Categories
Christmas scruples Uncategorized

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

Neal Pollard

To be fair, there have been several passages I’ve neglected to apply to myself, but, given the time of year we are in, this is certainly one. Paul writes,

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:5-10). 

When we encounter a passage in Scripture, we are well-served to consider its practical application for daily life.

According to this passage, an individual is permitted to regard one day above another and another may choose not to do so. How might that apply to us today? What if one personally regarded December 25th over, say, August 17th (which, while it’s National Custard Day and National Thrift Shop Day, was an attempt to pick an ordinary day on the calendar)? Is that wrong? 

According to this passage, one may elect to observe a day (or not) and eat certain foods (or not) “for the Lord.” If they observe and eat, they aren’t wrong and should not be judged. Remember what Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Is application restricted just to customs under the Old Law, or could someone today act as our judge regarding some or all of these things? Even in Colossians, Paul was dealing with more than Judaisers. 

According to this passage, we must consider our actions in light of how they impact each other. As a local church and even an entire brotherhood, we don’t act in isolation because we are part of one big spiritual family. It also means each member, every weak and strong Christian, should first apply this passage to himself/herself and not just project it onto others. It is a two-way street. If one wants to personally show homage to Christ on a specific day, should he or she be respected and left alone to do that? That seems a fair application of this text.

According to this passage, we must watch judging our brother in matters like these. Further, we must avoid seeing him with contempt. That’s a strong word, meaning “to show by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain” (BDAG 352). Jesus reserved a scathing parable of two men praying in the temple for some because “they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Every weak and strong Christian, along with the rest of humanity, “will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That should temper my spirit and speech, especially in matters which upon fair investigation turn out to be matters of judgment.

When I was younger, I sadly admit that I passed judgment on Christians who sent me religiously-themed Christmas cards or put up a nativity scene in their yard. Any sign that they attached religious significance to this season I attributed to their being spiritually weak and inferior. In light of Romans 14, I believe I was wrong to do this. This was a personal liberty granted to them by God through Paul in that text. If, as I presumptuously assumed, I was their “stronger brother,” then I should not act as their judge in the matter. I should set an example of patience, compassion, and acceptance.

This passage does not authorize the church to observe Christmas or to conclude, as one wise brother put it, “If I can do it, we can do it.” Scripture is filled with condemnation for the church, in its worship and teaching, setting up what God set down and setting down what He set up. Paul, in Romans 14, is talking about an individual Christian engaging in a personal observance. In a mountain of doctrinal and moral crises, let’s be sure to put this in proper perspective. More than that, let’s be careful to avoid being in either the camp which looses where God has bound or which binds where God has given liberty. And let it begin with me.

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Categories
aging death Judgment Day mortality Uncategorized

Mbah Gotho, Methusaleh, And Mortality

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Neal Pollard

Incredibly, his residency card and his nation’s official documents, state his birthday as December 31, 1870 (The Guardian). For clarification, that was almost three weeks before Germany became an official nation, only five years after the end of the Civil War (reconstruction was just underway and Ulysses Grant was president), 28 years before the Spanish-American war, 33 years before the airplane was invented, 44 years before the start of World War I, and America was less than 100 years old. Mbah Gotho died in 2017, making him 146 years old at the time. The only reason it is questioned is because his native Indonesia did not begin recording births until 1900. Officials stand firm that it is accurate. Can you imagine? What was it like to live almost a century and a half? To see almost all of 15 decades? 

To put it in perspective, the ancient Methuselah lived almost seven times longer than Mbah. He died at almost 1,000 years old.  Genesis 5:27 faithfully records, “So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.” Methuselah was contemporary with Adam and Shem, a gap of over 1,600 years. In a day of pristine gene pools and a water canopy-covered atmosphere, everyone and every thing lived much longer. But God determined a general rule of thumb to which humanity has almost universally submitted, saying, “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). Thus, an Mbah Gotho is an almost singular oddity. The official oldest age in modern times was reached by Jeanne Calment, who was 122 when she succumbed in 1997. 

Average life expectancy throughout much of recorded time falls more closely in line with what Moses states, in Psalm 90:10, somewhere between 70-80 years of age. War, disease, famine, poverty, and the like sometimes curtail those numbers, but what is true of those who die at birth or who make it 122, 146, or even 969 years is that they do die. Hebrews 9:27 affirms the inevitability of it barring only the second coming of Christ in one’s lifetime (1 Cor. 15:52).

