God> Our Hearts (1 John: Part 9)

God> Our Hearts (1 John: Part 9)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

I’ll be repeating the book of I John in present-day terminology. It’s not a true translation of the
book, as I am not qualified to do so. It will be based on an exegetical study of the book and will
lean heavily on the SBL and UBS Greek New Testaments, as well as comparisons with other
translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, ERV, NLT). My goal is to reflect the text accurately, and to
highlight the intent of the author using concepts and vocabulary in common use today.
This is not an “essentially literal” translation, and should be read as something of a
commentary.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus gave up his own life for everyone. We owe each other
our lives, too. Let’s say one of you is living life to the fullest, financially comfortable and stress-
free. If you notice that one of your brothers or sisters needs basic necessities and you
suppress your feelings of compassion, can God’s love exist in you at all? Children, don’t just
say you love each other – prove it by how you treat each other.

This is how we know we exist in the truth: we can pacify our guilty consciences in front of God
whenever our hearts condemn us. God is more powerful than our hearts and he knows
everything! Loved ones, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we can be completely confident when
we pray to God. If we ask him for something, he’ll give it to us. This is because we do what
he’s asked and we listen to his commands.

These are his commands: believe in his son (Jesus, the king), and selflessly love each other.
Everyone who carefully practices those commands is with God, and God is with them.

A December Look Back At Halloween

A December Look Back At Halloween

Tuesday Column: Dale Mail

blond man with goatee smiling at camera with blazer on
ale Pollard

For a long time it seems that every October when this ancient holiday comes around many issues come with it. Somebody will undoubtedly bring up their problems with this holiday, but are they right? If they are, I suspect there will have to be a major change in many Christian families around the US. The ancient holiday really did have some creepy and messed up origins. It was originally a day set aside for the dead. More specifically, the people’s deceased relatives (history.com). To try and communicate with their loved ones, they would perform many rituals. The idea of masks came later when people would try and ward off the evil spirits. They hoped that the masks would help them to blend in, or even scare them off. It’s understandable that this would make some people wary of this holiday. Claims have been made against this day that it is a “satanic holiday,” is this true?

In order to answer this question we need to look at what Halloween is today. I suppose there are those out there that may attempt to spend their halloween nights trying to duplicate the practices of the olden times. On the whole, Halloween is a day for kids. It’s a time for children to dress up, walk around the neighborhood and stuff themselves with candy. Like most things in this world, it can be a day that is abused. Any day, can be a day that is abused. Most people are not thinking about the devil, or trying to worship the devil. When it comes down to it, Halloween controversies are not salvation issues. It only becomes wrong when we try and force an unbiblical opinion on somebody else. This goes either way. If somebody’s conscience is affected by the celebration of Halloween, we should not be a people that try and convince them otherwise (Acts 24:16). We can explain if they’re interested, but that’s probably where we should leave it in order to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:3).

Handling Thorny Issues

Handling Thorny Issues

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

IMG_3575

Gary Pollard

Christians live on planet earth and aren’t immune to social issues. The vaccine is one of them. This article is NOT about vaccination specifically. I am not qualified to write about it, but this wouldn’t be an appropriate forum even if I was.

However, this issue has influenced the church in a few timeless ways: misapplying scripture, creating division, and engendering hostility.

Misapplying Scripture: Applying Romans 13 to this subject is not appropriate. Nothing about the passage sheds light on which governing authority we should follow. What if federal law contradicts state or local law? Which do we follow then? I Peter 2.13-14 does address varying levels of governing authority, but does not specify which takes precedence. Both passages demand submission to everyone who has authority over us because it’s what God wants. As it stands now, neither passage applies to this issue. We cannot use God’s word to enforce or condemn issues that have no bearing on salvation. When state or local law is in conflict with federal law (or vice versa) and the issue at hand isn’t a salvation issue, it falls under the jurisdiction of Romans 14.

Creating Division: Differences in opinion aren’t new to the church. No reasonable person will call this a salvation issue, so it does fall under the purview of Romans 14. We need to remember the commands in this passage: accept those who have different opinions (1), do not think poorly of those who disagree (3), do not judge someone who exercises preference (3), make decisions based on conviction (5), do not condemn each other over opinions (13), don’t let opinions destroy relationships (15), and don’t let your decision become a problem (16). What does this mean for us? Respect your Christian family’s decision, do not think less of them because of their decision, make the decision you feel is best for you, don’t condemn someone based on their decision, and don’t let an issue that has no bearing on our Christian lives become a source of division.

