The “Nothings”

Neal Pollard

What the child is always doing, despite evidence to the contrary (“nothing”). What is wrong with one’s spouse who sits nearby, quietly and tightlippedly fuming (“nothing”). What the interrupted person was going to say (“nothing”). The word which defines itself is “nothing.” The Bible teaches, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:4).

Those low in self-esteem think of themselves as nothing. Children and spouses who are constantly told so think of themselves as nothing. Those not as wealthy as their friends or neighbors often conclude themselves to be nothing. Those unrecognized for their accomplishments can feel like they are nothing. But the inspired apostle refers to some who think themselves to be something who are actually “nothing.” The Bible makes mention of that arrogant family, The “Nothings.” They are a haughty, proud, self-involved, earthly-minded crew.

Meet The Nothings.

There Are The “Good For Nothings.” Jeremiah introduces them. He says, “This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing” (Jer. 13:10). They were unaware of problems they had. They were evil, spiritually deaf, selfish, and idolatrous. He compares them to a good for nothing, straight from a hole in the ground, dirt-soiled belt!

No one is inherently worthless, but we can choose a lifestyle that is wicked, lukewarm, or indistinct (cf. Mat. 5:13). Christians, by our distinctive nature, are of great value to God (1 Pet. 2:9). Yet, by surrendering our Christian influence, we can become “good for nothing.”

There Are The “Brought To Nothings.” After referring to the danger of making decisions based solely on human reasoning, Jeremiah prays that God will not bring him to nothing (Jer. 10:23-24). God will rename some the Brought to Nothings, those who believe man’s ideas over God’s facts. Paul warns that God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Cor. 1:19; Isa. 29:14). The wisest and most scholarly man who discounts God’s Word will be a regretful member of the Brought To Nothings someday.

There Are The “Need Of Nothings.” These are the overly comfortable, spiritually out of shape members of the Nothings clan. They live their lives saying, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and they do not know that they “are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They aren’t really bad people, but they aren’t all that good either. They’re just quite satisfied with what they have done for Christ, which isn’t all that great and not too bad. They merely yawn through their spiritually lives, only occasionally stirring from spiritual sleep (cf. Eph. 5:14). They half-heartedly do just enough to deceive themselves into thinking they’re pleasing the Lord.

Unrelated to these Nothings are some good folks, like the Ashamed In Nothings (Phil. 1:20), Terrified By Nothings (Phil. 1:28), Anxious For Nothings (Phil. 4:6), and the Wavering In Nothings (Jas. 1:6, KJV). But the Nothings family mentioned above are black sheep in God’s family. No one should want to “take after” them.

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What It Means To Be A Man

Neal Pollard

Recently, there have been several experiences that have been instructive to me concerning true manhood. I participated in a wonderful retreat, the theme of which was “Act Like Men.” Great lessons inspired us to be real men, as God defines it. One man from Utah, who was searching for truth, attended and after studying with James Pfiffner become a son of God through baptism for the remission of his sins! He was seeking to become a better man, and I’d say he made the biggest step in that direction.

Yesterday, Kathy and I watched the last inning of 89-year-old Vin Scully’s 67-year career as a broadcaster for the Dodgers. I first remember him as one half of the duo that brought America NBC’s game of the week, with Joe Garagiola. Among his historic calls was Don Larsen’s lone perfect game of the World Series in 1956, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in 1974, breaking Babe Ruth’s record, Bill Buckner’s famous error at first base in the 1986 World Series, and Kirk Gibson’s infamous walk-off home run during game one of the 1988 World Series. He called some of baseball’s biggest moments, but what most remember is how classy and dignified he was. He did not resort to perverse, unwholesome speech, but he symbolized achievement in his field.

Scully is cut out of the same cloth as Bear Valley’s senior statesman, Johnson Kell. Kathy and I sat in his living room late last week, and the 97-year-old, World War II veteran, demonstrated so many qualities we have long come to appreciate about this beloved man of God.  He is a perfect gentleman, genuinely concerned about all others, tender-hearted, unabashedly devoted to Christ, well-informed, upbeat, and ever-ready with a smile. Despite recent physical setbacks, his physical condition—still a trim 162 pounds—and sharp mind belie his actual age. Yet, it is who Johnson is on the inside that makes him a real man.