Most people make decisions as though they will live forever. People who know better put off obedience to the gospel, put other things before Christ in their priorities, serve sin, and neglect their reason for existence. While too many do this in ignorance, how tragic for the untold number who know how they ought to spend their lives but either deny or delay doing it. The moment of surrender will come. The body and spirit separate (Jas. 2:26). The body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God (Ecc. 12:7). At death, one’s eternal existence begins (Mat. 25:46). God gives one only the moments between birth and death to prepare for that existence, but He does not tell any of us how long that is. He simply tells us to be ready (Mat. 24:42,44). May we all get ready and stay ready for that day!

Categories
Judgment Judgment Day pornography Uncategorized

God Will Bring Every Act To Judgment

Neal Pollard

72% of Americans, age 13-24, view pornography frequently (55% of men 25 and older). Those numbers only drop to 41% and 23% of those professing to be Christians (Barna, July-August 2015, Barna Study Here).  So, perhaps this was inevitable. A few years ago, potentially millions of people started receiving a disturbing email from an anonymous source claiming to have hacked into their email and installed malware to discover their pornographic consumption. Experts say these hackers have just enough facts and information to frighten many of the recipients. They attempt to blackmail the recipients, demanding hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bitcoin. Otherwise, they promise to email proof of their readers’ perverse, clandestine interests to everyone in their contact list.

These hackers are relying on people’s fear of being found out, thinking that if even a tiny percentage of fearful folks pay the ransom it will make their spam to millions pay off. This hoax has probably raised the heart rate of many who consume pornography but felt like they were getting away with it. But the FBI say it is just that–a hoax.

God created man with a built-in sensitivity to our accountability. Many have a “certain fearful looking for of judgment” (Heb. 10:27). Some day, the secrets of men will be judged by God through Christ (Rom. 2:16). Solomon said, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). But, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he was done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).

The good news is that no one has to be afraid of the judgment or having everything which is hidden shared with the whole world. “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Peter adds, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

God wants our sins to be covered by the blood of His Son. Not just “big sins” (as we distinguish them), but every sin, great and small, that we struggle with! How great to face the judgment with those sins hidden from His perfect view.

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Categories
attitude perspective Uncategorized worldview

What You See Depends On How You Look

Neal Pollard

You get to choose, just like Jesus did (Mark 2:14) and the Good Samaritan did (Luke 10:33). When you look, who or what do you see? May I encourage us all to…

  • See people, not pigment.
  • See souls, not status.
  • See minds, not money.
  • See Christ, not color.
  • See relationship, not race.
  • See opportunity, not obstacle.
  • See hope, not hopelessness. 
  • See by faith, not by features.
  • See spiritually, not stereotypically. 
  • See empathetically, not exclusively.
  • See persons, not politics.
  • See biblically, not bigotedly.
  • See impartially, not impassively.
  • See lovingly, not loathingly.
  • See compassionately, not condescendingly.
  • See eternally, not externally.
  • See responsibility, not reactions.
  • See bridges, not bunkers.

The world tells us to see the things or in the ways represented on the right hand side of the comma. But the Word urges us to focus on the left hand side of it. Don’t let the world be your guide.

Categories
dogmatic legalism Uncategorized

Are You Dogmatic?

Neal Pollard

Brett Petrillo, one of my co-workers at Bear Valley, showed me a word (in Colossians 2:20) I did not know was in the Bible. Actually, it’s in the Greek Bible, and the word is “δογματίζω  (dogmatizo). According to BDAG, it means “to put under obligation by rules or ordinances; obligate” (Arndt, et al, 254). Kittel adds that these are rules that seem to be right but are put forward as if “to establish a decree” or “to publish an edict” (Kittel, et al, 178). The shorter form, “dogma,” is found a few times and simply means a formal, governmental decree that may or may not be in accordance with God’s will (Lk. 2:1; Acts 17:7; Heb. 11:23; it’s also used of the Old Law in Eph. 2:15 and Col. 2:14, translated as “ordinances” or “decrees”). In Colossians 2:20, the longer, verb form is translated “submit yourselves to decrees” (NASB), “submit to regulations” (ESV), “subject to ordinances” (KJV), and “submit to (the world’s) rules” (NIV). 

