WikiLeaks (And God)

Jeff Wiant (guest baker)

Up until this past election cycle I had never even heard of WikiLeaks. Months and endless press later, I have become very familiar with this website. For those who may have been living under a rock for the past few months, WikiLeaks is a website that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media that they receive from anonymous sources for the world to see. Just looking on their page the other day, I discovered links that would allow me to read private emails from a presidential candidate and her associates, secret files about global surveillance, private emails between top employees at Sony Pictures, and I could have even watched a classified video.

Through all of this browsing it made me start to wonder. With hindsight being 20/20, would the ones who wrote these emails or committed these acts have written or done things differently if they knew that in the future they would be exposed and the whole world would be able to see and judge them because of these leaks?

More importantly, this also got me thinking further about myself. Do I have any secrets that I would fear if they ever got out? Do I ever have thoughts in my head that are impure and unfaithful? Do I allow myself to continue to have these thoughts because, after all, I’m keeping them to myself? After all, who’s going to know?

Allow me to answer that question for us all:  GOD KNOWS! Like WikiLeaks in our world, God can, and does, unearth all these dark spots in our personal lives. But whereas there are still plenty of classified files and incriminating private emails out there that haven’t been, and won’t ever be, exposed by WikiLeaks, God already knows EVERYTHING there is to know about us.

As it says in Psalm 139:1-4, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.” God knows everything we do on the outside and the inside. Having that realization is very intimidating.

For more evidence of this you can also look at Hebrews 4:12-13, which states, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

We will all be judged. Not just based on what our family, friends, and the rest of the world see, but based on the EVERYTHING that God sees. You can’t hide anything from God. Knowing this, are there changes we need to make in our lives? Are there things we need to do and think about differently?

The good news is that it’s never too late and God is a forgiving God. If we do sin, we need to confess these sins to God ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). I challenge you to live with the knowledge in the front of your mind that God is always watching and listening. There are no secrets with God and there is no misleading God. Live the life He requires and you will receive your eternal reward in Heaven.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

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Jeff (holding Dallas)

When “Help” Is Actually “Harm”

Neal Pollard

Rob Heusevelet and his son came upon a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that was shivering in the cold. They were afraid for the health and survival of the animal, so they put it into their SUV and drove it to a ranger station in the park. A witness who took a picture of the calf in the car said, “They were demanding to speak with a ranger. They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying” (NPR). Ironically, their “intervention” ultimately cost the animal his life. His mother and the rest of the family rejected him because of the contact with people, and, isolated and alone, the baby bison had to be eventually euthanized. This act of ignorance was more than foolish; it was fatal!

Good intentions are fine enough, as long as they are built on the right foundation. A 12th-century French mystic and Catholic monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, is often credited with a saying antecedent to our modern aphorism, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” (Ammer, The American Heritage of Idioms, np).  We appreciate the meaning of the proverb. No matter how well-meaning our motivation, how we act from it have consequences and they matter.  The Bible shows us those whose motivation was unimpeachable, but whose resulting actions were tragic. There was Jephthah’s rash vow (Judges 11:30ff). There were so many examples provided by Peter’s impetuousness. There was Paul’s persecution of the church, motivated by religious fervor (Acts 26:9). These are examples enough to show that simply intending to do right is not enough.

Today, we can do much harm in trying to help. Consider three specific ways that are common, though critical.

  • Making the gospel plan of salvation or gospel requirements broader, easier, or different than what Scripture teaches. We do not want to offend or hurt feelings. We do not want to face rejection. We do not want to seem arrogant. Paul calls such “scratching itching ears” (Acts 4:3-4). There is only one way (John 14:6; Gal. 1:6-9).
  • Offering false hope or peace. This is often done at funerals for the non-Christian or unfaithful Christian. We should always be comforting and gentle, but we cannot swing to the other extreme and tell anyone living (or on behalf of the dead) that they are “right” when they are not. We do them no service, and we do disservice to our own souls.
  • Pretending like nothing is wrong when a loved one (relative, friend, Christian family member) is living in sin. Sometimes, we act as though time equals repentance. We gradually accept and embrace one whose deeds are in rebellion to God. We may even never have the nerve to imitate the great spirit of Nathan and tell the guilty, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). But such pretense cannot change divine facts!

