THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARTYRDOM AND A MARTYR COMPLEX

Neal Pollard

Will the day come when government attempts to shut down our Bible study and worship services? Looking back at history, particularly the books of Acts and Revelation, we know this can occur. Certainly, the current environment in our society reveals a trend toward greater intolerance of the biblical worldview. We are growing more secular and more sensual as a nation. Public symbols of Christian religion are disappearing from the public square, while public expressions of Christian religion have long since disappeared from public education. That said, we do not do service to Christ by manufacturing problems where they do not exist.

Isn’t it interesting that back when Christians were experiencing mistreatment, the Holy Spirit guided men and women to have a different attitude than that of a victim. From a prison cell he would never leave alive simply because he was preaching Christ, Paul sought to bolster a young preacher’s faith by saying, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according tot he power of God” (2 Tim. 1:7-8). When Peter and John were beaten for their faith, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). When they were mistreated and released earlier in this episode, the church gathered to worship and pray (Acts 4:24ff). Peter urged readiness (1 Pet. 3:15). John urged faithfulness (Rev. 2:10). Stephen showed endurance, boldness, and compassion as he became the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7).

It is an incongruous idea to imagine the early Christians wasting precious time organizing email campaigns, seeking to draw sympathy from the media, picketing, and playing the victim. Instead, driven by their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they committed their lives to Jesus while they spent their days trying to spread the good news of Christ (Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23). Even as Christians were martyred (Stephen, James, those assaulted by Saul of Tarsus’ efforts, and those during the time of the book of Revelation and shortly thereafter), there is no hint of any of them roaming around with a martyr complex. Let us emulate their great example!

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“My Cat Unplugged My Alarm Clock”

Neal Pollard
A few years ago, the Baltimore Sun wrote an article about the outlandish excuses some people gave for not coming into work. To sample this pathetic pool, there was “my cat unplugged my alarm clock,” “I couldn’t find my shoes,” “my garage door is broken,” “my cat has hairballs,” and “my partner and I need to practice for the square-dancing contest in town today.” But, John Campanelli of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, relates perhaps the most classic excuse I have ever heard. It was related to him by Andrea Barnett, a human resources rep, whose MIA employee gave the excuse that he had been in jail. He had borrowed a friend’s car to get to work, which car was reported stolen by police. He said he was put in jail for possession of stolen property, a car he said had been used in a robbery. This caused the police to grill him about it, which kept him from calling in to work. He eventually convinced law enforcement of his innocence, thus earning his release. Incredible story! Incredibly untrue, Barnett found out when she called the sheriff’s office for whom that was a revelation. Runners up from Campanelli’s article include the man who was experiencing morning sickness due to his wife’s pregnancy or the guy who had to make an emergency visit to the dentist to remove dental floss that got lodged between his teeth getting ready that morning.

Excuses are not confined to employees. Students give excuses for late or incomplete assignments. Spouses and children give excuses to other family members for bad behavior or shortcomings. Leaders give excuses to followers, and followers give excuses to leaders. If we are honest, nearly all of us have been guilty of excuse-making. What we must guard against is perpetually making excuses for failing to do the will of God! Those who make any excuse to explain why they have not become a Christian will not successfully put them past the Lord on the great day of judgment (cf. Acts 17:30; 2 Th. 1:7-8; Jude 15). Christians who needed to publicly repent of a sinful lifestyle cannot expect to be successful standing before that same, perfect Judge (cf. Matt. 25:34-40).

Let us also strive to avoid flimsy excuses we give for lack of involvement or for failure to faithfully attend worship services. On the surface, these excuses may sound good to us. But, if we will step back and try to look at it from heaven’s perspective, it may sound less important and solid. Maybe we have not thought it through, that we are choosing things that are solely earthly, material, and temporary to the neglect of God’s will and purpose. We may need new and different excuses to cover our failures, but will they work in the end? God has placed us on this earth to accomplish His purpose, but if we fritter away our days and years on what will decay and dissolve to the indifference and disregard for heavenly matters what will we tell Him? Whatever we say, will it be less hollow or shallow than the excuses the fine workers of Baltimore and Cleveland gave? Rather than excuses, let us give God our best efforts. Instead of rationalizing why we cannot, let us realize why we can (cf. Phil. 4:13; 1 John 4:19).

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No Time For Worship!

