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church church of Christ faithfulness persecution perseverance Uncategorized

Pilgrims And Strangers

Neal Pollard

The two Sundays Kathy and I spent in Israel were with the church in Nazareth, about two hours north of where we are staying near Jerusalem. An interesting fact in a nation where an overwhelming majority of citizens are either Jews, the largest group, or Muslims, still a significant, but smaller group, is that there is a fairly small number of those professing to be Christians. The congregation in Nazareth, which has around 40 members, is comprised almost entirely of Arab people. As I spoke with one of the men yesterday, he said something that will stay with me a long time. He talked about how Arab Christians are viewed by their fellow-citizens. If Jews sees him standing beside a Muslim, they think he’s a Muslim. As most Arabs in Israel are Muslim, that seems logical. They see him as a potential threat and enemy. But, Arabs who find out he’s a Christian, and there are so many ways to readily see he’s not a Muslim–clothing, customs, etc.–see him as infidel or even a traitor. His remarks were in response to the sermon I preached from 1 Peter 2:21-25 on how Jesus handled persecution. He says that the Arabic Christians can tend to feel like people without a country.

Now, while you and I do not share the unique circumstance of Arab Christians in Israel, there is a similarity we see from earlier in 1 Peter 2. Peter tells Christians, “ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (11-12). We’re going to “look” different, abstaining from fleshly lusts. We’re going to “act” different, keeping our behavior excellent doing good deeds. Whether we physically look like the people who observe us or we look different from them, our Christianity will be noticeable and observable. That’s not the same as doing your works in order to be seen of men (Mat. 23:5). Instead, living the Christian life–no matter what–will inevitably catch the attention of the people around us. 

I’m grateful for the object lesson I received. Pray for our Arab brethren, men and women in a spiritual sense who are “without a country.” Pray for our brethren in places where their faith in Christ is scorned and more overtly persecuted. Pray for us, that we will be salt and light which stands out and stands up for Jesus in our daily places where darkness persists.

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John and Carla learning a few Arabic words and phrases from the local Christians.
Categories
convictions courage morality Uncategorized

What Would YOU Do?

Neal Pollard

On the one hand, Brunhilde Pomsel says she knew nothing but on the other says she saw the “ranting, rowdy man,” the “raging midget” that her boss, Joseph Goebbels, could become. Though usually sophisticated and elegant, if arrogant, he was the propaganda minister for Hitler’s Nazi regime, culpable in the murder of millions of Jews and other Nazi targets, and she was his secretary. She’s 105-years-old and is the star of a documentary film, A German Life, set to be released soon (The Guardian, Kate Connelly, 8/15/16, “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-Year-Old Secretary: No One Believes Me Now, But I Knew Nothing”). One of her most poignant comments was this:  ““Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have.”

After the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell…”

Her point, even if uttered in rationalization, is pretty poignant. It’s so easy to look back on horrific actions like those perpetrated by the Nazi machine and say we’d die fighting it. But, the rank and file of the German people in the 1930s and 1940s were “normal” people. I’m sure it would have been possible for someone like Brunhilde to keep herself in a bubble from the truth, but I’m not sure it exonerates her. I’ve read too many books about so many who secretly and openly defied the evil of that fascist government to protect the innocent, especially the Jewish people.

One of history’s hardest challenges has been to go against the flow of culture and society. Scripture reveals some of those struggles, like faced by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Imagine facing the “rage and anger” of a ruthless king who demanded you to sin, and saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18). Then imagine seeing him “filled with wrath, and his facial expression” being “altered” toward you. While the event was transformational for the king, they still needed the courage to be distinct in their times.

It is frightening to think of how our country has changed in such a relatively brief period of time. As morality erodes and attitudes toward God and the Bible change for the worse, we have opportunities to stand. The ruling powers may not seem as evil as Nazism does in the rearview mirror, but their hostility toward Christianity is becoming clearer. While we remain the respective, obedient citizens Scripture commands us to be (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2), let us be willing to stand with the likes of Peter and John and always say, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

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Categories
Christian living distinct faith New Testament Christianity transformation

BEING SANCTIFIED WITHOUT BEING SHELTERED

Neal Pollard

Sanctification is one of those words used in more than one sense in the New Testament. It usually means the state of having been made holy (Rom. 6:19,22; 2 Th. 2:13; 1 Pt. 1:2), but it also is used in the sense of moral purity (see especially 1 Th. 4:2ff).  There is no doubt that God calls us to live pure, godly lives in Christ.  Because of this, we must watch the company we keep (cf. 1 Co. 15:33; 2 Co. 6:16ff).

How do we balance this need of keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world” (Js. 1:27) with the ability to reach out to those who are not followers of Christ?  David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in their book UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters, discuss several factors that lead two generations—they call them “Mosaics” (born between 1984 and 2002) and “Busters” (born between 1965 and 1983)—to be more radically disconnected from and antagonistic toward “Christianity” as they perceive it.  One of the factors is their view that Christians’ lives are too sheltered for them to relate to it or find it desirable as a lifestyle choice.  We’re often thought of as living in our own world, providing too simplistic answers for our complex world, being ignorant and outdated, speaking our own, exclusive language, and our outrage and offense at being putdown and mocked by the world. I don’t know how this hits you, but perhaps it gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves.

The authors make a great point worthy of our consideration: “Christianity begins to shift its sheltered reputation when Christ followers are engaged, informed, and on the leading edge, offering a sophisticated response to the issues people face” (132).  The answer is not to replace congregational singing with rock concerts, recruit women, homosexual, or hard-edged shock-sermonizers who are foul-mouthed and irreverent to replace faithful gospel preachers, or the like. The answer is much more New Testament, more aligned with what the early church was.  The answer is “engagement.”

That means we engage people in the world.  We create opportunities or enter environments where “outsiders” (non-Christians) are to be found and we become salt and light, opening doors for the gospel through relationship-building and our genuine concern for people’s (often messy) lives.

It means we engage ourselves in “active faith.” We let faith have arms and legs. We move from being “believers” to being “doers” (Js. 1:22). We urge, encourage, and enable people to actively serve and live out faith in their daily lives.

It means we engage people like those Jesus and His disciples targeted.  That means the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus, the lame man, Blind Bartemaeus, the 10 lepers, the Samaritan woman, and others like them.  We cannot forget what Paul said, that God has chosen the foolish, weak, base, nothing, and despised types to be His people (1 Cor. 1:27-28). The people God chose to be heirs are not the pretty, popular, influential, and wealthy (Js. 2:5).  The authors of UnChristian specify groups like “loners,” “self-injurers,” and “fatherless” people (135-137). We can add to that list, but people like these do not often top the “prospect lists” we might make.

Divine Truth must prevail and guide us in matters of salvation, our teaching, our personal morality, our worship, etc.  If it will guide us in reaching the world with the Word, we had better stop sequestering ourselves and our faith from a world in desperate need of the only message with eternal implications. Reflect on how Paul’s words apply to this, when he says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). We’re not just meant to prove that to each other. God wants us proving it to those outside of Christ.

Bear Valley youth feeding the homeless in downtown Denver