One Of The Hardest Biblical Positions To State

Neal Pollard

There are few statements or pronouncements that are clearer than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9, yet perhaps none, in our current culture, is more intimidating to state. Jesus contrasts His will on marriage, divorce, and remarriage with the already existent stance of the Law of Moses. He says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (19:8-9).  From this brief response (the Pharisees ask the question, testing Him in verse three), we see:

  • The teaching transcends time and culture—“From the beginning…and I say to you”
  • The teaching transcends all other authority—“I say”
  • The teaching transcends only believers—“Whoever”
  • The teaching transcends the caveats and conditions men have tried to place on the matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (not the specific law with its exception).

Yet, despite the clarity of Jesus on the subject, in the spirit of Christ we want to always approach this with utmost compassion, patience, and tenderness. Souls are at stake. Often, children are involved. Emotions are inevitably involved. A cold, callous treatment of people’s lives will surely draw Divine disapproval. That’s why Jesus’ stated position on this matter is one of the hardest to take. But, that cannot mean that we refuse to stand with Him in His teaching. However, we should ask why it is so hard to stand where the Bible stands on this matter?

—Learned men have stated different positions from this.
—Divorce is so prevalent in our culture.
—All of us have family members who are in marriages that violate Matthew 19:9.
—Marriage involves one of mankind’s greatest drives and needs (cf. Gen. 2:18-25).
—Leadership in more and more congregations refuse to deal with marriage, divorce, and     remarriage in the classroom, pulpit, or the hands-on shepherding of the local church.
—Few of us relish the role of being “the bad guy” (the one who has to break heartbreaking news to husbands and wives).

I could lengthen the list of reasons, and you could add several to it, but if the list grew to hundreds of reasons, we have one sobering, gut-wrenching question to ask, “Do any of them nullify the strength of Jesus’ teaching?” If Matthew 19:9 were not in the Bible, fewer preachers would have lost jobs, fewer elders would have lost favor, and fewer churches would have seen members go to congregations accommodating their marriages. But, Jesus warned that His way was difficult (cf. Matt. 7:14). He tells aghast disciples that discipleship requires whatever sacrifice is necessary to follow Him (Matt. 19:10-12). That message must be shared lovingly, gently, and patiently. There can be no other way (cf. Eph. 4:15). The harsh, unkind, or mean-spirited will deal with the Judge of all (cf. 1 Pet. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1). However, what will be the case for those who neglect, change, or distort what Scripture says to accommodate people? Perhaps there’s no way to ask that question without evoking a visceral reaction from those who have reinterpreted Jesus’ words, but in light of eternity it must be asked. Balance looks for biblical truth in between unbiblical extremes. However unpleasant a position that may put us in, that is the place we must always humbly stand. But, the only enduring place to stand is on the rock solid foundation of Christ (cf. Mat. 7:24-27; 1 Co. 3:11). God give us loving, but courageous, hearts to stand there.

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A Lot Happens In 25 Years!

Neal Pollard

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

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

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

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

STUBBORN TRUTHS

Neal Pollard

—And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Mat. 19:9).
—Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
—For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom. 1:26-27).
—And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all…There is one body (Eph.1:22-23; 4:4).
—And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19).
—A woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11-14).

Passages like these are hotly debated, denied, and derided by those who either cast them against other Scripture or subjugate them to current cultural expectations. Those who desire to accept verses like those above as simple truth are often thought to be ignorant or, worse, dangerous.

The same book reveals the person and sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals the nature and attributes of God. It tells us where we came from and where we are going. It speaks of grace and faith. We accept these truths at face value. But when we come to passages that go against the grain of popular opinion (in or out of religion), cultural mores, or religious orthodoxy, we somehow attempt to say they do not say what they say they say. Jehoiakim’s scribe’s knife and his brazier fire did not eliminate truth (Jer. 36:23). It actually intensified the message against him (36:29ff). The number of academic degrees, religious followers, or oratorical skill will not change the truth of Scripture. It is what it is. Our role is to humbly submit to it or forever beat ourselves against it. May we love and revere God enough to always do the former.

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“Just Divorced”

Neal Pollard

My sweet daughter-in-law, Chelsea, was incensed about how cavalier a “California-based” couple were about their divorce. She sent me the link to the article and it’s hard to believe this is not “fake news” or an April Fool’s joke written on a December day. The BuzzFeed News article, written by Remy Smidt and entitled, “These Parents Threw A Lit ‘Divorce Party’ To Make Their Split Less Awkward,” and subtitled, “Eat, Drink, And Remarry,” features a couple, married more than 20 years. They have two daughters, 20 and 18, who helped them plan their party. There was catered food, drinking, dancing, a “divorce cake,” and a life-sized poster of them both that says “just divorced.” Judging from the many comments below the story, a great many find their idea novel, noble, and neat. The daughters seem happy for them, the couple are cordial and friendly, and all that is missing is a line like “they each, separately, lived happily ever after” (article here).

In Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9, Jesus taught, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” In that context, He gives an exception that allows one to divorce and remarry (fornication, Mat. 19:9). Yet, He is anything but lighthearted when He says it. The situation when such divorces occur is most grave. To God, marriage is a sacred, solemn vow that, as is often stated, requires “for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, until death…” For a myriad of reasons other than Jesus’ stated exception, a great many husbands and wives give up on their marriages. They may not be lighthearted and all smiles, as Michelle Mahoney, Jeff Becerra, Rylie and Emma were, but they have about as much regard for God’s design and intention for marriage as this interesting family.