The world sends out destructive messages about what it means to be a man:

  • Sexual prowess
  • Physical formidability
  • Financial acumen
  • Personal charisma
  • Societal clout
  • Sharp wit
  • Professional achievement

None of those qualities are inherently wrong, kept within their bounds. Yet, this is where the world begins and ends its definition. These very standards, absent the most important qualities for a man, have led to the downfall and ruin of every civilization and nation to have toppled. It will undo any that currently stand which do not make course corrections.

As men who are trying to live in that kind of world, we have a prime opportunity to stand out in the very best way. What will it take? Find the perfect example of a man and follow him. Where will you find him?  Let’s let Paul have the last word: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The Son of man is the standard of manhood.

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Vin Scully recent headshot.
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Johnson in 2010 at his 91st birthday party.

Misguided Malice

Neal Pollard

I served the Livingston Police Department in Sumter County, Alabama, as a reserve officer for two years. I had a uniform and a badge, though the service I rendered was as chaplain.  The relationship between law enforcement and citizens there was very positive, but I remember talking with officers about the media bias and agenda of liberal politicians they witnessed locally and nationally. This was nearly a quarter century ago, long before the advent of social media and nearly omnipresent camera phones and videos which can be deceptive both for what they show and what they do not. In light of baffling events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the last few weeks, as well as the inane calls to defund police, it is hard not to think that huge numbers of people have been duped by political rhetoric and a thoughtless mob mentality. While no profession can be completely free of corrupt individuals (who should be found out and prosecuted with full vigor), the existence of law enforcement and peace officers is a vital cog in the wheel of civilization and order in society. Eliminating these agencies is tantamount to removing a fence keeping a pack of bloodthirsty pit bulls from a neighboring playground full of children.

It is a characteristic of worldliness to disdain authority.  The Christian’s attitude and response is to be different. To Christians living in a world with not a fraction of the liberties we enjoy in society today, Paul instructed, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:1-5). There are sobering, inescapable truths here which should be revered by those who are servants of God. God is mentioned five times in these verses, and He is intrinsically tied to earthly authorities. They are from God (1), established by God (1), an ordinance of God (2), and ministers of God (4).

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the earmarks of difficult times. So many of these traits are evidenced in the growing anarchy of the present day—revilers, unloving, irreconcilable, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, and reckless (1-4).  In addition to such attitudes and actions being sinful, they are too often misguided. Police are symbols of law and order, and they are easy targets for those who commit or are effected by lawlessness. It seems that more of our passion and animus should be directed toward criminals and less toward our crime stoppers.

Let us take to heart Peter’s counsel to persecuted Christians and “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right [we] may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:13-15). If we can rationalize and argue away this Bible truth, why can we not do the same with any other timeless principle of Scripture? May God help us all to hold tightly to the Light of the Bible, that the world may see how it should respond in this troublesome world.

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The Worst Way For Total Blindness To Occur

Neal Pollard

While visiting Ray and Lupida Lewis yesterday, I got to hear the story behind her current situation. This upbeat, sweet-spirited Christian woman was minutes from undergoing the first of at least three extensive back and neck surgeries necessitated by injuries suffered as she was walking and was struck by a driver going 35 miles per hour.

Lupida has had a degenerative eye condition since childhood. It had gotten to the point that she could barely see more than shapes, but, given her educational background, she had been recruited to serve as a teacher in the Colorado School for the Blind. By last year, despite corrective eye surgery, Lupida could only see light and nothing more. That fateful September day last year, she was struck in the crosswalk by the inattentive driver and suffered brain, neck and back injuries. Some of that may be remedied, and other issues will never be resolved. One that appears permanent is that her head injuries caused her to wake up without even the ability to see light. She says, “I see only darkness now. The light has gone away.” She observed that one cannot really imagine the huge difference between being able to see light and being in total darkness.

We did not discuss it together, but I believe Lupida would agree with me that, as tragic as her circumstances are, there is a blindness worse than her own.  Lupida lives with a faith and hope which assures her that her situation is, at worst, temporary. The song says, “Faith will be lost in heavenly sight.” She embraces that promise.

