Walking 10 Miles To Avoid The “Bear”

Neal Pollard

Spoiler alert: This story does not make me look good.

It was 1984, and my family and I lived in Roopville, Georgia. We were enjoying one of those idyllic west Georgia October days, with temperatures cool enough for a jacket but the sun graciously, brightly beaming. It was a perfect Saturday to explore the woods, which is what my little brother, Brent, and I decided to do. I was 14 and he was 9. My parents owned several acres behind our house, and we boys felt adventurous. In such a mood, I decided I’d like to see how far those woods went, but rightly wondered if Brent was game for such a walk. Therefore, I had to have a ruse. We hadn’t walked too far when there was some noise nearby, and I went to work–concerned face, raised eyebrows, hushed voice, and panicked eyes. “Brent, I think I just saw a bear!” Trusting me to be a legitimate source of truth, he accepted my statement at face value. What was my solution to this sudden dilemma? Brent wanted to retreat back to the house, probably less than a quarter mile behind us. What sense did that make? Far better to keep walking away from the safety of our home deeper into the woods of neighbors and eventually strangers. As every older sibling knows, far too often seniority can trump sensibility. So, we ran from that “bear” for miles and hours. Eventually, our circuitous journey took us several miles south just outside the little town of Centralhatchee. We were gone for most of the daylight hours of that fateful Saturday, and the only credible decision I made that day was knowing we should walk north on Highway 27 to get back home. Suffice it to say, I was not hailed as the conquering hero upon our return that evening. But, throughout that walk, I built and strengthened the narrative that this lengthy sojourn was about escaping the razor-sharp clutches of my mythic bear. I mentioned it so often to Brent that day that it just became easy to tell my parents with such conviction. Under the vise of interrogation, my story unraveled. My punishment was swift and enduring.

I knew better. I wanted this adventure and I wanted company. One needs a calculator to compute the number of bad decisions cascading from my developing prefrontal cortex. But, in my heart of hearts, I knew I was lying to Brent. In time, I believed the lie myself. We survived my harebrained scheme, but my credibility took a hit.

“Honesty is the best policy.” That’s true of character. It’s no truer than for anyone in a position to teach someone else God’s Word. Some teachers themselves are deluded and believe a lie (2 Th. 2:10-12). Others “are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such an eternal task befalls the teacher (Jas. 3:1). We must be honest with the text, honest with our conclusions, and that starts by being honest with ourselves. We’re leading people somewhere with how we live and what we say we believe is right and wrong. Let’s handle that with care. It’s about both the journey and the destination (Mat. 7:13-14).

51443429_2225973147661676_5918745592820924416_n
Exceedingly stylish pic of me and the bro a few years before the Centralhatchee Bear Escape.

Some Powerful Promises

Neal Pollard

“You Will Have…”

—Treasure in heaven if you follow Jesus (Mat. 19:21; Mk. 10:21).
—Honor in the sight of all if you are humble (Lk. 14:10).
—Praise of rulers and authority if you do good (Rom. 13:3).
—An answer for the sinfully proud if you are persuaded about the Lord (2 Cor. 5:12).
—Brief tribulation if you are faithful, but then the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

“You Will Be…”

—Judged in the way you judge (Mat. 7:2).
—Hated by all for Christ’s name (Mat. 10:22).
—Justified or condemned by your words (Mat. 12:37).
—Sons of the Most High by loving unconditionally (Lk. 6:35).
—Repaid for charitable kindness at the resurrection of the righteous (Lk. 14:14).
—Free indeed if freed by the Son (Jn. 8:36).
—Saved by faith in Christ (Ac. 16:31).
—Saved by confessing Christ (Rom. 10:9).
—Able to overcome any temptation (1 Co. 10:13).
—Enriched by being generous (2 Co. 9:11).
—Able to stand firm against the devil’s schemes if you put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11ff).
—A good servant of Christ Jesus by pointing out His Word (1 Tim. 4:6).
—Tested (Rev. 2:10).

