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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Daniel And Susan Bakeman

Neal Pollard

In the annals of American history there is a remarkable story you may not know.  Daniel Bakeman was born on October 9, 1759.  He married Susan Brewer on August 29, 1772, though not yet a teenager.  Soon thereafter, he joined the American army during the Revolutionary War.  Not only did he survive the war, he lived almost another 100 years.  When he died on April 5, 1869, he was most likely the last surviving veteran of the war that made us a country.  He lived about four years after the end of the Civil War.  As remarkable as that distinction is, he also was part of another world record that still stands to this day.  His marriage to Susan lasted until September 10, 1863, when she passed away.  That means the Bakemans were married for 91 years and 12 days!

I cannot find anything about the details of that marriage, though they left many descendants who carry, through various spellings of the family name, the names Bachman, Beckman, Bakeman, Bateman, and even Baker (genealogytrails.com).  Various archives indicate that Mr. Bakeman was spry and humorous to the end and that Mrs. Bakeman exhibited needlework she had done without the aid of glasses when she was 102.  They lived and died in a town called Freedom, and Mr. Wakeman holds the distinction of having voted in every election from Washington to Grant!

As remarkable as his military distinction is, his marriage distinction deserves higher honor.  He fought in and survived a war that lasted less than ten years.  He endured hardships, who knows how many ups and downs, and undoubtedly some trying marital moments en route to almost a century of marital bliss.  They were together to the end, an exaggerated example of commitment and highest love.

You will almost certainly fail to break the Bakemans’ record for length of marriage, but you might exceed what they enjoyed for depth and breadth.  What are you doing to build upon the highest love for your spouse?  What daily investments are you making?  Your marriage will be remembered by those who know you.  How it will be remembered is something over which you exert full control.  Make it a legacy of lasting love!

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What Keeps People From Salvation?

Neal Pollard

  • Ignorance: They have not learned how to be saved
  • Fear: They know the potential cost of being saved
  • Pride: They do not want to admit they are not saved
  • Loyalty: They fear that they will be tacitly condemning those they care for if they are saved
  • Comfort: They do not want to do what it takes to be saved
  • Emotion: They feel they are saved
  • Guilt: They do not believe they can be saved
  • Prejudice: They cannot see the necessity of following what certain scriptures say they must do to be saved
  • Sin: They enjoy something(s) too much to surrender in order to be saved
  • Self: They want to follow their own terms to be saved
  • Blindness: They cannot see through their religious traditions and doctrines in order to be saved
  • Responsibilities: They are too busy with life to be saved

So many more excuses might be given by someone who refuses to do what God says to do in order to be saved, but whatever excuse is given overlooks the fact that God allowed no excuse to keep Him from sending His Son, that Christ allowed no excuse to keep Him from going to the cross, that the Holy Spirit allowed no excuse to keep Him from revealing to us through the Bible how to be saved, that the apostles and early Christians allowed no excuse to keep them from sharing and doing God’s will for salvation (even at the cost of their lives), and that so many throughout time have not allowed these same excuses to keep them from obeying the gospel to be saved. Salvation is so important, eternity is so long, the soul is so precious, sin is so destructive, the devil is so ravenous, and the world is so wrong that we must remove every barrier that might stand in our way. If we were to write down our reason for not being saved and keep it until the day of judgment, how valid and reasonable would it sound as we conveyed it to Christ? If we would not want to tell Him then, let’s not let it keep us from Him now.  “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b).

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Not Enough Room On A Short Pew

Neal Pollard

I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew.  The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews.  They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.

I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was!  This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.

It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.

What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it.  Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!

Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).

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FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

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“The Island Where Men Are Disappearing”

Neal Pollard

About one quarter of the men on Old Providence Island are gone, and in many cases their families have no idea where they are. They are not vanishing into thin air. These Caribbean islanders are excellent mariners, and, being technically part of the country of Colombia and lying off the coast of Nicaragua, they have been swept into the net of drug trafficking. Very often, they are hired as pilots of “narco-speedboats.” If they successfully deliver their load, they make thousands of dollars. If they fail, they go to jail.  Old Providence veteran journalist, Ampara Ponton, says, “There are families where the great-grandfather, grandfather, father and son are imprisoned” (via BBC.COM).

The impact of these “vanishing” husbands and fathers is incalculable. Children grow up without having a daddy to train, guide, and provide an example for them. Wives are deprived of helpmeets.

This mirrors a figurative epidemic that has been in place in many cultures, not only in our day but in days gone by.  One derogatory term for this is “deadbeat dads,” those who sire children but are uninvolved, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially, in their lives. This dysfunctional model spreads its influence in society causing further dysfunction.

Yet, too many homes have men who are physically present but spiritually absent.  They do not provide spiritual guidance, do not study or model the Bible, never pray in their family’s hearing, show no interest in or commitment to the way of the Lord, and prioritize one or several things before the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  These have not technically disappeared, but they are spiritually invisible.