Neal Pollard

According to Stephen Eckstein, Davy Crockett was among those who began a journey from north Alabama bound for the “promised land” of Texas in 1835. This group, who wanted to settle in that locale despite the drum beats of revolution and ongoing fighting with Mexico, was comprised mostly of members of the church of Christ. Crockett traveled with them as far as Memphis, Tennessee, but grew impatient of the delays. The group stopped to rest and worship each Sunday, and they became known as the “church on horseback and wheels.” So, on the other side of the Mississippi River, Crockett and 60 other volunteers rushed ahead of the group shouting “hurrah for Texas!” (History of the churches of Christ in Texas, 9). That group, sans Crockett and his cohorts, established the first Texas congregation of the Lord’s church on January, 17, 1836, at Ft. Clark, Texas, known today as Clarksville (ibid.).

48 days after the group’s arrival at Ft. Clark, Crockett was among 188 who died defending the Alamo in San Antonio, 412 miles south of Ft. Clark. While this is probably something lost to history, I wonder if Crockett’s personal history would have been different if he had stayed with the “church on horseback and wheels.” There is no indication that he was a part of the services or influenced by them or the members. Already a man of renown in politics and frontier settlement, he was also renowned for being full of himself. He and the rest of the Tennesseans who left the church members volunteered for six months of duty with the provisional government of Texas on January 14, 1836. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8th (Hardin, Stephen L., Texian Iliad, 117).

Crockett’s interests seemed mostly political and economic, which made him no different from most of his contemporaries. Yet, life might have been different for Crockett had he stayed with the group of Christians. He would not likely be the legend his death at the Alamo made him, but might His name have been in the Lamb’s book of life?

We find ourselves rushing headlong toward our life’s goals. In that rush, what time and place are we giving to our Lord and to His people? The world bestows no honor and glory on faithful service to Christ, but the Christ will bestow honor and glory beyond what the world can give or comprehend to all who take the time to honor Him. May our greatest desire be to win His recognition through lives of faithful obedience.

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Mansil Matthews, doctor, teacher and and preacher, who established the first church of Christ in Texas in 1836 at Ft. Clark, TX (with the group known as the “church on horseback and wheels.”

A Proverb To Ponder

Neal Pollard

Now, not all our attenders are members,
And not all our members are attenders,
But if all our attenders were members,
And all our members were attenders

THEN…

We’d have more trouble menders,
More gospel defenders,
And more true soul-winners!

BUT…

We’d have fewer people offenders,
Fewer spiritual hinderers,
And fewer religious pretenders!

SO…

Let us all render a more tender surrender
To the Commander of a love full of splendor!
As we meander on this earth full of sinners,
Let us engender a life with the Lord at the center.

Serving the Living God 

Carl Pollard

I know I’m not old enough to say this, but when I was younger I used to lay in bed at night and try to imagine what God looked like. I would try to put a face to Him, I’d wonder what He was doing, and I would ask myself if God knew that I was thinking about Him. I still ask those same questions to this day. I’m sure that most if not all of you who are reading this believe that there is a God, and that He does see and hear all that we say. So the question I’d like to ask is, “since there is a God that has all power, why do we sometimes have difficulty following the commands that we find in the Bible?” I’d like to look at a verse that may help us realize the importance of following what God has told us to do as Christians.

Jeremiah 10:12 says, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.”

God has ALL power. There isn’t an area that He is lacking power in. He controls the weather, He created us, and, as Jeremiah 10:12 said, He made this earth that we live on. I believe that we sometimes forget just how powerful God truly is. Since God has all power, shouldn’t we be following what the Creator of everything has told us to do? In seven days He thought of everything we see around us. Think of it this way. We’ve never had an original thought. For example, I could say that I’m the only person to have ever thought about a pink Aardvark. But before I thought of pink Aardvarks, there was such thing as the color pink, and there were Aardvarks before I thought of them. So what I’m actually doing is taking two things that God created and putting them together. God has given us specific commands to do as Christians. Since God has given us rules on how to live, we shouldn’t have a problem following them. They may be difficult, but God knows how to take care of His creation. The thought of the God of the universe watching out and guiding me through life is a great comfort to me!

But what if we aren’t following what God has told us to do? There’s a saying that we all have heard that says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our actions are a direct window to how we truly feel. If I don’t do what God has commanded, then that’s like us saying to God, “I don’t truly believe that there are consequences to my actions.” But that is a deadly place for us to be, because God IS real and there ARE consequences to our actions. God is real and the consequences of our actions are very real! In the end, it comes down to this: Not obeying what God has said is a reflection of how real we make God out to be. If we truly believe He is real, then we shouldn’t have a problem doing what He tells us to do. As Christians, we serve the one true God, and He is very real. I pray that this fact will push us to obey the commands He has given us because our God is alive and we all have an eternity with Him if we do what He tells us to do.

