What Are We Saying About The Church?

Neal Pollard

Recently, in an excellent lesson about gossip, the teacher recounted an incident I, and many others, could echo from the background of our own experience either in ministry or our personal lives. A mother asked her wayward daughter why she no longer was a member of the church. Her convicting reply, “The way that you always talked about the church, why would I be?” The way this daughter heard her parents talk about the church, she concluded the church was full of hypocrisy, flaws, and inadequacy. She was simply modeling what she heard them say throughout the years.

I’m thankful for the sound counsel we received well before we had children. We were advised never to speak ill of the church in front of our children, to run down elders, deacons, preachers, and other members. Knowing Kathy, she would have done this intuitively. For me, it was extremely helpful with my impetuous nature. Even whispered words in the front seat of the car, going home from church, will inevitably be heard by the little ears in the back seat (the same is true of the dinner table and other times the family is together). We may be blowing off steam, we may not have deep vendettas against the object of our criticism and complaint, and we may soon forget what we’ve said, but impressionable ears and hearts may internalize the words and materialize the message with their deeds and lives. 

The attitude, relationship, and loyalty our children have toward the church is most shaped and determined, for good or ill, by our example as parents. What will help us speak well of the Lord’s church? 

  • Remember who conceived of it, from nature to organization to purpose, etc. (Eph. 3:9-11).
  • Remember whose it is (Mat. 16:18-19; Eph. 5:33).
  • Remember our mission to bring others into it and that our home is our primary mission field (Mat. 28:19).
  • Remember how Jesus feels about the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 5:25).
  • Remember that the church is the location of the saved and we should do all we can to help our children make up that number (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
  • Remember all that the Bible says God seeks to accomplish through the church: growth (Eph. 4:16), His glory (Eph. 3:20-21), and His grace (2 Cor. 8:1), among so many other things.

We may struggle to see our family harbor grudges and hard feelings against the church. Many factors may contribute to that, but we should begin with ourselves. What are we saying about the Lord’s bride? What is our attitude toward her? I cannot imagine that anything is more impactful than that, and that is probably the thing we can most control! May our family remember that our theme song, concerning the church, is, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord!” Surely this will influence how they feel about her, too. 

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WHEN MISUNDERSTOOD

Neal Pollard

It will happen, at least occasionally. A remark you make gets taken out of context, will not be correctly heard, or will be heard through the personal filters of the listener. Your facial expressions and body language may not accurately express your feelings or at least not tell the whole story. People may ignore the adage, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” While that truism may be naive and certainly not entirely true, we’ve all been on the receiving end of others’ misunderstandings of what we’ve written, said, or done. What do we do when we feel we’ve been unfairly treated by the misunderstandings of others? Consider the following:

  • Try to understand others better.  Everybody has been through the same thing. I need to make sure I’ve not misunderstood intonation, intention, motivation, emotion, or information. It’s easy to happen.
  • Don’t obsess over the hurt. The world has enough victims, and the perpetual victim is exhausting. I cannot afford to fixate on the fracture. I am usually best served to let it g.
  • Rejoice in the great company you are keeping. Jesus’ whole life and ministry was misunderstood by the religious leaders of His day. Their misunderstanding was certainly not the meat of His mission. His eyes focused on the bigger picture. He was perfectly sinless and still unjustly treated. I can rejoice when I’m in a similar position, sinful though I am.
  • Turn to God, not gossip. This is hard! The urge to lash out and retaliate can seem irresistible, but it’s definitely possible. How much greater peace and harmony would come if we resolved to pray (even for the “misunderstander”) when misunderstood?
  • Redouble your efforts to spread salt and light. I may be tempted to throw up my hands and say, “What’s the use? If this is what I get, I quit.” That doesn’t sound so good when I can read it in print. Instead, I need to strive harder to do good.
  • If necessary, clarify but with utmost love and kindness. But, let me do some serious soul-searching and ask, “Is it really necessary?” Can I turn my cheek(s) and move on? If I truly cannot, I need to cleanse my heart of sinful anger and act in genuine love and kindness toward my “aggressor.”
  • Remember that wisdom is justified of her children. Ultimately, the body of work that is your life will leave a clear impression. Most people who know us know more about us than we think. They see what side of the ledger our lives are lived on and they draw conclusions accordingly. I just need to be characterized by righteousness and good works.
  • Be sure you are communicating clearly. Communication is a problem in every medium and relationship. Some do better than others, but all make mistakes. When I am misunderstood, I need the humility and honesty to step back and ask if I asked for a reaction through unclear meaning or veiled messages.

