A Quiet Assembly

A Quiet Assembly

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

It began with just a few men. They didn’t know exactly what kind of damage they were about to inflict on their own reputation, for all of eternity. The account is found in Acts 15 with “some men”  going down from Judea and teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas debated them fearlessly, but the damage had been done. The argument had so successfully confused and stirred up the assembled group that it was decided to take matters up the command chain. They were off to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 

Paul and Barnabas hadn’t lost faith and in fact, they proclaimed what God had done for the Gentiles to all who would listen on their trip. The news of God’s grace to all races and nations brought the listeners a great joy. In Jerusalem, the apostles and elders had already gathered to deal with the fierce conflict. It didn’t take long for the group to separate into two teams each holding two different beliefs about God’s will for all. It was at this moment where Peter stands up and begins to speak. He explains that God knows the heart of all of us and He’s always known. 

The spirit had descended on the apostles to prove that there is no discrimination between Jews and Gentiles. The demand for proof is always in our hearts, and so the Spirit demonstrated miraculous powers to give credence. Peter would explain that under the Jewish law, even Moses and the greats couldn’t bear the load. It wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t meant to last. 

It’s verse twelve that gives one some additional insight. It says, “And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done though them among the Gentiles.” How do we solve our conflicting views that spring up in our midst? There’s only one effective way to do so and that’s to take our matters of division to the top. Not preachers, teachers, deacons, or elders, but to the very top.

If God is going to speak, we’ve got to be quiet. The assembly went silent. Everyone there, no matter what their belief was—decided to listen. Speaking over each other never solved a problem and this is true on a congregational level, as well as a personal one. How many times do we fall victim to the assembly of the thoughts and bias in our own minds when reading God’s word? It can be difficult to hush those voices, but it’s when we do that real change has a chance to take root. 

Patience!

Patience!

Friday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

Steve Candela

How many of you have ever sat at a red light in traffic only to realize when that light turns green there’s still no place to go… and then before you get through the intersection the light turns red again. Frustration at its finest.

Who has ever been seated to eat somewhere and it takes over 15 minutes for a waiter or waitress just to come take your drink order? I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it!

I can’t be the only one who has ever lost my cool with my kids or other family members. Sometimes what seems to be for no apparent reason at all? Hopefully you’ve taken the time to at least realize you reacted poorly and made your apologies.

I’d like to share with you my struggle with being a patient man. How I always need to consciously work on it, what works for me, what doesn’t work for me, and maybe open your eyes to the reality of what true Christian patience looks like.

My wife, Rebecca, always tells me, “Don’t ever ask God for patience, or else He’ll give you something to be patient about.” I can see that. To a certain point, I believe it too. But let’s take a second look at it in James 1:2-8.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” So let’s look at this. I have faith. My faith can be tested.

This doesn’t mean I’ve lost faith, just that I’m being tested for how strong my faith is.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” – Here I see my struggle with patience as the wisdom aspect. Maybe I’m not feeling wise. Maybe I’m having trouble figuring out this patience thing you all speak of. Is it wrong of me to at least let God know, hey I’m struggling with this… No! Absolutely not. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Let me be clear, I’m not disagreeing with my wife. I would never do that honey… I’m simply saying that asking God for patience and asking God for grace and understanding while I figure out what I need to change in my life to be more patient, are two completely different things. Verse 6 says,

“But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

So we have some ground rules here. James tells us, “you must ask in faith. You cannot doubt God. For if you have any doubt, any doubt at all you can expect to receive nothing.”

Maybe my best course of action does not stem from asking God for help. What I have done and learned to do lately is called connecting the dots. If I am unhappy, frustrated and struggling to find joy at home, I ask myself why? Where did that come from? There doesn’t seem to be anything that my family is doing wrong. Sure, dishes pile up in the sink,kids room is not picked up, laundry room is overflowing… Those things happen, they’ve happened before and it didn’t bother me that much in the past. Maybe all those little things just seem like big things now because something else is bothering me, but what? What’s changed? Connecting the dots for me almost always leads back to work. A bad run I’ve been on, problems with co-workers, added duties and responsibilities to an already stressful job. I have had to learn to be more aware of my stressors. I’ve had to do a hard reset on what I bring home vs what I leave at work. Most of all I’ve had to remember to lean on Jesus.

