What Was Their Secret?

What Was Their Secret?

Gary Pollard

What got early Christians through hard times? What helped them grow? How were they able to thrive when their jobs, families, and personal safety were threatened?

They focused on hope. Biblical hope is confident expectation. God promised us a perfect life after this sometimes stinky one. The early church’s hope for death’s freedom gave courage and comfort (I Peter 1.3). Their hope for a perfect life had the same effect (II Peter 3.13; Romans 8.18ff).

They focused on grace. It keeps us from falling out with God, and it helps keep our motivation high (Romans 7.15ff; I John 1.7)!

They focused on God’s message to humans (I Peter 2.2). We have to view reality through God’s eyes. This isn’t possible without deep, meaningful, and unbiased study! The Bible is a collection of rich, fascinating insights into God’s nature and our future! It’s very helpful to use a version that’s easy to read and modern.

They focused on each other. The early church spent a ton of time together (special circumstance, but still cool: Acts 2.44). Their relationship provided encouragement and strength! Managing conflict healthily is also crucial for the church’s health (Matthew 18).

They focused on selflessness. We aren’t animals, so we should put the needs of others above our own (Romans 14; I Corinthians 8; All of Philippians). A selfless family can get through anything!

There’s No Place Like Home!

There’s No Place Like Home!

Tuesday Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

There is so much debate out there as to what Heaven will actually be like. Some make the argument that we just can’t know for sure. We know that there will be no tears in Heaven, so since that is the case there will definitely be blackened catfish there. Because in a place where there is no blackened catfish present, I would cry. Now with that out of the way, let’s look at three quick promises about Heaven.
First there is the promise of “fellowship” In Revelation 21:3 it says, “He will dwell among us…” Not just any fellowship, but fellowship with Jesus Christ. The second promise is that of “Relief.” In the very next verse it says, “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” How many of us can’t wait for that day? Now the third promise is one that is pulled from a verse that many people do not like to read. In Revelation 21:8 we see that there is a promise of “seclusion” You see, Heaven is going to be so great because of who will not be there. After we get a glimpse of what is promised to those who love Him (James 1:12), we see what is promised to those that don’t. Yet even here we see a blessing. Heaven is going to be place that is absent of, “…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars…” Heaven is going to be a place filled with family. The faithful Church family. I’m going to Heaven! It’s a choice. It’s a choice to live right and follow Christ no matter what. You have the ability to say it confidently and you should never have to wonder if you’re going to Heaven. It’s a promise! Take hold of that promise, because it’s the only thing that matters.

HE’S SO EXCITED TO GO TO CHURCH

HE’S SO EXCITED TO GO TO CHURCH

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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(Pinch-hitting for the groom-to-be)

Neal Pollard

Last weekend, we had an opportunity to see good friends of ours when Kathy did a Ladies Day in “L.A.” (Lower Alabama). We met Justin and Anna Maynard when they served as missionaries in Tanzania, and we have also been to Israel with them. They have two beautiful Standard Poodle puppies, a girl named Ruby and a boy named Colton. They are both smart, but Colton has to be a canine Einstein. Perhaps the best measure of his intelligence is his absolute love of going to the church building with Justin (see picture below). Some years ago, I wrote about a dog from my childhood that was faithful to be at the building when the church met (The Dog At Church). What I appreciate about Colton is how eager he is, every single time, to “go to church.” When Justin asks, “You wanna go to church?,” Colton goes ballistic! When he gets there, he sprints to the door and impatiently waits for his “dad” to open the door. Then, he runs around excitedly (I watched him do laps around the auditorium for several minutes before contentedly sprawling out on the floor to rest). He does a flying leap onto one of the other minister’s couch and thoroughly enjoys the whole experience at the church building.

His enthusiasm is so high, it made me think of what David once said: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psa. 122:1). The sons of Korah described being in the house of the Lord, “with the voice of joy and thanksgiving” (Psa. 42:4). Maybe it was his memories of “sweet fellowship together” with others who “walked in the house of God in the throng” (Psa. 55:14). In those last two passages, the writers look back with longing to a time when they could do freely what now was impossible to do. They longed to be there. The psalms, as much as any book, describes zealous worshippers. Think about Psalm 95:6, which admonishes, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker!”