“You Will Not…”

—Enter the kingdom of heaven without a righteousness surpassing the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20).
—Enter the kingdom of heaven without being converted like little children (Mt. 18:3).
—Carry out the desire of the flesh if you walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
—Grieve like the hopeless if you face the death of a faithful Christian (1 Th. 4:13).
—Grow weary and lose heart if you consider Jesus’ example of endurance (Heb. 12:3).

“You Will See…”

—Others faults more fairly when you look accurately at your own (Mt. 7:5).
—The Majesty and power of Jesus if you look with spiritual eyes (Mt. 26:64).
—The glory of God if you believe (Jn. 11:40).
—The King some day (Jn. 16:16-19).

“You Will Know…”

—Teachers by their fruits (Mt. 7:16,20).
—The emancipating truth (Jn. 8:32).
—The hope of God’s calling through faith in His revealed will (Eph. 1:18).
—How to respond to every man if you use gracious, well-seasoned speech (Col. 4:6).
—How to conduct yourself in the Lord’s church if you consult God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:15).

“You Will Receive…”

—All things you ask in prayer, believing (Mt. 21:22).
—If you ask in Christ’s name (Jn. 16:24).
—The gift of the Holy Spirit if you repent and are baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
—The reward of the inheritance as the result of works of obedience (Col. 3:24).
—The unfading crown of glory if you are an elder who serves faithfully (1 Pet. 5:4).

In view of just a portion of God’s generosity, may we stand on the promises of God today and every day. One of the most thrilling statements of all Scripture is this: “He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Whatever you are struggling with, claim this ironclad fact with its many implications! Holding onto it, surely you can handle any trial, temptation, or trouble you are facing.

pexels-photo-42379

The REAL Terry Symansky Can’t Stand Up

Neal Pollard

There is a famous line from the longstanding game show, To Tell The Truth, that is so apropos here. On the show three people would all claim to be someone and make their pitch to “prove” it, then at the end the host would ask, “Will the real __________ please stand up?” Recently, a real-life version of this game surfaced in Pasco County, Florida, regarding a seemingly harmless man with a normal life in Zephyr Hills. He was a husband, father, landlord, pilot, and upstanding citizen, and he carried off the ruse for over 20 years! But the real Terry Symansky drowned in 1991.

Richard Hoagland, who had once boarded with Terry’s dad in Palm Beach, Florida, learned of Terry’s death, stole the death certificate to get his birth certificate from Ohio, which he used to obtain an Alabama’s driver’s license in order to obtain a Florida’s driver’s license! He also married Mary Hossler Hickman in 1995, with whom he has a teenage son. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Hoagland has a wife and four children whom he abandoned with a story that the FBI was after him for embezzling millions of dollars (The Washington Post, “He Left A Family And Started A New One Using A Dead Man’s Identity, Police Say,” Peter Holley, 7/24/16). Think of the carnage for at least three families: the real Symanskys, the fake, Florida Symanskys, and the Indiana Hoaglands. Untangling this mess will not be easy, all because a man decided to try and be someone he obviously wasn’t. A professor who studies identity theft summed it up rightly, saying, “It will all catch up with you” (Holley).

Sure, this is outrageous and despicable. But, have we stopped to consider that something far worse than this happens, spiritually, more times than can be counted? Whenever a Christian behaves one way among the saints but another way away from that fellowship and environment, a similar phenomenon unfolds. Some would be blown away to learn that their co-worker, fellow team parent, neighbor, classmate, and the like, is actually a Christian. Were they to see them participating in worship, they would be baffled, using God’s name in a reverent, respectful way. To know that they, perhaps, were a church leader would be beyond the pale. In this way, it can be quite easy to assume an identity. All it requires is keeping “Group A” (the church) separated, as much as possible, from “Group B” (worldly associations). But, persisting in such a life will, sooner or later, catch up with the perpetrator (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24).

God sent Jeremiah to stand at the “front door” of the “church building” (so to speak) and tell the people entering for worship, “‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place” (7:2-3). He specifies, “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ declares the Lord” (7:9-11).  They thought a day of worship substituted for six days of ungodly living, but the last word is most chilling. God says, “I, even I, have seen it.” Whoever else we may fool with a double-life, we cannot fool God.

