SEARCHING FOR THAT SLIPPERY SERENITY

Neal Pollard

It was painful to watch my Georgia Bulldogs pulverized by the Auburn Tigers (my fellow Bronco fans can easily relate this year). Yet, later that Saturday evening, I found myself smiling and even cheering for a familiar face who was calmly embracing a signature win against college football’s number three team, Notre Dame. Level-headed. Even-keel. Happy. None of those words quite captured the way I wanted to describe Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt (former general of my beloved Dawgs). It was Dan Walken (USA Today, 11/13/17, 1C,6C) who found the one I was searching my mind for: “serene.” He is peaceful, placid, poised, and phlegmatic. But, as Walken points out, it’s not because the Hurricanes have ascended to number two in the Coaches and Press polls. He has been that all along, even the day he was fired at Georgia (his .740 winning percentage, 145-51, is the highest in college history for any coach ever to be fired). He was criticized for not being able to win the big game—which he still hasn’t. Second to that, the fan base was agitated that he was too concerned about his off-season mission work. There’s such an interesting story about how Richt came to faith, and how deeply his faith drives his life. Walken’s article mentions nothing of that, but few people who know about Richt fail to know how profoundly religion effects his life. It is, unquestionably, what drives his come-what-may serenity.

What characteristic best describes me? I know several I’d like for it to be, but, ultimately, I don’t get to describe myself. The people who know me or know about me get to do that. While the word “serene” is not found in most English translations, it is a biblical concept. 91 times, the New Testament uses a word (εἰρήνη—eirene) that is usually translated “peace.” Luke 11:21 has “undisturbed” (NASB). It can describe harmony between governments or in personal relationships, but it also describes a state of well-being within. In fact, that’s usually the way New Testament writers use it. Jesus says He offers a peace superior to what the world can give (John 14:27). A mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom. 8:6). The God of hope can fill you with peace in believing (Rom. 15:13). This peace passes all comprehension and guards your heart and mind (Phil. 4:7). It can rule your heart (Col. 3:15). It can be yours in every circumstance (2 Thes. 3:16). Repeatedly, Scripture promises peace to the disciple of Christ.

But our world continually scrambles to find it, much less maintain it. It seeks to achieve peace through alcohol and drugs, firearms, money and things, achievement and success, and other earthly things to plug that void. If at our core we do not fill ourselves with the peace of God, we will find ourselves futilely searching and never finding tranquility and undisturbed calm. Richt was able to smile and be joyful at the press conference that centered around his dismissal. You and I can embrace joy and steadiness in the darkest, most painful, moments of life. We never want false hope or empty peace. But a life directed and submissive to the pure, unadulterated Word and will of God leads to unshakable peace. No matter what comes our way!

Would people say I am serene? What about you?

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A Lot Happens In 25 Years!

Neal Pollard

Today is Kathy’s and my Silver Anniversary. The day we got married, the president was the first George Bush. Johnny Carson was hosting the Tonight Show (his final show was on our wedding night). Gas was barely over a dollar per gallon. We lived in a sleepy, west Alabama town (the thought of living in either Virginia or Colorado and traveling overseas was nearly as unthinkable as the internet). In some ways, of course, it seems like longer ago than 25 years, but in others it seems like yesterday.  But, you learn a lot along the way—some lessons coming easy but others more difficult.  In 25 years of marriage, here are a few things you learn.

