“Toying With God All My Life”

“Toying With God All My Life”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

IMG_1922

Neal Pollard

It was such a beautiful moment yesterday morning. A brother in Christ from our area who has been attending with us for a few months responded to the invitation. As Kevin and I took his confession, he spoke of sins in his past that fill him with regret. Though he was raised in the church, he has been away from the Lord for a long time. Among the things he expressed from his tender heart, he confessed, “Ive been toying with God all my life.” His point was simple. He felt doubt about God’s existence and concern for him, and it led him to make regrettable choices. But, recently, his study of God’s word and fellowship with God’s people led him to see how real God is and how much he needs Him in his life. 

I wonder how many of us could confess that, at times and in ways, we’ve toyed with God in some way. Perhaps we appealed to Him only when we were in trouble that we couldn’t solve ourselves. Maybe we promised Him we’d be faithful if only He’d give us something we specifically prayed for or thought we needed, and when we got it we broke our promise. It might have been a time or season when we “played church” and acted the role of Christian in the building but acted like the world when around them. 

This is not a tendency that started in our current generation. It is a human tendency. Bible writers exposed such thinking. God tells Ezekiel, “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them” (Ezek. 33:30-32). This is similar to what Isaiah wrote (29:13) and Matthew (15:8-9) and Mark (7:6,7) quote. It’s playing with God to speak as though we desire His Word and even listen to it but be driven by desires and a heart that practice something different (cf. Jas. 1:21-25). 

I need to have the good heart our dear brother expressed on Sunday morning. One who wants others to see and know how much He believes in God, loves Him, and intends to serve Him. May we all keep our hearts tender to God’s Word and let its power do its surgical work in removing what doesn’t belong and moving us to act on what does belong. 

Being Kind

Being Kind

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Most readers can hopefully state to themselves, “I haven’t murdered, stolen, committed adultery, etc.” While we know that forgiveness can be had for all of our sins, humans in general typically want to avoid practices that harm others. 

We have brief encounters with others constantly. Most of those encounters will not leave much of a lasting impression on anyone involved. Two types of encounters definitely leave a lasting impression, though: good ones and bad ones. Bad ones seem to stick the longest. 

So when people encounter us, do we leave a lasting impression? If we do, is it positive? If someone doesn’t walk away thinking, “Man, they were so nice!!!” we have room to grow. As an aside, I’m talking exclusively about normal interactions with others. The Christian and Self-Defense is a study for later. 

While we avoid practices that bring physical harm to others, do we invest in being kind? How do we treat staff at restaurants, people who are obviously different from us, people who may be under us in an authoritative chain or over us? 

It’s easy to be indifferent. For some, it’s easy to be rude and unlikeable in general. Christians must put energy into being kind to others. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume bad intentions. Even in the face of persecution, Christians are commanded to respond rationally and with meekness and fear (I Peter 3.15,16). If we’re supposed to be that composed in the face of persecution, shouldn’t we be all the more kind in everyday encounters? 

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them” (I John 2.9-11). 

When You’re Caught Dead To Rights

When You’re Caught Dead To Rights

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

In 1976, I was in first grade attending school in Barrackville, West Virginia, where my dad preached. One of my buddies was a black-haired kid named Carl. He got me in more trouble, wetting paper towels and throwing them on the bathroom ceiling in our school, exploring a filthy, condemned house across the street from the church building, and probably other acts of mischief I have chosen to repress. The worst Carl incident is probably still recalled in janitorial circles throughout the greater Fairmont area. Apparently, the school was replacing a lot of windows. There were sheets and sheets of panes of glass propped up against the school building. Carl, who looked a lot like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, said he thought he could throw a pane of glass further than I could. The very suggestion made alarms go off in my head. This was wrong, dangerous, and I’m sure I threw in illegal. How I went from those thoughts to a sheet of glass- throwing-contest I honestly don’t remember. But I did and we did several times until an aforementioned janitor yelled at us to stop and stand still. I didn’t move but surprisingly Carl took off in a sprint. By the time the janitor made his way to my asphalt courtroom, I was feeling serious buyer’s remorse. I was arraigned and was told to report to the judge, better known as the principal, first thing in the morning.  I remember two things about that next day. One was that this is the only incident of my childhood that merited two spankings from my parents. The other was how gentle and kind the principal was. I later found out that the principal had told mom and dad that they would not make us pay for the broken glass.  I had no defense. Carl had hung me out to dry, but I forged my dastardly destiny the moment I cast my lots with that little rascal. I was at the mercy of one who could have made my life much harder, but he simply urged me to reform–the very thing I was eager to do. That was the last memory I have of Carl.

