Non-Conformist

Non-Conformist

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Our hens are good layers, even when molting and during bitter cold temperatures. Now that Spring and warmer temperatures are here, they are averaging an egg per day per chicken. But getting into the head (brain?) of a chicken is an impossible task. Many times, we have no idea why they do what they do. Their habits down to their individual decisions defy explanation. The hens have three nesting boxes, but many months ago they all decided they preferred just one. They all use it. Occasionally, you can find all four eggs neatly nestled together in one pile. More often, you will find that one of them has done her own thing. We have found eggs under the roost, at their feed trough, or in some stray, lone position. I need to post a game camera inside to solve mysteries like this.

What I do know is that none of them are acting out of a rational, intelligent decision to act out of step with the crowd. They are just being odd and quirky. There’s neither rhyme nor reason.

All of us, by intelligent design, are social creatures (Gen. 2:18; Ecc. 4:9-12). Whoever makes up our circle, however small or large it is, we do not typically like to be at odds with or stand out from them. At school, at work, wherever our social life takes us, we do not usually crave to speak or act in a way that ostracizes ourselves. 

However, there are times when following the guidance of God and His Word will put us at odds with the world. Describing the sacrificial life we are called to as Christians, Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, ESV). Using the faculty of intellectual perception (mind, BDAG 680), which has been “renewed” (caused to become new and different, with the implication of becoming superior, LN 593), we use the filter of God’s Word to understand what is morally good, acceptable to God, and meeting His highest standard. If we are asked or pressured to do something by “the crowd” that does not pass this test, we cannot comply. Even though we dislike their disapproval, even if it makes us uncomfortable, even if it means potential sacrifice and suffering, and even if it means isolation and ostracism, we make the choice to stand alone. It is more important for us to know and to help others to know God’s will on the matter than to blend in with the group in doing what violates His will. 

Few of us want to be seen as odd and strange, but Scripture warns that it can happen. Peter writes, “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.  With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet. 4:3-5). We may bear the scorn of the crowd on occasion, but we are more concerned about the judgment. There, the number of those unprepared to stand before Him will be much greater than those who are ready. Let’s always be more concerned with what He thinks about our conduct! 

Division

Division

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
 
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
 
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
 
  1. We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
  2. We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
  3. We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
  4. We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
  5. Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
  6. We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
  7. We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
 
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
Foul

Foul

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

This word has no positive meaning. Fouling on a spark plug means it’s time to replace it. A foul smell is an unpleasant one. Fouling in the barrel means it’s time to clean your gun. In sports, a foul is usually bad for your team.
 
In older English translations, “foul” is used to describe something impure, unholy, or evil (Mark 5.8; Luke 6.18; Revelation 16.13). Regardless, we understand that something foul is not what we want attributed to our character or in contact with our senses.
 
Are our words foul (Eph. 4.29)? Unwholesome here is σαπρός (sapros), which means “rotten, bad, or harmful.” It describes any kind of speech that has no positive effect or worth. Christians, there is no world in which cursing is excluded from this definition.
 
Consider the following:
 
I Corinthians 9.19ff encourages us to follow culture as long as it doesn’t violate God’s law. Even our secular culture recognizes that some words are not appropriate. Every culture has a set of words, phrases, postures, etc. that are offensive or recognized as inappropriate. These are σαπρός, and have no place in our lives.
 
I Peter 3.10 points out that our words have an effect on our quality of life. This includes avoiding lies and evil speech. Evil here is κακός (kakos), which means “bad, injurious, harmful, or wrong.” Lots of words fall under this category, but why are some exempting curse words? How do those not fit σαπρος or κακός?
 
In the last few years, even some theologians have argued that cursing is not under the purview of these passages. Far too many Christians use words that our culture understands to be curse words.
 
Ephesians four is a chapter about leaving our old lives behind. Part of leaving our old self behind is controlling our speech and using it to encourage others (28). By using foul language (σαπρος), we grieve (offend, distress, cause to become sad) the Holy Spirit (29)!
 