Today, you will constantly encounter people who may have the eyesight of an eagle when they submit to a physical test but who suffer a far greater blindness. Scripture often makes reference to wickedness as “walking in darkness” (Ps. 82:5; Prov. 2:13; Ecc. 2:14; Isa. 9:2; John 12:35; Eph. 5:8; 1 Jn. 1:6; 2:11). Tragically, it’s not the result of an accident–though it could be ignorance. Millions reject the light and pursue the darkness. They have every opportunity to see, but they don’t want to see. Ultimately, their voluntary journey through darkness leads to the outer darkness of condemnation (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Fortunately, their condition is reversible thanks to the Great Physician, but time is growing shorter by the moment. Ask God to lead you to those who are spiritually blind, and may we all endeavor to avoid such a condition ourselves (cf. Mat. 15:14; Rev. 3:17)!

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Would Jesus Scrub Grape Juice Stains?

Neal Pollard

Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).

Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!

The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).

This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!

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Tools In God’s Toolbox

Neal Pollard

Romans 6:13 tells us our body is an instrument, and we choose to use it for righteousness or unrighteousness. The Greek word translated “instrument” there means “tool or weapon.” What kind of tool or weapon are you? Are you an instrument God holds in His hand to do His will?

  • Are you a battering ram? The ancients would use a log or some other hard object to break down a wall or door. Have we filled our hearts with the Word to the degree that we can, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), break down barriers keeping the honest-hearted from God?
  • Are you a crowbar? Crowbars pry objects apart. There are things we should separate from our thinking and lifestyle. Are we trying to pull away from worldliness (Js. 4:4)?
  • Are you a chisel? This is a tool that does meticulous, detailed work. Its blade carves or cuts hard materials. Do we have the tenacity and trust needed to use God’s Word and benefit from His providence to remake our lives into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Co. 3:18)?
  • Are you a level? We live in not only a dishonest world but also a corrupt world. So many call good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). Can people find in us a reliable standard of right and wrong, as we reflect the principles of God’s Word? Levels are used to determine whether something is true and as it ought to be.
  • Are you a plane? The plane smooths rough surfaces by repetitiously moving back and forth across the surface. All four Gospels (Mat. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) speak of John the immerser’s work as making ready the path of the Lord, making His paths straight. We are not forerunners of Jesus; we follow in His steps (1 Pe. 2:21). As we do follow Him, we are going to forge a path safe for others to follow (1 Co. 11:1).
  • Are you a magnet? A magnet is an object that draws and holds another object disposed toward such attraction. Magnets can be used as tools themselves, but they are often made a part of other tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers. By living like Jesus, you will draw people to Him.

Paul also referred to “tools” or “weapons” when talking to the Corinthians. He mentions “armor of righteousness” and “weapons of our warfare” (same word). In both cases, the tools or weapons are spiritual and figurative, yet with them we can help shape and build up those around us. Be a tool in God’s toolbox!

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I Don’t Want To Know!

Neal Pollard

Too often, it’s a great disappointment to learn about the personal lives of politicians, athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, and other professional entertainers. Their public persona and abilities may attract, inspire, and move us, but the aforementioned details are all too sordid. What might look wholesome on closer examination has a very seedy side.  Perhaps this says as much about any of us who place them on a pedestal, but that doesn’t lessen the chagrin.

Hypocrisy is something that can occur among “normal” people like Christians, too. Sadly, we can appear to be one thing around those of “like, precious faith” but have a different side that we show away from them. This is a spiritual malady that can afflict anyone, preachers, elders, deacons, and their families included. It can have such a devastating effect. To think that our poor example could cause a new, a weak, or any other Christian to stumble and fall should fill us with dread.  The precious influence we build by our talents and positions must never be squandered by defects of character or even bowing to pressures in specific circumstances.

Peter preached the first and second recorded gospel sermons. He was an apostle and one of Jesus’ closest friends on earth. Yet, Paul recalls an occasion where Peter succumbed to his flesh and sinned in a way that hurt his influence. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul says,

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain
men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they
came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the
party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy,
with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the
gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live
like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel
the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was driven by fear and favoritism. His action was devastating, dragging even “the son of encouragement” to follow his discouraging behavior. Thankfully, Paul loved Peter (and the Lord) enough to challenge the hypocrisy.