I watched Colton and I asked myself, “Do I have that attitude toward going to ‘church’?” Frankly, I can let a sour mood or personal problems or distractions dampen my joy and zeal for being there. Here’s a creature who will not live eternally, is not made in the image of God, and for whom Jesus did not die, but whose unbridled enthusiasm is overflowing! The next time I’m tempted to grumble or grimace as I approach the “next appointed time,” I hope I will remember Colton Maynard, who loves to go to church! 

Colton and Justin
A Myth We Want to Believe 

A Myth We Want to Believe 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

Are you hoping for a “white Christmas” like the ones that Irving Berlin alleged to know? If so, I have some disappointing news for you. The reality is white Christmases are rare. They have always been rare, at least as long as we have been keeping meteorological records. Yet, what of the picturesque scenes painted by Currier and Ives? What about the romantic notions of a snowy Christmas extolled by Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen in Michael Curtiz’s “White Christmas?” Yes, those are likewise a fabrication of Hollywood too.

There are two reasons that the belief in a “white Christmas” is faulty. First, there is the fact that Britain was a late adopter of the Gregorian calendar (1752). Hence, December 25th used to be January 6th. That makes a big difference from a meteorological standpoint. Second, Charles Dickens, the man who gave us our concept of the “modern Christmas,” lived during the coldest, snowiest part of the Little Ice Age (1805 to 1820). If one is prone to indulge in nostalgia, he allows his youth to color his perceptions of the present and future. So, young Charles Dickens enjoyed very snowy Christmases. In his earlier days, the snow fell and stuck around for some time. From his perspective, then, idyllic Christmases were white. America, in turn, blindly accepted the Dickensian Christmas as its role model.

It is not charming to learn that we have founded our hopes on a myth, correct?  At least the desire for a white Christmas is innocent. Yet, how many are investing their hopes in salvation based on the equivalent of tradition or myth? In Philippians 2.12, Paul tells us to “make an end of your own salvation with fear and trembling” (GNV). I chose this early English translation (Geneva) because it well-conveys the message from the Holy Spirit. Though salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2.8-9), we must endeavor to receive it. Thus, we make “an end” to it. Like the football thrown by the quarterback, we must catch the ball, tuck it in securely, and run to the endzone.

Why would someone purposely mislead another? The real answer, perhaps, is something known only by God. One of the most tragic narratives of the Old Testament is that of the young and old prophet. 1 Kings 13 records how God dispatched a young prophet to cry out against Jeroboam’s idolatry. Jeroboam wanted the young prophet to intercede on his behalf with God. God told the young prophet that even if Jeroboam offered half of his house, he would not dine with anyone but go straight home following a different route. So, the young prophet rejected Jeroboam’s request, repeating what God said.

The story does not end there, however. An old prophet living in Bethel asked the young prophet to dine with him. The young prophet repeated what God had told him. In response, the old prophet lied and told the young prophet that an angel spoke to him, permitting him to dine with him.  In a sense, the young prophet did not “make an end of (his) salvation with fear and trembling.” Rather than consulting God about the truth of what the old prophet said, he accepted the old prophet’s invitation. While sitting at the old prophet’s table, the old prophet told the young prophet that he would die since he disobeyed God. The young prophet finished his final meal and traveled the road towards home, where he met a lion that killed him. And despite being the instrument of his destruction, the old prophet lamented the young prophet after retrieving his dead body.

Just as with white Christmases, there are other myths we want to believe. We want to think that older people sharing kinship with us have our best spiritual interests at heart. For example, most people have “saintly” mothers and grandmothers who took them to a particular church in their youth. They paid attention to some preacher at those services who told them to believe in Jesus to receive salvation. And he calls himself a preacher, correct? Hence, he should be someone you can trust. As with the young prophet, there is a failure to learn the truth directly from the source: God. Jesus promises that we can know that truth (John 8.32) and identifies that knowable truth as God’s word (John 17.17).

