“Weak, Foolish, And Afraid” 

“Weak, Foolish, And Afraid” 

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

It’s hard to miss the unique tone of 2 Corinthians, a letter full of self-disclosure  and self-defense and written in such an intimate way. Paul’s apostleship has been questioned and his extensive work with the Corinthians undermined. But, he was willing to “spend and be spent” for them (12:15). A man who has given so much for the cause of Christ chooses not to boast, but to humble himself in an effort to persuade and encourage these brethren in their spiritual progress.

WEAKNESS (12:7-10)

Due to the “surpassing greatness of the revelations” (7) Paul had received (1-6), he was given a “thorn in the flesh.” It’s useless to speculate about what this specific “thorn” was–poor eyesight, physical pain from being stoned at Lystra, some unspecified temptation, etc. Perhaps it is better for us, not knowing exactly what it was, since many of us as Christians may have to wrestle a thorn in our own flesh. It’s interesting to note how Paul describes it: “humbling” (to keep me from exalting myself), “Satanic” (a messenger of Satan), “tormenting,” “persistent” (8), “perfecting” (9), and “empowering” (10). Is there some physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual struggle in your life that you might describe in some or all of these ways? Perhaps we’re quick to identify the negative aspects, but what about the potential positives that can come out of it? It can perfect and empower us to live a better Christian life and make us content with reverses suffered “for Christ’s sake” and say, with Paul, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (10). 

FOLLY (12:11-19)

Paul returns to a theme he has touched on several times throughout the letter (5:13; 11:16-19; 12:6). He resorted to defending his motives, position, decisions, and authority against the aforementioned charges. But, Paul points out that this was more for their “upbuilding” than for his own defense (19). He’s not some insecure preacher or missionary whose feelings have been hurt by some perceived slight; he’s fighting for the hearts and souls of relatively new Christians influenced by the culture and false teachers. He wants them to understand that neither he or his co-workers, like Titus, have taken advantage of them. They have loved and served the Corinthians, willing to bear insults, condescension, and rejection in order to help them be saved. As preaching is called “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:21), those who preach and teach it must be willing to be thought fools for Christ. 

FEAR (12:20-21)

It’s hard to find a man more courageous than Paul. What did he fear? First, he feared failure. The time and the teaching he had done would be wasted, if they were given over to “strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” (20). Read through the two letters Paul wrote to them and notice how he addresses all these matters. Second, he feared emotional trauma (21). His mourning over their past sins would be compounded if they had not repented. Neither of these fears was irrational. Have you ever invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion into someone only to see them teetering on the ledge of apostasy and unfaithfulness? 

God wants and needs faithful Christians who care about the church. He needs us to fully invest ourselves, to “spend and be spent” for others. The great news (and Paul not only understood this; He wrote about it) is that God gives strength for our weakness, wisdom for our folly, and courage for our fear. He will help pull us out of such figurative valleys as we hold onto His capable hands. Let us do our part and devote ourselves to one another. 

Wholesome? 

Wholesome? 

 

 

In The Princess Bride, one character questions another for the latter’s repeated use of a word telling him that he did not think that word meant what the one using it thought it meant. I have run into a little bit of that myself recently with the odd usage of the word “wholesome.” I grew up when “wholesome” described something good for the body, mind, or spirit. The folks at Lexico dot-com have my back on this one: 

  1. “Conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being.”

1.1        “Conducive to or characterized by moral well-being.” 1 

However, for current usage, it sometimes helps to consult a tertiary source like Urban Dictionary dot-com. Anyone can define a word, and users vote for the meanings they think are best. User, 265daysofpatandspongebob, provided the most current and popular user-contributed definition of “wholesome.” 