Integrity requires honesty and strong, moral character. There must be genuineness, wherever we are and whoever we are with. May God help us to be the genuine article, all the time.

richard-hoagland-terry-symansky
Hoagland (L) and Symansky (R)

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).

biscuits-and-gravy

 

 

THE BEAUTY OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY

Neal Pollard

There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker.  Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M.  His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach.  Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way.  When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice.  Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.

Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so.  Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.

These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature.  Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10).  Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction.  We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding.  Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term.  Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!

HOLY HILL DWELLERS

Neal Pollard

In Psalm 15, David shows us who is fit to be pleasing to God. I had a general physical and check up on my 30th and 40th birthdays.  I’ll have to say I was more pleased w/the results of the first one. Surprisingly, I found out that I should exercise more, eat less and weigh less.  While I didn’t like what I heard, I heard what I needed to hear. Though I’ve taken the exercise advise more seriously than the eating advice, I know that my physical health depends on my compliance.

Psalm 15 is a fitness test regarding our spiritual health. What does it take to please God in my morality and ethics?I find it interesting that what the Lord puts in His battery of tests is surprisingly difficult, and many good people, even basically good Christians, fail miserably at some of them. But if I don’t want to be shaken (5), I need to submit to this check up.

To dwell on the Lord’s holy hill, I need…

  • Properly working arms and legs (2-3).  The Lord sets forth an agility test for us.
  • We must walk with integrity (this refers to our character, a matter the entire book of Psalms begins with (1:1). We live so that the person we see in the mirror is one we can legitimately admire as wholesome, honest, and honorable).
  • We must work righteousness (this refers to our conduct, how we treat others and deal with them. Are we one people love or dread to see, and are we seen as a cutthroat, back-stabber, and ankle biter or as one who portrays the godly life of Matthew 5:16?).
  • A strong heart (2). No conditioning test is any good that doesn’t check the heart.  God requires truth in our innermost part (Ps. 51:6). A strong heart is a sincere one, one that makes us genuine and transparent. You won’t hear one thing in public but something contradictory in private, but you’ll get consistent truthfulness. One who tells you one thing but lacks sincerity and truth is not one who is going to pass the heart test.
  • A healthy mouth (3-4). Isn’t it amazing how much time God spends examining our mouths.  Even the heart test is connected to the mouth (2). An untamed tongue is an audacious, destructive, reckless, condemned thing (just read James 3:5-10).  Every one of us, to one degree or another, would be mortified if we could hear a recording of the things we’ve said—in anger, gossip, malice, slander, and dishonesty.  Particularly, the Psalmist says “slander” will keep one from the temple. This is an epidemic problem, made worse by the presumption we have that our speech is covered somehow by an exemption. Slander is sinful—it discourages good works because people get gun-shy of criticism, it kills morale as a backbiting atmosphere is unpleasant, and it hinders relationships because it destroys trust.  A tongue can lead a beautiful prayer, teach an amazing Bible class, preach a beautiful sermon and sing like the angels—only to be heard whispering backbiting words, running someone down, or criticizing someone.
  • Excellent eyesight (4). No routine exam is complete without looking at the eyes.  The righteous sees the wayward as God sees them. He doesn’t excuse or defend them as they willfully engage in sin. He sees the evil as God sees them.  That doesn’t mean the righteous won’t try to spiritually win them, but he doesn’t condone them as they live without contrition.

The Psalmist calls for an overall clean bill of health. The spiritually healthy keeps his word, doesn’t take advantage of the needy, and doesn’t betray the innocent. This is an exam we must pass.  How is your spiritual health in light of this heavenly health check?

A VISIT TO A TEEN’S RELIGIOUS WORLD

Neal Pollard

I love the World War II generation and the enormous impact they have had on our nation!  Perhaps no generation has had a greater challenge since them than the one presently coming to maturity.  Last night, at Teens In The Word, we asked the teens to describe the religious philosophy of their peers as they interact with them at school, their jobs, and their extracurricular activities.  It was heartening to see and hear our teens’ conviction, knowledge, and heart, but disheartening to discuss the fruit of a couple of generations of our culture’s social experiment to reprogram the thinking of people, especially this burgeoning generation.