However, rather than God’s truth, many would instead believe the doctrines of men, like Calvinism’s predestination, dubbed “the most comforting doctrine.” And they may embrace this false teaching as sincerely as Saul had embraced Judaism before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. Ultimately, their rationale has the same fragile foundation as a Dickensian novel or a Currier and Ives lithograph. Warm, fuzzy feelings serve as the basis for belief. That feeling is related to nostalgia for the “faith” of mom or dad or the beloved preacher, not truth. It is a feeling predicated on the myth that a loving God would not condemn any sincerely religious person even though Jesus said that those failing to obey the Father would depart (Matthew 7.21-23).

In conclusion, I’d advise you to heed Solomon’s counsel. “Buy the truth, but sell it not: likewise wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Proverbs 23.23 GNV). Make sure your salvation has a better foundation than a white Christmas.

Further Reading

Staveley-Wadham, Rose. The Truth Behind the White Christmas Dream, Findmypast, 10 Dec. 2020, blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2020/12/10/truth-behind-white-christmas-dream/.

“Traditional ‘White Christmas’ Thought to Be a Myth.” Traditional’ White Christmas’ Thought to Be a Myth | Century Ireland, RTÉ ,www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/blog/traditional-white-christmas-thought-to-be-a-myth.

Ferwen. “A Christmas Carol: Dickens and the Little Ice Age.” Letters from Gondwana, Letters from Gondwana, 19 Dec. 2015, paleonerdish.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/a-christmas-carol-dickens-and-the-little-ice-age/.Ortiz, Diego Arguedas. “How Dickens Made Christmas White.” BBC Future, BBC, 21 Dec. 2018, www.bbc.com/future/article/20181217-how-dickens-made-white-christmas-a-myth.

The Foundation For Happiness

The Foundation For Happiness

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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Carl Pollard

Do you want to be happy? In answering this question, many in the church will tell you to “fulfill your purpose.” While this is true, serving God and proclaim Him to others will bring happiness, there’s a very important foundation that is a driving point for our Christianity.
 
While it is true that we have been given the opportunity to tell others about the gospel, and we no longer have to worry about what we should be doing with our lives, what happens if we try to fulfill this command without love?
 
True happiness is built on the foundation of loving God. Now before you start thinking that this is one of those “easier said than done” articles, notice a few verses with me. Just saying that we love God won’t bring happiness. We must have a true sacrificial love for Him. To help us make this goal more attainable we must ask ourselves, “Why do I love God?”
 
I Love God because…
 
He deserves to be loved. Think of all the ways He has blessed us. Forgiveness, Heaven, and every earthly blessing we have. God deserves to be loved by His creation, but even more than that,,,
 
He commanded us to love Him. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy‬ ‭6:5‬).
 
Loving God isn’t a suggestion. If we claim to be His children, we must love Him the way He has told us to love Him. This means we love Him with all our:
 
Heart (center of emotion). It is not only an external action, but an internal affection that influences all our actions. He wants a heart so filled with love that it is shown in secret as well as in public.
 
Soul. The immortal part of our being is thoroughly filled with a love for God. It’s deeper than the physical.
 
Might. Our thoughts, speech and actions should all be influenced by a love for God.
 
Loving God means we love others. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5. “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
 
Not only do we love God with every aspect of our being, but we love those created in His image. Jesus goes on to say that all of the law and the prophets hangs on these two commands.
 
We serve God because we love Him. We fulfill our purpose because every part of our being is consumed with a love for God. Do you want to be happy? Love God, love His creation. Build a foundation of love and your faith and service to God will have no limits
God + Understanding = Joy

God + Understanding = Joy

 Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

I wrote those words in the back of my Bible. It has helped me on several occasions to gather my wits and remember Who I serve. 

In America one of the most common fears is the fear of death. I’m sure it must be true all over the world. Some are afraid of the unknown as humans don’t fully comprehend everything about the physical process of death. 

While Solomon reminds us at the end of Ecclesiastes that we are to fear God, It never ceases to amaze me how an understanding of God eliminates so many of our earthly fears. 

It seems that fear is really an infant quality of the new Christian. It should be. We fear God’s wrath, power, and potential punishment, but with spiritual  growth comes the absence of fear.

 While uncertainty shrouds the details of our future day by day, the Christian can take comfort in knowing our eternal home with God can be certain. 

