“God’s Guidelines In Matters Of Judgment”

“God’s Guidelines In Matters Of Judgment”

Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”

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Neal Pollard

In Romans 14, Paul emphasizes:

THREE FACTS ABOUT GOD

Even though Romans 14 is about the weak in faith and those who are stronger in faith, there is a decided emphasis on Deity–God’s acceptance (3), thanks to God (6), the judgment seat of God (10), praise to God (11), etc. The Lord is mentioned nine times while “Jesus” or “Christ” is mentioned several more times. Even when we have differences of opinions, we cannot forget about God’s presence and feelings. Another way to put any issue that would divide us is: “It’s all about God and not about us.” What are Paul’s three facts about God to help us here?

God Is Able To Make Our Brother Stand (4). Paul’s examples are about eating meat (3) and observing special days (5). Some did and some didn’t, and Paul says neither should judge the other’s Christianity on it for this reason. Each one is trying to please and follow the Lord the best they can (5-6). As long as they act from faith and not doubt on these judgment matters, they are not sinning (23).

God Is Lord Of All (9). We’ll be careful with each other’s convictions because we share the same Lord. We live for the Lord and die for the Lord; either way, we belong to the Lord (8). In all our political, social, and other earthly convictions, do we stop to remind ourselves abut this? We’re all on the same, level playing field as brethren, submitting to the same Lord. 

God Is Judge Of All (10-12). I don’t want to be my brother’s judge on anything, especially not things that are matters of judgment, opinion, and discretion. I’m also not qualified. If we get up at arms, let’s do so in defending God’s name and His authority. If we get worked up, let’s do so in seeking His glory and honor. 

THREE REMINDERS ABOUT THE CHURCH OF GOD

Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Christians are part of His kingdom first (Mat. 6:33), and it comes before politics, nation, race, etc. Romans 14 reveals three reminders about this kingdom. 

We Are Reminded That None Of Us Live Or Die To Ourselves (6-7). We are not an island to ourselves. What we do affects others. We’re keenly interested in how what we do affects others (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23). I consider how what I do affects you, and you are to do the same. That may come as a sacrifice to me, but I’m called to consider more than just me. 

We Are Reminded Of What The Kingdom Of God Is And Is Not (17). It’s easy for us to lose sight of our identity, mission, and work. If we forget who we are, why we’re here, or what we’re here to do, there’s trouble. At Rome, people were confused over what the kingdom of God was about. Paul says it is not about earthly stuff, stuff you can take or leave that is neither right nor wrong. The kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy. Mastering this leads us to be acceptable to God and approved by men (18). By majoring in the majors and minoring in the minors, we’re most effective with God and men. 

We Are Reminded That We Pursue What Makes For Peace And Edification (19). I doubt the Lord was trying to make a bunch of doormats in Romans 14, but to think that way is to miss the point of following Jesus (cf. Mat. 20:25-28). We approach our personal convictions, and those of others, wanting harmony and preferring one another. 

THREE WARNINGS ABOUT THE PEOPLE OF GOD

Even as Paul emphasizes God’s supremacy and the church’s nature, he does not leave out how God wants us to treat each other over judgment matters.

Don’t Judge Each Other (13). We can redirect the energy it takes to try and read hearts and judge motives into trying to see through the eyes of others (1 Pet. 3:8-9). Peter gives a process. Be one, then you will see through others’ eyes, you’ll feel a sense of family, then you’ll be kind, humble, and so on. 

Don’t Destroy Each Other (15). Paul says don’t spiritually kill the brother Jesus died for. When we insist on our rights and our way, we are no longer walking in love. We’re supposed to be about building each other up. Disagreement can turn to resentment, and we start avoiding each other or being distant. Substitute “food” with “political party,” “pandemic issues,” “celebrating Christmas,” “new heavens and new earth,” “literal indwelling,” “representative indwelling,” and the like. The principle is unchanged. 

Don’t Tear Down God’s Work (20). The church may have more opportunities and open doors right now than at any time in our lifetime. Don’t think the devil isn’t bothered by that. He’d love for us to turn on each other. He’d love to see Christians dig deeper trenches of division. But of all people, God’s people should lead the way in genuine love, unity, compassion, and care. So, Paul says don’t tear down the work of God for the sake of things that won’t matter in eternity. Causing others to stumble is a problem because it can tear down God’s family. Follow your own convictions (22), but don’t equate them with God’s law!