Hostility: The previous point addresses this somewhat, but sinful behavior has come out of this. Thinking less of a Christian who gets the vaccine is sinful. Thinking less of a Christian who doesn’t get the vaccine is sinful.

Nothing about this issue is new or different. Controversial opinions over military service, firearms, holiday observance, or vaccination are not handled any differently. God expects us to put these kinds of issues in their proper place: the back seat.

“We have to love each other, because love comes from God and everyone who has love belongs to God and knows him. Anyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love” (I Jn. 4.7-8).

“Love each other deeply with a pure heart” (I Pt. 1.22).
“You must continue to love each other” (Heb. 13.1).
“Pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness” (I Tim. 6.11).

David’s Year Away From God

David’s Year Away From God

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

carl-pic

Carl Pollard

 
“You’re the man” is what we say when someone comes through for us. It’s used as a compliment that helps us convey our gratitude. “You’re the man” means that the person you’re saying it to deserves to be praised for what they’ve done or will do. We find this same phrase in scripture, but it’s used in a completely different manner.
 
David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was still a man. He made mistakes and sometimes failed to live the way he should. There’s one instance in his life that we are all familiar with. 2 Samuel 11 records for us the time David committed adultery with Bathsheba and got her pregnant. In order to cover his tracks he had her husband killed. Chapter 11 ends with Bathsheba crying over her husband’s death, while David waits for her to get over it so he can move her into his house.
 
This chain of sins committed by David creates a rift in his relationship with God. The last phrase we read in chapter 11 is that “the things that David had done displeased the Lord.”
 
What I find interesting is that God doesn’t immediately punish David. He didn’t do anything when David first slept with her, He didn’t do anything when David killed her husband, and God didn’t punish him when he bore a son with Bathsheba. For what appears to be about a year, David seems to live without any consequences for his sins. But this lack of immediate punishment didn’t mean that God was overlooking David’s sin. Rather, God had a plan that we read of in chapter 12.
 
David found himself in a place that he wasn’t normally in. For a year he wasn’t a man after God’s own heart, but his own heart. For 12 months David didn’t walk with God, rather, he walked away. For 365 days David was no longer a friend of God, he was an enemy. Think about what was going through his head. He had sinned, and he knew it. After David spends a year living with the sin he had committed, God comes to him with a message. It is a message that is summarized with only four words: “YOU ARE THE MAN.”
 
From 2 Sam. 11:27-12:1, there seems to be a gap of about 12 months, a time where nothing is said about the sin David just committed. Just because nothing was said doesn’t mean everything was normal. After the awful sins David committed, God was silent. Why? I believe it was for two reasons:
 
  1. So that David could think on his sinful actions. Think about what was going on in his head. He had to live with the guilt of sleeping with another man’s wife and then killing her husband in secret. Every time David looked into the eyes of Bathsheba he was reminded. No one knew except David and Joab (the one David used to get Uriah killed in battle). After the sins were committed, David was left to think about his sin and David knew that God knew. He lived for a year knowing that God didn’t approve and was angry with him. God was silent so that the noise in David’s head could be heard.
  2. So that David would truly feel and experience the burden of his actions. Psalm 32 and 51 were both written after David had confessed his sin, but he writes about what his life was like (Psa. 32:3-4; 51:12). David was eaten up with guilt. He carried a weight that was destroying him and his life was void of hope and joy. God was silent so that David could think about what he had done and so that he could feel the weight of his sinful actions.
 
David chose to ignore his sin for a year, but that year was a time filled with stress and guilt. We can either fix the sin, or ignore it and face the consequences. If we ignore it and take God’s silence as a lack of punishment we WILL face the punishment that is promised on those who live in sin. We must choose the first course of action. 
THE IMPERATIVES OF ROMANS 15

THE IMPERATIVES OF ROMANS 15

Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”

16174665_10154303308455922_2453812807432667966_n

Neal Pollard

When examining a passage that we need to put into practice, one of the most important things we can do is to find the imperatives in that passage. For example, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 contains one imperative–“make disciples” (19).  Two participles tell us how to do that: “baptizing” and “teaching” (19-20). Another example is Ephesians 5:18-21. There is a double imperative here: “Do not be drunk with wine” (18), but “be filled with the Spirit” (18). How do you obey the command to be filled with the Spirit? There are five ways, according to Paul. You are filled with the Spirit by “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” “giving thanks,” and “being subject to one another.” 