Timothy needed the reminder that the Lord has the ability to empower us when fear begins to creep in. Paul tells him, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but one of power and love and a sound mind” 2 Timothy 1:7. 

I know that Timothy wasn’t the only one that needed to hear that. So many of us today, especially in these times, need to here those precious words of comfort. Whatever fears may be weighing you down today, may God’s Word give you the power, love, and sound mind that you need to face the day before you. 

Spirituality Needs to Find Its Expression

Spirituality Needs to Find Its Expression

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard 

In the waning days of the last millennium, I happened to catch a program on public television about a dance competition held by Native Americans in rural Connecticut. If you are wondering why I still remember that show some 20 years later, it was because of the responses given by some of those interviewed. The dancers participating expressed the idea that their dance was an outward expression of their inward spirituality. The master of ceremonies echoed their sentiments as he explained spirituality needs to find expression. Ponder that last part with me for a moment; spirituality needs to find expression. Indeed.

I’m not suggesting that we incorporate carnal expressions of our spirituality in our worship of God, like dancing to a beating drum. Yet, if we are spiritual, shouldn’t there be an outward expression of it? Christians have a magnificent treasure stored within themselves (cf. 2 Corinthians 4.7). Sometimes, though, observation of Christians suggests otherwise. We who are blessed still covet for more. We who are given joy from within have sour attitudes. We allow ourselves to become filled with anxiety. Our brethren anger us, rather than receiving our love. Those without the church may think we are sad rather than happy. We who serve the One owning all withhold the bounty of that Providence and Wisdom of His Revelation from those needing it. We fail to be lights shining in a dark world as we are commanded (Matthew 5.14-16).

Yes, spirituality needs to find its expression. Can you recall the depth of emotion you felt when you first realized you were in love? You wanted to proclaim your love in loud tones to any who would listen. Do you remember the joy and zeal that was yours when you put on Christ in baptism? You wanted to proclaim the praises of Him Who had brought change to your life. Why don’t we allow our faith to find its expression today through the sharing of the Gospel? Why not do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith, as we have the opportunity? (Galatians 6.10) Lastly, let us worship God in spirit and truth without being begged to do so by elders, preachers, and Bible class teachers. If we do these things, no one will doubt the spirituality we claim to possess.

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THE POWER OF HOPE

THE POWER OF HOPE

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

Have you been struggling with some feelings of hopelessness lately? Whenever we have a hard time seeing the end in sight or we face uncertainty or are exposed to fears and anxieties, it can undermine our determination to have hope. Yet, over a hundred times in Scripture, God points us to the hope His children have through Him and His promises. We have such a resource because of the rock-solid expectation He provides. Whatever may happen to us this week, this month, or this year, the Christian can look forward with confidence at the fulfillment of what God through Christ promises us. And Scripture says it so many ways:

–Hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)
–Hope helps us persevere with eagerness (Romans 8:24-25)
–Hope causes rejoicing (Romans 12:12)
–Hope fills you with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)
–Hope is an abiding quality, alongside such elite qualities as faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
–Hope enables deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:10)
–There is one, unconquerable hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4)
–Hope is tied to earnest expectation and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20)
–Hope is connected to steadfastness (Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)
–Hope offsets grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
–Hope tunes our hearts to look for Jesus’ appearing (1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:13)
–Hope encourages the pursuit of our eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7)
–Hope anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:19)
–Hope helps us draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19)
–Hope is tied to endurance (Hebrews 10:23)
–Hope is instrumental to faith (Hebrews 11:1)
–Hope prepares for eternity (Colossians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:3,13)
–Hope helps give a defense (1 Peter 3:15)
–Hope purifies (1 John 3:3)

Remember this:

“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
“The hope of the righteous is gladness…” (Proverbs 10:28).
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
“Christ Jesus…is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). 

You will face nothing today or ever that is too destructive, terrifying, or powerful to offset this hope! That doesn’t mean be rash, reckless, or rebellious. It does mean be faith-filled, optimistic, and courageous! Are your faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:21)?  

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The Quality That Makes Us Excited For Hard Times

The Quality That Makes Us Excited For Hard Times

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Joy is something we’re supposed to have when we go through trials (Jas. 1.3). It’s χαρά, which means, “to experience gladness.” It describes a forward-thinking mentality that says, “Right now isn’t great, but I can learn from this and grow.” Our joy comes from anticipating the ultimate growth we experience from conquering trials! And if those trials take my life, that joy is in anticipation of heaven. 