If we know that our words can have an effect on the Spirit that translates our deepest emotions and loss for words into meaningful petitions to God (Romans 8.26, 27), why would we use words that could very easily be described as worthless, harmful, or wrong?
 
James 3.2
The Scandal Of The Savior

The Scandal Of The Savior

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Neal Pollard

On 14 occasions in his gospel record, Matthew uses a word from which we get our English word “scandal.” Arndt and his fellow lexicographers define the word as meaning “to cause to be brought to a downfall; to shock through word or action” (BDAG 926). Jesus was at times the cause of others experiencing anger or shock through what He said and did. While Jesus uses the word to condemn those whose words and actions cause themselves and others to stumble (5:29,30; 18:6,8-9), it more often refers to those who took offense at what He said or did. He was not a poor example or stumbling block. The problem for many was that what Jesus stood for and taught was unpopular, difficult, or contrary to fleshly desires. 

Does living the Christian life ever cause us to run the risk of being scandalous to the world? Share Jesus’ sexual ethics and expectations. Tell others Jesus’ exclusive salvation message. Stand up for His doctrine. Condemn what He would condemn. Any number of social causes celebrated in our society crash against the teaching of Jesus. When you stand with Him, you can expect the world (and sometimes even the weak among God’s people) to “take offense” (11:16; 13:57; 15:12; 26:31). 

We should never be a scandal because of unrighteous behavior (see those passages in chapters 5 and 18). We should never go out of our way to be offensive. But, we should know that walking with Jesus will lead us to scandalize some. What will comfort us is knowing that standing with the Scandalized Savior will keep Him from taking offense at us! Nothing is more important than that. 

“It’s Not About Me” In 1 Peter 3

“It’s Not About Me” In 1 Peter 3

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

 
We’re going through I Peter in the college class at Lehman Avenue and we most recently studied part of chapter three. This chapter further discusses the theme of submission (giving up our power willingly to another) frequently appearing throughout the book. Christians are essentially told, “It’s not about me,” that we should get rid of certain behaviors, and an explanation for why we give up certain behaviors or power is given.
 
For example, we should get rid of hatred, taking advantage of others, hypocrisy, jealousy, and character assassination (2.1), because we know that God has shown us mercy (2.9, 10). That’s hard. We should listen to our government, even when we disagree with them (as long as it doesn’t violate God’s word), because God uses them to maintain some semblance of law and order (2.13-17). That’s hard. We should be good employees, even when our bosses aren’t fair, because Christ suffered, too, and God looks at us favorably when we suffer for doing the right thing (2.18ff). That’s hard.
 
In the same way – that is, keeping with the theme of surrendering our own power and doing something difficult for the sake of goodness – Peter addresses women and men specifically in chapter three.
 
This is an interesting study because it sheds light on a controversial topic: wives being submissive to their husbands. Let’s look at the text:
 
  • Γυναίκες (wives/women): Submit to ιδιοις (your own) husbands. Not all men, just husbands. Peter is not saying that women are inferior and should submit for that reason.
  • Ινα (in order that): For the purpose of cultivating godliness and influencing a fallen husband. It’s not for the purpose of manifesting inferiority, but to influence a lost husband! This involves a difficult task – as in 2.18 – which demonstrates the power of the word.
  • Δια (through/by): γυναικών αναστροφής (womanly or “wifely” conduct). Through her submission to her husband and through an emphasis on timeless inner beauty, she can save his soul. “Men and women have different ways of expressing godliness. Peter is showing how women can powerfully influence their husbands, which is by submitting to them” (Edwin Jones).
 
This sensitive topic is nonetheless a powerful one. Wives are not told to submit because it’s “just what women should do,” or because of a belief that women are somehow inferior, but are told to submit because it can save souls. Men are told to assign value to their wives and to be respectful and considerate with them if they want to be right with God (3.7), followed by a general set of commands for all Christians to act a certain way for the sake of godliness (3.8ff).
 