  • You inevitably face some huge tests. There’s pain, tears, and fears, but, with God’s help, they are tests you can pass. While there can be abiding happiness, it does not come without adversity.
  • The road takes unanticipated turns. You are glad you cannot see the future, but that it comes to you only one day at a time. Taken all in all, you would not change the journey.
  • You must guard your heart and your life. The devil does not want couples to stay married, happily or otherwise. You can be drawn away (Jas. 1:13-15), and others can attempt to lure you away from your mate (Prov. 5:15-23). The hearts of married people can become polluted as easily as anyone else’s (Mark 7:21-23). You must guard your heart at all times (Prov. 4:23).
  • Trust is sexy. Untrustworthy behavior, deception, lying, broken promises, etc., is so damaging to a relationship. However, a spouse with a trustworthy character helps create a climate of peace, security, and confidence. This translates to attractiveness. We want those we feel close to. Distrust prevents intimacy.
  • The journey truly grows sweeter. With every change and new phase, there are challenges, losses, and adjustments. But the cumulative intimacy, the battle scars, the moments and memories, the happy days, the sweet surprises, and the rest combine to make an exciting, satisfying journey. Knowing a person better and deeper day after day makes life better, and brings poignancy to the heavenly insight, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-12).
  • The little things are big things. Opening a door, an arm around the shoulder, unloading the dishwasher, love notes, flowers, putting lids up and down, noticing changes in hairstyles and nail polish, appreciating a meal, cleaning up after yourself, and similar “little things” can promote or undermine the overall quality of married life. Life is made up mostly of “little things.”
  • Of all your common interests, nothing compares to serving Christ together. Actions and activities done in service to Him contain better super glue than any hobby, vacation, life event, or mutual interest. Whether hospitality, evangelism, mission work, devotions and worship, Bible study, and such, these shore up the marital foundation and form an incredible, common bond.

Every day requires more practice, persistence, and prayer. Both of us are constantly changing and, hopefully, growing. It’s vital to stay in tune and in touch. But, I count Kathy as the greatest blessing after my soul’s salvation. I shudder to think where I might be without her and thank God that she has been by my side for a quarter of a century. My fervent prayer is that God will continue to bless my days with her heart, mind, and the rest of her and continue to bless my life through her as He has since I met her in August of 1990. My desire is to do my best to reciprocate these very things for her. May He grant me the ability to do so. Happy Anniversary to my favorite writer, my Sweet Pea, my Kathy!

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My dad was one year older than I am today in this picture (taken 5/22/92). 

Happiness Guaranteed!

Neal Pollard

Who wouldn’t find that appealing? Many years ago, Hugo McCord wrote a book entitled, “Happiness Guaranteed.” In it, he wrote, “Is happiness difficult? Yes, to those on the wrong road. Is it elusive? Yes, to those who want it without a price. But to the simple, plain folk of the earth, willing to walk God’s road, willing to pay God’s price, happiness is, like God, not far from every one of us.”  Many spend a lifetime in a desperate, elusive attempt to be happy. What if there was a formula for true happiness? I believe we find it in Psalm 37:23-26. This text tells us what we need to be happy.

We need a direction mapped by God (23). If we make life a self-guided tour, we can guarantee ourselves a life of misery. Even a Christian’s heartaches often stem from our trying to “go it alone” without His guidance. He guides us through the Word (Psa. 119:105,133). He knows everything at the deepest level of comprehension. He understands what kind of life will make us happy and miserable. David says life without God’s guidance is chaotic and disorderly. I read about an optometrist who examined an elderly patient and asked, “Can you read the fifth line of the chart?” “No.” “How about the fourth line?” “No.” “Hmm. Try the second line.” “No.” “Surely you can read the first line.” The old man said, “Truth is I’ve never learned to read.” Have we learned to read? Have we gotten into the regular habit of consulting God’s divine roadmap?

We need a delight in His way (23). In a matter of minutes, you can find out what a person enjoys in life. It could be sports, politics, travel, shopping, mechanic-ing, nature, reading, fishing, horseback riding, or stamp-collecting. Kept in proper place and priority, these can be good, healthy, and legitimate. But way too many people get their thrills in illegitimate ways. They enjoy the unwholesome, filthy, perverted and vulgar. To many, “The word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it” (Jer. 6:10). Solomon adds, “A fool does not delight in understanding…” (Prov. 18:2a). God’s outline for living, when followed, leads to delight. Other ways are paved with the heartache of others who foolishly paved those same paths previously.

We need a dependence on God’s providential care (24-25). Seven times in the Psalms, the writer tells God, “The righteous trust in You” (5:11; 9:10; 17:7; 25:22; 31:19; 55:23; 56:3). Your faith can be built if you trust that God, even when things seem doubtful, will provide what is needed and what is best. Not just materially, but in times when spiritual decisions must be made (cf. Gen. 22:8; Rom. 4:18-21). When we place our future, fears and fortunes in God’s almighty hands, we find true happiness (1 Pet. 5:7). David challenges us to find a case of a true follower forsaken by God. Satan wants us to think God doesn’t care about us. That’s what he wanted Job’s problems to do to Job—make him turn against God. If you are suffering right now, be assured that God hasn’t left you.