Looking back at when I was younger, I’ve realized that I asked the right question, but the most important part of those questions is how I answer them. Will I show through my actions that I truly believe He is alive? Or do I doubt the reality of God by not taking His commands seriously? Let’s try to always prove God is alive by following what He has told us to do!

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Identifying As A Christian

Neal Pollard

There are so many “identifying” stories these days. A white woman, Rachel Dolezal, identifying as a black woman, was back in the news over the weekend. A biological female who identifies as male and has taken testosterone, Mack Beggs, won the Texas girls wrestling title. In a recent interview, Dr. Keith Ablow suggested that such delusional (he is using the term in a psychological, not pejorative, sense) reasoning opens the door for a young person who “identifies” as a 65-year-old to receive Medicare benefits (foxnews.com). Really, every new case of “identifying” reveals the absurdity behind the thinking. All the wishing, wanting, and hoping in the world cannot change ironclad facts. As we used to say discussing reality of any kind growing up, “It is what it is.”

If there is anything more harmful than delusion, it may be denial. For centuries, good, sincere people have claimed to be Christians who have not followed what the New Testament reveals is necessary to become one. They have followed some humanly-devised plan or idea (accept Jesus in your heart by faith, say a prayer, believe the Holy Spirit gives you an experience of grace, etc.). Leaders and teachers who have devised such ideas do not do so from a sustainable, biblical source.  Repeatedly, whether in the gospels (Mark 16:16), the book of history (Acts 2:38; 22:16), or the epistles (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21), we find a simple, but essential, act that stands between one not being and being a Christian. But the idea that one can fail to do this and still be a Christian is pervasively taught, believed, and practiced.

Akin to this is the belief that one can claim to be a Christian, then live any way they wish. Their speech, conduct, and attitude can exactly mirror and mimic the world’s. Their aspirations, pursuits, and values can be completely worldly. But, when death visits a loved one or comes to them or at some similar time when it would be advantageous to claim so, they aver that they are a Christian. While they may have followed God’s plan to become one, they think of themselves as saved and safe even while walking in darkness (cf. 1 John 1:6-9).

It takes more than a claim. Facts are stubborn things. The ultimate source of what is factual is God’s Word. It educates us about gender (Gen. 1:27) and race (Acts 17:26). It educates us about who a Christian is (Acts 2). It educates us about faithful Christian living (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). If we wish to be accurate in the way we “identify” ourselves, we must let Scripture inform our view!

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Zadok The Priest

Neal Pollard

Zadok the priest was neither an Anglican Church member or even British. Many associate his name with Handel’s 18th century coronation hymn, written first for King George II. But, he was a significant, if minor, Old Testament character. We learn at least four great lessons from his character, as revealed in Scripture.

  • He was a versatile servant of God. He is introduced as “a young man mighty of valor” (1 Chron. 12:28), but also as a priest of God (1 Chron. 15:11). Thus, he was handy in a fight while also helpful in reconciling men to God. What an example of a five or two talent man, able to serve God in more than one way. God has blessed most of us with the ability to do many things well. We should be motivated to use those skills for Him.
  • He was a respecter of God’s Word. His predecessor, Uzzah, disregarded God’s instructions for transporting the ark and paid for that with his life. Zadok was at the head of the list of priests tapped to do it the right way, according to God’s word (1 Chron. 15:11ff). Nothing we see after this does anything except strengthen the view that Zadok submitted to the divine will. What a legacy to leave, known as one who simply takes God at His word and strives to be obedient to it.
  • He was a loyal friend. When Absalom rebelled against King David, many in Israel aligned themselves with this usurping son. However, Zadok remained true to David (2 Sam. 15). David relied on him, with Abiathar, to keep tabs on the insurrection while ministering in Jerusalem. David knew he could count on Zadok. In the same way, Scripture praises such loyalty. David’s son penned that “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). We should be a friend others can count on at all times.
  • He was a good judge of character. Whether choosing to serve David over Absalom or Solomon over Adonijah, Zadok was an excellent discerner of the right choice. In both cases, these were the righteous and God-approved choices. Even Abiathar, who stood with David over Absalom, got it wrong when Adonijah tried to supplant God’s will concerning David’s rightful successor. For this reason, Zadok took his place alongside Samuel as the only priests to anoint a king during the United Kingdom period of Israel’s history (1 Kings 1:39). It was this event Handel coopted to write his coronation hymn. God had bright hopes for those who feared Him, that they would be able to “distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Mal. 3:18). That was Zadok, and it should be us–regarding preachers, elders, teachers, as well as every child of God we have dealings with. We must grow in our ability to be capable fruit inspectors (cf. Mat. 7:15-20; John 7:24).