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my Yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Learn to lean on Jesus. Learn to do it early. Learn to do it often. I urge you to join a private Bible study. Find an elder, find a deacon, or find a friend and ask them to study the Bible with you. Studying the word of God is the biggest stress reliever I have ever found. I am so grateful for those that have taken the time to study with me.

If you are not a Christian, you have a choice. Don’t wait. Learning to be a disciple takes time. But making the decision to desire discipleship takes no time at all. Be baptized into Christ Jesus and rest easy knowing your soul is in safe hands.

If you are a Christian, perhaps you’ve let your anxiety, stress or impatience get in the way of being a solid Christian, a rock star husband or wife, a nurturing mother or father, or a fierce friend. We are here to help you, guide you or pray for you. Do not be weary, whatever you may need.

So You Have A Sinful Past? (POEM)

So You Have A Sinful Past? (POEM)

 

Neal Pollard

Moses was a murderer, Rahab was a liar,
David was an adulterer and to murder he did conspire,
Gideon and Timothy were timid, Peter a confirmed denier,
Paul wrecked havoc on the church, so full of hate and ire.

God, from time immemorial, has used the earthen vessel,
Sons of thunder or deceivers– like Jacob, who an angel did wrestle.
Just like Abraham and Isaac, very human if chosen and special
Barak, Samson, Jephthah, who with flaws their faith did nestle

From cover to cover, Scripture shows that God works through sinners
Preachers, prophets, kings and elders, saints and great soul-winners
It helps us who would serve today, to be better enders than beginners
To not let sin defeat us, to go from offenders to God defenders

Perhaps you have a sinful past or there’s guilt here in your today
A habit, sin, or weakness, crimes of deeds, thoughts, or what you say
Look back to men and women of old, they willed for they knew The Way
Conquer through Christ your old man, get busy, trust in God and obey!

Peter denying Jesus
Peter denying Christ

THE PATIENCE OF A FARMER 

THE PATIENCE OF A FARMER 

Neal Pollard

James uses a variety of examples throughout his short epistle. In James 5:7-8, he writes, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” As we analyze these verses, we see at least three things.

Patience instructed.  It’s interesting that James is urging us to be patient with each other as fellow Christians. Just read the rest of the chapter and it reads like an instruction manual for dealing with the internal problems we can have as a congregation of God’s people. This patience has a duration—until the coming of the Lord. Stay patient as long as you live or until Christ comes again, whichever comes first.

Patience illustrated. Patience is illustrated by the farmer. Notice:

  • The farmer waits. Patience almost always involves waiting. Delayed gratification without the delay is something completely different. Sometimes waiting is necessary and it helps us develop character, if we let it.  We have to fight that part of human nature that makes us impatient. These brethren in verse seven were being mistreated by rich, unfair brethren, and it apparently was hard on them to wait for justice to be served. But James says, “You just need to wait. God will ultimately make things right.” That is sage counsel for us in so many areas of life, to “hang on and let God work in His time.”
  • The farmer waits for the harvest. When you put seed in the ground, you’re still a long way from harvest. Different crops take a different amount of time to come to fruition. Different conditions, like weather, effect the time of harvest. But harvest is always the goal. Why do you keep planting seed, the seed of Scripture in the fields of evangelism or the seed of service in others’ lives or the seed of spiritual fruit in sometimes infertile fields? Because harvest time is coming and the Lord will sort things out then (Mat. 13:30, 39).
  • The farmer waits for what brings harvest. There are necessary conditions. James mentions the early and latter rains. In Palestine, farmers counted on the autumn and spring rains. Both were essential. There are going to be necessary conditions throughout our Christian lives. In the short-term and long-term, we will endure and experience things that help get us to harvest.  See the blessings and the challenges of life as necessities which can help us go to heaven.

Patience imitated. James says, “You also be patient.” He says for Christians to be like those farmers.  How? “Establish your hearts.” James focuses on the heart throughout this short epistle. Deception (1:26), jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14), impurity (4:8), and worldly pleasure (5:5) fattened and sickened their hearts. James is still working on their hearts at the end and connects patience with spiritual heart health.  Why? “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” The harvest idea is wonderful for those who are prepared, but if we allow our hearts to stray and lose patience, the Lord’s coming won’t be a joyful occasion for us. Be ready for harvest by being patient whatever adversity arises.

