Stop Kicking

Stop Kicking

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

The stats are in, and depression and suicide rates are up. For example, 7.8% of all U.S. adults experienced one episode of major depression within the last year. Suicide rates nationally have been up by 30% since 2000, with the most significant surge coming over the last decade.1 Naturally, the pandemic gets its share of the blame for a part of these trends, but can it explain it all?  

I humbly suggest it does not. These problems stem from more than being cooped up in houses and having routines upset. People are more dissatisfied. A poll conducted in 2020 found only 14% of the respondents were happy. 2020 was the first time the percentage dipped so low since the General Social Survey started tracking those numbers in 1972. 2 

Let us consider all the changes ushered in since Y2K. First, social media was born and has brought considerable changes to the culture and how we disseminate information. Who had heard of Twitter in 2005? Trick question. Twitter wasn’t even a thing in 2005. Though there was a Facebook (2004), it still limited who could use its platform. I could not waste my time watching cute cat videos in 2004. YouTube did not roll out user-submitted video streaming until 2005. 

And let us not forget the technological advancements this millennium has witnessed. For example, Steve Jobs’ iPhone gave us “an app for that” in 2007. In 2008, Google gave us the open-source Android OS for smartphones. What kind of internet speeds did you enjoy over a decade ago? AOL was still around in the early 2000s, having people call in over their telephone lines accessing blazing internet speeds allowed by their 56k modems. (Obvious sarcasm there.) It was only a minority that had access to broadband internet in 2005. And can you remember the early 2000s when you started hearing all those businesses you patronized talk about checking out their website?  

How about the state of politics and civil discourse since 2000? “Not my President!” That slogan began in 2016 with protesting against the outcome of the election, isn’t that correct? But, no, people were saying that about President Bush, too, after the whole hanging-chads debacle in the 2000 election. And oh, what noise in the “streets!” Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, MAGA, and Proud Boys. In some respects, we’ve regressed to the tumultuous Vietnam War era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

Now, I am aware that correlation is not causation. However, I think that the one wishing to connect the dots can demonstrate how all these things we have mentioned have stoked the fires of depression and discontent. The fake perfection of social media makes people think they are unattractive and have unfulfilled lives. The disinformation and propaganda of the internet arouse our righteous ire against our enemies, foreign and predominantly domestic. And the technology puts all this information in our hands nigh instantaneously. Then, we can easily share our misery or righteous indignation with everyone around us. 

The question is, how do you respond to all of this? I advise you not to react like a particular man from Turkey’s Mersin province when the contagion of Christianity began turning his world upside down. His zeal caused him to persecute the Christian sect. He was willing to dedicate his entire life to Christianity’s eradication, traveling even a great distance to ferret out its adherents living among the populace of a province that was not even his home. Finally, on that fateful road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to this man and made a profound statement. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26.14 NASB1995).  

What is a goad? There was a time when cattlemen moved their livestock by poking them with a sharpened stick. That sharpened stick was a goad. So, if our man from Turkey, Saul of Tarsus, was like one of God’s cattle on a thousand hills (cf. Psalm 50.10), he was stubborn. Rather than accept the direction of his master’s prodding, he pushed back against the sharpened stick, injuring himself. That is what self-righteousness does. A person can be a crusader for many things, some of which seem very important, but when he runs contrary to the will of God, he only causes self-harm.  

Polls show that the United States has effectively “democratized” Christianity. In other words, nebulous “spirituality” is up while “organized religion” is down. People think they can “swipe right or left” as they do with a dating app when engaging with God. This mindset was becoming ensconced even before COVID-19. I would add that governmental regulation to close our assembly halls during the pandemic and our well-intentioned compliance with them enabled the creation of a “virtual faith” among some of our members. The result is that people have lost the sense of community and purpose that the church provides.Hence, people are depressed and dissatisfied. 

Now that fear has subsided, and SARS-CoV-2 is not the killer it once was, thanks to treatment regimens borne amid fiery trials and this virus reaching an endemic state, things are opening back up to pre-pandemic conditions. And people are ecstatic to be returning to a semblance of normalcy. Yet, something is still inexplicably missing. Young people particularly notice it. There is an empty void even with involvement in social issues or opportunities to contribute to a good cause.  

Whether one attributes Blaise Pascal or Augustine with the credit for first articulating the existence of a “God-shaped hole” within us, it indeed exists. Per Jesus’ statement about unclean spirits, we know evil fills an empty void (Matthew 12.43-45). If not “evil,” per se, definitely self (cf. Romans 1.25). If people continue in their self-righteousness and ignore the gentle prodding of the Savior through His Word, they will continue injuring themselves, feeling depressed and dissatisfied. Yes, they kick against the goads. It is time to stop kicking and move forward in the direction He intends.   