It was dogmatic people asking these Christians to submit to their rules. Paul describes and defines the specific rules in the circumstances plaguing the Colossians. Some were acting as their judge regarding food, drink, festivals and days (16), adding fleshly (and, in some cases, heretical) requirements (18), and making rules which did not originate with Christ (21) that he describes as “the commandments and teachings of men” (22). Paul condemns such rule making (19,23). 

How does this teaching apply to us today? We are right to point out those who tell us we don’t have to obey things which God requires of us. Lessening God’s requirements in areas He holds us responsible for is spiritually fatal. This is replacing divine commands for human ordinances. 

Yet, we cannot miss the point that the other extreme is just as wrong. To make laws, regulations, and commands and bind them upon brethren is still to replace divine commands for human ordinances. This very context points out how God feels about this.

The Lord does not need our help. He knew what His will for us was, and we cannot improve upon that. We must make sure that we’re not pressing our opinion, preference, tradition, or judgment, saying that such is the more righteous, spiritual, or godly course of action. If it is a matter of divine indifference, we should never make it a test of fellowship. Those who decide differently from us are not “less sound” or somehow “suspect.” A humble effort to follow God’s revelation will truly make us “people of the book.” To obligate people to more than that is to be “dogmatic.”

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Categories
authority immorality Satan standards Uncategorized

The Rasputin Rule

Neal Pollard

Very little good can be said of Gregory Rasputin. Robert Goldston, in The Russian Revolution, writes that he “was, like his father before him, essentially a rowdy peasant. He soon developed a reputation in his hometown as a horse thief, drunkard, seducer of young girls, and general good for nothing. He had no education and remained largely illiterate all his life. His one apparent attribute was great physical strength. He was a coarse-featured man with a heavy black beard and strangely piercing eye” (82). Because times in Russia circa 1905 were desperate and grim, a rascal like Rasputin could rise. He went to Saint Petersburg, weaseled his way up the ranks of nobility, and eventually rose to become the most intimate advisor of Czar Nicolas II and especially the superstitious Czarina Alix. Many historians believe that, in the fateful, final years of the Romanov dynasty, Rasputin was the unofficial, yet undisputed, ruler of Russia.

He was grossly immoral and unscrupulous. At his words, jobs and even lives were spared or taken. Though he had abandoned his wife and children, Rasputin made his way as a self-professed prophet and “holy beggar.” The Czarina, in all her correspondence, simply called Rasputin “the Friend.” The royal family implicitly trusted Rasputin. Rasputin, in turn, urged the royal family to rule by absolute despotism. Many thought Rasputin to possess powers of hypnotism and the ability to do magic. Giving him the control of hundreds of millions of peoples’ lives, the Czar contributed to his own murder and that of the entire royal family in the revolution of 1917. For Rasputin’s part, he was murdered in 1914 by a small group of conspiring nobles who lured him to one of their houses and shot him repeatedly after poisoned food and wine did not do the trick.

The most amazing part of this story involves the irony of it all. A ne’er-do-well essentially becomes head of the largest country in the world. A grossly immoral man is viewed as a “holy man.” The head of a dynasty that had lasted hundreds of years put all its trust and hope in such a one. What incredible folly!

However, the majority of humanity has done the same thing from time immemorial. The prince of darkness, the king of ne’er-do-well, is their spiritual advisor. As foolish as it is, people stake their eternal destiny on his wholly corrupt guidance. They risk it all, mesmerized by his wiles. Consequently, they are duped into calling “evil good and good evil…who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isa. 5:20-21). Yet, it is not a revolution but The Judgment that will undo them. They stand to lose more than physical life; they will lose their souls (Mat. 10:28). Beware of the pied piper of souls! Be careful who you make your spiritual counselor. It matters!

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Categories
endurance faithfulness perseverance Uncategorized