We submit and suffer as Christians to save souls and to remember that, “It’s not about me.”
(Gary teaching 1 Peter in the college class at Lehman Avenue)
Kavachi

Kavachi

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

 
Scientists with National Geographic went near the Solomon Islands to study one of the most active underwater volcanos on earth. What they found in the hot, acidic waters of the volcano, surprisingly, was life – a couple species of sharks, stingray, and fish swimming among the plumes of ash. The risk for these fish is great, as Kavachi is known erupt frequently.
 
Churches are made up of people, and people are imperfect. No church is immune to the problem of evil, though we should certainly have a greater level of immunity to evil’s influence. When non-Christians interact with us, they may be unsure of what to expect. The world does not paint a pretty picture of our beliefs.
 
So, what will they find? They will ideally find a group of people who, despite the pervasive dysfunction of the world, display unconditional love, forgiveness, excellent character, patience, forgiveness, fairness, grace, resilience, and hope.
 
Christians should strive to pleasantly surprise the world! When they expect to find an environment that could never support healthy, loving, functional relationships, we should blow their minds with positive, life-changing interactions.
 
“Always keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they might see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (I Peter 2.12).
 
 
“Making Our Defense In The Darkness”

“Making Our Defense In The Darkness”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

 
Gary III
Gary Pollard
 
One night Chelsea and I were walking the dog before bed and came across an enormous armadillo. We were in a rural area and it was pitch black outside except for her flashlight. I had a rifle with me, so I took a shot at the armadillo. Instead of falling where it stood (as they had usually done), this one jumped a couple feet into the air and then ran off with surprising speed.
 
We thought that was the end of it, so she walked the opposite direction with the flashlight and the dog. In the pitch black, I heard the angry armadillo heading towards me full-steam.
 
Being rushed by an armadillo in the dark is terrifying, no two ways around that. The darkness accentuates our helplessness and makes defense a lot harder. I John 2.11 makes it very clear that if we hate our church family, we’re walking in darkness and don’t know where we’re going because the darkness has blinded us. If we’re in darkness, we have no fellowship with Jesus and we’re liars (1.6).
 
2020 has given our mortal sides quite a bit of strain. We’re so divided as a nation that a person’s political party alone is enough to preclude their value in the eyes of their opposition. The church has to be different.
 
Had the moon not come out just a little and the laser on my optic not worked, I would have been cut up pretty good by that armadillo. Light gave me the means to save my skin!
 
If we show love to our church family and are walking in the light, we have been given the ability to be saved. If we live and die in the light, we gain an eternity where there is no night or darkness in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21 ). As November 3rd looms ominously over us, let’s remember that our eternal destination hangs – at least partially – on how we treat one another after this stressful election.
“God’s Guidelines In Matters Of Judgment”

“God’s Guidelines In Matters Of Judgment”

Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”

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Neal Pollard

In Romans 14, Paul emphasizes:

THREE FACTS ABOUT GOD

Even though Romans 14 is about the weak in faith and those who are stronger in faith, there is a decided emphasis on Deity–God’s acceptance (3), thanks to God (6), the judgment seat of God (10), praise to God (11), etc. The Lord is mentioned nine times while “Jesus” or “Christ” is mentioned several more times. Even when we have differences of opinions, we cannot forget about God’s presence and feelings. Another way to put any issue that would divide us is: “It’s all about God and not about us.” What are Paul’s three facts about God to help us here?

God Is Able To Make Our Brother Stand (4). Paul’s examples are about eating meat (3) and observing special days (5). Some did and some didn’t, and Paul says neither should judge the other’s Christianity on it for this reason. Each one is trying to please and follow the Lord the best they can (5-6). As long as they act from faith and not doubt on these judgment matters, they are not sinning (23).

God Is Lord Of All (9). We’ll be careful with each other’s convictions because we share the same Lord. We live for the Lord and die for the Lord; either way, we belong to the Lord (8). In all our political, social, and other earthly convictions, do we stop to remind ourselves abut this? We’re all on the same, level playing field as brethren, submitting to the same Lord. 