Sources Cited 

1    Ronsisvalle, Dr. Mike. “Dr. Ronsisvalle: Depression among All Age Groups Is Swelling; Treatment Is the Best Solution.” Florida Today, Florida Today, 26 Apr. 2022, www.floridatoday.com/story/life/wellness/2022/04/26/professional-treatment-can-save-loved-ones-mental-health-issues/7413927001/.  

2  Associated Press. “Americans Are the Unhappiest They’ve Been in 50 Years, Poll Finds.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 16 June 2020, www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/americans-are-unhappiest-they-ve-been-50-years-poll-finds-n1231153.  

3  Dallas, Kelsey. “The State of Faith.” Deseret News, Deseret News, 22 Mar. 2022, www.deseret.com/faith/2022/3/21/22981634/the-state-of-faith-american-religion-research-marist-poll.   

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was featured in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland was the original performer. I will provide the song’s setting without spoiling the film since it is pertinent to our topic. 

Circumstances cause the family patriarch depicted within the film to declare that the family is moving to New York. He is alone in wanting to make such a move. Everyone else is content to stay in their current hometown, especially with the upcoming World’s Fair that St. Louis will be hosting in 1904.  

The youngest daughter, Tootie, took the news especially hard. Judy Garland’s character, Esther, tries to console Tootie by singing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The original lyrics, which you’ve likely not heard unless you’ve watched the movie or listened to an older cover of the song, were “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” Garland also sang, “Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight.”1 

We can credit Frank Sinatra for changing a melancholy Christmas song into a happier one. He told the song’s writer, Hugh Martin, in 1957 that his album was called “A Jolly Christmas.” So, he asked the songwriter if he could “jolly up” that line for him. The songwriter obliged, changing the lyric to “Hang a shining star atop the highest bough.” “Next year…” likewise became “From now on all our troubles will be out of sight.”2 

We cannot say that every Christmas season is as great as those experienced in our youth. As we get older, economics impact our celebrations. We take note of those missing. Perhaps, we no longer have good health. Or an every-hundred-year-pandemic might decide to come along and interfere with our plans. For those Christmases, we must “muddle through somehow.”  

At least one time in David’s life found him “unmerry” from life’s circumstances. And David likewise had to muddle through until things could get better. This occasion was when David was fleeing for his life because of his son Absalom’s political coup. David and his retainers found themselves in a position where they were “hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.” (2 Samuel 17.29 NASB1995) What David did during this muddling remains an example for those finding it difficult to be joyous today. 

First, David did not isolate himself, having the company of his retinue (2 Samuel 17.22). People tend to isolate themselves when depressed.  But it is not the isolation causing difficulties. It is the resulting loneliness often found in isolation. People may think they are all alone in the world or that the world is against them. God said it is not good to be thus isolated (Genesis 2.18; Ecclesiastes 4.9-12). So, reach out to others, if necessary, since the assistance others give enables them to fulfill Christ’s law (Galatians 6.2). 

Second, David accepted the kindness of others (2 Samuel 17.27-29). I do not think it an exaggeration to say David could not have defeated Absalom without the aid of such people. Christians must be kind and tender-hearted to one another (Ephesians 4.32; Colossians 3.12-15; 1 Peter 3.8). And since we must extend such love and kindness to others, we must learn to receive these same overtures in return. That seems to be tricky for some people to realize. Muddling through is easier with brethren!  

Third, David wisely used his time of muddling (2 Samuel 18.1ff). David counts the number of able-bodied men with him who could fight. Then, he divides them into companies and appoints men over thousands and hundreds. The result, of course, was an army capable of battling Absalom. Despite resulting in the death of Absalom, the battle ensured that David could return to Jerusalem. His muddling days were over. In like manner, perhaps now is not an excellent time for us; we are muddling through life. But do what you can, with what you have, where you are. During these difficult times, the plans you make may result in a later victory.  

So, as others seem to be having “…the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” you may find yourself unable to experience that coveted merry time. Emulate David’s example. If you see a family member or friend muddling through, ensure they are not lonely, providing them whatever aid is needed.  In so doing, may we all note, Lord willing, that “Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight.” 

Sources Consulted 

1  “Judy Garland- Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Lyrics.” AZLyrics, AZLyrics.com,www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/judygarland/haveyourselfamerrylittlechristmas.html

2 Willman, Chris. “How ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ Became One of the Season’s Most Beloved Songs.” EW.com, Meredith Corporation, 22 Dec. 2006, ew.com/article/2007/01/08/history-popular-holiday-song/. Updated December 23, 2020 

Way Isolated

Way Isolated

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

What do Svalbard, Norway, Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska, and Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland have in common? They’re all cold, isolated, beautiful, and quiet. Their remoteness alone is what drives at least part of their economies! The absence of “noise” is extremely attractive to a lot of people. Getting away from all the hatefulness, conflict, combat, and general unrest of society sounds like a dream!