Almost And Armistice Day

Neal Pollard

War historians have given notice to it. It is a tragic subplot to a war tragic beyond most all comparison. World War I was a senseless, repeated exercise in the mass killing of young men from around the globe. This went on from August, 1914, up to the cease fire ordered for the eleventh month, the eleventh day, and the eleventh hour of 1918. Offensives on especially the western front meant men from several nations either were ordered to attack or were put in the position to defend against them. Men from many nations woke up on 11/11/18, but as casualties of war never saw the end of that day. People were celebrating the end of the war in Paris, Berlin, London, Washington, and elsewhere while men, most having heard the rumor about the armistice, fought on and died. George Edwin Allison died at 9:30 AM, the last official British casualty. Augustin Trebuchon, a message runner, was killed by a single shot at 10:50 AM, the last French casualty. George Lawrence Price was the last official Canadian casualty, dying at 10:58 AM. The last American to die was Henry Gunter, who if he understood German would have heard the machine gunners of that nation plead for his division to stop their offensive. His time of death was 10:59, and divisional records indicate, “Almost as he (Gunter) fell, the gunfire fell away and an appalling silence prevailed.” If possible, one story is even more tragic. While historians cannot be absolutely certain, they believe the last casualty of this tragic war was a German officer named Tomas. Allegedly, he told Americans approaching a house that he and his men occupied that they could have the house since the war was over. No one had told the Americans who, not trusting the officer, shot him as he walked toward them right after 11:00 AM. Official records indicate over 10,000 dead, wounded, and missing men on the last day of World War I. Historians have found letters, interviewed fellow soldiers of these unfortunate men, and through such correspondence give chilling insights. These men were optimistic. Many felt charmed to have cheated death, some of them veterans whose service had spanned the entire length of a war that exacted staggering, daily death tolls. Others had a strong sense of foreboding, a fatalistic resignation that somehow, despite the cheerful optimism of comrades, they would not survive the day (much historical information gleaned from www.historylearningsite.co.uk).


It is extremely difficult to read this legacy from World War I of men doing their duty to the end, to come so close to escaping the clutches of death, only to be felled in the final hours. Armistice Day and the ending of World War I are the roots of one of our greatest National Holidays and observances, Veterans Day. We honor those living and dead who fought to keep us free from tyranny and evil. Even in that first world war, where war prosecution is much questioned and debated, mothers, fathers, family and friends are beholden to the men and women who risked everything to defend our beloved country.
With that in mind, please allow me to draw this spiritual parallel. How tragic for a child of God to follow for so much of the way only to fall away later in life (2 Peter 2:20-22). How tragic for one to come so close to the cross of Calvary and salvation, only to die short of that goal (cf. Mark 10:22). Jesus spoke of one not far from the Kingdom (Mark 12:34). Agrippa was “almost persuaded” (Acts 26:28). Only eternity and the Judgment Day will reveal the stories of those battling with themselves on the battlefield of Ephesians six, maybe close to obedience, who died outside of Christ. What a tragedy for anyone to die lost. Especially tragic are the examples of those who knew the truth, were convicted about it, but who died without having resolved the greatest problem known to man.
We honor the soldiers who fought and died, even in the “11th hour.” We pray for the souls who are living but will die, who have yet to come to the Captain of the Lord of hosts.

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Categories
eternal life eternity Judgment Judgment Day soul Uncategorized

EVERY NAME IMPORTANT

Neal Pollard

Today marks 16 years since the most infamous and iconic attack rocked our collective consciousness. Each year, there is a solemn ceremony conceived in such wisdom and executed with a poignancy that never abates. That is the reading of the names of those who died in the 911 Attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The soft music playing behind the readers accents the mood, punctuated by every reader mentioning the name of a family member they lost that fateful day. September 11th resonates with us so deeply because it was an attack on our country, but also because of the death of each and every individual who perished that day. Behind each name are family members, memories, joy and sorrow. Each person, in such a dramatic, untimely way, was taken from time into eternity. God loved and loves each one with an infinite, eternal love and wanted each one to be saved. Christ gave His life to provide salvation for each one. The Bible was written for the benefit of each one. The Lord’s church was meant to pursue and teach each one.

Though each individual is numbered among such a large group, around 3,000 of them, each one means more than the whole world (Mat. 16:26). This touching memorial is a tribute to the overall value of human life. It reminds us that we are surrounded by individuals all possessing an eternal soul.  Everyone you see today is heading toward eternity. Each one will either hear “well done” or “depart from me” (cf. Mat. 25:31ff). What is said about God’s attitude toward those victims specially remembered today is true of every person we meet and see today.

May we have our hearts stirred by the sobriety of that truth. May we never lose sight of our urgent responsibility to share the message of Christ with the people in our lives. As moving as the ceremony that occurs each year in New York City on September 11th, we really cannot imagine what the Day of Judgment will be like. Each person who ever lived, including you and me, will hear our name called (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). As important as our own name is, every name is important. Let us pray that this realization will propel us to tell the best news of human history and help someone find the only way, truth, and life.

