Categories
emotion mental health sadness

Lessons From Adversity: Finding Equilibrium

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Balance is that for which we hope and are vigilant to achieve. As true as this is for obedience (see 2 Kings 22.2), it is likewise needed emotionally. I’d like for us to note that optimum mental health in a fallen world is also a matter of equilibrium.

 

Let’s begin with the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the “gorilla” we call sadness. Why can’t we always be happy? It’s not that God did not intend for us to be happy. He created a world He described as “very good” (Genesis 1.31) and placed us into the idyllic Eden. Yet, in the exercise of our free will, we couldn’t abstain from eating the fruit of the one tree that was forbidden. Thus, when one is dealing with a broken world, sadness is going to come. We’ve even become so accustomed to its existence we create platitudes touting its presence. The Arab proverb states, “All sunshine makes a desert.” Even though sunshine is grand, weather consisting of only sunny days deviates from equilibrium bringing an environment hostile to life. Hence, it’s a bad thing. We’re left with the astounding proposition that for us to better appreciate the sunshine, we must learn to appreciate the rain.

 

In order to find emotional balance, one must avoid positive feedback loops. Yes, I realize this sounds counterproductive to our goal. Positive is a good thing, correct? Think of positive in this context as “plus.” It adds to. Do you want to read of a Biblical example of one caught in an emotional positive feedback loop? Read 1 Kings 18.20-19.21. Despite experiencing the glorious victory God brought over the prophets of Baal, Elijah retreats into a cave and sulks. Jezebel wants to kill him, and this is what Elijah becomes focused upon. What is Elijah’s positive feedback loop? Despite his faithfulness, his isolation reinforces his belief he is alone in the fight for God (1 Kings 19.10).

 

God clears up Elijah’s misconception, reminding him that there were other faithful servants of God in Israel (1 Kings 19.18). He wasn’t alone. God also gave Elijah a compatriot in Elisha. In other words, God introduced a negative feedback loop. No longer able to fixate solely on himself, Elijah undertook the mentorship of Elisha (1 Kings 19.16). Elisha, in turn, ministered to the needs of Elijah (1 Kings 19.21).

 

When dealing with adversity, it’s our nature to retreat into solitude. Yet, this is not what God intends for us. I’m not denying that we all need private “closet time” (Matthew 6.6). Jesus often sought solitude to pray. However, allowing ourselves to feel cut off from brethren creates a positive feedback loop accentuating our anxieties. Is it any wonder that as Christians we are commanded to focus outwardly upon others (Philippians 2.4)? We are even exhorted to assemble so we will stir one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10.24-25).

 

Let us not allow adversity to destroy our emotional equilibrium. Rather, let us use it, with the assistance of others, to weave richer colors into the tapestry of our lives.

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view from Mt. Carmel (photo credit: Kathy Pollard)
Categories
divorce doctrine marriage Uncategorized

One Of The Hardest Biblical Positions To State

Neal Pollard

There are few statements or pronouncements that are clearer than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9, yet perhaps none, in our current culture, is more intimidating to state. Jesus contrasts His will on marriage, divorce, and remarriage with the already existent stance of the Law of Moses. He says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (19:8-9).  From this brief response (the Pharisees ask the question, testing Him in verse three), we see:

  • The teaching transcends time and culture—“From the beginning…and I say to you”
  • The teaching transcends all other authority—“I say”
  • The teaching transcends only believers—“Whoever”
  • The teaching transcends the caveats and conditions men have tried to place on the matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (not the specific law with its exception).

Yet, despite the clarity of Jesus on the subject, in the spirit of Christ we want to always approach this with utmost compassion, patience, and tenderness. Souls are at stake. Often, children are involved. Emotions are inevitably involved. A cold, callous treatment of people’s lives will surely draw Divine disapproval. That’s why Jesus’ stated position on this matter is one of the hardest to take. But, that cannot mean that we refuse to stand with Him in His teaching. However, we should ask why it is so hard to stand where the Bible stands on this matter?

—Learned men have stated different positions from this.
—Divorce is so prevalent in our culture.
—All of us have family members who are in marriages that violate Matthew 19:9.
—Marriage involves one of mankind’s greatest drives and needs (cf. Gen. 2:18-25).
—Leadership in more and more congregations refuse to deal with marriage, divorce, and     remarriage in the classroom, pulpit, or the hands-on shepherding of the local church.
—Few of us relish the role of being “the bad guy” (the one who has to break heartbreaking news to husbands and wives).