We cannot forget who God holds most responsible for the direction of the home.  Asaph says God told the fathers to tell their children about God and His work (Psalm 78). Fathers are to bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). In both testaments, God commands fathers’ presence, making right and lasting impressions upon their families.  Husbands and fathers, let’s do our best to be present and impactful in the lives of our families as faithful stewards of this charge. Eternity hinges upon it!

MY FAMILY TREE

Neal Pollard

Years ago, for a school project, I was asked to trace my ancestry and make a family tree. In the process I learned some things I did not know about my heritage. Some of that made me proud, and some of it did not. I also learned that a family tree is always living and growing. Now that I am a husband and father, I appreciate that my children (and, one day, grandchildren) will be affected by how I lead my family.

You are nourishing your family tree, too. How are you caring for it? That is called a legacy. It will affect those who live after you are gone. Consider some things every family tree has, and ask yourself what kind of tree you are growing in your home.

Your family tree has…

  • ROOTS. Something is central to your home. It is what drives and motivates you. It is where you have your primary interest and investment, measured in dollars, energy, and time. For your family tree to survive, you must be “firmly rooted and…built up in [Christ]” (Col. 2:7).
  • BRANCHES. Your home is an influence on the larger community surrounding you. Every facet of your life, your job, your friends, the church you attend, and your community, is impressed, positively and negatively, by your home. You have a reputation. You are seen. As your family branches out into the world, what impact is it making for Christ? Remember, “If the root be holy, the branches are too” (Rom. 11:16).
  • NUTRIENTS. God made the tree to eat and drink, and by such it lives. If the nutrients are cut off (via drought or disease or damage), the tree dies. Likewise, our family tree must be nourished properly to keep each member of it alive. We must keep “constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).
  • FRUIT. It may be acorns, cones, blossoms, or edible fruit, but trees bear fruit. When a fruit-bearing tree ceases production, it is a sign of trouble. At best, such a tree has lost its value. Our family tree will be known by its fruits (cf. Mat. 7:16,20). Failing to bear good fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) or bearing bad fruit (Luke 6:43) is condemned by God.
  • PREDATORS. “Dutch Elm Disease,” beetles, ants, and termites can all prematurely end the life of a tree. Sometimes, what kills the tree cannot be readily seen. Trees can be eaten from the inside out, and by the time the damage is visible it is too late. How like the damage predators do to the home! Three are so many! Tragically, sometimes the damage comes from within—what we do or allow to happen in the family. Satan is the predator of the home, but he works through human agency.
  • LEAVES. There are evergreens, conifers, and pines, but hardwoods are the most fascinating to me. I like their annual cycle. In Spring, the trees are in bloom and put on their leaves. They flourish in Summer. In Autumn, they are vibrant in color and beautiful. In Winter, they die and leave the tree. Parents, think of your children as those “leaves.” From birth, they bud and grow. Hopefully, in the teen years after trial and tribulation they begin to absorb and emulate the good principles we have taught. It can be a beautiful time. Then comes the time for them to leave. Remember that they are going to leave home some day. Make sure they leave spiritually and eternally prepared.

FAMILY TOGETHERNESS

Neal Pollard

It was a bit ironic to me as a stood up to preach on the subject of family that I had my parents and two of my children sitting and listening.  How rare and wonderful that, normally separated by a couple of time zones and over a thousand miles, we were all able to be together in the same worship service!  It makes me long for heaven, when we can be in the presence of God in eternal adoration of Him and sweet fellowship with one another.  Being together with family is a blessing many of us take for granted and can maybe only fully appreciate when it tends more toward the exception than the rule.

One of the many incredible facets of God’s perfect design for the church is that He made us a family.  Paul depicts us as fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters (Titus 2:1-4).  He refers to it as God’s house (1 Timothy 3:15).  Christ is the bond that brings us together, with all our diversities (skin, background, income, education, etc.), to be a spiritual family.  The best attributes of family—love, acceptance, encouragement, motivation, understanding, heritage, leadership, unity, sympathy, assistance—come together in God’s family.  This is what has always baffled me when I think of brothers and sisters who can stay away from their spiritual family for weeks, months, and years at a time.  Who could sustain us and fill the vacuum caused by earthly life like God’s children, our spiritual siblings?

When you look at the church, you perceive it a certain way.  I’m convinced you are either drawn to it or repelled by it.  You long for her members or loathe them.  Certainly, there are the indifferent, the lukewarm, and those who are essentially unfeeling toward other members. But these are steadily moving toward abandoning their family.  Their hearts have already done so, if their bodies haven’t yet.  The indifferent and hostile may blame the church for their attitude, but we choose our mindset.  God puts us in this family (Acts 2:47), a plan He gave to help us successfully survive this life and obtain eternal life.  It’s a sign of spiritual health to long to be around, grow closer to, and be in love with the church.  Luke records, “And all those who had believed were together…” (Acts 2:44a).  What a beautiful picture!  We get to enjoy the same blessing today.  May we never take it for granted, but relish it.