Have you ever been caught dead to rights–no excuse or mitigating circumstances (just plain guilty)? In John 8:1-11, there is a powerful lesson on forgiveness centering around a woman caught in adultery. We can look at this text from a variety of perspectives, but this very guilty woman was literally in the center of them all and at the heart of the text. Who was this woman to everyone present?

  • To all the people, she was an object of curiosity and possible amusement.
  • To one man, she was a sexual object to use.
  • To the scribes and Pharisees, she was a pawn for their use.
  • To the law of Moses, she was a sinner worthy of death.
  • But to Jesus, she was a person to defend, a soul to save, and a forgiven one to send.

This woman was viewed from every conceivable angle, from curious spectacle to sexual object, from contempt to compassion. The view that mattered most, Jesus’ vantage point, saw her not only for what she was but for what she could be. The example of her story helps us to appreciate that not only is sin bad, but it can be remedied. Jesus would say to every obedient one today what He told her. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

4409500248_d6dc2f6b48_b

 

Ten Thoughts Your Church Visitors Are Thinking 

Ten Thoughts Your Church Visitors Are Thinking 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

DaleandJanelledirectorypic

Dale Pollard

We’ve all had opinions and reactions in public that never made it from our brains to our mouths. Not all of these were positive, and perhaps that’s why they were never spoken.

Have you ever wondered what visitors who come into our home congregation are thinking? What do they make of the worship service? How do they see the people who fill the building?

I’d like to dedicate this post to the young people I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and who have privately expressed their first impressions of the Lord’s church. These honest thoughts did not come from people who were trying to be disrespectful.

Here’s a list of TEN thoughts (some rephrased) that most visitors won’t openly say. 

  1. “I guess I came underdressed for this church.”
  2. “Why do you stand for some songs and not the others?”
  3. “Why are the communion plates gold?”
  4. “I didn’t understand the purpose of the invitation.”
  5. “Nobody smiled much until after the service.”
  6. “I’ve got too much baggage for you guys.”
  7. “I didn’t even know this church was here.”
  8. “How much money was I supposed to put inside the plate?”
  9. “It’s a nice congregation, but there’s not a lot of people my age.”
  10. “Sorry for bringing my drink into the sanctuary.”

While these comments and questions may seem negative, I’m thankful that they’ve given us their perspective. As His church, we should be thoughtful about who we are, and what we’re engaged in when we come together.

We’re either involved in offering our Father praise and worship, or we’re enjoying the sweet fellowship that we have in Christ. God is our life, God is the One who gives every blessing, and God is the one who saved us from ourselves. With this in mind—

Here’s a list of FIVE things we can do to let visitors know what we’re all about. 

  1. We should carry ourselves with an attitude that expresses our joy and thankfulness. They may not understand everything about the service or the practical aspects of our traditions, but they see a group of people who have been given the greatest gift ever given.
  2. Let’s not place too much emphasis on the location of worship, but the worship itself. There’s nothing holy about the “sanctuary” but there should be something holy about the acts being done and the people in the pews.
  3. Even though we may have been to worship countless times, we shouldn’t assume that everyone completely understands what’s going on. There should be an effort put into briefly explaining why we’re participating in each act of worship, as well as who it applies to. For example, visitors are not required to give. We shouldn’t assume they already know this.
  4. We’re all in need of Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. God is the God of second chances…and beyond! Do the visitors know this? We’ve all got varying amounts of baggage, but even a small pocketbook full of sin is enough to eternally condemn us.
  5. No matter how odd things may appear to a first time visitor, if we can show them the love of Christ, what was once strange to them— just might become beautifully familiar.

6899cbb17fb9c3e615b41ed38b068da4

When My Love For Christ Grows Weak

When My Love For Christ Grows Weak

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

carl pic

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.
lovechristweak.001
Fantastic Fact About Forgiveness

Fantastic Fact About Forgiveness

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

When we forgive someone we usually do not forget what we forgave. Unless there is an underlying condition, our minds do not automatically or immediately delete irrelevant information, like something we no longer hold against another person. Because of this, it can be hard to understand what God’s forgiveness means for the Christian. We’ll think, “I know He has forgiven me, but there’s no way He’s forgotten about it. Maybe it will ‘cloud’ His decision to forgive me next time I ask.” 

