“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!

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“Act Like You Like One Another”

Neal Pollard

Someone tasked with taking a picture of a couple or small group will coach them to stand closer together, maybe adding, “Act like you like one another.” They will typically chuckle and comply. How many moms have exhorted their squabbling children with a similar phrase?

A quick perusal of social media, with its all-too-often divisive rhetoric and pejorative comments, must frequently draw the same desire from the God of heaven. Whenever He sees His children at each other’s throats, complete with nasty put-downs, sarcasm, and venomous invectives, can we envision Him pleased? Regardless of whether one is motivated by defending the faith or some dearly-cherished viewpoint, he or she does not have to drown responses in hateful, provocative words. But, it happens many times over on a daily basis. For those of us who have non-Christian or new-Christian friends with privy to such comments from professed, mature Christians, we have to wonder if, contemptuously, they chide, “Act like you like one another.” More than that, Scripture convicts us on such a count.

  • “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22; cf. 4:8).
  •  “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9).
  • “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:12-14).
  • “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).
  • “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (Jas. 3:8-10).
  • “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

The noble pursuit of defending the faith and protecting the purity of doctrine can get lost or totally nullified when the most casual observer of our words cannot find the love or detect the genuine concern in the midst of the biting, devouring, caustic quips and one-liners. How we need to pause and be introspective. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 21:2a; cf. 16:2). I can easily rationalize and convince myself of my own unrighteousness, as easily as the adulterer, the one in religious error, the drunkard, and the like can do with their iniquity. Why not, as we sift through the complicated maze of “interpersonal dynamics,” deal with each other patiently, giving the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, letting lovingkindness lead the way? We are not compromising divine truth, relinquishing a scriptural position, or shying away from sharing God’s Word when we make the effort to act like we like one another. We are submitting to the ethical blueprint commanded in Scripture (see above). “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:4).

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Goose Hunting

Scott Philliips

A few years back I started goose hunting and I found out something very interesting about myself. I like it a lot! They are exciting to hunt, easy to harvest the meat, and they are delicious when I smoke them into jerky. Many of you probably don’t understand the challenge and excitement involved since most of the time you could just grab one off the street and throw it into your car. But out in the open, where it’s legal to shoot them, it can be a real challenge.

In order to get flying geese to come in for a landing close enough to shoot them, there are two basic tactics. One is decoys. Geese want to join up with other geese, and if they see some on the ground it tells them that it is probably a good area to feed and that it’s safe. In order to fool them, your decoys need to look real, and mine look real. Anytime I leave my spot and return, I spend an embarrassing amount of time sneaking up on my own decoys. The second thing you need is to sound like a goose. Your call needs to be authentic. It needs to get their attention to draw them into the kill zone.

Many of you have already connected the dots in my story. It’s so simple really. It’s a do-it-yourself lesson.  We need to be on guard as Christians so as not to be fooled or deceived by teaching that is not authentic, not the real deal. Teaching that may look and sound good, but will cost us our souls, can fool us.

But that’s not the lesson. I challenge myself and all of us to consider an even more sobering question. Have I become the decoy? Has looking and sounding like a Christian become enough for me? My calls are spot on. I can speak their language. My decoys look fantastic. They dutifully show up for every hunting trip. But they are not real, and they don’t move.

A real goose moves.
A real goose flies.
A real goose feeds.
A real goose is active all the time.
A real goose is busy being a real goose, all the time.

Read Matthew 25:34-36.

So are you, am I the real deal? It depends on what we do between “hunting trips.”

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[Originally from Scott’s “90 Seconds of Power” devotional at Bear Valley]

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!

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It’s Not Business; It’s Personal

Neal Pollard

Some years ago, when our sons were all teenagers and they were given a cell phone, there were times when they failed to use those to communicate if they got to their destination or answer when we needed to reach them. While I never did it, I was tempted on more than one occasion to contact the cellular provider and suspend their service. Why? Was it because I thought it was wasted cost? No. It was because it reflected a lack of thoughtfulness and responsibility. It wasn’t business. It was personal.

Hebrews 10:25 is a sobering, New Testament passage. It addresses the Christian’s attitude toward the sacred assemblies of the church. What makes it sober is its contextual attachment to the eternal ramifications of abandoning those assemblies. God speaks of “no more sacrifice for sins,” “severer punishment,” “vengeance,” and “terrifying” (26-31) in connection with sinning willfully, of which forsaking the assemblies is a contextual example. But, why is God so exacting about this matter of our meeting together? In a nutshell, it is because these times, to God, are personal. The Bible is full of references to God’s desire to be worshipped and receive our worship. He is worthy. As Creator, He has the right. But, in this passage, it is personal in the sense that what He commands is so helpful to you and me.

Written on the foundation of the fact that our High Priest, Jesus, has given us access to God (19), the writer urges us to do three things: (1) Draw near (22), (2) Hold fast, and (3) Consider. It’s the third one I want to briefly notice:  “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (24-25).

There should be a personal connection. Notice how the writer reveals this. He says “us” and “our.” He says “one another” twice as well as “together.” Christianity is not a solitary condition. We must see ourselves in connection with the rest of the body. Assembling is about seeing ourselves as a vital piece of a more important whole. Forsaking the assemblies is, for whatever reason, selfish and self-centered. It is done blind to the needs of others.

There should be a personal submission. The command is “consider” followed by two participles that tell us how to obey the command: “not forsaking” and “encouraging” (more on that in a second). So, in a discussion about the whole group, there is a command each must strive to obey. As it is a command, ultimately this is as personal as God and the individual. I fail to consider my role, I fail in my relationship with God.

There should be a personal obligation. Each of us is obligated to stimulate and encourage everyone else. It’s not just those who publicly lead worship or teach class. The reclusive saint who dashes out before services are over has missed this. The clammed up Christian who never reaches out to fellow saints but is closed to others misses this. The discouraging and unloving brother and sister rebels against their duty. I should never be focused on how well others are stimulating and encouraging me. Instead, I should be so lost in my efforts to be a blessing to others that I have no or energy to evaluate how others are doing.

There should be a personal anticipation. This is more than social and emotional. It’s spiritual and eternal. Those other aspects are means to that end, but don’t miss the end. Be a blessing to others at “church services” “as you see the day drawing near” (25). Not Sunday. Keep reading. The Judgment Day. I need to remember that “here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (13:14). One of the best places to stay reminded of that is through our assemblies, as our activities in class and worship and our teaching and preaching keep us anchored to that ultimate reality. This world is not my home!

Christianity is not about the business of going through the motions, even doing right things. No, no! It is personal. May that truth permeate our attitudes toward not just God, but His children.

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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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