“An embodiment of the following: self-less, considerate, sweet, compassionate, thoughtful, generous, genuine, doesn’t talk trash about other people,”2 

Yes, I realize that the grammar is not perfect, but that is not the point. Somehow people have come to associate this adjective with the result of having been nurtured by the wholesome. For example, it would be hard to be selfless without wholesome influences. A secondary definition offered by another contributor was essentially something or someone bringing a smile to another’s face.3 Finally, there was the usage I had encountered. The fourth most popular submission asserted that something wholesome expressed love and affection, not lewdness.4 

While I can appreciate that people realize that lewdness is not a virtue, not all love and affection are “wholesome.” The forum in which I encountered this word recently was about a story of a young adult who took in a runaway teen. Sadly, the young woman previously traded her body for a place to stay and assumed her new caretaker would desire the same type of “payment.” To his credit, he told her that she had value other than just her body and deserved good treatment with no strings attached. Those who are saying that the story was wholesome, I suppose, were expressing surprise that a vehicle of popular culture was not glorifying casual relations, especially between those of about a ten-year age difference. Thus far, the relationship presented is platonic. Perceptions of the story’s “wholesomeness” among audience members may change if a romance develops between the adult and the teen, even if the former waits to pursue romantic feelings until the latter reaches what the West considers the age of majority. 

While I would prefer people to react this way because of moral instruction, I fear it stems more from the self-righteousness associated with political correctness. In other words, it has more to do with #MeToo than God said. After finally understanding how people are using “wholesome,” I thought of how I’ve previously seen the word used by other forum members in the past. The very first time I encountered this odd definition of “wholesome” was in a story with a fantasy setting. A woman befriends a female dragon. The dragon assumes a human form and lives with the woman, and takes care of her like a maid. The dragon acts smitten with the human, but the human has no romantic interest. But with the addition of other dragons who take up residence with the human, the setting assumes the form of a non-traditional family. Like the other story, I referenced, the relationship is platonic. However, the LGBTQ+ community lifted it as a positive example of the gay lifestyle. Commentators talked about how “wholesome” it was. Again, the idea was that it highlighted love and affection without lewdness. Hence, making it more acceptable to the “straights” in the audience.  

It seems religious instruction is as lacking as English education today.  If newspeak continues replacing our language, we might see other words perverted to accommodate meanings wordsmiths never intended for them. I am mindful of the warning from God as given by His prophet, Isaiah. 

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5.20 NASB1995) 

In the interim, take the time to teach the young people in your life what is wholesome. Let them know that being wholesome requires more than the absence of lewdness, causing others to smile, or remaining selfless. To be wholesome means you surround yourself with makes you a better, more moral person. The only thing capable of doing this is Christ, the Word, and the church.    

 

Works Cited 

 

1 “WHOLESOME: Definition of WHOLESOME by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com Also Meaning of WHOLESOME.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/definition/wholesome

 

2 265daysofpatandspongebob. “Wholesome.” Urban Dictionary, Urban Dictionary , 16 May 2019,www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wholesome

 

3 thisisforyouemily. “Wholesome.” Urban Dictionary, Urban Dictionary , 9 July 2019,www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wholesome

 

  1. littlejimmybig767. “Wholesome.” Urban Dictionary, Urban Dictionary , 23 February 2018,www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wholesom
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How To Win Souls Without Compromising Doctrine

How To Win Souls Without Compromising Doctrine

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

It’s hard to have balance while times change. Some seize current social realities and use them as opportunities to push unbiblical ideas (God’s design for marriage, leadership in worship, leadership in the home, etc.). As a result, our human nature kicks in and we’re ready to swing the other way. After all, we don’t want to be associated with groups who don’t teach or practice what God wants, right? 

Balance is way more difficult to maintain than reactionary practices in either direction. Both are extremely harmful to the church! Compromising doctrine is never acceptable, but gaining a reputation for being old-fashioned or otherwise incompatible with modern culture is equally harmful. 

I Corinthians 9.19-23 is an awesome text for this. We’ll look at a few key points in this passage briefly. 

  1. It’s About Serving Other People (9.19)
  2. It’s About Winning Them (9.19)
  3. It’s About Meeting Them Where They Are (9.20-22)
  4. It’s About the Message (9.23)

We do what we do because we want to save souls. We cannot maintain a church culture based on reaction because it does not save souls. It is not a sustainable culture and has led to many viewing the church as being incompatible with the modern world. This was never God’s design! We must never compromise doctrine, but we must always try to win souls. We need to do what we can to meet folks where they are and show them something better. 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9.20). 