If you are struggling with patience, look at the farmer. Both my grandfathers farmed, my mom’s dad for a living. They had to persevere. There are bumper crops and there are droughts. You keep farming whatever the conditions. Let’s approach the most important harvest with the same determination!

ueberladewagen_jha

The Assassins In Our Midst

The Assassins In Our Midst

Neal Pollard

They are on the loose and nobody even seems to be hunting for them. They have struck countless times. They strike daily. Yet, they will never make the nightly news or the local paper. They do their deeds with seeming impunity. At times, their actions cause the weak and fearful to simply follow or at least stand by and say nothing. While they may escape the earthly courts of justice, they will give an account in the heavenly one.  Who are these brutal killers?

Some strike at the personal level, assassinating the character of a brother or sister in Christ through gossip, slander, and backbiting.  This type of assassin takes the good name and reputation of their victim and shreds it. Sometimes what they say is true but it should not be said. Usually, it is said in the absence of the object who is left unable to defend or explain. As often, what they say may be untrue, distorted, or crafted in such a way as to portray the object in the most unflattering or unsavory light. With practice, these assassins can seemingly wield their deadly weapon with seemingly seared conscience. Whether careless or calculated, they fire their darts with blind indifference. They leave a wake of carnage.

Some strike at the good works of a congregation, school, or program of work.  With what appears to be little interest in fact-finding, for motives often unknown and perplexing, they often slander, misrepresent, or inconsistently apply rules they themselves cannot and do not live up to. At times, they make themselves the judge and create the standards whereby others are deemed fit or unfit to survive their assaults. But in doing this, they are hopelessly inconsistent. They face the prospect of facing merciless judgment, they themselves having been merciless.

Some strike without respect of person. Their tongues are unbridled, their passions and self-control are unchecked, and their disposition is volatile and ungodly.  They are quick to fire, and their speech spews venom and acid.  Most tragic is when they aver that they are speaking as a Christian or as an ambassador for Christ. People who witness their cold and brutal attacks are left to assume that such is what constitutes Christianity.  Repulsed, the world violently turns away and vehemently reacts against any and all efforts to teach even difficult and sensitive subjects the world is prone to reject.

James unapologetically condemns such careless slapdash strikes!  He says, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:5-10). Before loading up and taking aim at someone, may we consider the eternal implications of it. Thankfully, such assassins can be reformed and retrained through remorse and repentance. May it be!

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CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

CHANGING YOUR ORBIT

Neal Pollard

On September 16, 1991, the space shuttle Discovery dodged a chunk of a Soviet Cosmos rocket.  It came within 10 miles of the van-sized debris.  If Discovery had not changed its orbit, it would have been so close a call that it would have been yet another tragedy for our then active space program.  Mission commander John Creighton said it was “very simple” to maneuver, but absolutely vital to ensure the crew’s survival.

When I mention “conversion” in a spiritual context, what do you think about? Following his mention of Elijah’s exemplary prayer life, James ends with a big dose of encouragement.  James uses the word translated “convert” or “bring back.” It is an active word, meaning we cause one to change his or her belief or course of conduct, with a focus on that one then turning in the right direction.  The end result, conversion, is the state of their having done that.

To me, it is a blessing to see somebody back in attendance and being involved after they have been away from the Lord and His church.  It would be better for a brother or sister to never fall away, but it is definitely a joy to see one have the determination and courage to come back home.

Doesn’t heaven view it the same way? Jesus says in one of the “lost parables,” “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).  In conversion, one is changing what their life is orbiting.  It is no longer sin and self, but God.  What a blessing to see someone go from a path of destruction to the way of life! May this perspective drive our actions in reaching out to our “erring brethren.”