When You’re Caught Dead To Rights

When You’re Caught Dead To Rights

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

In 1976, I was in first grade attending school in Barrackville, West Virginia, where my dad preached. One of my buddies was a black-haired kid named Carl. He got me in more trouble, wetting paper towels and throwing them on the bathroom ceiling in our school, exploring a filthy, condemned house across the street from the church building, and probably other acts of mischief I have chosen to repress. The worst Carl incident is probably still recalled in janitorial circles throughout the greater Fairmont area. Apparently, the school was replacing a lot of windows. There were sheets and sheets of panes of glass propped up against the school building. Carl, who looked a lot like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, said he thought he could throw a pane of glass further than I could. The very suggestion made alarms go off in my head. This was wrong, dangerous, and I’m sure I threw in illegal. How I went from those thoughts to a sheet of glass- throwing-contest I honestly don’t remember. But I did and we did several times until an aforementioned janitor yelled at us to stop and stand still. I didn’t move but surprisingly Carl took off in a sprint. By the time the janitor made his way to my asphalt courtroom, I was feeling serious buyer’s remorse. I was arraigned and was told to report to the judge, better known as the principal, first thing in the morning.  I remember two things about that next day. One was that this is the only incident of my childhood that merited two spankings from my parents. The other was how gentle and kind the principal was. I later found out that the principal had told mom and dad that they would not make us pay for the broken glass.  I had no defense. Carl had hung me out to dry, but I forged my dastardly destiny the moment I cast my lots with that little rascal. I was at the mercy of one who could have made my life much harder, but he simply urged me to reform–the very thing I was eager to do. That was the last memory I have of Carl.

Have you ever been caught dead to rights–no excuse or mitigating circumstances (just plain guilty)? In John 8:1-11, there is a powerful lesson on forgiveness centering around a woman caught in adultery. We can look at this text from a variety of perspectives, but this very guilty woman was literally in the center of them all and at the heart of the text. Who was this woman to everyone present?

  • To all the people, she was an object of curiosity and possible amusement.
  • To one man, she was a sexual object to use.
  • To the scribes and Pharisees, she was a pawn for their use.
  • To the law of Moses, she was a sinner worthy of death.
  • But to Jesus, she was a person to defend, a soul to save, and a forgiven one to send.

This woman was viewed from every conceivable angle, from curious spectacle to sexual object, from contempt to compassion. The view that mattered most, Jesus’ vantage point, saw her not only for what she was but for what she could be. The example of her story helps us to appreciate that not only is sin bad, but it can be remedied. Jesus would say to every obedient one today what He told her. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

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The Asparamancer

The Asparamancer

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

I came across an article with this title, “Fortune Teller uses asparagus to predict the future.” Of course, I clicked on it, and here’s what I learned:

Her name is Jemima Packington and she is known as the “Asparamancer.”
She throws asparagus in the air and then reads the patterns that have landed on the ground. So far she has correctly predicted Trump’s election, British soccer league losing the World Cup, and the spike in vegetable sales across the world.

But Jemima isn’t always correct. She once said about her wrong predictions, “I am usually about 70 percent accurate with my predictions. This is because not every asparagus is meant to be used for prophesying. I take what I do very seriously and this is especially important when it comes to picking the right asparagus” (ecr.co.za).

If only reading the future were as simple as throwing vegetables in the air, but unfortunately it’s not.

Matthew 24:36-39 says, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
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As humans we cannot see the future, only God can. We won’t have a warning that will let us know when He is coming. So that begs the question, “How are you living?” It would be amazing to always have a clean house. if someone dropped by you can invite them in and know it looks fine. My mom hated inviting people over when our house was dirty. She’d clean for hours before even one of our friends would come over.

What kind of house do you have? When God comes back, will He find a dirty house? A life that was spent in vanity and on self-service? Or will He find a clean and orderly house, one that has been prepared and one that has lived a life of service to God? As we think about the future, may we never fail to ask ourselves, “How is my house?”