Paul preaches the imperative of proper motivation (cf. Phil. 1:15-17). Jesus stresses the value of a good heart (Luke 8:15). Neither of these is a substitute for the grave duty we face as Christians to not do harm as we seek to do good. It is not an either-or proposition. It is both-and.

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Photo Credit: Karen Olsen Richardson

Are You “Boiling Over” Or Just “All Wet”?

Neal Pollard

The word translated “zealous” is from the Greek word zero (Dzay-lo-o). It is found 17 times in the New Testament. It means to “burn with zeal; to be heated or to boil, whether with envy, hatred, anger, or to be zealous in the pursuit of good; to desire earnestly, to strive after, busy one’s self about” (Thayer 271). It is found in both the positive and negative sense:

  • Negatively–Acts 7:9; 17:5 (“became jealous”), 1 Corinthians 13:4 (“jealous”), Galatians 4:17 (“eagerly seek”), James 4:2 (“envious”)
  • Positively–1 Corinthians 12:31 (“earnestly desire”), 1 Corinthians 14:1,39 (“desire earnestly”), 2 Corinthians 11:2 (“jealous”–with a godly jealousy), Galatians 4:18 (“eagerly sought”–in a commendable manner), and Revelation 3:19 (“be zealous”).

(The object of the zeal and the attitude it describes
determines whether it is an acceptable emotion or not.)

We have all known people who are prone to boil over with jealousy and anger. They seethe. They grit their teeth. They explode! They are just like that unattended pot on the stove, and they usually leave an even bigger mess. They are proving that there is something underneath them leading to such “outbursts of anger” (Gal. 5:20).

We also know people who always seem enthusiastic about serving the Lord. They are effervescent. They have an infectious smile and positive attitude about almost everyone and everything. They are eager to serve and help. They go the extra mile. They seem genuinely thrilled to be able to engage in spiritual service, no matter what it is! Guess what? They are proving that there is something underneath them leading them to be “zealous of good works” (Ti. 2:14).

Both vessels, boiling over, impact the church. Both have influence. Yet, one is using his or her passion constructively, but Satan is using the other destructively. What lights your fire? Is there one underneath you? Let it be an earnest desire to build up the Kingdom! This is one instance where a “watched pot” needs to boil–boil over with enthusiasm for serving Christ!

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Petrified!

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen the incredible collections of petrified wood in some of our National Parks or Monuments, or maybe you have seen individual examples in any number of other places. A geology site briefly explains how material becomes petrified:

Petrified wood is a fossil. It forms when plant material is buried by sediment and protected from decay by oxygen and organisms. Then, groundwater rich in dissolved solids flows through the sediment replacing the original plant material with silica, calcite, pyrite or another inorganic material such as opal. The result is a fossil of the original woody material that often exhibits preserved details of the bark, wood and cellular structures (geology.com/stories/13/petrified-wood).

There are a few interesting aspects to this process—the burial, the protection, the replacement, and the resulting appearance.

Twice in the gospel of Mark, the writer uses a term to describe the condition of His disciples’ hearts. In Mark six, they have seen him feed the 5,000 men and immediately thereafter they are in the boat in a strong wind when Jesus came walking on the water. They were troubled and fearful, amazed and marveling “for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (52). Ironically, the second incident happened in a boat following Jesus feeding thousands of people again. They misunderstand Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the religious leaders, and Jesus laments, “Is your heart still hardened?” (8:17).

BDAG defines this word, πωρόω, in this way: “To cause someone to have difficulty in understanding or comprehending, harden, petrify, make dull, obtuse, blind, close the mind” (900).  The truth was buried from their understanding, their preexisting, preset points of view blocking its penetration, and the result was their missing the important point. The truth couldn’t get through to their petrified hearts.