The Lifeboat Baby

The Lifeboat Baby

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

While many today have no idea who Jesse Roper Mohorovic is, he was a celebrity from the moment of his birth on March 30, 1942, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The United States had entered World War II only a few months before, and German U-Boats “prowled the Atlantic sea lanes, and the waters off the Virginia-Carolina coast were ‘the most dangerous on earth'” (C. Brian Kelly, Military History, 9/05, 74). In fact, the Germans killed twice as many seamen in their U-boat campaign off the east coast than died at Pearl Harbor. 

Jesse’s mother, Desanka, was 8 1/2 months pregnant, traveling on a passenger freighter that was torpedoed. She faced peril after peril, from getting out of her cabin to the harrowing escape in a lifeboat to an overnight storm. In the middle of all of it, the freighter sunk and her doctor injured in their dramatic escape, she gave birth in Lifeboat #4 to a baby boy at 2:30 A.M. Two days later, they were rescued by the Navy destroyer Jesse Roper. 

The media covered many of the early milestones of his life, and even documented his interests and favorite baseball team. He later appeared on the TV shows To Tell The Truth and I’ve Got A Secret. He earned a law degree, served in the Navy, and had a career in marketing. He died of lung cancer about two years after his 2003 retirement (via JOC.com). 

It is no wonder that “The Lifeboat Baby” would become such a sensation, especially given the real drama behind his birth. Perhaps he would have been part of anonymous tragedy if he and his mother had been among the 5000 who perished, but his birth and life became a symbol of hope and victory. Indeed, “Newspapers heralded Jesse as living proof the Allies could not be defeated” (Kelly). 

We live in increasingly grim times. Our current battle is spiritual in nature, as sin and immorality seem to have the upper hand. Souls are perishing in infinitely greater numbers (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). While we cannot save them all, we need to be in search of those we can reach with the gospel. We must muster greater courage to share the good news and help those searching reach safety. They need to know there is hope and victory possible, and that Christ will ultimately win (1 John 5:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:24-25).  These babes in Christ are unlikely to capture the attention of the media, but each of them have the rapt attention of heaven. God is counting on you and me helping to deliver them, regardless of how stormy things may be. Each individual matters to God. How wonderful that we might partner with God and His Word, and help a soul be one whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27)!

 

Photo via Naval History and Heritage Command
“Quit Yer Whinin'”

“Quit Yer Whinin'”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary, with his wife Chelsea

Gary Pollard

I think we’ve all been in the uncomfortable position of witnessing a couple loudly arguing in public. Whether this is at a restaurant, the store, a gas station, or any other public place, it’s downright uncomfortable. Some thoughts going through our minds might be, “Where’s their self-awareness?” or, “They might need to see someone about those issues,” or, “Why here?” We definitely would not want to spend too much time with anyone whose conflict resolution abilities are so classless. Conflict in a relationship is unavoidable and, if handled properly, is vital to the health of a relationship. Poorly managed conflict, though, is sure to destroy it! 

Unfortunately, the world is seeing this more and more. Petty arguments between Christians over matters that have absolutely no bearing on our eternal destination are commonplace. Which Bible version is best? What will heaven be like? What should we wear to worship? Which college should one attend (“that college is liberal/conservative”)? Should we meet in a building or in homes? Should a Christian wear a head covering or not? Should a Christian celebrate certain holidays or not? Should a Christian carry a gun or not? Who should I vote for? 

These are topics I have seen debated in the ugliest possible ways in public forums, whether live or over social media. There is nothing wrong with disagreement handled in a godly way (Matthew 18.15-20). In fact, it can help grow the church because it often brings members closer together. However, when the argument is both non-essential to salvation and is handled unbiblically, it destroys the church. 

If I may be very blunt, this must stop. Our behavior is not only pushing the world away but generations of the church’s own members as well. When a Christian’s blocked list on social media is primarily members of his/her own spiritual family, we have reached concerning levels of dysfunction. I realize that this is not a pleasant article to read, but it is time for us to make a change. 

It is time to stop writing or sharing articles on inflammatory or controversial topics that have no bearing on our salvation. Religious keyboard warriors and trolls need to quit. People of authority and position must stop using their voice to divide and discourage the bride of Christ over non-essential matters (some examples are listed in the second paragraph). We will be held accountable for our words and influence over the body of Christ at judgment. 