We need a duty to others (26). Norman Vincent Peale said, “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised” (The Power of Positive Thinking, 54). Psalm 37:26 mentions two responsibilities we, being richly blessed by God, have to others. The  first, mercy, should express itself through acts of kindness. The second, lending, shows generosity. God ties generosity to true conversion. We give our money, our time, our talents, our heart, and ourselves. Listen to the joyful words from those spend themselves serving others. They say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Lk. 17:10).

We overcomplicate life with needless worry, harmful actions, and heavy burdens. So many people, from a financial, social, and physical perspective, have every reason to be happy but are miserable! The opposite of that is true, too. One may be drained of every resource but faith, but no one can rob them of their joy (Ps. 128:2; Pr. 3:18; 14:21; 29:18)!

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Longing For The Desert Lodging Place?

Neal Pollard

The beleaguered prophet, Jeremiah, had had it. He was, in the words of Andy to Barney, “beat to the socks”—and then some! He was surrounded by sin and disobedience. At every turn, he was being disappointed by people he expected so much more from. He was fed up, and he wanted to escape from it all.  Can you relate? Have you seen so much hatred, man’s inhumanity to man, gross immorality, defiance and rebellion, God-less living, and the like that you are done with it?

Jeremiah wrote, “Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place; That I might leave my people and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. ‘They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:1-3). Keep reading and you see a dirty laundry list of other transgressions, like treachery and deceit, immorality, and unbelief (4-8). In fact, God pronounces judgment against that nation for its collective guilt.  So, the astute and informed prophet grieved for the people and longed to escape from this agonizing reality.

Isn’t it wonderful that God has given us refuges from the similar conditions we see around us today? We can choose to consume the salacious, depressing headlines and news stories, monitoring it day and night.  We can engross ourselves in the various activist positions currently advocated in our culture and society. Or…

  • We can increase our daily devotional time.
  • We can set a goal to lead a specific someone to Christ.
  • We can unplug from the endless litany of media-driven bad news.
  • We can do our individual part to strengthen our local congregation (making visits, praying over specific prayer lists, writing encouraging cards and letters to members and visitors, volunteering for needed tasks, etc.).
  • We can deliberately focus more each day on heaven, building our desire to go there.
  • We can go the second mile to be a model citizen in this nation.
  • We can try to find people in our daily lives (co-workers, fellow students, neighbors, and others we see regularly) and build a bridge through acts of love, kindness, and humble service.
  • We can smile and be pleasant more, wherever we are (reflecting the joy and happiness we truly have in Christ).

There are probably quite a few, though lost in spiritual ignorance, who would love to know about this “wayfarers’ lodging place,” not to escape from people but to escape to God. There are brothers and sisters in Christ groping to get to such a place. Perhaps we forget that “there is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God. A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.” Jeremiah was discouraged by his daunting task. We who stand this side of the cross know, whatever is happening around us, “our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Wanna get away?

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WHY TODAY IS AN EXCITING DAY (poem)

 

Neal Pollard

From sea to sea, He is the same
No man can change His essence
From year to year, His eternal flame
Show His power and effervescence.

Whoever sits upon a throne
Or reigns a group or nation
We must that One make fully known
Through tireless proclamation

For all mankind must know that One
Who is changeless and transcendent
They must to Him yield before life’s done
And acknowledge on Him they’re dependent

Fickle, transient trends and times
Can’t blind us on this matter
The church’s mission in fair or foul climes
Is to take the Kingdom seed and it scatter.

And, so, we shall live and by such find peace
No matter the climate of our homeland
Leaning on God, who doesn’t change or cease
The trustworthy Rock upon which we stand!

Sunrise, Kauai

NO SMILE RULE!

 

Neal Pollard

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana are among the states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from  problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

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That’s The Church For You!