I could lengthen the list of reasons, and you could add several to it, but if the list grew to hundreds of reasons, we have one sobering, gut-wrenching question to ask, “Do any of them nullify the strength of Jesus’ teaching?” If Matthew 19:9 were not in the Bible, fewer preachers would have lost jobs, fewer elders would have lost favor, and fewer churches would have seen members go to congregations accommodating their marriages. But, Jesus warned that His way was difficult (cf. Matt. 7:14). He tells aghast disciples that discipleship requires whatever sacrifice is necessary to follow Him (Matt. 19:10-12). That message must be shared lovingly, gently, and patiently. There can be no other way (cf. Eph. 4:15). The harsh, unkind, or mean-spirited will deal with the Judge of all (cf. 1 Pet. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1). However, what will be the case for those who neglect, change, or distort what Scripture says to accommodate people? Perhaps there’s no way to ask that question without evoking a visceral reaction from those who have reinterpreted Jesus’ words, but in light of eternity it must be asked. Balance looks for biblical truth in between unbiblical extremes. However unpleasant a position that may put us in, that is the place we must always humbly stand. But, the only enduring place to stand is on the rock solid foundation of Christ (cf. Mat. 7:24-27; 1 Co. 3:11). God give us loving, but courageous, hearts to stand there.

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Categories
church of Christ faith love

BEAUTIFUL FAITH

Neal Pollard

Every day Johnson Kell visits is a good day.  Today was a good day.  Though we were initially talking about some sad and depressing matters happening currently within churches of Christ and particularly a west coast university traditionally affiliated with the church, Johnson cannot help but talk about good and wonderful things he’s seen and experienced within God’s family.  He told the true story of how one positive experience has made such a ripple effect within our wonderful brotherhood.  It centers around a young man steeped in a denomination but dissatisfied with their teaching.  He had a friend, a love interest, who was from Wyoming. She attended a funeral in Casper and was so impressed by what was said and done by the local church of Christ there that she was converted.  She told this young man, who had moved to work on a golf course in Ventura, California, where Johnson and Dorothy was attending at the time, about the church.  He visited. The Ventura preacher, Floyd Davis, studied with Ken, who obeyed the gospel.  Ken went on to marry, not the Wyoming girl, but another young woman attending with him at Harding University.  He went on to get his doctorate degree in Texas and has built a fine Christian home.

That story by itself shows the power of the gospel upon an honest and open heart. When someone is searching for truth, he or she will find it!  If one has no interest in God’s truth, no amount of persuasion or argumentation may be enough.  The gospel still works, however dark our world seems to be getting.

Yet, as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen is a heart seasoned by decades of trial and triumph.  As Johnson relayed this story to me, he choked up several times in his elation over the conversion of the young woman and the young man.  Never have I known one as touched by the gospel and its positive effects on others as Johnson is.  Get him to talk about the cross of Calvary, heaven’s plan of salvation, the joy of Christian fellowship, or any such similar subject and tender emotion will follow.  Listen to him pray.  Tap into his vast reservoir of memories of the church and you get a transparent view of beautiful faith.  Spend any length of time with Johnson and you know he’s spent lengthy time with Jesus.  Every time we part company, I pray, “Lord, let my faith shine like Johnson’s.”  Hebrews 13:7 seems to be speaking of elders, but the principle applies to this former elder: “Considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (7b).  When it comes to Johnson’s life (and all those like him), that’s my advice!

Taken almost 8 years old, when Johnson (then 88) was teaching our boys to play tennis at the courts on Dartmouth.
Categories
Uncategorized

MAKING EMOTIONS ACCOUNTABLE

anger

Neal Pollard

James Dobson, in Emotions: Can You Trust Them?, wrote, “Emotions must always be accountable to the faculties of reason and will.  That accountability is doubly important for  those of us who purport to be Christians. If we are to be defeated during life’s spiritual pilgrimage, it is likely that negative emotions will play a dominant role in that discouragement” (11).  Now, emotions are God-given;  interest, joy, surprise, anger, contempt, disgust, distress, fear, guilt, and shame are listed by Dr. Carroll Izard as the ten most common emotions (cf. Development and Psychotherapy, 369ff).  He contends that only three of the top ten common emotions are positive and the other seven are negative.  In a world filled with violent crime, alcoholism, divorce, abuse, road rage, and the like, we can be persuaded by this finding.  But emotion is a powerful component of our lives, and some allow it to have too large a place.  That is Dobson’s point.

In marriage, you will not always feel in love.  You will not always want to do your duty or honor your commitment.  In your Christian life, you will be tempted to do what feels good or right in the moment regardless of what the Lord expressly desires.

We talk about feelings getting hurt.  Words like “vulnerable,” “afraid,” “stressed,” and “betrayed” are directly connected to our emotions.  Those feelings may be very real, but they can drive us to irrational behavior.  Marriages end.  Churches divide. Friendships are ruined.  People fall away from God.  All of these commonly occur because of unaccountable emotions.

It is significant that the Bible stresses knowledge, wisdom, judgment, discernment, and thinking.  Too, the teaching of self-control, self-discipline, self-denial, and the like suggest that with learning should come a healthy self-check.  That includes keeping emotions in their proper place.

McKinney mentions several traits that make for the emotionally mature personality, including heterosexuality, appreciation of others, capability of delaying his responses, and a point of view of life (solid convictions on matters such as ethics, morals, politics and the nature of the world and of man)(Psychology of Personal Adjustment, 467-468).  If we are to be socially and spiritually mature people, we must make our emotions accountable!  They cannot dictate our decisions.  They must be subservient, as Dobson says, to our reason and will.  And those things must be shaped and driven by a “thus saith the Lord.”