This is a very common mindset, and one that I struggle with daily. When we look at scripture, though, it paints a very different picture of what God’s forgiveness really does! 

Forgiveness is the word ἀφίημι (afiemi). It has several definitions, according to Bauer: 

1. To dismiss or release someone from a place or presence. 

2. To release from a moral obligation or consequence, to cancel, remit, or pardon. 

3. To move away with implication of causing a separation, to leave or depart from. 

(BDAG 155)

Knowing this, we should look at Hebrews 8.12, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will not remember their sins anymore.” We understand that context is geared toward contrasting the old and new covenant, but it at least gives us insight into the process behind forgiveness. 

When we get forgiveness from God, that sin is eradicated. It no longer exists, it will not affect our relationship with God anymore. “Remember” in Hebrews eight is, “To call information to memory.” It’s not only that God no longer holds a sin against us, it’s that it ceases to exist in His mind. How awesome is that? 

When we ask God for forgiveness, let’s approach His throne with humility, yes, but also with confidence that He has the power and desire to make that sin disappear from our account forever. 

67838971_10156520118915922_8108397968467427328_n

When You Need To Let Go

When You Need To Let Go

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Today was a momentous and somber day for me: I am now bald. After removing my hat – a constant companion – I saw that the battle was lost and shaved my head. ‘Twas a truly humbling moment; I now understand what the greatest youth minister of all time – Brett Petrillo – felt when he, too, bid a final farewell to his hair. We never know what we have until it is but a wishful yearning for yesteryear.
Being a minister in a family of ministers, I must allegorize this milestone before the tombstone. I fought to keep something that was not only lost, but that should have been let go long before now. Instead of seeing the writing on the wall I thought, “Maybe I can keep it.” Or, “Maybe no one will notice.” Or, “Maybe I can make it seem like something it isn’t.”
We do this a lot in our spiritual lives, too. We might hold onto grudges, bad attitudes, sin problems, past hurts, pet peeves, or guilt. Holding onto these is hopeless and counterproductive.
Are we holding onto a grudge? Jesus said in Matthew 5.23, 24, that we shouldn’t even worship if we have something against a brother/sister or if they have something against us. Matthew six tells us that forgiving others is a condition of receiving forgiveness.
Are we nursing a bad attitude? Paul, writing to Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4, addressed their attitude problem bluntly. The first part of chapter two commands them to embody traits such as encouragement, consolation, affection, and compassion. He gives an example of the selflessness of Jesus – something driven by His attitude. He put others above Himself, even though He didn’t have to. In Philippians 2.12, Paul even states that attitude can determine where we will spend eternity! If we have a bad attitude, we need to shave it.
What about guilt? Perhaps nothing is so tragically difficult to let go of as guilt. Sometimes guilt is necessary to help us see our faults and seek forgiveness. Just as often, if not more so, guilt is a weight that holds us back from spiritual growth. We must understand, internalize, and have gratitude for the gift of grace. The whole purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice was to give us grace and access to God. I John makes it very clear that a forgiven Christian who continues to live his/her imperfect life in pursuit of God is perfect in His eyes. If guilt while under grace is present and weighing us down, we need to shave it. It is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons against the Christian. It will hamstring any effort we make to grow spiritually, as our minds focus more on our past than on our infinitely more important future.
Certainly more could be said on the subject but while we have some time on our hands, we might do a little introspection and see what we can let go of. It will be uncomfortable, it will be uncertain, and it will be worth the effort. Shaving what we needn’t hold onto will not only bring greater joy, it will also bring a healthier relationship with God and our Christian family.
94671940_265784144601282_8304130777881247744_n
After Cuts Become Scars

After Cuts Become Scars

Neal Pollard

David was broken and battered by sin. He would feel its effects from his public life to his private life for the rest of his life. In the aftermath of his actions with Bathsheba and the subsequent cover-up, the wounds of sin left visible scars. Nathan’s accusing words perhaps ringing in his ears, he sits down to pen by inspiration the haunting, but hopeful, 51st Psalm. We often dwell more on the first part, the multifaceted description of sin and the more beautiful pictures of forgiveness. But, to me, the most beautiful part of the psalm is when David starts using the word “then.”

Satan would love for sin to defeat us. He would like the guilt to overwhelm us, to keep us from the restoration David longs for here. David is speaking prospectively, asking for a clean heart, renewed spirit, spiritual fellowship, joy and sustenance from God. But, he asks for it for a purpose. In doing so, he shows us what God wants to do with us and for us after our “cuts” become “scars.”