Neal Pollard

  • Where you can build relationships with some of finest, most enjoyable people on earth.
  • Where the world gets smaller and mutual connections are usually a conversation away.
  • Where God’s Word is honored and imperfect people try to follow it.
  • Where Christ is at the heart of every idea, program, and plan, but also every class period and worship assembly.
  • Where you connect with people throughout the week, from thoughts and prayers to cards, calls, messages, and visits.
  • Where hope is always vibrant whatever in the world is happening, where joy is always possible however gloomy the forecast.
  • Where there’s always room for more members to be added to the family.
  • Where young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated blend together in a harmony that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
  • Where we literally get a foretaste of glory divine.
  • Where you feel a part of something so truly profound in purpose and exciting in destiny that sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s real. And it is.
  • Where you have clarity and grounding in the midst of chaos and confusion.
  • Where you have heritage and history, but just as much hope and hankering.
  • Where truth is honored, and the way, though difficult, is clear.

A couple of closing caveats. No, I do not think the church, from the human side, is perfect. We have our foibles, fragility, and faults, but our foundation is flawless. No, the church is not a place, it is a people. “Where” indicates that the church, as a body, is a place where I can fit, belong, and function. No, this is not a Pollyanna-like, rose-colored glasses view of the church that glosses over or is ignorant of times when God’s people do not behave like they ought. But, when too often the diatribe is “what’s wrong with the church” and the mantra is, with negative and sarcastic spin, “that’s the church for you,” maybe it’s time we take a moment to count some of the blessings and perks of membership in the institution bought with the life and blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28). Obviously, there are other items to be added to the list. Feel free to do so! Generously.

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At the end of morning worship at the Katy, TX, church of Christ, 4/10/16.

We Sure Love Baptisms!

Neal Pollard

There are some things about social media that are extremely irritating—click baiting, pot-stirring, fight-picking, self-pitying, and the like. But there are a great many positives in that medium, too. Of all of them, I believe that posts of baptisms have to be my favorite. I do not appear to be alone in that estimation.  Judging from post reactions and comments, a great many others do as well. We love it when there are pictures. We love the “back story.” We love knowing that our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members have good, honest hearts softened by the power of Divine Revelation. We love knowing they have a clean slate and a fresh start, and are poised to begin their walk on Narrow Road.

All of this leads me to several random observations:

  • True good news needs no hype, trumping, manufacturing, or baiting.
  • It is New Testament thinking to rejoice at such good news (Acts 8:39; 15:3).
  • What a confirmation the obedience of others to the gospel is to our own decision to do so.
  • It restores our faith in the potential of humanity and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).
  • It builds our confidence in the Bible to see people imitate the examples of the New Testament, doing what they did the way they did it (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15; 31-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:12; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:18-21).
  • The average Christian wants what is best for others, which is just one reason Christians are the best people on earth.
  • We want good news to travel fast, far and wide.
  • We know it pleases the Lord when a person comes to Him in obedient faith (see Luke 15).

There are doubtless many more observations we could make, but these are enough for me to thank God for His people and those who daily make the decision to become His people. It builds my faith and hope in my fellow human beings and my trust in heaven’s plan of salvation.  Thank you for finding joy in the right and best things! And let’s keep striving to perpetuate that joy through leading souls to the Savior.

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“Debbie” being baptized into Christ during a gospel meeting with Keith Mosher in Sylvester, GA, this week (photo credit: Jason Willis)

Jahaziel’s Comforting Message

Neal Pollard

Jahaziel would have been a man of interesting and diverse talents. As a Levite, he would have served with the priests in the temple. As one of the sons of Asaph, he would have either been a literal descendant “or more probably [one of] a class of poets and singers who recognized him as [his] master” (Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible dictionary 1893 : n. pag. Print.). But on the occasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, Jahaziel would have been a “seer” or prophet. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him during the reign of Jehoshaphat, a righteous king of Judah (2 Chron. 20:14). Judah has been invaded by the Moabites and the Ammonites (20:1). Jehoshaphat’s response is righteous, seeking the Lord, proclaiming a fast, and leading a prayer service (20:3-13). Entire families, men, infants, women, and children were all assembled, “standing before the Lord” (13). Then, it happens. Jahaziel is the man God chooses and uses to respond to the touching prayer of the king.  What can we learn from Jahaziel’s message?