I hate to be misunderstood. But as with every other trial, I can often find blessings even in these distasteful situations. My prayer is that I will not be conformed to the world (or the worldly), but I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. That’s going to turn out for the best (Rom. 12:1-2).

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Answering Our Accusers

Neal Pollard

There was a time when it was possible to engage in respectful, loving dialogue with brothers and sisters we disagreed with or had a problem with. Even if we felt passionately, we could discuss it civilly and retain or even strengthen our relationship with our “disputant.” We should be thankful that there are still many who are open to such a biblical methodology.  However, there are some who seem intent only on winning the day, seizing some perceived moral or doctrinal high ground, or championing what appears to be a self-serving cause. Some of these same individuals are rife with rancorous rhetoric, baiting or calling out those they seem to see as enemies or the guilty. When we are called out, are we scripturally obligated to answer them or defend ourselves? Or, as the late Wendell Winkler put it, are we simply giving them a platform to spread their extreme views?

For the minority of brethren whose minds are made up, no matter what, or who seem eager to tangle, the question is whether or not it is necessary or helpful to answer their accusations.  I realize there were circumstances like 2 Corinthians where Paul, who was innocent, wrote by inspiration to defend himself. But I also remember when the Lord stood before Herod, Pilate and the Jews and “answered…nothing” (Mat. 27:12; Mark 15:3,5; Luke 23:9; Isa. 53:7). While none of us are nearly so good as our Lord, He is the example we are to strive to follow (1 Pet. 2:21). Before answering an accuser, it is wise to determine the following:

  • What is my motivation for answering? Is it to save face for myself? Is it to somehow punish or put my accusers in their place? Is it to prove I’m right and they are wrong? Pride, anger, and hurt feelings are not proper motivations for answering an accuser.
  • What do I hope to accomplish by answering? Will I change their minds or those to whom they pander? Are they actually desirous of an answer? Will I rescue my reputation or harm it by going to their level?
  • What are the ethics of my accusers? Is this a hobby or obsession of theirs (i.e., do they have a pattern and history of doing this with others)? Do they have the facts straight? Do they assert things as facts that are quantifiably wrong? If so, will they deal honestly with the answers I give them or twist them to suit their own agenda?

Here is the judgment call we have to make. Solomon gives divergent advice in Proverbs 26 when he says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (4-5). Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t.  Perhaps the Lord has placed that ball in our court, trusting us to use our judgment. If my Lord’s name and cause is threatened, I will be ready to jump to His defense. If someone tries to do that with my name, I should be more careful and if this is a means to allow the common sense observer to look at both of our works and discern each of our characters, may I have the patience and maturity to see it as an opportunity to fulfill Matthew 5:38-48. We don’t have to attend every fight people goad us to join.

marywarren

Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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Mind Your Biscuits

Neal Pollard

A church marquee read, “If we could mind our biscuits, life would be gravy.” As somebody who loves to make biscuits, I appreciate the sentiment. Only a few ingredients–self-rising flour, shortening, and milk (sweet and/or butter). A simple, consistent temperature (I prefer 450 degrees). The time is pretty precise–10-13 minutes. The rack placement is fairly straightforward and there are only a few slots to choose from anyway. But biscuits are still burned. Why? Typically, it’s because we’re distracted. Maybe we’re multi-tasking. Maybe we get caught on another errand, out of the kitchen.  Sometimes, only the smell or maybe the smoke alarm jolts them back to the biscuit business at hand.

What does it mean? Why would a church put it on their sign?  Obviously, it is not a cooking tip! However, it is sage advice for our interpersonal relationships.

When gossip is being dispensed, do you walk (run!) away? Do you show the gossiper that you disapprove (cf. Prov. 25:23)? Or does it distract, amuse, and pique your interest? Be careful about your biscuits!