God Is Judge Of All (10-12). I don’t want to be my brother’s judge on anything, especially not things that are matters of judgment, opinion, and discretion. I’m also not qualified. If we get up at arms, let’s do so in defending God’s name and His authority. If we get worked up, let’s do so in seeking His glory and honor. 

THREE REMINDERS ABOUT THE CHURCH OF GOD

Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Christians are part of His kingdom first (Mat. 6:33), and it comes before politics, nation, race, etc. Romans 14 reveals three reminders about this kingdom. 

We Are Reminded That None Of Us Live Or Die To Ourselves (6-7). We are not an island to ourselves. What we do affects others. We’re keenly interested in how what we do affects others (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23). I consider how what I do affects you, and you are to do the same. That may come as a sacrifice to me, but I’m called to consider more than just me. 

We Are Reminded Of What The Kingdom Of God Is And Is Not (17). It’s easy for us to lose sight of our identity, mission, and work. If we forget who we are, why we’re here, or what we’re here to do, there’s trouble. At Rome, people were confused over what the kingdom of God was about. Paul says it is not about earthly stuff, stuff you can take or leave that is neither right nor wrong. The kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy. Mastering this leads us to be acceptable to God and approved by men (18). By majoring in the majors and minoring in the minors, we’re most effective with God and men. 

We Are Reminded That We Pursue What Makes For Peace And Edification (19). I doubt the Lord was trying to make a bunch of doormats in Romans 14, but to think that way is to miss the point of following Jesus (cf. Mat. 20:25-28). We approach our personal convictions, and those of others, wanting harmony and preferring one another. 

THREE WARNINGS ABOUT THE PEOPLE OF GOD

Even as Paul emphasizes God’s supremacy and the church’s nature, he does not leave out how God wants us to treat each other over judgment matters.

Don’t Judge Each Other (13). We can redirect the energy it takes to try and read hearts and judge motives into trying to see through the eyes of others (1 Pet. 3:8-9). Peter gives a process. Be one, then you will see through others’ eyes, you’ll feel a sense of family, then you’ll be kind, humble, and so on. 

Don’t Destroy Each Other (15). Paul says don’t spiritually kill the brother Jesus died for. When we insist on our rights and our way, we are no longer walking in love. We’re supposed to be about building each other up. Disagreement can turn to resentment, and we start avoiding each other or being distant. Substitute “food” with “political party,” “pandemic issues,” “celebrating Christmas,” “new heavens and new earth,” “literal indwelling,” “representative indwelling,” and the like. The principle is unchanged. 

Don’t Tear Down God’s Work (20). The church may have more opportunities and open doors right now than at any time in our lifetime. Don’t think the devil isn’t bothered by that. He’d love for us to turn on each other. He’d love to see Christians dig deeper trenches of division. But of all people, God’s people should lead the way in genuine love, unity, compassion, and care. So, Paul says don’t tear down the work of God for the sake of things that won’t matter in eternity. Causing others to stumble is a problem because it can tear down God’s family. Follow your own convictions (22), but don’t equate them with God’s law!

“Praying The Scriptures”

“Praying The Scriptures”

MONDAY’S COLUMN: NEAL AT THE CROSS

Neal at ATF 2020

Neal Pollard

Yesterday morning, Chuck Raymer prayed an especially beautiful prayer, well-thought-out and earnest, but also filled with quotations of Bible verses or parts of them (near the beginning, he quoted Psalm 100:3)(his prayer begins at about 6:30 of the recording on YouTube of yesterday morning’s service: It starts here). My good friend and former co-worker in Colorado, Corey Sawyers, would often adapt the words of an entire psalm and pray it as he led us in the assemblies. There is something especially powerful about prayers that are Scripture quotations. It’s certainly something biblical.