JAMES 1:17

JAMES 1:17

Neal Pollard

Life, love, happiness, and health,
Water, worth, worship and wealth
Food, faith, dogs and dreams
Smiles, sunshine, singing and streams
Marriage, mothers, prayer and play
Friendship, flowers, tomorrow, today
Calvary, Christ, heaven and hope
Rain, resurrection, snow and soap
Family, frost, babies and birth
Books, baking, monkeys and mirth
Mountains, moonbeams, coffee and cake
Jokes, justification, serenades and steak
Aromas, affirmation, the dawn and the deep
Holidays, hiking, snuggling and sleep
Forgiveness, freedom, umbrellas and unity
Sports, service, internet and immunity
Jesus, joy, earth and eternity
Scripture, speech, fishing and fraternity
Prayer, pillows, picnics and Pickups,
Memory, mornings, happiness and hiccups
Whether obvious or subtle, earthly or spiritual
Why not create this euphoric, emphatic ritual
Count blessings and name them, you’ll never run out
In the process you’ll challenge your most serious doubt
God doesn’t have to, but He gives a continuous lift
When did you last thank Him for His every good gift?
The more that you dwell on them, the longer the list,
Engage in this enjoyable exercise and you’ll insist,
There’s no God like Jehovah, never was, never will be,
Add up your assets and this you’ll undoubtedly see.

Death Is No Respecter

Death Is No Respecter

Neal Pollard

On the young man’s Facebook page, he made hopeful comments.  He had just graduated High School when he wrote, “Can’t wait to see what’s in store for my future.” Randomly, several weeks later, he gushed, “Some day, I’m going to travel the world.”  The Colorado Mesa University student from Lakewood, Colorado, was 19 years old when he went hiking in Bangs Canyon south of Grand Junction and fell to his death on Saturday.

Obituary columns are supposed to be filled with wrinkled faces and names that sound like our grandparent’s generation. Birth dates should go way back to the early or at least mid-1900s.  We’re just not conditioned to think that death can come to the young.  But if we are careful Bible readers, we realize that there is no guarantee that we reach Moses’ inspired guideline for life expectancy of 70 or 80 (Psa. 90:10).  We listen to James as the Holy Spirit leads him to write, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (4:14).  It does not say that the vapor floats around for a century and a half or more. We do not get to decide how high and long our vapor hangs in the air.

The fact of this uncertainty ought to cause all of us, wherever we are on the time continuum, to take the attitude James urges.  He writes, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that'” (4:15).  Such a statement shows submission under God, humility before God, and obligation to God.  This will help us see each day as a gift from Him and should cause us to use it wisely and productively to accomplish His will.  It should also prompt us not to delay following and submitting our lives to Him.  Instead, it should cause us to not delay becoming a Christian, leaving a lifestyle of sin, or getting actively involved in serving Christ.

Most of us will likely reach a ripe old age.  The law of averages are at play.  But we do not get to choose if we do or do not.  What we can choose is who we serve and when!

SUCH AN EASY, DANGEROUS THING TO DO

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).

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

Neal Pollard

While people today want to emphasize “spirituality” over “religion,” that is not the biblical way.  By “spiritual,” people want to talk about a self-defined personal relationship with God, the way they feel, or their pursuit of some mystical or mysterious expression of the soul.  The Bible is much less abstract and more concrete in passages like James 1:26-27, and the result should be quite convicting.

James indicates that one’s religion could be worthless (1:26).  This one may even think himself to be religious, but instead he is a forgetful hearer.  In context, he has forgotten what God’s word has said about bridling the tongue.  But, the principle applies much more broadly.  One can think himself religious, but in ignoring what the Bible says on a specific matter—ethics, morality, the plan of salvation, worship, etc.—this one deceives his own heart and possesses a worthless religion.  Notice that there is a concrete, objective way to measure this.

James indicates that one’s religion can also be pure and undefiled (1:27).  In keeping with context, this is a person who is a doer and not only a hearer of the word.  This person consciously reads and strives to apply what God has said in Scripture.  James gives a couple of examples of this in the verse, from compassionate care for the unfortunate to not allowing the world to taint us by its influence.  Regardless of the challenge or obligation, because we strive to follow the Word, we will have a religion that is unsoiled and unsullied. James says so.

I may think I have a certain kind of religious, spiritual life, but the Bible is a mirror that shows me exactly where I am.  I can claim or assert that I have a certain relationship with God or spiritual feeling, but does the declaration match the deeds.  That determines what kind of religion I have.