In his closing appeal to the Romans, Paul is concerned about how church members are treating each other. There are apparent struggles among them over their diverse religious past. Paul pictures this as those “weak in faith” (14:1)  and those who are “strong” (15:1). The strong is also called one who has faith (14:2). Apparently, God not only expects that congregations will have both categories of Christians, but He expects us to successfully work through situations that arise out of this fact. 

Apparently, one of the most damaging ways we handle such differences is by “judging” one another (14:3-4,10,13). The way Paul uses that word here means to “pass an unfavorable judgment upon, criticize, find fault with, and condemn” (BDAG 567). The issues in their circumstance were things like eating meets offered to idols and observing special days (14:5-6). Those things seem strange, even trivial, to us today. But the church in every generation has their own petty problems to negotiate, things that are struggles of faith nonetheless (14:16-23). This clash of convictions and maturity levels must be successfully met and overcome. How?

That’s where we turn to Romans 15. Paul gives two imperatives that are at the heart of negotiating the prickly situations like those we are facing right now. They are “please your neighbor” (15:2) and “accept one another” (15:7). Those two commands can be the hardest thing to do when we disagree with how our brother (or sister) handles a matter, especially matters without clearcut instruction. To “please” is to accommodate others by meeting their needs and sacrificing self-interest. None of us wants to do that, but if you are strong (15:1) it’s what you do. It’s what Jesus did (15:3)! To “accept one another” is best defined by contrasting it with its opposite, which in this context is to “regard with contempt” (14:3). That’s reflected in a sinful attitude, dismissing, disdaining, judging, and looking down on. 

Think about the difference when one obeys or disobeys these two God-given commands. If our mentality is to “please” and “accept,” how does that affect our relationship with those drawing different conclusions in matters of judgment? If we choose to please ourselves and reject our spiritual family based on their different conclusions, where do we wind up? According to Paul, it’s not a good place (14:12,15). 

I have yet to hear of a congregation without at least “two sides” in negotiating all that’s involved in reacting to the current pandemic. Everything from masks to isolating versus assembling to rational versus irrational fear gets dragged into the conversation. It’s easy to dig our trenches deeper and draw our lines bolder. What is to govern us in these tedious, perilous times? At the heart of it all, we must obey our Lord’s instruction. “Please your neighbor for his good, to his edification” (15:2) and “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (15:7).  Never lose sight of this! 

 

 

Christ’s Focus On Getting Rid Of Sin

Christ’s Focus On Getting Rid Of Sin

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

 

 

 

Gary Pollard

This week we will do a brief study of I Peter 3.17-22. 

In verse 17, the emphasis in the original text is “doing good.” If it is God’s desire (this is emphasized) that we suffer, it is better (stronger, more prominent, more advantageous) that we suffer for doing good works than evil works. How much more powerful a message do we send when we come under fire for doing something that benefits others? If we suffer for doing something bad, we’re just another criminal. But to suffer in the act of doing something good – in context – is a far more powerful evangelistic tool. 

In the following verses, Peter gives a powerful example of Christ’s focus on getting rid of sin. He put everything into saving mankind – including giving His own life – so that we could all have the opportunity to come to God. Even before the destruction of the world through the flood He made sure everything had the opportunity to hear about their spiritual state. Whether this was done through Noah and his sons or whether He had a more direct hand in this is immaterial. The point of the text is that the message got out to those who are “now in prison.” His goal was to bring others to God, even when it caused Him suffering. 

Only those who did listen and obey – eight people – were rescued from evil by the waters of the flood. Notice that the Spirit does not record Noah’s ark as being what saved them! They were saved in the important sense by the destruction of evil. Our focus is not earthly. 

Just as water saved Noah and his family from evil, water saves us from spiritual death. Being immersed in water is how we make a formal appeal to God for a clear conscience! Some translations render this, “A promise to God from a good conscience,” as if baptism is some kind of outward sign of an inward faith. This is not reflected in Greek; it is a conscience cleared by an appeal to God, because of the resurrection of Jesus. He has all power, so He can clear our record when we submit to Him. 

Having all of this as a background, we have some motivation to keep our actions pure, suffer for doing good things, and understand that God’s power is what saves us. Peter gives many other phenomenal motivators for living a pure life, which we will look at in detail in the coming weeks. 

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

Neal Pollard

To be fair, there have been several passages I’ve neglected to apply to myself, but, given the time of year we are in, this is certainly one. Paul writes,

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:5-10). 

When we encounter a passage in Scripture, we are well-served to consider its practical application for daily life.