In Acts 4:23, Peter and John, after having been released from being held by the Jews for preaching Jesus, met with the Jerusalem congregation. They lifted their voices to God with one accord and addressed Him. In their brief prayer (note verse 31), they quoted Exodus 20:11 (also found in Nehemiah and Psalms) and Psalm 2:1-2. They were so full of the Word that it came out even in their prayers. Look at the Levites who led Judah in prayer in Nehemiah 9:4-37. Much at that prayer quotes passages and events found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). Most powerfully of all, Jesus prayed Scripture at a more difficult moment than any other human being will ever face (Mark 15:34). The praying prophet, Daniel, turned to God in prayer being moved by the words of Jeremiah (Dan. 9:2-3). How will it help us to pray the Scriptures in our own lives, whether in publicly leading prayer or in our private devotional lives?

IT LETS THE GOD WE WANT TO HEAR US KNOW THAT WE ARE LISTENING TO HIM.

Certainly, God knows His Word, but so does He know our every innermost thought, desire, and need. But, there is something about addressing God by including great truth from His Word that can really enrich those prayers. It tells Him we are mindful of His will even as we seek to influence it. 

IT BUILDS OUR FAITH IN THE TRUTH AND PROMISES OF HIS WORD.

Repetition is not just the key to learning, but it can also greatly aid our comprehension and retention. As you pray Scripture, you help reinforce those promises and truths. You will actually be reflecting on them as you pray it back to God. 

IT HELPS US TO APPLY THE WORD TO OUR DAILY LIVES.

Scripture can become more real and meaningful as we make verbalize it in prayer. It can take incidents and teachings in Scriptures and directly apply those verses to what we are going through. So often, we are going through the same exact types of things men and women of the Bible were going through. How can it be more practical than this: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11)?

There are probably several more reasons why we should quote and allude to Scripture in our prayer lives, but these are at least a few. You will certainly never say anything more truthful and right in your prayers than God’s Word. You will also be walking in some very righteous footprints, of those in Scripture who prayed Scripture back to God. 

Not So Common Courtesy 

Not So Common Courtesy 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

The folks at Merriam-Webster define “common courtesy” as “politeness that people can usually be expected to show.” 1 One notes that courtesy doesn’t seem as ordinary as it once was, at least in the West. In the more collectivist societies of the East, people prize social harmony more than individualism. When you have millions of people packed into a metropolis, I suppose such a mindset is essential for survival. However, it translates into an attitude that suggests that I take great care not to upset or inconvenience the people around me. 

I got to thinking about common courtesy as I was driving along a stretch of U.S. 129/U.S. 19 in the northeast Georgia mountains. Since slower traffic is expected, especially during tourist season, planners provided periodic passing lanes to allow for those conducting everyday business to pass the leaf-gawkers. For the spaces in between, these planners likewise added pull-offs for slower vehicles to pull off and let the faster traffic get by. Most of the time, this traffic arrangement works out nicely. However, you do encounter the occasional driver who lacks the aforementioned common courtesy, as I did when recently getting stuck behind a truck pulling a horse trailer hauling several horses.   

As Christians, we are to extend courtesy as a matter of faith. Paul tells us that we are to esteem others before self and be as mindful of them as ourselves (Philippians 2.3-4). As lovely as that is when taking an earthly journey, we see how the mindset also benefits the heavenly journey. No, I am not saying that the act of utilizing a pull-off will win a lost soul to Christ. What I am suggesting, though, is that people take notice of how we conduct ourselves. As Edgar Guest famously stated, people desire sermons they can see. Since a courteous person is already mindful of others, it is but an extra step for him or her to adopt a servant’s heart. Note that following his admonition to esteem others first, Paul transitions to telling us about needing the servant-mind of Christ (Philippians 2.5-8). 

With whom are you more likely to strike up a conversation? A rude person or a courteous one? Through the extension of common courtesy, you make yourself more amiable to others. And since common courtesy is no longer so common, you stand a better chance of making yourself stand out in a crowd. So, go the extra mile (cf. Matthew 5.38-42). Develop habits contributing to becoming more courteous and foster the heart of a servant within you.  

WORKS CITED 

1 “Common courtesy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/common%20courtesy. Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.