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99 44/100% Pure

99 44/100% Pure

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

When Harry Procter first marketed his Ivory soap in 1891, he used the simple slogan, “It floats!” Within a few years, however, he conceived of a new angle he could use to peddle Ivory to the masses. He decided to have an independent laboratory analyze his soap along with Castile soaps also available on the market in the 1890s. The laboratory’s conclusions were used by Procter to declare that Ivory was “99 44/100% Pure.” And that was Ivory’s new slogan. 1

 The problem with that slogan is that there was no standard for comparison. Who defined what “pure” meant? Was it the independent laboratory that Procter paid to do the analysis? That does not pass the smell test. If paid to find a particular result, are you going to maintain your integrity and admit that there was no litmus test for soap purity? Thus, when you look at a package of Ivory soap today with its vaunted claim of being “99 44/100% Pure,” remember that is a subjective statement based on a clever marketing ploy. In other words, Ivory is pure only because it proclaims itself to be so.

If we are not careful, we can be guilty of doing something similar spiritually. That is, we might puff ourselves up, stating we are superior to those around us when we have no objective basis for our statement. Jesus cautioned us against such behavior. He told us not to do things to be seen of men in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.1-6). He gave the parable of the Pharisee and the publican to caution us that we should not seek to justify ourselves by looking upon others with contempt (Luke 18.9-14). The sobering truth is that even when we have done everything commanded of us, we are to say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17.10b NASB). Indeed, Jesus calls us to second-mile service (Matthew 5.41).

Regarding the final judgment, Jesus warned that there would be some who would stand before Him and laud those works (of their devising) they had done. His response for them will be, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7.23 NASB). It is not as if the desires of God are unknown. He has declared them to us. And this constitutes the criteria for our judgment (John 12.48). Indeed, we must do the will of the Father (Matthew 7.21). As such, we have an objective standard by which to compare our lives. Beyond that, we are to show mercy. We must walk in the same love as Christ had for us (Ephesians 5.1-2). That was a generous love putting our interests ahead of His own. In like manner, we must avoid allowing the abuse of our Christian liberty to cause another to stumble (1 Corinthians 8.9). Only when doing such, can we begin to say that our righteousness is not like filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6).

Fortunately, we do not have to guess whether we are living lives pleasing to Him. Hence, even if we cannot quantify our purity with an exact number like 99 44/100%, we can still rest assured that the blood of Jesus Christ has us thoroughly cleansed (1 John 1.7). In the interim, we plead with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51.10).

 Reference

1 “Ivory (Soap).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 June 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_(soap).

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Crane Flies

Crane Flies

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

The Crane Fly is a misidentified and misunderstood creature. It looks like an enormous mosquito, so some will kill it for that reason. I often hear, “Don’t kill those, they eat mosquitos.” The crane fly is either killed for being a “mosquito” or protected based on misinformation about its eating habits. They do not have the anatomy to be predatory, according to Dr. Matthew Bertone with the NCSU Dept. of Entomology. They cannot bite humans, but they also can’t eat other mosquitos.

Some Christian liberties are like crane flies. We may understand that they are harmless in and of themselves (I Cor. 8; 10; Rom. 14.14), but we also understand that others may perceive them as being something they aren’t. To some, our Christian liberties are a mosquito: they see certain practices, lifestyles, clothing choices, consumptions, etc. as being sinful. Still others may see our Christian liberties as being hearty approval of some worldly behaviors, mistaking our enjoyment of this life (I Timothy 4.4) with godless living.

There is a middle ground. Flaunting our religious liberties is counterproductive and sinful (I Corinthians 8). Just because something is a gray area does not mean we should force other Christians to view it in black or white (Romans 14). On the other hand, it is every bit as wrong to condemn a Christian for enjoying a Christian liberty as it is to flaunt that liberty. Paul said, in the context of Christian liberties, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14.4).

So, what is that middle ground? There are, of course, the biblical principles of selflessness, courtesy, deference, discretion, confidence in our position on the matter (Romans 14.5, 20-23), etc. More often than not, though, we’re encouraged to simply avoid any Christian liberties because they may hurt others’ feelings. The middle ground is that we have a faith that is, “our own conviction before God. Happy is the man who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Rom. 14.22).

Some liberties need not be flaunted but may still be enjoyed privately, if we can demonstrate to ourselves and to God that they do not violate His commands in any way. Some liberties should be kept private so as to avoid causing a brother or sister to stumble (Rom. 14.21). That word for stumble is proskopto, which means, “to strike against something, or to make contact with something in a bruising or violent manner” (BDAG). If what we’re practicing is offensive to others because we’ve made it far more obvious than it should be, we’ve messed up. If we’re doing our best to be discrete and courteous in practicing Christian liberties (which are gifts from God), we’re on the right track.