Why do we fail to understand basic, vital Bible truths, like the essential nature of baptism, the abrogation of the Law Of Moses (including the Ten Commandments), the emotionally difficult teaching of Jesus about marriage, divorce, and remarriage in Matthew 19, God’s law regarding sexual purity, and the like? Why do we struggle with worry, fear, and doubt? Why do we lack the courage to boldly share Jesus with the lost? Often, the answer to each of these and similar questions is the same as why the disciples feared and faltered.

We should pray for our hearts to stay soft, receptive, and moldable to Jesus. We cannot let our ignorance, resistance, or outside influences to harden our hearts. In fact, that very prospect should make us, well, petrified!

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What Are You Consuming?

Neal Pollard

A 17-year-old girl had a stomach ache so bad that she had to go to the hospital. She had lost her appetite, she could barely walk, and doctors for three years had simply given her pain medicine for her inexplicable abdominal issues. The girl’s family had paid over $7000 in medical tests to determine the root cause. The emergency visit, with two CT scans, finally revealed that the massive “tumor” inside her was actually hair—which had formed into a massive hairball. It was her own hair, which she had been compulsively eating for years. The next doctor visit will be for counseling to see if she suffers from trichotillomania (compulsively pulling out one’s own hair) and trichophagia (eating it) (via opposingviews.com).

Apparently, no one ever saw her doing this. It took time for the problem to grow and develop. Yet, there were symptoms that steadily worsened and became more apparent. It was a problem that required help to solve. It is a problem that will require continued efforts to overcome.

This young lady graphically illustrates a pervasive spiritual problem.  Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus illustrates this principle speaking of normal, digestible food (not hair) as not defiling a person but rather that which comes from within a person defiling that one. He says that such things as evil thoughts, sexual sins, sinful attitudes, and sins of the tongue “proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:23).

No one may see us engage in it. It may take time for the symptoms to show up in our lives, but they will eventually show up in such things as our attitudes, speech, dress, and conduct. It will not go away by itself without efforts on our part to get rid of it and to stay free from it. Whether we perceive the pain of the problem or not, it is doing damage to us and we must take steps to remove it from our lives.

What are you consuming? Is it consuming you? Get help. Get rid of it. Get over it. The Great Physician stands ready to help, if you will go to Him!

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The Convictions Of The Lost

Neal Pollard

The lost are convicted, too. Don’t let anybody say they’re not. Some of the strongest-held beliefs, some of the most fully-persuaded minds, and some of the most determined hearts are attached to lost individuals. Even in the Bible, one finds the deepest rooted convictions in the heart of the lost sinner. If one wants to find a people wholly dedicated, he should take a trip into Noah’s world (see Gen. 6:5). If one wants to find a people completely set in a given pursuit, he should visit with King Solomon about the sons of men (Ecc. 8:11).

We should abhor rather than admire the lifestyle of the lost. This statement, if it has ever been true, applies to the people who spread themselves around Pilate’s judgment seat. Grounded in their hatred and jealousy of Jesus, the chief priests, the elders, and the persuaded multitude had as their singular focus the destruction of Jesus. They wanted Him gone, and any way they could do it they were willing to try. The rulers of the people had tried to ridicule, embarrass, trap, frustrate, tempt and discourage Him, but they had failed. One would think that, after three years of trying, they would have given up on their task. But, they were convicted.

The mob who finally “got rid of Jesus” (actually, they fulfilled God’s eternal plan for their and our salvation, and they did not foresee the resurrection) was a crowd we could learn a few lessons.

THEY WERE UNITED (Mat. 27:22). Pilate asked them what he should do with Jesus. All of them said, “Let Him be crucified.” No dissension is recorded by Matthew. Together, they forced a governor to submit to their wishes. How unfortunately that they were united to do evil.

When the righteous are united under the proper standard (Eph. 4:13), “how good and how pleasant it is…” (Psa. 133:1). Think of the untold good Christ’s disciples can do under the banner of brotherly love (Heb. 13:1), outdone only by our love, devotion and obedience to the Lord (Heb. 5:9).

THEY WERE DECISIVE (Mat. 27:21,22). There were no long committee meetings. There were no endless business meetings. They did not vacillate in this moment of decision. Pilate knew who they wanted crucified and who they wanted released. Though iniquitous, their decision was most expedient for their stated goal.