Our teens attend schools in Douglas, Jefferson, and Denver Counties, go to large High Schools, charter schools, private schools, and homeschools. Despite these diversities, what they encounter is remarkably similar.  It might surprise you that many of their peers believe in a Higher Power and would consider themselves spiritual. More than anywhere else, these peers attend community churches.  Whatever the church growth gurus and experts claim, the teens that go to these churches tell our teens something very different.  Their religious experience is heavily dependent upon entertainment, doing fun things with a party atmosphere, not motivated or influenced by much biblical teaching, segregated from adults, hard-rocking music, dancing, and overall a very tactile experience.  What impact does it have on “faith”?  If speaking in terms of growing closer to God and learning more about Him, not that much. The prevailing worldview of many of our teens’ friends is “what’s right for me may not be right for you,” that God and the devil, heaven and hell are mindsets more than realities (really just your conscience inside of you), and that essentially the only or worst sins, the “objective wrongs,” are offending others and judging others.  When our teens seek to assert objective truth from scripture, they sometimes encounter scorn or rejection. While our teens know a varying degree of peers whose faith and beliefs are more concrete and committed, perhaps the most frequently observed comment last night was that many of their peers “believe in God but not the Bible or Christ.”  They see the Bible as a book of myths or fairytales and not the revealer of truth or a standard of authority.

As we closed our class last night, I was left awestruck.  Our teens are among my most cherished heroes.  They are on the frontline of faith, battling in a world more opposed to truth than that of any generation now living which preceded them.  We were struck with more than admiration, though.  We felt determination, the need to redouble our efforts to establish and defend the trustworthiness and integrity of the Bible, the existence of God, and from that the authoritative nature of Scripture.  Not only will this bolster the faith of our teens, but it will help them in dialoging with those among their peers possessing good and honest hearts (cf. Lk. 8:15).

Here are four things you can do right now for our teens.  (1) Pray for them. (2) Live Christ without hypocrisy before them. (3) Actively encourage them. (4) Help equip them.  Look for heroes where you will.  I have found mine!

Our teens recently feeding the homeless (photo credit: Lexi Hoagland)

Why Don’t YOU “Stop The Violence”?

Neal Pollard

To borrow the words of our own Mike Bennett, “Excuse me?”  An AP story published this morning is so thick with irony it is palpable!  Two people were arrested and put in jail on Tuesday in Washington, Pennsylvania.  They were two community organizers “with a local Stop the Violence group” and they “severely beat a former roommate with whom they had a property dispute” (via FoxNews.com).  They “allegedly jumped the man as he was walking down the street on Tuesday. Police say the defendants kicked the victim as he was unconscious…” causing injuries too gruesome for me to describe here.  The female defendant “was still wearing the same ‘Stop the Violence’ T-shirt that she had on the night before when she led a march in the city protesting two recent shootings” (ibid.).  “The victim remains in critical condition” (ibid.).

Could there be a clearer example of hypocrisy from the world?  We have seen or heard of the environmentalist driving the gas-guzzling SUV and the televangelist having an adulterous affair, but the peace protestor beating up somebody?  That’s very unattractive!

It is also a reminder to us as Christians about practicing “true religion…unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27).  Not only are we ineffective, we are counterproductive when we claim to wear the name of Christ and then defame it by our words and deeds.  What about mouths praising God in worship on Sunday profaning man at work on Monday?  What about hands shaking hands or embracing fellow Christians one day then typing in ungodly websites or texting someone not our spouse in sexually suggestive ways the next?  What about words of kindness to each other when we meet followed up by slandering speech about each other or those in the world when we are away from the assemblies?

The Bible warns against hypocrisy, saying “beware of it” (Luke 12:1), “let love be without it” (Rom. 12:9), “don’t be carried away by it” (Gal. 2:13), “eliminate it” (Jas. 3:17), and “put it aside” (1 Pet. 2:1).  It’s easy to see why.  Few things are more repelling and disgusting than to witness hypocrisy.  Let us consider that as we conduct our own lives before the watchful eyes of the world!