Friends, none of us will ever be perfect. We’re continually susceptible to sinful words and deeds. But let us guard against secret, double, or insincere lives knowing that such can totally destroy the faith of those who look to us to show them what Christlikeness looks like. In other words, let us be what we tell others that we are and that they should be. Consistency and integrity are some of the Lord’s most potent tools in our lives to bring others to Him.  Take care of His tools!

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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!

19 WAYS TO TANGIBLY IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TODAY

Neal Pollard

  • Try to spend 5 minutes of prayer in which you do nothing but praise Him.
  • Do something for Him that requires you to step out of your comfort zone—initiate a conversation with a stranger, give a tract to a co-worker you’ve been talking with, etc.
  • Have a devotional with your family.
  • Call a shut-in or stop by and visit a widow(er).
  • Write a missionary, expressing appreciation and giving encouragement.
  • Anonymously give a sacrificial amount of money for a family in need or someone dependent upon support (school of preaching student or teacher, missionary, etc.).
  • Contact an elder, asking him something you could do to help them in their work.
  • Make a list of at least 20 blessings God has given specifically to you.
  • Speak to someone at church services you have never spoken to before.
  • Invite a family from church you don’t know well over for dinner.
  • Put a packet with bottled water and granola bar, along with a tract, into a Ziplock bag to give to the person at the intersection asking for assistance.
  • Pick out a Bible book you are unfamiliar with and start breaking it down, looking for key words, purpose statement, and other clues to better understanding it. Take copious notes.
  • Pray for someone you are having problems with, an enemy, critic, or one who has offended you.
  • Alone or with your spouse and/or children, sing several songs of praise and admonition.
  • Carry a meal to a young mother who has had a difficult day.
  • Give a big smile and warm greeting to a fellow shopper or employee at a store or restaurant.
  • Ask the secretary for a list of last Sunday’s visitors and send them each a warm, brief note.
  • Think of an area for spiritual improvement in your life and ask God to help you focus on it, being transparent and sincere as you petition Him.
  • Ask the person closest to you (parent, spouse, sibling, etc.) something they need for you to pray for on their behalf.

Can you think of additional ways?

“This Perverse Generation”

Neal Pollard

What was life like in the first century?  One historian writes, “It has been rightly said, that the idea of conscience, as we understand it, was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right. The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at last to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion, and the exposure and murder of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practiced, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description” (Edersheim, Book 2, Chapter 11, p. 179).  Thus described the culture of the dominant world power of the day, Rome.

Those descriptions, almost without exception, could be applied to the current culture.  So many specific examples could be, and often are, set forth to depict life in our world today that mirror Edersheim’s chronicle of the world into which Christianity was born.  Not surprisingly, New Testament writers are prone to speak of the world in stark terms and with specific admonitions.  What they said then apply to us today, and they contain counsel that will help us to spiritual success in our slimy setting.

You can save yourself from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40). That was the final recorded appeal of the first recorded gospel sermon.  The message is one of hope and faith.  There is escape from the pollutions of the world (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20).  There is forgiveness of the sins like the ones described above as well as any and all others.  The promise of the gospel message is, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).  Those who gladly received that word did just that (Acts 2:41).

You can shine yourself to this perverse generation (Phil. 2:15).  Paul urges the Philippian Christians to prove themselves blameless and harmless in such an environment. He’s calling for distinctive Christian living, a life that would stand out in such deplorable circumstances.  We’re not trying to be oddball misfits, but faithful Christian living is detectable in the crowds we find ourselves in.  That example is the first step to helping someone else save themselves from this perverse generation.

You can share your Savior with this perverse generation (Mark 8:38). Jesus warns those whom He calls “ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation.”  He tells us that a true disciple’s life is one of obedience, self-denial, sacrifice, and courage (cf. Mark 8:36-38).  If we never share the saving message of Christ with the people we meet and know each day, why don’t we? Could it be that we are ashamed to share His distinctive message to a world that pressures us to conform to and go along with it.  If we do not tell them about Him, how are they going to find out? What hope will they have to discard the perverse life for the pure one?

It is a scary, sinful world out there!  But God rescues us from its guilt through Christ’s sacrifice, then sends us back out there to tell them they can be rescued, too.  Live it and then share it, no matter what, until your end or the end—which ever comes first!