Joy is something experienced in heaven and in the presence of angels when someone repents (Luke 15.7, 10). It is compared to the excitement one feels when regaining something valuable that had been lost. Joy is more than just contentment;  it contains also an element of excitement. 

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22). It is contrasted with outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, etc. A part of living the Christian life, denying our primal desires, and not being boastful is having joy. Sometimes we find ourselves focusing on what we give up to live faithful lives, but we forget that Christianity provides for, encourages, and promotes excitement and joy! 

So what are we supposed to be excited for? Paul even had joy in the face of suffering (Phil. 2.17). Joy and happiness are not necessarily the same thing. We can have joy or gladness or excitement concerning the life that waits for a Christian while living in the sometimes harsh realities of a fallen world. 

In this life, Christians can have joy because of a profound sense of purpose, having meaning in a confusing world, healing after tragedy, and something to always look forward to. 

It may not be our first response to be excited about hard times, but if we develop a mindset that looks to the rewards and positives of difficulty (growth, endurance, empathy, perspective, heaven), we will have joy and excitement. 

Carl and Chip

After Cuts Become Scars

After Cuts Become Scars

Neal Pollard

David was broken and battered by sin. He would feel its effects from his public life to his private life for the rest of his life. In the aftermath of his actions with Bathsheba and the subsequent cover-up, the wounds of sin left visible scars. Nathan’s accusing words perhaps ringing in his ears, he sits down to pen by inspiration the haunting, but hopeful, 51st Psalm. We often dwell more on the first part, the multifaceted description of sin and the more beautiful pictures of forgiveness. But, to me, the most beautiful part of the psalm is when David starts using the word “then.”

Satan would love for sin to defeat us. He would like the guilt to overwhelm us, to keep us from the restoration David longs for here. David is speaking prospectively, asking for a clean heart, renewed spirit, spiritual fellowship, joy and sustenance from God. But, he asks for it for a purpose. In doing so, he shows us what God wants to do with us and for us after our “cuts” become “scars.”

After the cuts become scars…

REACH OUT TO THE LOST (Psalm 51:13). On the other side of repentance, David was anxious to help others reeling from their spiritual wounds. As we overcome through God’s help, we can be a tool in His hand to relate to and rescue others struggling just like we did. It would be far better to have never gone down the road of sin, but having truly come back we can understand the desperate, dark place transgressors are walking. 

BE A FAITHFUL WORSHIPPER (Psalm 51:14). David, the master musician, had lost his song in the far country. He yearned for joyful song. Worship loses its power and purity in our lives when we are living in darkness. We feel hypocritical and empty, just going through the motions. But, back in His glorious light, we can experience that lifted up feeling once more. David shows us the blessing of restoration, a spirit renewed to enjoy further renewal in faithful worship.

GIVE GOD SACRIFICES (Psalm 51:15-17). David mentions the sacrifice of praise, a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. It is obvious, from context, that these sacrifices would reveal themselves in his service to God and to others. This is not merely guilt-driven service, an effort to make amends for the evil influence of his sin. Having been made whole, David has a clarity of purpose that appreciates better what God wants from him. We can be fruitful and useful to Him, scars and all. 

ACCEPT GOD’S DELIGHT (Psalm 51:18-19). How many times did David relive those moments from the rooftop to the prophet’s visit? How often did he wish he could just go back and undo it all? How long did he wrestle with accepting God’s forgiveness and wondering if God could take him back? He shows an appreciation for the prospect of God’s delight. He rightly feels responsible for others, and he wants to lead them to do what’s right. But, I love what he anticipates. He knows God will be delighted with the offering.  Did you know that? Did you know that God can delight in you again, when you bring him your sin-scarred life and offer your righteous sacrifices? He doesn’t want to discard you. He wants to delight in you!

It must have continued to be hard for David. He had reminders everywhere. He could not undo his past. But, he did the right thing. Having dealt with his past, he focused on the present and looked to the future. That’s what God wants us to do after our cuts become scars!

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