When we inevitably find ourselves in disagreement with another Christian over a matter of opinion, we should either handle it privately and with patience and love, or let it go entirely (see Romans 14, I Corinthians 8, Matthew 18, Philippians 1.27, 2.1-5; 2.12, 2.14, 15; 3.17-19; 4.2). Being correct or winning an argument at the expense of peace is not worth losing our souls. This article is just as much for myself as it is for anyone reading this. It is for everyone. 

Around 156,000 people die every day (that’s about 56,000,000 people per year) and most them die outside of Christ. Our time is limited and our influence precious. Our words are among the most powerful tools and weapons ever created. Let us use them well, as they could very well influence someone’s eternal destination – or our own. 

“Weaponizing” The Bible

“Weaponizing” The Bible

Neal Pollard

While politicians have quoted the Bible as far back as the founding fathers, have you noticed the trend especially in the last 20 years or so to use Scripture to push a policy or score a point? Perhaps it’s to pander to a group or to reinforce one’s position. During the historic impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, the Bible was “weaponized” by both sides of the aisle in embarrassing, repulsive ways. One side compared the impeachment trial of the President to Jesus before Pilate, producing a tasteless, horrific analogy. The other side ripped Romans 1:25 from context to admonish the President’s supporters as worshipping the “creature” more than the “Creator”–I wonder if this extremely liberal politician bothered to read the very next few verses? The God of heaven must be filled with righteous wrath over such misuses of His Word!

Unbelievers have long tried to weaponize the Bible against those who believe God’s Word is inspired. A favorite “go to” is Matthew 7:1 (“judge not that you be not judged”) as a shield for any number of immoral deeds which Scripture itself condemns. This is often an effort to turn what people claim to follow (the Bible) against them to defend their actions. John 8:7 (“let him that is without sin cast the first stone”) is a close second and used similarly 

Yet, each of us needs to be careful not to remove a Bible verse from its context to make it say what it is not saying. Peter warned that “the untaught and unstable distort” the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). Often, it’s a general ideas like “God wants me to be happy” or misuses of Scripture like “where two or three are gathered together in my name” to have it say what it does not mean.  Perhaps we defend our actions with our physical or Christian family by appealing to wonderful Bible concepts like grace, love, and freedom, but in effect weaponize them to suit our lifestyle choices. Scripture itself says these concepts can be misappropriated (Jude 4, 1 Cor. 13:4-7, Gal. 5:13, etc.). 

Scripture is a powerful weapon which God intends for us to use in spiritual warfare (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:14-17). But, as with every weapon, it must be handled properly (2 Tim. 2:15). I must understand that God will be displeased if I misuse this omnipotent tool. Used properly and in context, Scripture is powerful. Used otherwise, we will hurt ourselves and probably others!

221b Baker Street

Why Is A Generation Leaving Religion?

Why Is A Generation Leaving Religion?

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking Away

A Strong Sense Of Family

A Strong Sense Of Family

Neal Pollard

Trevor Matich was being interviewed on ESPN radio, asked about why he thought that Clemson had built such a strong football program in the last few years. His quick response was, “They have built a strong sense of family.” He talked about how Head Coach Dabo Sweeney and his staff wanted players to see their coaches not just as coaches but also as husbands and fathers. Consequently, the coaches’ families spend a lot of time around the athletic facilities or hanging out with the players. They have intentionally built a strong family environment that doesn’t compartmentalize but rather coalesces. Recruits talk about sensing it when they make a visit, but, more importantly, players on the roster speak just as strongly about it. 

How many teams make such an emphasis isn’t clear, but you don’t seem to hear that said often enough. While I find such human interest stories heartwarming, it makes me wonder, “Do people describe our congregation with similar terminology?” Are we creating, developing, and nurturing a strong sense of family?

The early church definitely majored in that priority. From the time the first church of our Savior was established, we find this emphasis (Acts 2:42-47). Often, New Testament writers spoke of the church with family terminology (Eph. 2:19; 3:15; 1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1-2; Ti. 2:1-8; etc.). The church exists as a sub-community within the broader community around them. People from that broader community are looking for greater intimacy and meaningful relationships. One place they often turn is to various churches. Whether through our efforts to evangelize or through their seeking that brings them within our walls, we have an opportunity to expose them to a “strong sense of family.” 