According to this passage, an individual is permitted to regard one day above another and another may choose not to do so. How might that apply to us today? What if one personally regarded December 25th over, say, August 17th (which, while it’s National Custard Day and National Thrift Shop Day, was an attempt to pick an ordinary day on the calendar)? Is that wrong? 

According to this passage, one may elect to observe a day (or not) and eat certain foods (or not) “for the Lord.” If they observe and eat, they aren’t wrong and should not be judged. Remember what Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Is application restricted just to customs under the Old Law, or could someone today act as our judge regarding some or all of these things? Even in Colossians, Paul was dealing with more than Judaisers. 

According to this passage, we must consider our actions in light of how they impact each other. As a local church and even an entire brotherhood, we don’t act in isolation because we are part of one big spiritual family. It also means each member, every weak and strong Christian, should first apply this passage to himself/herself and not just project it onto others. It is a two-way street. If one wants to personally show homage to Christ on a specific day, should he or she be respected and left alone to do that? That seems a fair application of this text.

According to this passage, we must watch judging our brother in matters like these. Further, we must avoid seeing him with contempt. That’s a strong word, meaning “to show by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain” (BDAG 352). Jesus reserved a scathing parable of two men praying in the temple for some because “they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Every weak and strong Christian, along with the rest of humanity, “will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That should temper my spirit and speech, especially in matters which upon fair investigation turn out to be matters of judgment.

When I was younger, I sadly admit that I passed judgment on Christians who sent me religiously-themed Christmas cards or put up a nativity scene in their yard. Any sign that they attached religious significance to this season I attributed to their being spiritually weak and inferior. In light of Romans 14, I believe I was wrong to do this. This was a personal liberty granted to them by God through Paul in that text. If, as I presumptuously assumed, I was their “stronger brother,” then I should not act as their judge in the matter. I should set an example of patience, compassion, and acceptance.

This passage does not authorize the church to observe Christmas or to conclude, as one wise brother put it, “If I can do it, we can do it.” Scripture is filled with condemnation for the church, in its worship and teaching, setting up what God set down and setting down what He set up. Paul, in Romans 14, is talking about an individual Christian engaging in a personal observance. In a mountain of doctrinal and moral crises, let’s be sure to put this in proper perspective. More than that, let’s be careful to avoid being in either the camp which looses where God has bound or which binds where God has given liberty. And let it begin with me.

nativitysilhouette1

Examining Our Positions

Examining Our Positions

Neal Pollard

Hans Kaltenborn was an ardent admirer and defender of Adolf Hitler and the “new Germany” ushered in with the Nazi regime. Despite diplomatic warnings of assaults upon Americans, Kaltenborn, an influential American commentator for CBS and NBC and of German descent, dismissed it as flawed and skewed information gathering by biased personnel. About to return home to the states to speak against such reports and warnings, his family went to downtown Berlin to do some last minute shopping. While out, the family found themselves in the middle of one of the endless S.A. parades. When his family refused to offer the Nazi salute, his son was physically assaulted and injured. Finally, someone intervened and the incident ended with no further harm. However, the transformed Kaltenborn was apoplectic. He made a report with the American Consulate in Berlin, but no charges were filed. As Eric Larsen writes, “the senior Kaltenborn ‘could remember neither the name nor the number of the Party identification card of the culprit, and as no other clues which might be useful in the investigation could be found’” (In The Garden of Beasts, 164). Despite this, Kaltenborn was now of a different mind!

There are many ways in which life can do the same thing to us.  We may be dead certain about marriage when we are single, about childrearing “pre-kids,” about our career when still in the classroom, about home ownership when in our parents’ home, dorm room, or apartment, and so on. But, life so often has a way of rudely awakening us from some well-meaning beliefs.

Sometimes, this can happen to us in the all-important area of religion. As we stay in our Bibles and gain wisdom and experience life, we may reaffirm but also clarify and even change certain positions we have long held. This can certainly be a dangerous affair, and some have allowed life to change their positions from what is true to what is false (what Jesus says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage because of a family situation, unscriptural changes in worship because of children attending church who have adopted such, etc.). But few of us will go all the way through life without reconsidering especially some conscience or judgment matters.

There are also a great many of our friends who have been taught religious error on God’s plan of salvation, the singular, undenominational nature of the church, what God wants in worship, women’s role in church and worship leadership, and the list goes on. This can be such a difficult challenge for anyone, to revisit long-held and deeply-believed positions in light of what the Bible says.