When it comes to your spouse, do you work on being content, engaged, and fulfilled in that God-ordained relationship? Do you work on wooing them and keeping them won? Or do your eyes, heart, and mind drift toward another’s? Be careful about your biscuits (Prov. 6:26-29)!

When there are church problems, do you feel the need to make your contribution, taking sides, or even fueling the fire? Be careful that the fire you are fueling doesn’t burn your own biscuits (1 Cor. 1:10; Psa. 133; Prov. 16:28; 17:9; etc.).

When it comes to how others raise their kids, are you a ready, open fount of wisdom which you are eager to spill on the public square? Do you have the answer regardless of whether you’ve even heard the question? Be careful about your own biscuits!

There’s nothing like the satisfaction of pulling out those huge, cathead biscuits with just the right color of light brown on top. When you peel the top off of it, it’s flaky but light. It certainly beats blackened, burned, inedible and charred carbs that are unfit for consumption. Not even good gravy can cover that problem!  Let’s be careful to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5)!  This pleases the Lord (cf. Mat. 7:1ff).

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“He Shot Me”


Neal Pollard

I want to preface this story by saying that, of all my siblings, I probably got away with more than the other two combined.  However, on at least one occasion, I was punished for something I did not do.  My brother was about four years old, and he, some neighborhood buddies, and I were playing war.  Brent had a toy Kentucky rifle, while I was toting my new, unloaded Daisy B-B gun.  Perhaps my parents had worried that at nine years old I was too young for such a potent weapon, but they allowed me to own it.  In the heat of battle, Brent and I converged around the corners of our house.  I aimed and fired.  He fell down to play dead for the obligatory “five Mississippis,” but he fell on the sight of that Kentucky rifle.  This led to perhaps the quickest peace treaty in the history of boys playing war.  Brent had a nasty gash under his eye and very nearly did permanent damage to himself.  When Dad and Mom asked what happened, he said, “Neal shot me!” You, Brent, and I know what he meant, but seeing things from their point of view they concluded I had fired a B-B that produced the gaping wound.  These were the last moments between my Daisy and me.  Soon it was a mangled heap of metal.  Dad felt terrible when he understood what Brent meant.

Before you wag your head in disbelief at how this was handled, consider a few facts.  The Sunday before, another buddy and I had been putting Easter eggs on the chain link fence at our property line for target practice.  We did pretty well, though we were oblivious to the fact that we were putting small dings in my buddy’s stepfather’s new 1979 customized Chevy van.  It was another thirty feet beyond the eggs.  I escaped any punishment for that one.  Dad had shown me how to safely use the gun, but I had my own ideas.  The target practice example was my worst but not my only.  I was destined for a date with a demolished Daisy.  My track record caught up to me.

Paul deals with “track records” and character with his son in the faith.  He had been teaching Timothy about how to deal with sin in the latter part of 1 Timothy five.  Public sinners were to be rebuked publicly (20).  Yet, dealing with others’ sins was to be done prudently to avoid sharing responsibility in their sins (22).  The rebuking one was to keep himself free from sin (22b).  Then, Paul ends by writing, “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (24-25, NKJ).  In context, Paul is guiding Timothy in the investigating of those who would serve as elders.  Prudence and deliberation, in looking into their character, was vital.  Jumping to conclusions too quickly, whether too charitably or too severely, was unwise.  To help Timothy, Paul emphasizes that character often becomes apparent after sufficient examination.

By way of broader application, isn’t the same true of all of us.  As Jesus once put it, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35, NASU).   John and Jesus had been wrongly rejected by the Jews, but time and fruit would eventually exonerate the character of each.  That is, those converted through their work would prove the rightness of their teaching.  This would require the test of time and sufficient proving grounds.

Is one preaching for fame, glory, wealth, or power?  Look long and hard, with a good and discerning heart.  You will often see.  Is an elder serving through selfish ambition, to wield power, or out of materialistic greed?  It often comes to the surface.  Why are we Christians?  Why do we serve God?  It so often comes to light in this life.  Yet, whether it does in this life or not, it will ultimately.  Let us strive to keep watch over our hearts (cf. Mark 7:20-23).  Let us constantly purify our motives (cf. Eph. 6:5-8).  Remember that character will be tested.  Strive to do what is right even when you are not seen by others, and character will usually be apparent.