The Lord’s church in most places does an adequate job of planning its local work. Alas, in some cases, their best laid plans get lost somewhere between the forming and fulfilling. No congregation wants to rashly enter any endeavor–whether it be picking up support of an extra missionary or the execution of a needed program or plan. Yet, at times, the church can be overcautious and ponderous in discharging their responsibilities. Surely God was thrilled at the decisive way the disciples in the early church mobilized, spread the gospel, and reached the lost. The book of Acts is the model of decisiveness for today’s church.

THEY ACCEPTED RESPONSIBILITY (Mat. 27:25). Pilate wanted to know who was going to take moral responsibility for killing the just Jesus (24). Seemingly without hesitation, “All the people…said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” They collectively pointed the finger of guilt at themselves. Later, when Peter’s Pentecost preaching pricked their hearts, in a different way they took responsibility for this heinous acts (Acts 2:36-37).

Every person must take responsibility for his actions. Everyone must reap what he, individually, has sown (Gal. 6:7-8). In the congregational setting, the eldership must accept responsibility for what goes on among its members. When congregations individually begin to accept responsibility for themselves, theretofore avoided subjects will again be addressed courageously and frequently by the pulpit, eldership, and classroom.

We do not admire those responsible for slaying the sinless Savior. They were callous-hearted wretches darkened by the night of sin. However, they teach us the power of a united people ready and eager to stand accountable for what they decided to do. Churches will grow who follow God’s blueprint for His kingdom with enthusiasm and conviction. Let us maintain our convictions in “well doing” (Gal. 6:9).

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OPTIMISM

Neal Pollard

Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.

They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….”  The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.

They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”

They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.

We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better.  He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.”  All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!

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THE HUMAN HEART (POEM)

Neal Pollard

That part of each man crafted by God
But unseen by mortal observation,
That figurative place of our emotions and thinking
Helping our spiritual station.
A place where we alone can nurture and tend,
To work to better or embitter
That directs our whole body and life on a path
That makes us a winner or quitter.
God put in place ways to help our own heart
Stay in tune to His perfect intentions.
To mold us and make us like Him in our thinking,
To stave off man’s wicked inventions.
The Bible, as His mind, He has given to mankind,
A heart monitor as well as a mirror.
It gauges our true selves and guides our footsteps,
If used it will make His will dearer.
He has given us music, a wide world of nature,
And people as living examples,
So much that exists we can see and by seeing
Can resist Satan’s slick sinful samples.
Yes, true, human hearts can be darkened and hardened,
Becoming a frightful container,
That holds in the worst, the depraved and perverted,
That becomes such a wicked retainer.
But such is the work of neglect and of lust,
A struggle that fights a higher objective,
For when in human hearts there’s willing submission,
They become more spiritually selective.
So spiritual battles are lost or they’re won
In a place where no other can see,
Keep your heart, you alone with heavenly help
Will determine your soul’s eternity.

Take Time To Be Holy

Neal Pollard

In 1 Peter 1:13-19, there are three commands that relate to something that must be done regardless of how much time it takes to complete.  They are, “fix your hope completely on grace” (13), “be holy in all your behavior” (15), and “conduct yourselves in fear” (17). There’s a fourth command of this type in verse 22: “Love one another from the heart.” All of these are done as the result of a salvation taught by the prophets and revealed to us. Because we’ve been saved, we should fix our hope on grace, be holy in behavior, conduct ourselves in fear, and love one another from the heart. Considering what God has done for us, we should be eager to do what He tells us to do. At the heart of the discussion, Peter calls for holiness. “Holy” is found 10 times in 1 Peter, but there are synonyms in the book, too (“behavior” or “manner of life”—7 times; “do good” or “right”—13 times).  We want to be holy, do good, and behave, and this letter says a whole lot about how that looks. It’s faithfulness in suffering, distinctiveness in daily living, and keeping heavenly in focus. It’s captured in Peter’s petition (2:11). Our world places more emphasis on happiness than holiness, and if you have to choose one the world says choose happiness. But, God calls us to choose holiness. How do we do that?