God expects Christians to be getaways just like these cities.
“…lead a quiet life and handle your own business…” (I Thess 4.11). “…lead a quiet, calm life defined by godliness and dignity” (I Tim 2.2). “…be at peace with everyone” (Rom 12.18).
“…live in peace…” (II Cor 13.11).

Someone looking to get away from the noise of our world may look to the spiritual. When these outsiders look into our spiritual families, what do they see? A way to escape the world by seeking God, or more of the same old noise they were trying to get away from?

“Do you want to live a great life? Watch your mouth, and don’t try to fool people. Run away from evil, practice good. Look for peace and chase it” (I Pet 3.10-11).

WHAT VIRTUAL WORSHIP CANNOT ACCOMPLISH

WHAT VIRTUAL WORSHIP CANNOT ACCOMPLISH

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

This is not a judgment against those of us who have stayed home, especially those vulnerable, for whatever period of time to protect ourselves from legitimate risk of contracting the Coronavirus. It is an attempt to exhort and encourage those of us who have concluded that participating virtually meets what God intends for the assemblies. While we may get to see the church worship and engage in Bible class and receive edification, we are missing quite a bit of what God designed for the church by assembling together.

What can’t we accomplish when we remain in the virtual setting?

  • We cannot stimulate one another to either love or good deeds (Heb. 10:24).
  • We cannot exhort one another (Heb. 10:25).
  • We cannot speak to, teach, or admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). 
  • We cannot come together and edify (1 Cor. 14:26). 
  • We cannot welcome visitors from the community who have come to the assemblies.
  • We cannot engage in the enriching, faith-building, and faith-preserving fellowship the early church found so essential (Acts 2:42ff). 
  • We cannot congregate, as they did (Acts 4:32). 
  • We cannot come together and eat the Lord’s Supper, as they did (1 Cor. 11:20,33). 

Let’s not forget the responsibility God puts upon each Christian to all others who assemble. Worship is not just personal and vertical, it is also horizontal. 

I met the mom and brother of my good friend, Al Washington, last night at the Palm Beach Lakes church of Christ. They are members of the Third St. congregation.
Lessons From Adversity: Finding Equilibrium

Lessons From Adversity: Finding Equilibrium

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

Balance is that for which we hope and are vigilant to achieve. As true as this is for obedience (see 2 Kings 22.2), it is likewise needed emotionally. I’d like for us to note that optimum mental health in a fallen world is also a matter of equilibrium.

 

Let’s begin with the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the “gorilla” we call sadness. Why can’t we always be happy? It’s not that God did not intend for us to be happy. He created a world He described as “very good” (Genesis 1.31) and placed us into the idyllic Eden. Yet, in the exercise of our free will, we couldn’t abstain from eating the fruit of the one tree that was forbidden. Thus, when one is dealing with a broken world, sadness is going to come. We’ve even become so accustomed to its existence we create platitudes touting its presence. The Arab proverb states, “All sunshine makes a desert.” Even though sunshine is grand, weather consisting of only sunny days deviates from equilibrium bringing an environment hostile to life. Hence, it’s a bad thing. We’re left with the astounding proposition that for us to better appreciate the sunshine, we must learn to appreciate the rain.

 

In order to find emotional balance, one must avoid positive feedback loops. Yes, I realize this sounds counterproductive to our goal. Positive is a good thing, correct? Think of positive in this context as “plus.” It adds to. Do you want to read of a Biblical example of one caught in an emotional positive feedback loop? Read 1 Kings 18.20-19.21. Despite experiencing the glorious victory God brought over the prophets of Baal, Elijah retreats into a cave and sulks. Jezebel wants to kill him, and this is what Elijah becomes focused upon. What is Elijah’s positive feedback loop? Despite his faithfulness, his isolation reinforces his belief he is alone in the fight for God (1 Kings 19.10).

 

God clears up Elijah’s misconception, reminding him that there were other faithful servants of God in Israel (1 Kings 19.18). He wasn’t alone. God also gave Elijah a compatriot in Elisha. In other words, God introduced a negative feedback loop. No longer able to fixate solely on himself, Elijah undertook the mentorship of Elisha (1 Kings 19.16). Elisha, in turn, ministered to the needs of Elijah (1 Kings 19.21).

 

When dealing with adversity, it’s our nature to retreat into solitude. Yet, this is not what God intends for us. I’m not denying that we all need private “closet time” (Matthew 6.6). Jesus often sought solitude to pray. However, allowing ourselves to feel cut off from brethren creates a positive feedback loop accentuating our anxieties. Is it any wonder that as Christians we are commanded to focus outwardly upon others (Philippians 2.4)? We are even exhorted to assemble so we will stir one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10.24-25).