Thank God for Bible characters who show us, with their lives, the way to please Him with ours. The times may, in some ways, be drastically different from when Zadok walked the earth. But, with the time God gives us, we would do well to imitate these traits of this priest of God remembering that God desires us to be faithful priests for Him today (cf. 1 Pet. 2:1-9).

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Hymenaeus Was A Low Man

Neal Pollard

Only two verses call his name, but he is as infamous a Bible character as you will fin. A school teacher once told us, “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all!” The Spirit led Paul to no such congenial approach to Hymanaeus. The figurative cup on the man’s life was so filled with wickedness that it toppled over and spilled its insidiousness all over Ephesus. He apparently was viewed by God as a godless sinner. Why would God choose to include so stained a soul, if not to teach us key lessons about forsaking Him and the price of ungodliness?

This was a man who ran with wicked companions. He was a co-worker with Alexander (2 Tim. 4:14), with whom he blasphemed god (1 Tim. 1:20). He left the faith with his cohort, Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Maybe the downfall of Hymenaeus began with his poor choice of associates. Undoubtedly, these choices impact our own morals (1 Cor. 15:33).

This was a man who had a blatant disregard for the name of God. The Bible treats this offense most seriously (2 Tim. 3:2; Mk. 3:28-29). How spiritually degenerate must one be to ridicule and slander the name for God? Paul says that this man should be handled in the same way as the infamous Corinthian Christian who had his father’s wife (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5). What would have happened to the Ephesus church if a couple of men were allowed to spread disrespect for God and falsehood without rebuke and discipline? The same devastation happens in any church that allows the rebellious to operate unchecked.

This was a man whose teaching was compared to gangrene. Consider the graphic imagery Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:16-18. The word of Hymenaeus and Philetus, with others like them, would “spread like gangrene.” A gangrenous infection makes amputation, in the threat of death to the entire body, a necessity. Likewise, the poisonous teaching of Hymenaeus and his partner would cause great harm to the body of Christ. Their false teaching was that the resurrection had already occurred (18). The result of their doctrine was that it threatened to upset the faith of some!

In context, the only way to guard against false teaching like Hymenaeus was doing is by diligent study of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). Like Hymenaeus, many have and will both personally err from the truth and overthrow the faith of others. Our task is to fight, like Paul did, the cancerous spread of “profane and worthless talk” (16). The result of disrespect for Bible truth is increasing ungodliness (16). How tragic! We must oppose the Hymenaeus’ of our day.

Hymenaeuses live and die, and they drag others down with them. Their influence wanes, but the damage they do has an eternal impact on those duped by their doctrines. As we keep our focus on the cross and our zeal to convert the lost, may we keep up our fight against the cankered! Let us pray that modern Hymenaeuses will turn from error and come back home to a God who waits with His mighty arms outstretched!

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WHY WE KEEP FAITHFULLY SERVING AND LEADING

Neal Pollard

It took the Expert House Movers of Sharpstown, Maryland, 17 years and 23 days to complete the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 2900 feet away from the eroding Atlantic Ocean beach on the North Carolina Outer Banks location where it had been standing. They started in 1982 and finished in 1999. Little things may get done quickly, but big things take time.  Someone once said, “Most people tend to overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” Paul was in a position to look back over his life and see, if his humility allowed it, a lifetime just since his conversion to Christ that was marked by much fruitful labor.  Luke chronicles some of that work from Acts 11-28. Paul reflects back on some of it in 2 Corinthians 11. But in what is firmly believed to be his last inspired writing, 2 Timothy, he has a brightly lit torch in his condemned hand. He is ready to hand it off to the young preacher, Timothy.

