greatness (10:43-44). But, if we desire to come after Jesus—to be His disciple—we must put self to death! This is a radical idea, one completely rejected by the world. Instead, the world says to keep moving the line to wherever you want it. You decide! You’re the boss. Discipleship acknowledges that God and His Word determine where the lines are drawn. We follow Jesus and stay behind His lines.

But Jesus does not ask us to do what He did not do to the greatest degree. Facing His imminent death on the cross, Jesus prayed in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). All these words, variously translated “desire,” “want,” and “will” in Mark’s gospel, are from a single Greek word meaning “to desire to have or experience something; wish to have” (Louw-Nida, BDAG). Jesus followed His Father’s will and denied His own. In essence, He says to us in Mark 8:34-35, if you want My salvation, you must do the same thing. The world doesn’t get that, but we must! This life is not about getting everything we want. It’s about self-denial, murdering self-will, and following Jesus. It’s about staying within His lines when it comes to everything. That’s a message we must gently share with a world bent on a self-destructive, self-guided journey!

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The Demeanor Of A Disciple

 

Neal Pollard

Jesus had taught them about money (Luke 16), causing weak, new Christians to stumble (Luke 17), the coming of the church and the end of the world (Luke 17), and prayer (Luke 18). Now, He continues to teach but shifts His focus to attitude and outlook. In doing so, He leaves a pattern for the kind of perspective we should have if we are truly a follower of Jesus.

  • There is a pride to swallow (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both were in the temple. Both were praying. Both were addressing God. But, the prayer was different, the attitude was different, and the result was different. Jesus’ point in the parable is clear:  Instead of justifying ourselves and looking down on others, we need to keep our eyes open to the fact of our sinfulness. This will keep us from sinful pride and will keep us humble
  • There is a purity to seek (Luke 18:15-17). Jesus presents children as our example. We should receive the kingdom like them or we’ll be rejected. Children are innocent, receptive, trusting, and want to please—that’s got to be us, too!
  • There is a possession to seize (Luke 18:18-22). The rich young ruler seems exemplary. He came to Jesus (18), wanted Jesus to teach him (18), was respectful of Jesus (18), and was a moral person (20-21). But he knew he had a problem. Jesus knew he had a problem. His ultimate reaction was rejection. Do we ever let “stuff” keep us from spiritual health, from taking hold of the only thing that ultimately matters?
  • There is a principle to see (Luke 18:23-27). The Bible gives us a catalog of individuals who maintained deep spirituality while having deep pockets (cf. Abraham, Barzillai, Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas, etc.). But Jesus makes a strong point that it’s exceedingly difficult for the rich (i.e., Americans) to enter heaven. Can the rich be saved? Yes! How? By having a proper attitude toward riches.
  • There is a prize to share (Luke 18:28-30). Jesus promises you cannot give up more than you will get by following Jesus. He promises reaping now and eternal life in the age to come. He’s saying it pays in the most important ways to follow Jesus.
  • There is a prophesy to satisfy (Luke 18:31-34). Jesus goes from telling His disciples what they stood to gain to talking about what He was going to lose for their sakes and ours. It is a thorough (31), costly (32-33), hopeful (33b), and hidden (34) fulfillment. Fulfilled prophesy is a vital way of proving Jesus as God’s Son. After the resurrection, they get it (Luke 24:44-47). Do we?
  • There is a pauper to serve (Luke 18:35-43). We end the chapter reading about Bartimaeus. He was in physical, financial, and spiritual need. But Jesus takes time to interact with him and gives us an example. Discipleship means ministering to the needy.

They had a strange contest in Deerfield Beach, Florida. The prize was a python worth $850. How did they determine the winner? They had a roach and worm-eating contest. Edward Archibald was among 20 to 30 contestants. He won, but soon after the contest ended, he fell ill and started to regurgitate. Eventually, he fell to the ground and was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was choking from arthropod body parts stuck in his airway. Archibald entered the contest to win the python and sell it for a profit. It was foolish and costly.  What are we trying so hard to get on this earth and what are we doing to get it? Jesus urges a proper outlook, one that is essential for His disciples. May we embrace that and act accordingly.

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