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Recruiting Children

Neal Pollard

It was Adolf Hitler who famously said, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community’” (Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich).  Recently, an AP article by Zeina Karam and Vivian Salama reports of ISIS militants luring children from Iraq and Syria to fight in the battles they are waging across the middle east.  One photo shows two children posing with automatic weapons as an Islamic militant fighter has his hand affectionately on one of their shoulders (The Denver Post, 11/24/14, 13A).  Lest our culture get too sanctimonious, ideologues in our educational, political, and media realms have long been indoctrinating our youth on matters like radical feminism, abortion, homosexuality, climate change, evolution, and the continuing list is lengthy.  The world has long known that the way to effect and control philosophical change is by reaching the hearts of children.

Once, in the context of teaching about possessions and stewardship, Jesus made the observation that “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8b).  Have we, in the body of Christ, ever conceded to the spiritual enemy regarding our children?  Do we let the world set the standard of right and wrong? Arrange their priorities? Set their moral compass and define their worldview?

At no time is the human heart more impressionable and moldable than in the days of youth.  What can we do to reach the hearts of our children? Consider these areas:

  • Worship.  To me, a most practical disadvantage of programs like “Children’s Church” is that it deprives children of the culture and environment of worship, where they not only practice engagement but also group participation.  Since children are such quick and able learners, we can teach them so much about praise and adoration to God with each other in worship (cf. Psa. 95:6).
  • Acts of service.  Rather than creating an atmosphere that caters to children’s desires, why not create opportunities that teach them the value and importance of service, unselfishness, and giving. By helping them serve, we open their eyes to the joy and fullness of heart that follows doing for others (cf. Acts 20:35).
  • Fellowship.  Why not do more as a church and as individual families to emphasize the beauty and joy of Christians being together? Involve children in preparing for these times and making them an active part in times spent together with others—teaching them requisites like good manners, courtesy, thoughtfulness, and respect for adults.  It will live and grow in them as they pass from childhood to adulthood (cf. 1 Th. 5:11).

Give thought to other areas where we can reach the hearts of our children, helping them  to remember their Creator at their tender age (Ecc. 12:1).  They are such a vital resource to the heart of God, so much that He calls them “a gift” (Psa. 127:1).  May we not, by neglect, default, or shortsightedness, let the world shape and influence them. Through both the church and Christian homes, may we “recruit” our children to love and follow God with all they are (cf. Mat. 22:37).

Giving Away Your Wedding Ring

Neal Pollard

Brooklin Yazzle, a Mesa, Arizona, wife and mother, apparently handed out her wedding ring with the Halloween candy last week.  She had taken off her ring and put it in a candy jar to help her children carve pumpkins.  Later, things got hectic and she absentmindedly dumped her ring along with the candy into a candy bag to give to children.  Complicating things, among her treats were plastic rings.  She has made an appeal through the news to get it back, stating that while it isn’t worth much monetarily it has great sentimental value (FOX News).

Many of us can relate to such a mindless blunder.  To my everlasting chagrin, I lost my wife’s High School class ring back while we were dating (she married me anyway!).  It is not uncommon for a person to remove their wedding ring to work or play, but removing it in such cases is to protect it from harm or loss.

The American Community Survey and the Daily Beast collaborated to provide a list of the “Divorce Capitals of the U.S.”  The ignominious top ten list, from “top” to bottom, is: (1) Panama City, FL, (2) Sierra Vista, AZ, (3) Charleston, WV, (4) Medford, OR, (5) Reno, NV, (6) Deltona, FL, (7) Pueblo, CO, (8) Palm Bay, FL, (9) Jacksonville, FL, and (10) Grand Junction, CO. In six states, the divorce rate is between 12.64-14.35% per 1,000 people, age 15 and older (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, and Oklahoma). Yet, the best of states still average 6.05-7.65% (Ashley Reich, The Huffington Post, 11/4/13).

This survey is but an example of a trend that is only tempered by a falling marriage rate, as more and more couples are living together without the sanctity of marriage. It shows that the dissolution of marriage is not confined to one area of the country, or more like in a “Red” or “Blue” state.  Are there steps we can take to keep our wedding rings?

  • Spend time together.
  • Have shared interests.
  • Focus on pleasing your spouse more than being pleased by him/her.
  • Make marriage a priority, not an afterthought or a “no thought.”
  • Make spiritual investments together (devotions, prayer, serving, etc.).
  • Spend time with couples whose marriages are healthy and happy.
  • Practice hospitality together.
  • Keep romance alive.
  • Keep Christ King of your home.
  • Avoid pettiness.

This list is not exhaustive, but it already gives all of us areas to work on and improve in.  We should remember God’s feelings, who said, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Let’s hold on to our wedding rings!