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SKELETONS IN LAWN CHAIRS

Neal Pollard

A man who was snorkeling in the Colorado River may have been expecting to find plants, aquatic life, and even ruins, but he did not expect to find two skeletons sitting in lawn chairs 40 feet below the surface.  The man was frightened, undoubtedly convinced he’d stumbled across a relatively recent tragedy. There was a sign with the date August 16, 2014, alongside the “bodies.”  Dutifully, the man reported the find to the La Paz County sheriff’s office, which investigated the scene.  The whole thing turns out to have been a hoax, a set up which law enforcement believes to have been nothing more than an attempt to be funny (AP report, 5/7/15, via foxnews.com).

Perhaps you have heard the adage, “Only believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”  We do not want to go through life as cynical skeptics, but there is truth to the idea that looks can be deceiving.

Sometimes we can mistake someone’s bad day or scowled face as anger or a vendetta against us.  We can be guilty of judging a book by its cover.  We may overhear part of a conversation, drawing an unwarranted conclusion without the benefit of “the rest of the story.”  We may think we know the circumstances or character of someone’s life based on partial “evidence.”  So many times, it is just hard to know.  In the end, what we thought we saw, heard, and knew turns out to be different from the reality.

Jesus warned, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  The Old Law had a similar admonition: “Judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15). Proverbs 18:13 warns, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”  When it comes to our dealings with anyone, but especially our brethren, we should be sure we have the whole picture.  That preacher may not be the false teacher he is painted out to be.  That brother or sister may not be mad at you, but hurting for unrelated reasons.  That rumor or piece of gossip may be totally unfounded.  “Hastiness” can be hurtfulness (cf. Prov. 21:5; 29:20; Ecc. 5:2).  In a rush to get the scoop, let’s always be sure we’ve got the whole truth!

SUCH AN EASY, DANGEROUS THING TO DO

Neal Pollard

There’s an old joke out there that goes, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  If you say “yes,” you imply that you used to do it.  If you say “no,” you suggest that you are still doing it.  Obviously, the question may be where the problem lies.  If you do not beat your wife, the question would not be relevant and certainly not fair.

“I hear Brother So N So holds this position,” that “School X teaches error on such and such,” and that “Congregation A is ‘off’ on that.”  Too often, maybe based on a feeling that the source is credible, a person gullibly accepts the accusation at face value and even passes it along to others.  Of course, some are very blatant and public in teaching things that are contrary to the Word of God. They loudly proclaim and proudly publish their false views, but the aforementioned innuendoes and intimations are an altogether different matter. Why these rumors and accusations get started is sometimes hard to pinpoint.  Is it jealousy, misunderstanding coupled with indiscretion, meanness, or possibly something more benign?  Writing about presumption last year, I urged the presumptuous to “substantiate before you propagate, and then only carefully and prayerfully” (https://preacherpollard.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/the-problems-with-presumption/).

Solomon wrote that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth” (Prov. 22:1) and that “A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecc. 7:1).  While we are the primary stewards of our “good names,” others can tarnish it unfairly.

It is good to ask, “Do I know this rumor to be true?” Or, “Is it a matter of judgment and opinon with which I disagree, or is it truly a matter of doctrine and eternal truth?” Or, “Does the ‘reporter’ have an agenda that needs to be considered?” Or, “Why do I want to pass this along?”

“Slander” is a verbal offense that should not be in the Christian’s repertoire (Psa. 15:3; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1).  That is “old man” activity!  It is easy to besmirch someone’s character and reputation, but what a dangerous thing to do.  May we bridle our tongues lest we set fires (Js. 3:3,6).