For all of us, there must be an abiding humility that approaches scripture without the blinders of prejudices, preconceived notions, and influences like family, friends, church, and so on. That is uncomfortable, but essential—for all of us!  We may come to find that something we’ve clung to so tenaciously must be rejected or that something we rejected must be embraced. If we ever get to that place, may we have the kind of heart that puts the will of God above our own will. Without such, we cannot hope to make heaven our home.

7256698_134185460141
Hans Kaltenborn

Misguided Malice

Misguided Malice

Neal Pollard

I served the Livingston Police Department in Sumter County, Alabama, as a reserve officer for two years. I had a uniform and a badge, though the service I rendered was as chaplain.  The relationship between law enforcement and citizens there was very positive, but I remember talking with officers about the media bias and agenda of liberal politicians they witnessed locally and nationally. This was nearly a quarter century ago, long before the advent of social media and nearly omnipresent camera phones and videos which can be deceptive both for what they show and what they do not. In light of baffling events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the last few weeks, as well as the inane calls to defund police, it is hard not to think that huge numbers of people have been duped by political rhetoric and a thoughtless mob mentality. While no profession can be completely free of corrupt individuals (who should be found out and prosecuted with full vigor), the existence of law enforcement and peace officers is a vital cog in the wheel of civilization and order in society. Eliminating these agencies is tantamount to removing a fence keeping a pack of bloodthirsty pit bulls from a neighboring playground full of children.

It is a characteristic of worldliness to disdain authority.  The Christian’s attitude and response is to be different. To Christians living in a world with not a fraction of the liberties we enjoy in society today, Paul instructed, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:1-5). There are sobering, inescapable truths here which should be revered by those who are servants of God. God is mentioned five times in these verses, and He is intrinsically tied to earthly authorities. They are from God (1), established by God (1), an ordinance of God (2), and ministers of God (4).

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the earmarks of difficult times. So many of these traits are evidenced in the growing anarchy of the present day—revilers, unloving, irreconcilable, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, and reckless (1-4).  In addition to such attitudes and actions being sinful, they are too often misguided. Police are symbols of law and order, and they are easy targets for those who commit or are effected by lawlessness. It seems that more of our passion and animus should be directed toward criminals and less toward our crime stoppers.

Let us take to heart Peter’s counsel to persecuted Christians and “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right [we] may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:13-15). If we can rationalize and argue away this Bible truth, why can we not do the same with any other timeless principle of Scripture? May God help us all to hold tightly to the Light of the Bible, that the world may see how it should respond in this troublesome world.

1185791_10151610389890922_1576500141_n

Petrified!

Petrified!

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen the incredible collections of petrified wood in some of our National Parks or Monuments, or maybe you have seen individual examples in any number of other places. A geology site briefly explains how material becomes petrified:

Petrified wood is a fossil. It forms when plant material is buried by sediment and protected from decay by oxygen and organisms. Then, groundwater rich in dissolved solids flows through the sediment replacing the original plant material with silica, calcite, pyrite or another inorganic material such as opal. The result is a fossil of the original woody material that often exhibits preserved details of the bark, wood and cellular structures (geology.com/stories/13/petrified-wood).

There are a few interesting aspects to this process—the burial, the protection, the replacement, and the resulting appearance.

Twice in the gospel of Mark, the writer uses a term to describe the condition of His disciples’ hearts. In Mark six, they have seen him feed the 5,000 men and immediately thereafter they are in the boat in a strong wind when Jesus came walking on the water. They were troubled and fearful, amazed and marveling “for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (52). Ironically, the second incident happened in a boat following Jesus feeding thousands of people again. They misunderstand Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the religious leaders, and Jesus laments, “Is your heart still hardened?” (8:17).

BDAG defines this word, πωρόω, in this way: “To cause someone to have difficulty in understanding or comprehending, harden, petrify, make dull, obtuse, blind, close the mind” (900).  The truth was buried from their understanding, their preexisting, preset points of view blocking its penetration, and the result was their missing the important point. The truth couldn’t get through to their petrified hearts.

Why do we fail to understand basic, vital Bible truths, like the essential nature of baptism, the abrogation of the Law Of Moses (including the Ten Commandments), the emotionally difficult teaching of Jesus about marriage, divorce, and remarriage in Matthew 19, God’s law regarding sexual purity, and the like? Why do we struggle with worry, fear, and doubt? Why do we lack the courage to boldly share Jesus with the lost? Often, the answer to each of these and similar questions is the same as why the disciples feared and faltered.

We should pray for our hearts to stay soft, receptive, and moldable to Jesus. We cannot let our ignorance, resistance, or outside influences to harden our hearts. In fact, that very prospect should make us, well, petrified!

petrifiedwood