But, by being faithful to New Testament teaching, we offer this in the context of truth rather than error. We cannot settle for simply offering truth, as eternally vital as that is. Along with it, we must love, embrace, and work to incorporate them into our family. God has His church designed to follow His written will in the context of a tight-knit, spiritual family. A true sense of family will draw them into a relationship with us. It will better open their hearts and minds to being drawn into a relationship with Christ. The net effect will be greater than a national championship. It will be many, many souls won to eternal life. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to be spiritual family!

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Dabo in his early days at Clemson

The Fight Between The Skunk And The Snake

The Fight Between The Skunk And The Snake

Neal Pollard

Some time ago, I wrote, “I passed by a skunk and a snake, fighting tooth and nail. I didn’t stop and pet either or take sides. I got out of there as fast as I could.” That was metaphorical rather than actual, though I’ve had encounters with each animal individually. My point had to do with some of the “fights” that regularly occur on social media about some of the most unnecessary causes.

The common ground of these posts and articles are their extremely polarizing effect, drawing a multitude of allies and opponents. So often, they relate to matters that, of themselves, will not effect a single person’s eternity (though the poor stewardship of time, emphasis, tone, and attitude might imperil more than a few).

I have been tempted to weigh in on probably a thousand of these spats and civil wars, but I do not. It’s not that I do not have decided views on nearly all the debates. Instead, I try to project myself into the future. Will it expand my influence for Christ for good? What will my comment add to the spirit of brotherly love, magnanimity, unity, and church growth? Will I truly be helping struggling souls? Will it elevate the view of Jesus’ bride in the eyes of the lost, the weak, and the wayward? 

After reflecting, the answer is always the same. I cannot answer that for my interjecting brethren. Nor am I one to avoid preaching or personally discussing matters because they may be unpopular or alienating. However, because social media is more impersonal and lacking in the interpersonal dynamics of face-to-face interaction, we run a much greater risk of being misunderstood. 

Today, controversy can be created in real time. As a good friend of mine put it, “Everybody has a megaphone now.” What really requires courage is stepping out from behind a computer or phone and personally interacting with someone we disagree with in civil, loving discourse. It may not foster page views, mass reactions, and reams of online comments, but in the end it may reach more hearts and minds. 

In our current culture, dividing people into camps against each other is incredibly easy. But is it wise? Is it right (Proverbs 6:19b)? 

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The Difference Between Current And Relevant

The Difference Between Current And Relevant

Neal Pollard

Relevant—Appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest
Current—Belonging to the present time; happening or being used or done now

I think most of us would find the above definitions of these words to be satisfactory. In the context of the church, we are often concerned with both the matter of being current and relevant. The degree to which and the ways in which to achieve currentness may differ from congregation to congregation, but every congregation, to some degree, wishes to be current. It’s what drives members to arrive in automobiles, to paint and remodel the building, to use powerpoint for lessons and songs, have wifi access, a (hopefully) updated website, and the like. So long as the tool, idea, or method for being current is in harmony with Scripture, including proper stewardship as well as adhering to God’s pattern and authority, we should be as forward thinking as possible.

Relevance is, perhaps, a more subjective matter. With the maturing of each succeeding generation, we tend to obsess about whether or not our planning, actions, communication, and the like are sufficiently relevant to each generation. In other words, we might ask, “Are we relevant to millennials?” or “Will this resonate with iGens?” There are tools, ideas, and methods we should use to be “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances.” But, may we not lose sight of the fact that Scripture could not be more relevant, and it is never more relevant than when it is countercultural. The world’s ideas for how we should dress, talk, think, act, or respond to God may be the very definition of what’s current, but such is not relevant to God’s objective right and wrong on those specific matters. What we teach may be relevant to those areas of concern, but may seem old-fashioned or not what is being used or done now by the majority. 

We must emphasize that in our current circumstances, God’s Word, with its precepts and principles, is what is relevant! It’s what the world needs, and it’s what we each need. The church, so long as it boldly, lovingly declares those things, is the very essence of relevant. Let’s just let God’s Word and not the world define that for us. 

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