Guard Duty

Guard Duty

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

What does it mean to “guard our hearts?” The word “guard” means to watch over in order to protect and control. So we’re supposed to protect our hearts…but not the physical heart. This isn’t an article on cholesterol, so what do we mean by heart?

Scripture uses the word “heart” when referring to our inner self. The center of emotion. What we believe in, the things that motivate our actions all come from the heart. We must protect/guard our hearts (center of emotion).

What do we guard it from? Proverbs 4 tells us. But there’s something important that we should understand. You can guard your heart from good as well as evil. People can and will protect their heart from letting God’s word change them. As Christians we can even build a wall that will keep us from making the proper changes in our lives.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” If we wish to have character we must guard our hearts. But this verse is kind of vague if we read it by itself. The context of Proverbs 4:23 is the key to understanding, So, how do we guard our hearts?

Fill your heart with God’s Word (20-22). Once it is filled, guard your heart that is now full of truth (23). Guard it by paying attention to the way you are living your life (24-27), making sure that you stay in line with the truth that is in your heart.

The writer then goes into detail on what actions we must be guarding:

Our Speech (24). “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. “ The things that we say are a direct reflection of what’s in our heart. If we lash out in anger, that anger comes from the heart. If we have a habit of speaking evil, the source is the heart.

Our Eyes (25).  “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” The only way to properly guard the truth in our hearts is by constantly looking to God. Recognize the end goal, with “eyes on the prize” (Matt. 14).

Our Mind (26), “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.” Think about the direction that you are heading. Is it closer to God, or further away? Our minds must have the knowledge to know what is right, and then the willpower and self control to stay true to the path of salvation.

Our Direction (27), “Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” As we ponder the path of our feet, we must then turn our feet away from evil so as to keep our direction headed towards an eternity with God.

Heart failure has a variety of different symptoms, including shortness of breath, swelling, coughing, confusion and memory loss, rapid weight gain, and fatigue. Heart failure increases the risk of death and hospitalization, and many times these symptoms go unnoticed. Spiritual heart failure symptoms can also go unnoticed. But these include lack of proper desire, sinful speech, no self control, weak character and a lack of prayer and study.

If we fail to guard our hearts as Christians, we will never be able to experience an eternity with God the Father.

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When My Love For Christ Grows Weak

When My Love For Christ Grows Weak

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

A problem that each one of us as Christians face at one time or another, a problem that has been around since the establishment of the church, is the problem of a weakened love for Christ. This problem results from family crisis, various diseases, the death of a loved one despite our fervent prayers and crying out to God, different forms of persecution, or watching as a respected Christians loses his faith in God.
As Christians we will experience problems that will cause our love for Christ to fail.
Our faith and love for Christ are tied together as one. If you lose your faith, love is weakened and vice versa. The song, “When My Love for Christ Grow Weak” says this, “See His anguish, see His faith, Love triumphant still in death.” Love can be restored and faith can be strengthened if we would just dwell on the sacrificial love of Christ.
Since love is strengthened by increasing our faith in Christ, notice Revelation 2. The church in Ephesus had done well in many areas. They were hard working, patient, upright (they hated evil), noble minded (tested the claims of false prophets), they knew how to deal with evil men, and rather than growing weary, they persevered and had endurance (3). But they had one major issue…their love for Christ had grown weak.
Verse 4 tells us they were living the life of a Christian, but totally devoid of love. The Ephesians were doing a lot of good things, but out of obligation and duty rather than being properly motivated by a love for Christ. While they appeared to be righteous on the surface, they had no relationship with God. They were going through the motions but it was all done without love.
Sadly this is a problem that many face in the church today. They experience hardship and lose their love. They continue to live as a Christian out of duty and because it’s the “right thing to do.” Since the Ephesians fell into the same rut that we too can sometimes struggle with, it’s beneficial for us to look at what they were told to do in order to restore their relationship with Christ.
The solution is threefold. So let’s notice what we must do “when our love for Christ grows weak.”
Remember where you came from (Rev. 2:5). When our love for Christ grows weak, what must we do? Remember why you made the decision to become a Christian. Remember where you came from. A life filled with sin. A life devoid of hope. A time when you couldn’t call God your father. Remember the blessings of baptism. The sin that was wiped away. The relationship that was established with God, through Christ. Remember what you felt the moment you came out of the waters of baptism. The joy and relief in knowing that God now calls you HIS child. “When my love to Christ grows weak, When for deeper faith I seek, Then in thought I go to thee, Garden of Gethsemane.” Remember what makes our Christianity a reality. Remember what it cost for God to forgive your sin.
Repent (Rev. 2:5).  Metanoeson means “to change ones mind.” I want you to picture yourself in your car, you’re headed to lunch with the perfect restaurant picked out. As you’re getting closer, your wife says, “I’d rather go to Chick Fil A. Step 1, your wife has changed her mind about where she wants to eat. And so…Step 2, you turn the car around, you change directions and head to Chick Fil A…making the right call to keep your wife happy. That, is repentance. “A change of mind that leads to a change of direction.” The Ephesians were told to first, remember where they came from, and then to repent. Change direction, go back to a time when they had both good deeds and a love for a christ. A change of mind, from heartless service to love filled devotion.
Return and “Do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5). When Our Love For Christ Grows Weak, return to the way we were living before sin ruined our relationship with God. We must confess (admit the wrong) to God, and to each other (James. 5:17). Acknowledge the presence of sin. And change, even if it costs us. Each one of us can remember the times where our Christianity was strong and growing, but since we are human, it’s easy to become:
 Complacent (feeling satisfied with where we are, with no motivation to grow or change). Depressed (with current circumstances or personal trials).
Distracted (by work, family, hobbies, friends).
Emotionless (feeling so overwhelmed with sin that we just give up, lose hope).
There’s a cure for each one of these problems. Remember Christ. Dwell on the love that God has for each one of us.
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Why Do We Sigh?