After the cuts become scars…

REACH OUT TO THE LOST (Psalm 51:13). On the other side of repentance, David was anxious to help others reeling from their spiritual wounds. As we overcome through God’s help, we can be a tool in His hand to relate to and rescue others struggling just like we did. It would be far better to have never gone down the road of sin, but having truly come back we can understand the desperate, dark place transgressors are walking. 

BE A FAITHFUL WORSHIPPER (Psalm 51:14). David, the master musician, had lost his song in the far country. He yearned for joyful song. Worship loses its power and purity in our lives when we are living in darkness. We feel hypocritical and empty, just going through the motions. But, back in His glorious light, we can experience that lifted up feeling once more. David shows us the blessing of restoration, a spirit renewed to enjoy further renewal in faithful worship.

GIVE GOD SACRIFICES (Psalm 51:15-17). David mentions the sacrifice of praise, a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. It is obvious, from context, that these sacrifices would reveal themselves in his service to God and to others. This is not merely guilt-driven service, an effort to make amends for the evil influence of his sin. Having been made whole, David has a clarity of purpose that appreciates better what God wants from him. We can be fruitful and useful to Him, scars and all. 

ACCEPT GOD’S DELIGHT (Psalm 51:18-19). How many times did David relive those moments from the rooftop to the prophet’s visit? How often did he wish he could just go back and undo it all? How long did he wrestle with accepting God’s forgiveness and wondering if God could take him back? He shows an appreciation for the prospect of God’s delight. He rightly feels responsible for others, and he wants to lead them to do what’s right. But, I love what he anticipates. He knows God will be delighted with the offering.  Did you know that? Did you know that God can delight in you again, when you bring him your sin-scarred life and offer your righteous sacrifices? He doesn’t want to discard you. He wants to delight in you!

It must have continued to be hard for David. He had reminders everywhere. He could not undo his past. But, he did the right thing. Having dealt with his past, he focused on the present and looked to the future. That’s what God wants us to do after our cuts become scars!

people-2566201_960_720

The Lost Loved By The Lord

The Lost Loved By The Lord

Neal Pollard

The prostitute on the street with a painful past who’s made dreadful decisions. The grownup who’s the product of unbelievable dysfunction and endured issues like abuse, abandonment, alcohol, and anxiety.  The teen who has never been shown true, Christlike love. The religious adherent whose idea of God and the Bible has been filtered through a trusted, but false, teacher. There are endless individuals who fall into the category of “lost” by Scripture (see the parables of Luke 15), even if they would not identify themselves with that word.

A particular challenge for those of us who “inherited” the knowledge of the truth from our homes is to recognize our dependency upon God for salvation. We look at our lives which, though littered with sin and shortcomings, do not have the disarrayed appearance of lives like the ones mentioned above. We’re basically “good.”  It is so easy for us to be like Simon in Luke 7:36ff. We know our Bibles. We invite Jesus along. We are aghast at how lost those lost people are. We cannot fathom that Jesus would want them. Then, we find ourselves as the one who loves little because we think we have little to be forgiven of. We do not serve Him like we should, but we feel pretty safe.

By contrast, the lost often do not become Christians because they feel so unworthy of forgiveness or see their past as insurmountable chains though they long for freedom. They don’t know, but they need to know, that God longs for them and wants them. They have immense value in His eyes, and, if they come to Him, He will say, “Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:48,50). Whereas pride might be our impediment, guilt is often theirs.

Each of us needs to find the balance between self-righteousness and self-loathing. If we are the Pharisee, we need humility. If we are the sinful woman, we need hope. But for that latter category, who we are in constant contact with, we must embrace and share the message that the Lord longs for them and sees their soul as precious enough to die for. They need to know He already did that as proof of His love (John 3:16; 15:13). Do you know somebody who is lost? Let them know the Lord loves them!

Businessman looking at a map spread out on the hood of a car

A NEW WAY TO HANDLE PRODIGAL SONS

A NEW WAY TO HANDLE PRODIGAL SONS

Neal Pollard

Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord.  It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10).  His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too.  It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown.  “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).

Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons.  Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant.  There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God.  The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.

How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time!  As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind.  The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father.  Yet, the father allowed the son to depart.  The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home.  The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected.  He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed.  In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.

We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23).  We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness.  We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home!  Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!

774px-albert_anker_-_der_verlorene_sohn