  • Look within (13). Moral behavior begins in the heart.  So, he says to keep sober in spirit and fix your hope on grace. These are both heart matters.
  • Look out (14,17). Sanctification and obedience appear together in three different verses in chapter one (2,14,22). Holiness is a matter of obeying the truth. This has a negative aspect (14—“Don’t be conformed”) and a positive aspect (17—“Conduct yourselves in fear”). To be holy, we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled and be vigilant. We’re going to look out for the traps and tricks of this world because we know we’re only strangers here.
  • Look up (15-16). This letter is about our need of God’s help to be holy. There’s a wide gap between our holiness and God’s holiness, and we can never forget that. Peter says to be holy like He is holy.  That is an endless aspiration, a goal we’ll never achieve but must constantly work at.
  • Look ahead (17). God is going to impartially judge according to each one’s work. We should be holy now because we will stand before the Perfect Judge some day.
  • Look back (18-19). I love the way Peter ends the paragraph. It gives us such hope! The way to take time to be holy is to turn around and look back—at our salvation (1:4) and at our Savior (1:2,21). I can’t look at sin in my life and glorify it, rationalize it, defend it, hide it, or minimize it. Peter reminds us why He had to die (2:24-25).

We take the time for what is most important to us—sports, social media, hobbies, work, shopping, and the like. None of that ultimately matters. As we do anything, these or other things, we must make sure that we are holy in heart and conduct. It’s worth the time and will be worth it when there is no longer time.

THE FOLLY OF CHRONICALLY PLAYING THE WORSHIP CRITIC

Neal Pollard

I’ve known individuals whose sole purpose in the assemblies has seemed to be to critique those who lead the worship or show up to engage in it, from their appearance to their aptitude.  While we certainly need to avoid having someone blatantly engaging in sin and error (that’s an article for a different occasion), if that is one extreme then hypercriticism of the worship and worshipper can be another.  If you or someone you love is tempted to play this deflating part, consider the following.

  • It’s unwarranted.  Who earns the right to be the official analyst of the worship?  How does one properly and fruitfully engage himself and herself in John 4:24 worship while assuming this presumptuous activity?  The Bible nowhere portrays such a one in a positive light.  One critic of another’s worship we do read about is unflatteringly presented and unfavorably analyzed by God in Luke 18:9-14. We should ask why we feel it necessary that we grade and rate others present with us before the Great I Am.
  • It’s unscriptural. This can be the case in many possible ways.  First, if we gossip or speak about someone rather than addressing it with them, that’s wrong (1 Pet. 2:1; Mat. 18:15). Second, if our tone is biting, sarcastic, and unloving, that’s wrong (2 Tim. 2:24; Eph. 4:15).  Third, if in being critical we ourselves are not properly engaged in worship, that’s wrong (John 4:24).
  • It’s unwise. It is so easy to undermine and squander one’s own influence who reduces himself or herself to nitpicking others in the assemblies.  It can cause others to lose respect for us and even seek to avoid us.  This is especially important to remember if, in a close and final analysis, what we criticize does not rise to the level of meriting such criticism.
  • It’s untenable.  The critic is exposed as doing what he or she is condemning others for—i.e., not offering acceptable worship.  It’s somewhat like the child who sees a sibling with eyes open during the prayer and who tattles to mom and dad, who promptly ask, “How do you know?”
  • It’s unwelcome. The chronic complainer, sooner or later, develops a reputation for such.  It causes others to avoid them for fear of the carnage it could create.  The Corinthians were urged to be edifiers in their assemblies (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12,26). The worship critic works against that ever-present need.
  • It’s unbelievable.  How incredible that one would misuse the assemblies to nitpick minutia when the Creator, the Savior, and the Revealer are present and expecting worship from all present!  What a gross misunderstanding of our role as Christians to abuse the time in such a way. In fact, it is utter audacity.

There may be a bit of the critic in all of us.  Certainly, we should be striving to make worship better in every practical way we can. That involves teaching and training. It involves singing songs with words we actually use and understand. It involves probably 1,000 other things, but let’s not get so lost in the pursuit of “improving” that we forget to do what we assembled to do:  worship God!