Handling Offenses: Talking It Out

Neal Pollard

Would you believe that not everyone always agrees with what I teach and preach?  Of course, I may not always know—at least directly—that someone disagrees with my message.  Yet, my greatest respect is for that brother or sister who has a problem with me and tells me so!  When they address that to me in kindness and love, I am left with much greater admiration for them.  The same respect is reserved for those who handle those occasions when my words or behavior might come across hurtful with gentle directness. Perhaps it is because subtleties like pouting, passive aggression, silence, and withdrawal are easily missed by one so slow of wit as myself.  Perhaps it is because of the great disdain I, and most others, feel for sharp-tongued tactics like gossip and slander.  “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed” (Pr. 27:5). This challenges me to follow such good examples and pursue active peace than passive aggression.

Talking out our problems is a sign of the church understanding the family aspect of its nature.  Happy is the physical family who finds functional ways to work through its problems, knowing that each member is imperfect and prone to do what offends.  The church is no different, though the blood that binds us does not course through our veins but poured forth from the cross of our Savior. Together, we comprise the “house of God” (1 Ti. 3:15).  What a precious relationship, meant to be treasured!

Talking out our problems is the best way to clear up misunderstandings and misperceptions.  It is possible to misjudge the heart, motives, words, and actions of others. Avoiding the problems or persons may work to avoid unpleasant conflict, but it leaves the problem to fester and grow worse.

Talking out our problems is the biblical pattern.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus lays out the way to resolve “internal problems” within His body.  To choose a different route is to deviate from the way He has chosen.

Another great proverb says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (Pr. 28:23).  May God help me to embrace that truth and pursue it, all while we “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). That does not mean avoiding the unpleasant or saying the difficult.  Some times tackling the unpleasant and difficult is our surest way to “make for peace…”

Thrown Down On Naboth’s Plot

Neal Pollard

Naboth must have been shocked and baffled as the charges of blasphemy and treason rang in his ears.  He must have felt jostled and panicked as he was grabbed and thrown outside the city of Jezreel.  Surely he was filled with the acutest sense of injustice replaced only by the undeserved pangs of pain as his own brethren stoned him with stones (1 Ki. 21:12-14).  He had been set up by wicked King Ahab (though Jezebel was really the “brains” behind the operation).  When Ahab took possession of “his” ill-gotten vineyard taken only by the brutal plot that claimed innocent Naboth, did Ahab ever think about the murdered man (cf. 1 Ki. 21:19) as he puttered around his vegetable garden?  Could even Ahab have thought that it was worth it?  Whatever Israel’s king felt, Elijah the Tishbite, God’s mighty prophet, is sent into “the vineyard of Naboth” (1 Ki. 21:18; interestingly, God still saw dead Naboth as the rightful owner) and foretells of the bloody, ignominious end of Ahab’s house.  Though God showed remarkable mercy in not ending Ahab’s dynasty in the wake of the wicked king’s humble plea (1 Ki. 21:28), the decree was only delayed.  Ahab died in his chariot, a casualty of a circumstance God used to execute His judgment (1 Ki. 22:34-38).

Some time later, though now Ahab’s second son to reign currently sat on Israel’s throne and Elijah had been replaced by Elisha, the judgment on Ahab’s house transpired.  Jehu “conspired against Joram” (2 Ki. 9:14), encouraged by one of the sons of the prophets (2 Ki. 9:7-10).  Jehu meets Joram at an interesting site:  “the property of Naboth the Jezreelite” (2 Ki. 9:21).  God says He repaid Ahab on Naboth’s plot (2 Ki. 9:26).  What a powerful lesson and warning from God!  It is a message that says not only that you reap what you sow, but that there is sometimes irony in this sort of reaping.  Another example is Haman in the book of Esther.

Let us consider this lesson first taught on Naboth’s land.  Does the gossiper, intent on spreading rumors and divulging details about another, ever become the victim of his own methods?  Does the hypercritic and unjust judge ever fall into a sin problem, only to find himself treated as he has treated others?  What about the greedy or the unethical, who climb the corporate ladder by stepping all over whoever is above him on it?  Does he ever meet the same, ironic end?  There will be some Naboths, men and women who are unfairly and unjustly treated despite their innocence.  Yet, there will also be some Ahabs, too, men and women meted out the same kind of end they inflicted on someone else.  If you have to identify with anyone in this biblical account, let it be Naboth and not Ahab.