 

Let us not allow adversity to destroy our emotional equilibrium. Rather, let us use it, with the assistance of others, to weave richer colors into the tapestry of our lives.

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view from Mt. Carmel (photo credit: Kathy Pollard)

“Heartaches”

“Heartaches”

Tuesday’s Column: “Dale Mail”

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Dale Pollard

Have you ever been in such emotional pain that your heart felt like it was literally aching? The worst pain in this life is not always physical. Often times it’s the emotional pain of saying “good bye” that can drive us to our knees. It can make us lash out in anger. It can make the toughest man alive break down in tears, and it can crush a young person’s spirit. Why would a God of love and compassion let such a thing happen? If He cares, but He can’t do anything about it, wouldn’t that mean He’s not all powerful? If He doesn’t care, but He has the power, doesn’t that mean He’s cruel?

If you’ve got “heart pain” in your life, the best thing you can do is draw closer to God. Don’t isolate yourself from the only true source of comfort and healing. Don’t throw your head up to the sky, as if looking for some eye-contact with God. Rather, let your head fall to the scriptures. God will tell you that His ways are perfect, His word has been tried and tested, and He is the shield for those who decide to take refuge in Him (Psalm 18:30).

He would also tell you that if you are a righteous individual, He’s going to deliver you from any trouble (Psalm 34:19). As a loving Father, God would tell you that He understands what you’re going through (Isaiah 53:3). God would tell you to hang in there because while there is suffering, heartache, and pain here, there is a place prepared by Him where none of that exists (John 14:2-4). God would ask you to draw near to Him, because if you do He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

We can’t always think of the appropriate words to say when someone is going through grief, but God always knows the right thing to say and He is perfect in all His ways. Bring Christ your broken life. He’ll fix it for you.

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“Just A Broken Guy…”

“Just A Broken Guy…”

Neal Pollard

The chilling audio from Richard “Beebo” Russell reveals an internal conflict nobody, not family, friend, or co-workers, knew was going on. The 29 year old ground worker at Seattle-Tacoma International airport took a Horizon Air Dash-8 airplane on an unauthorized joy ride, complete with complicated aerial stunts before crashing into a remote island on Puget Sound. Before crashing, he spoke with air traffic controllers and pilots and confessed to the inner turmoil. The words used by loved ones to describe him range from “warm” and “compassionate” to “happy” and “regular” (Alex Horton, Washington Post, 8/13/18).  Of course, the behavior was irregular and bizarre, and it ended tragically for the young man as he fatally crashed the plane.

As we walk through this world, we meet and interact with people who may be projecting an outward appearance that is masking inward pain and trouble. It may lie behind their broad smile. That’s a disturbing thought, but what can we do? We cannot read their minds. There is no full-proof way to prevent every tragic action, but we may have more power than we think. Consider some things all of us can do with everyone in our lives.

Be kind. Look people in the eyes. Smile at them. Even if it slows you down from some important task, don’t overlook the people God puts in your path. Your helpful word might sink deeper into their spirit than you realize. Let’s be like the inhabitants of Malta, who showed Paul and his companions “extraordinary kindness” as they simply “kindled a fire and received” them all (Acts 28:2). We’re told as Christians to put on a “heart of kindness” (Col. 3:12). How will anyone know the proof of our kind hearts? We will display it.

Be concerned. We fear being nosy or busybodies. Don’t do that. But there is room for active concern. Such is more apt to listen than advise, to help and not gossip, and to do than to judge. People who are surrounded by those they know care for them have a better chance at emotional survival. Look at the example of Paul, pressured by the concern for congregations and intensely concerned for individuals led into sin (2 Cor. 11:28-29). The word Paul uses for his concern for individuals literally means “to cause to be on fire; burn” (BDAG, 899). It’s the word used to describe the heavens being on fire (2 Pet. 3:12). Paul was “inflamed with sympathy, ready to aid” (ibid.). That’s got to be us, too!

Be helpful. Our Christianity should be tangible, not theoretical. We must be attuned to needs and ready to help (cf. Titus 3:14). Let’s avoid empty words that lack the intent of action. Acts of service, doing for others, are powerful and penetrating. God tells us, “On the day of salvation I helped you” (2 Cor. 6:2; Isa. 49:8). A helper sees a need and meets it. Oh, the impression that can make on a weary struggler. 

Listen, for all we know, this young man was surrounded by people who were kind, concerned, and helpful. Ultimately, each of us is individually accountable for our actions (2 Cor. 5:10). But, our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nations will be a better place when Christians are active bearers of such faithful fruits. Treat everyone you see as the eternally-bound souls that they are! Help them. We know the One who mends the broken (cf. Ezek. 34:16). 

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