The best crane flies are the ones we can’t see. No one thinks a mosquito is in the room, and no one thinks a “skeeter-eater” is in the room, either. We can avoid a whole lot of heartburn, headache, and even potential sinning when we keep our Christian liberties private. Or, we could play it safe and, “Not eat meat or drink wine, or do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Whichever path we take, we can never go wrong with the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12).

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“Who Will Bring Me Down To Earth?” God!

“Who Will Bring Me Down To Earth?” God!

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The shortest book of the Old Testament is dedicated to revealing the coming punishment of a nation which descended from Esau. Edom, also called Teman (for Esau’s grandson, Gen. 36:15),  faced “the day of the Lord” (a frequent Old Testament term meaning coming, divine punishment) along with all the nations. Well over a thousand years after Esau lived, his descendants betrayed God’s people, Judah, by helping the Babylonians loot Jerusalem during the time of the captivity and exile. God took notice and the book of Obadiah is proof that He planned to take action. 

While that is the background of Obadiah, it’s the way that Edom saw itself that has been imitated by many nations in subsequent times. One of the consequences of forgetting and denying God is that the most frequent substitute put on the throne of one’s heart is self. How sweet to embrace the thought that “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psa. 33:12). What a contrast to the frequent lamentation in Scripture about nations who forget God (Psa. 106:21; Deu. 32:18; Jud. 3:7; Jer. 3:21; etc.). 

Is it possible for people today to imitate the mindset of the Edomites? If so, how does God feel about that? How will He respond to that? It seems that at the heart of this book, we find:

THE SOURCE OF THEIR SECURITY (3-9)

Obadiah says they are arrogant and put their trust in their hiding places and their lofty places. They thought they had built a pretty impregnable defense and impenetrable destiny. This earth and world provide no such guarantees. Jesus would call this building upon the sand (Mat. 7:26-27). What do I place my confidence in? The stock market? Material prosperity? Military might? Higher education? Recreation? Retirement? None of these things are inherently wrong, but they make poor foundations for our lives. 

THEIR SIN (10-14)

It appears that the three overarching problems God has with Edom is that they did nothing when their brother (the nation of Judah) was in need (10-11), they rejoiced over their brother’s misfortune (12), and they even participated in his suffering (13-14). When we list out the “worst sins” mankind commits, where do we place apathy? God puts it at the top of His list here. Sometimes we call them “sins of omission.” Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” On Judgment Day, the Lord will place on His left hand those who saw the needs of others and didn’t meet them (Mat. 25:31-46). Obadiah depicts three stages of one spiritual cancer: indifference, gloating, and collusion. John’s sobering words are appropriate here, as he asks, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). How helpful to see our brothers–those through Christ or Adam–as God sees them.

THEIR SENTENCE (15-20)

Nine times in five verses (10-14), Obadiah refers to “the day” God visited Judah for her sins. It was the day of their disaster, distress, destruction, and misfortune. Because of Edom’s sinful response described above, God had a day set aside for them, too. They would reap what they sowed (15-16). They would suffer (18). They would lose it all (17,19-20). The future looked bright for God’s faithful remnant (17-21), but not for those who had built their lives upon the sand. 

This book has application for our world, our country, for the church, and for each of us as individuals. Frequently, life will come along and shake our confidence. How we do on the other side of that distress depends on our foundation. That is a prayerful process. We can be fire or stubble (18). May we find the strength ascend Mount Zion and the kingdom (21; Heb. 12:22-29). 

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Petra: In the territory of ancient Edom

The Mouse And The Cups 

The Mouse And The Cups 

Thursday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

In the pantry there’s a package of white foam cups. A small gray mouse struggles to carry a cup out into a man’s front yard one at a time. Just one cup and one each day. The man sticks to a normal routine. He goes to work early, and he comes home late. He watches TV, cooks a meal, tinkers on projects in the garage, and goes to bed. It’s mindless, it’s robotic, but day in and day out the cycle repeats itself. He leaves for work and the mouse drags yet another cup out onto his lawn. It isn’t until his yard is filled with foam cups that the man takes notice. What a mess! He walks through the yard and picks a few of them up. As he examines them he says, “What a waste. Perfectly good cups, now useless and dirty. We have a limited amount of foam cups in our package, and there’s a day when the mouse will grab the last one. We better put them to use. ”

If God came to you and gave you the chance to make a single request, what would you ask for? Our prayer lives are usually filled with our personal wants and needs. There are countless things that tug at different areas of our heart as we approach our Father, the Creator of the universe. He can do anything, He has all the power, and in one way or another we all desire some Divine intervention. I would like my family to be healthy and happy. I would like to live out the rest of my days with no more worries or anxieties. I would like the peace that comes with total financial stability. I wish my dog would live to be one hundred and five. I would like to be successful in everything I put my mind to.