I imagine most of you are blessed to lay claim to someone, either still living or now dead, who was a Paul to you. Having a mentor or mentors to help us grow and develop, spiritually, is priceless. When Paul tells Timothy what he does in 2 Timothy 4:1-8, a passage we typically use to encourage preachers, he is urging a precise attitude and precise teaching. The reasons why he wanted that for Timothy are reasons that should motivate us to live faithfully and to encourage our own Timothys to persevere until the current pressures. Here are three reasons why Paul encouraged Timothy to be faithful:

  • BECAUSE PROBLEMS ARE COMING (3-4). It was a fourfold problem (you’ll notice it by reading these two verses). Paul told Timothy to handle it with great patience and teaching. You cannot always anticipate what the problem is going to be, but as long as you come in contact with people there will be problems. You cannot hope to be an influence on them if you do not cultivate the attitude of patience. When problems arise, be patient and stick to the doctrine of Christ.
  • BECAUSE YOU ARE DIFFERENT (5). No matter how you are treated (or mistreated), you cannot stoop to the level of unethical, immoral, or unscrupulous people. These false teachers Paul references were willing to discard truth, and many wanted that kind of teacher. We will encounter people who don’t play by the Lord’s rules, but we must be different. We must be sober in all things, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill our ministry. We are to have a better character, and we have a better message. We aim higher because we are the people of God.
  • BECAUSE JUDGMENT IS COMING (6-8). Paul looks ahead to the very end of all things. Because he was faithful, he anticipated the crown of righteousness. Why do you want to serve the Lord? Is it for prominence, popularity, or influence? To successfully endure, do what you do in view of the Judgment. God won’t forget your faithfulness (see Heb. 6:10)!

Your faith will be tested. You may be resisted, rejected, ignored, disbelieved, and debated. The question is, “How are you going to handle it?” Will it make you better or better. It will try your patience, but will you be found guilty or not guilty? If you will be patient and faithful to God’s Word, you will be an example to more than you’ll ever know. Keep your eyes open for your own Timothys to train and members to mentor. The more we have who listen to and follow the advice of this passage, the greater the influence of Christ will be in this dark, sinful world.

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Some Powerful Promises

Neal Pollard

“You Will Have…”

—Treasure in heaven if you follow Jesus (Mat. 19:21; Mk. 10:21).
—Honor in the sight of all if you are humble (Lk. 14:10).
—Praise of rulers and authority if you do good (Rom. 13:3).
—An answer for the sinfully proud if you are persuaded about the Lord (2 Cor. 5:12).
—Brief tribulation if you are faithful, but then the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

“You Will Be…”

—Judged in the way you judge (Mat. 7:2).
—Hated by all for Christ’s name (Mat. 10:22).
—Justified or condemned by your words (Mat. 12:37).
—Sons of the Most High by loving unconditionally (Lk. 6:35).
—Repaid for charitable kindness at the resurrection of the righteous (Lk. 14:14).
—Free indeed if freed by the Son (Jn. 8:36).
—Saved by faith in Christ (Ac. 16:31).
—Saved by confessing Christ (Rom. 10:9).
—Able to overcome any temptation (1 Co. 10:13).
—Enriched by being generous (2 Co. 9:11).
—Able to stand firm against the devil’s schemes if you put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11ff).
—A good servant of Christ Jesus by pointing out His Word (1 Tim. 4:6).
—Tested (Rev. 2:10).

“You Will Not…”

—Enter the kingdom of heaven without a righteousness surpassing the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20).
—Enter the kingdom of heaven without being converted like little children (Mt. 18:3).
—Carry out the desire of the flesh if you walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
—Grieve like the hopeless if you face the death of a faithful Christian (1 Th. 4:13).
—Grow weary and lose heart if you consider Jesus’ example of endurance (Heb. 12:3).

“You Will See…”

—Others faults more fairly when you look accurately at your own (Mt. 7:5).
—The Majesty and power of Jesus if you look with spiritual eyes (Mt. 26:64).
—The glory of God if you believe (Jn. 11:40).
—The King some day (Jn. 16:16-19).

“You Will Know…”

—Teachers by their fruits (Mt. 7:16,20).
—The emancipating truth (Jn. 8:32).
—The hope of God’s calling through faith in His revealed will (Eph. 1:18).
—How to respond to every man if you use gracious, well-seasoned speech (Col. 4:6).
—How to conduct yourself in the Lord’s church if you consult God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:15).

“You Will Receive…”

—All things you ask in prayer, believing (Mt. 21:22).
—If you ask in Christ’s name (Jn. 16:24).
—The gift of the Holy Spirit if you repent and are baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
—The reward of the inheritance as the result of works of obedience (Col. 3:24).
—The unfading crown of glory if you are an elder who serves faithfully (1 Pet. 5:4).

In view of just a portion of God’s generosity, may we stand on the promises of God today and every day. One of the most thrilling statements of all Scripture is this: “He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Whatever you are struggling with, claim this ironclad fact with its many implications! Holding onto it, surely you can handle any trial, temptation, or trouble you are facing.

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