  • It was predicated upon the Lord’s power to deliver (15). He says, “The battle is not yours but God’s.” They were helpless alone and the message was that God was able to deliver them. The power belongs to the Lord. How we need that reminder today! In our personal battles with sin and trials, we so often are guilty of going it alone. Isn’t it thrilling to know that we have help in our fiercest battles (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13)?
  • It was precise in its instructions (16). Jahazael told them a specific time (“tomorrow”), a specific action (“go down against them”) and a specific place (“at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel”).  God wanted His people to know exactly what to expect and exactly what He expected them to do.  What comfort it is to know that God has laid out His instructions precisely and plainly. He’s not trying to trick us. He has told us what we need to do and what is ultimately coming when all is said and done (cf. Heb. 9:27).
  • It pointed to the salvation of the Lord (17).  The height of comfort might be this phrase: “station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.”  From the proper position, we can see the salvation of the Lord on our behalf. The hard-hearted, indifferent, bitter, and negative person is spiritually blind to it, but we should see it! When I am stationed at the pinnacle of prayer, the citadel of Scripture, the lookout of the Lord’s Supper, the gate of gratitude, or the fortress of forgiveness, I see the salvation of the Lord. Like gazing intently at a masterpiece, the longer I look the greater the nuances, details, and expertise emerge from the canvas of His work in my life. We can turn nowhere besides Calvary to see the clearest demonstration of the Lord’s salvation on our behalf!
  • It promised divine assistance (17). Jahaziel’s conclusion is profound. He ends, “the LORD is with you.” Sure enough, “The Lord set ambushes” (22), “the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies” (27), and “the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel” (29). The result was peace and rest (30). Are you confident of that? Whatever you are going through now and whatever lies ahead, do you believe that He is with you (cf. Mat. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6)? He has never failed and by His perfect character He never will!
  • It provoked praise and thanksgiving (18-19). From the top down, reverent worship and loud praise followed the mighty message of Jahaziel. This was faith in action! They believed the Word and proceeded as if it had already happened. Shouldn’t we be so confident in God’s promises that we respond in the same way? What struggle will you face that’s bigger than the promise of God?

Just like that, Jahaziel fades back into the woodwork of obscurity! His minute of sacred fame came and went, but how masterfully the Master used Him. However anonymous or average you may believe yourself to be, God has a greater message for you to share than He did for Jahaziel! As you faithfully share it, you can help produce an even greater outcome in the life of somebody you know. Perhaps He will use you to save someone from spiritual rather than physical death!  Be on the lookout for that opportunity today and share God’s comforting message.

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The wilderness of Jeruel

In An Average Assembly, You’ll Find…

Neal Pollard

  • Brand new Christians
  • Young parents
  • The unemployed
  • Spiritual leaders
  • Those struggling with worldliness
  • Someone diagnosed with a serious condition
  • Strugglers with addiction
  • Couples with marital troubles
  • Those with loved ones no longer faithful to Christ
  • Widows/widowers
  • Someone who has been deeply hurt or betrayed
  • Those in serious financial debt
  • Those who are the only Christians in their family
  • Someone facing an enormous life change
  • Some who are experiencing great successes and good news
  • Empty nesters
  • Retirees
  • Community and business leaders
  • Those who grew up in the church
  • Expectant parents
  • Racial minorities
  • The highly educated
  • Extroverts
  • Introverts
  • The emotionally fragile
  • Singles
  • Divorcees
  • Those bearing burdening secrets
  • People brimming with optimism
  • Nurturers
  • Takers
  • Critics
  • Encouragers
  • The easily distracted
  • Those forced to attend
  • Hard working servants
  • The dutiful
  • The physically and mentally challenged
  • Daily Bible students
  • Non-Christians
  • Those who need to make serious spiritual changes
  • The lonely
  • Those without formal education
  • Smilers
  • Scowlers
  • The impatient
  • Notetakers
  • Probably 10,000 other “subcategories”

But, do you know what’s so amazing?  God knew that His single volume, the Bible, could reach into the hearts and lives of everyone of them through a single medium.  He calls it preaching (1 Cor. 1:18-25).  It worked 2000 years ago.  It works today.  What an awesome God to meet us right where we live through a message and means that fills our every longing.