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Categories
church church (nature) church function church growth Uncategorized

Traditions Of Men Versus The Word Of God

Neal Pollard

For as long as I have been preaching, I have had at least one copy of the Alvin Jennings’ book bearing the title above. The book was originally printed in 1972, but it has been reprinted several times. Jennings clarifies the way he uses the word “traditions” in his title. Rather than the sense of being a writing handed down from God (2 Th. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Co. 11:2), he used the word to refer to “religious laws and traditions originating from the minds of men and handed down orally and/or in printing from generation to generation” (iv.). He rightly points out that such traditions were condemned by Christ (Mat. 15:2-3,6; Mark 7:3,13; Col. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:18; Gal. 1:14). Some of the problems with these traditions were that they got in the way of obedience to what God commanded, caused negligence regarding and the setting aside of God’s commands, enslaved one to something or someone other than Christ, and created a zeal that could lead to unhealthy consequences. The traditions Jennings examines substituted  false, human ideas for clearly revealed, divine truth. Anything that binds where God has not bound or gives permission where God doesn’t permit must be rejected. It’s a tradeoff with the gravest consequences (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).

However, I hope that as we strive to follow the pattern for New Testament Christianity we will be careful about elevating any tradition to be on a par with Scripture. There are some traditions we may choose to observe (or not):

  • Offering an invitation after every sermon
  • Having worship leaders, including the preacher, wear suits and/or ties
  • Women wearing dresses to church services
  • Songs or songbooks reflecting a particular time period (whether old or new)
  • Mandating a specific Bible version be utilized in the public assemblies
  • Choosing to have an evening assembly
  • Replicating the format of the morning assembly (in lieu of using the time for class, for example)
  • A particular order of worship (including whether the Lord’s Supper precedes or follows the sermon)
  • Offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
  • Any practice or tradition that arises from expedience or the realm of judgment, but that is not specifically mandated in Scripture

The church finds itself at a crucial crossroads. Undoubtedly, there is nothing new under the sun, but we do find ourselves at a unique place in cultural history. Since we live in an argumentative, rancorous atmosphere fueled by everything from cable news to social media, we should be careful to maintain a spirit of love and kindness whenever we sort through matters like these. We should never cherish non-binding traditions more than we do people. Those of us who are older and presumably more mature should consider carefully where and when we might compromise regarding matters not tied down in Scripture. More than that, we should foster rather than fear an environment that allows for such discussions to occur—without animosity or distrust. This will mean spending much more time developing our relationships with one another on the local church level (across generations). The better we know each other and the more we grow our love for each other, the better equipped we should be to sort through such things. Coupled with serious Bible study, this will hopefully sharpen our ability to distinguish between traditions and truth. May we have the grace to listen to each other without prejudice or minds already made up. Instead or ridiculing or caricaturizing the church in demeaning ways, let all of us “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…” (Col. 3:12-13a). 

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Categories
judging Judgment Judgment Day Uncategorized wisdom works

Wisdom Is Vindicated By All Her Children

Neal Pollard

Jesus said, “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35). He said this in response to the hypercriticism and unrighteous judgment of those who condemned both John the Baptist and Him. They said John was too conservative and Jesus was too liberal. They hacked at the methods and message of both, without justification or legitimacy. They were libelous name-callers, but Jesus simply responded with a proverb. What a good one! It’s a needed one today, especially in the face of those who sit and snipe at the works of others. For those who get gun shy at the prospect of such snipers, please remember Jesus’ words and Jesus’ reward for those who keep at the good work.  This principle applies to:

  • Elders and preachers
  • Missionaries
  • Worship leaders
  • Young parents
  • Bible teachers
  • Deacons and ministry leaders
  • Christian Colleges and schools of preaching
  • Soul winners
  • Youth ministers
  • Lectureship and workshop directors
  • Church program organizers
  • Christians in the workplace
  • Teenagers
  • Students in their various schools
  • Camp directors
  • Writers and authors
  • Publishers

There are undoubtedly other categories of people who fall under the purview of Jesus’ saying, but they share the burden of having their works criticized by naysayers, ne’er-do-wells, nitpickers, and needlers. In Luke 7, Jesus took the magnifying glass and turned it on the critics. We can take heart this idea: “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pet. 1:17). We have a responsibility to conduct ourselves righteously, but we can rest in the confidence that we will be judged impartially by the perfect, righteous Judge. Let us commend our efforts to His eyes. He will get it perfectly right!

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