There are five hundred wants in my heart, but what do I desire more than anything? The answer to that question is deeply connected to our spiritual life. What my heart chases after, where my time and energy goes, and even what I ask God for spreads my top priorities before me. David writes in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon his beauty and inquire in His temple.” David is known as the man after God’s own heart, simply because his heart was after God. David’s one desire was to form a deep and meaningful relationship with God. He understood what truly matters in this life. He even makes that his specific and singular request of the Lord. He puts his faith in action as he seeks that relationship with God. His life was built around this, and everything else is secondary to him. His seeking was that hopeful expectation— the effort he put in to this pursuit was a demonstration of that belief in God’s ability to grant him his one thing. David spent his time wisely. Almost every day that was granted to him he used as an opportunity to seek His Lord.

God is the Alpha the Omega, the beginning and the end. His eyes can see the very point in time in which He decided to create everything. He can also step back and look at His timeline and see the exact moment in which He will bring all things to an end. The Bible is a gift and glimpse into His mind. In it we can see the powerful beginning to the world we live in. We can see how God works in our present, and we can read about a grand event that will come when the days run out.

What is that one thing you want more than anything else? Don’t let the cups pile up in your yard. Let’s all use the time we have to pursue the only thing that matters.

 

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“Quit Yer Whinin'”

“Quit Yer Whinin'”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary, with his wife Chelsea

Gary Pollard

I think we’ve all been in the uncomfortable position of witnessing a couple loudly arguing in public. Whether this is at a restaurant, the store, a gas station, or any other public place, it’s downright uncomfortable. Some thoughts going through our minds might be, “Where’s their self-awareness?” or, “They might need to see someone about those issues,” or, “Why here?” We definitely would not want to spend too much time with anyone whose conflict resolution abilities are so classless. Conflict in a relationship is unavoidable and, if handled properly, is vital to the health of a relationship. Poorly managed conflict, though, is sure to destroy it! 

Unfortunately, the world is seeing this more and more. Petty arguments between Christians over matters that have absolutely no bearing on our eternal destination are commonplace. Which Bible version is best? What will heaven be like? What should we wear to worship? Which college should one attend (“that college is liberal/conservative”)? Should we meet in a building or in homes? Should a Christian wear a head covering or not? Should a Christian celebrate certain holidays or not? Should a Christian carry a gun or not? Who should I vote for? 

These are topics I have seen debated in the ugliest possible ways in public forums, whether live or over social media. There is nothing wrong with disagreement handled in a godly way (Matthew 18.15-20). In fact, it can help grow the church because it often brings members closer together. However, when the argument is both non-essential to salvation and is handled unbiblically, it destroys the church. 

If I may be very blunt, this must stop. Our behavior is not only pushing the world away but generations of the church’s own members as well. When a Christian’s blocked list on social media is primarily members of his/her own spiritual family, we have reached concerning levels of dysfunction. I realize that this is not a pleasant article to read, but it is time for us to make a change. 

It is time to stop writing or sharing articles on inflammatory or controversial topics that have no bearing on our salvation. Religious keyboard warriors and trolls need to quit. People of authority and position must stop using their voice to divide and discourage the bride of Christ over non-essential matters (some examples are listed in the second paragraph). We will be held accountable for our words and influence over the body of Christ at judgment. 

When we inevitably find ourselves in disagreement with another Christian over a matter of opinion, we should either handle it privately and with patience and love, or let it go entirely (see Romans 14, I Corinthians 8, Matthew 18, Philippians 1.27, 2.1-5; 2.12, 2.14, 15; 3.17-19; 4.2). Being correct or winning an argument at the expense of peace is not worth losing our souls. This article is just as much for myself as it is for anyone reading this. It is for everyone. 

Around 156,000 people die every day (that’s about 56,000,000 people per year) and most them die outside of Christ. Our time is limited and our influence precious. Our words are among the most powerful tools and weapons ever created. Let us use them well, as they could very well influence someone’s eternal destination – or our own. 

A Passage I’ve Neglected To Apply To Myself

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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Mbah Gotho, Methusaleh, And Mortality

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!