Why Do We Sigh?

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

 I was watching a program from Japan in which the protagonist sighed. We can relate to sighing. I know I may find myself sighing quite a bit. (One researcher noted we all sigh about every 5 minutes. 1) In this program, however, another person, walking by, cautioned the protagonist not to sigh since that allowed happiness to escape. Later, I observed another Japanese show where the same idea was expressed. I know the Japanese have proverbs and idioms, but I’ve yet to locate the source for that expression. I presume it’s a cultural thing since it’s the only context in which I’ve seen it expressed.

 Why do we sigh?   A sigh serves as a reset, both physically and mentally, for the body. 2 As such, it’s an important biological function. Yet, we likewise tend to sigh when we’re frustrated. In fact, that seems to be when we become aware of our sighs. For this reason, most people interpret sighing with negative emotions. 3 If I sighed while we’re having a “vigorous discussion,” you might conclude I’m angry with or didn’t like you. However, the heated exchange might have simply stressed me, triggering a sigh to release the pent-up anxiety.

Despite being commanded to be “anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4.6), we’ve already observed people do sigh. Obviously, if we sigh every 5 minutes, our sighs cannot always be about anxiety. Yet, it remains amazing God provided for a means of regulating excess anxiety through that rush of relaxation one receives by sighing. This, is of course, in addition to the inconceivable peace received from prayer (Philippians 4.6-7). It may be that with one’s sigh, he is refocused upon his task. Thus, a burden is momentarily laid aside so one can get a better grasp of it to carry it further to the goal.

Jesus told us not to worry, but He also said each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6.33-34). One should try to practice mindfulness in connection with his faith. Since we do notice our sighs of frustration and anxiety more often, we ought to allow our sigh to signal us concerning our stress and take the appropriate measures to resolve it. If a sigh is prompted by a person, either you forbear (tolerate—NASB) them in love (Ephesians 4.2), or you talk to them about the troubling matter privately (Matthew 18.15-17; Acts 18.24-28).  If a sigh is because we feel we’re a failure, let us remember the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12.9). By walking in the Light, we have the continuous cleansing of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1.7). And if someone we’ve tried to reach with the Gospel frustrates us, after we’ve delivered ourselves of bloodguilt (Ezekiel 3.17-19), let us recall the sad truth that only a few find the narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14). Our sigh may be a sign that it is time to knock the sand from our sandals and move on (Luke 9.5).

Yes, rather than serving to remind him of something negative, a Christian’s sigh might also serve as an opportunity, an opportunity to reset his faith.

 

References

1 Heid, Markham. “3 Reasons You Sigh So Much.” Prevention, Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, 11 June 2019, www.prevention.com/health/a20508517/why-you-sigh-so-much/.

2 Lewis, Jordan Gaines. “Why Do We Sigh?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC., 10 Apr. 2013, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201304/why-do-we-sigh.

3 ibid

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Lessons From Adversity: Finding Equilibrium

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)
One Of The Hardest Biblical Positions To State

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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BEAUTIFUL FAITH

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.
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MAKING EMOTIONS ACCOUNTABLE

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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.”