Through the ups and downs, the give and take, the good times and bad times that are inevitable between a husband and wife throughout time, something beautiful can be built. It requires growth, maturity, unselfishness, compromise, and mutual submission, but as God is the founder of this wonderful institution He knows how we can be best served. His regard for marriage is such that He uses it to illustrate the bond between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-34). Our society may be enamored with a disposable approach to something God meant to be permanent but may we be devoted to the daily effort and blessing of something God put in place at the very beginning of time. As we do, we will be blessed for it!

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The Holiday Blues

Neal Pollard

It is amazing how many people lose loved ones around the holidays. If you consider that there are about six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, you realize the statistical probability. But, for one who loses a mate, child, or parent, the situation is not remotely clinical. It is deeply personal. It hurts more because a season of great memories and happiness is upended by grief and loss. An ominous anniversary now wedges itself into “the most wonderful time of the year.” Our congregations are filled with people who are struggling with such dark days, and they find coping particularly hard. They don’t begrudge the festive mood of their friends and brethren, but they may often feel on the outside looking in at such mirth. Scripture urges us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What can we do to help despondent brothers and sisters?

  • Take note. Whenever someone’s loved one, especially a spouse, passes away, keep a record of that and send a card or otherwise let them know you know the significance of the day. What an overt expression of love and concern!
  • Go out of our way. Seek them out and actively console them. You’re not trying to dredge up emotion, but you are desiring to acknowledge it.
  • Go to God for them. Whether or not you tell them, include them and their grief specifically in your prayers. Or, better yet, take a moment and pray with them on the spot.
  • Lend an ear and shed a tear. They may want to talk about their memories, the funeral, the songs that they sang at the funeral, their traditions, or the like. Open your heart and feel for them. It is such good emotional medicine for them and you will be a good servant of Christ.
  • Bring them in. Invite them for a meal, visit them, or ask them to come along on an outing. Take them out to see Christmas lights. They may refuse your invitation, but they’ll know you wanted to help.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Peter urged the Christians to be, among other things, “sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted…” (1 Pet. 3:8). Part of our own personal spiritual growth should be to grow more aware of and concerned about the feelings of others. It is an active mental exercise, but seeking to think about how such a grieving one must feel helps us help them but also helps us.
  • Rope in others. We don’t usually encourage talking about people behind their backs, but this is a significant exception. Inform the potentially unsuspecting of such a difficult anniversary so others can join you in this ministry of consolation. This is a triumphant take on “misery loves company.” Their misery is mitigated by more caring family reaching out to comfort them.

We love our Christian family. We should be quick to express it in ways that can make such a difference. Look out into the congregation and find those hurting hearts. Of course, this is needful even if their loss was in May or August, too. But, minister to minds with these mental millstones. Help them carry their load. Such is an active imitation of our soothing Savior!

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Daniel And Susan Bakeman

Neal Pollard

In the annals of American history there is a remarkable story you may not know.  Daniel Bakeman was born on October 9, 1759.  He married Susan Brewer on August 29, 1772, though not yet a teenager.  Soon thereafter, he joined the American army during the Revolutionary War.  Not only did he survive the war, he lived almost another 100 years.  When he died on April 5, 1869, he was most likely the last surviving veteran of the war that made us a country.  He lived about four years after the end of the Civil War.  As remarkable as that distinction is, he also was part of another world record that still stands to this day.  His marriage to Susan lasted until September 10, 1863, when she passed away.  That means the Bakemans were married for 91 years and 12 days!

I cannot find anything about the details of that marriage, though they left many descendants who carry, through various spellings of the family name, the names Bachman, Beckman, Bakeman, Bateman, and even Baker (genealogytrails.com).  Various archives indicate that Mr. Bakeman was spry and humorous to the end and that Mrs. Bakeman exhibited needlework she had done without the aid of glasses when she was 102.  They lived and died in a town called Freedom, and Mr. Wakeman holds the distinction of having voted in every election from Washington to Grant!

As remarkable as his military distinction is, his marriage distinction deserves higher honor.  He fought in and survived a war that lasted less than ten years.  He endured hardships, who knows how many ups and downs, and undoubtedly some trying marital moments en route to almost a century of marital bliss.  They were together to the end, an exaggerated example of commitment and highest love.

You will almost certainly fail to break the Bakemans’ record for length of marriage, but you might exceed what they enjoyed for depth and breadth.  What are you doing to build upon the highest love for your spouse?  What daily investments are you making?  Your marriage will be remembered by those who know you.  How it will be remembered is something over which you exert full control.  Make it a legacy of lasting love!

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Twenty-Four Blessings Of Being Married To A Godly Spouse

Neal Pollard
My dad performed the wedding ceremony for Kathy and me at the Manchester church of Christ in Georgia on May 22, 1992, which, as I’ve been reminded, was also the last show for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. It was also the day Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia joined the United Nations. But, all in all, it was a quiet, ordinary day in the world. For me, it was anything but ordinary! It was day one of a life that has been full of surprises, enjoyments, discoveries, and a full array of experiences. Certainly, there have been some lows but also many more highs. It has, in so many ways, been full of blessings. Anyone who marries a faithful Christian can anticipate so many blessings. Consider just a few:

  1. A companion who loves your soul.
  2. A mate who puts God above you.
  3. A spouse who will influence your children to love God.
  4. One who is bearing the fruit of the Spirit to live life with.
  5. One who stays connected to God faithfully, in Bible study and prayer.
  6. One with whom your most important activities revolve around Christ.
  7. A partner who gladly embraces her God-given role and place.
  8. A mate who holds you accountable to the role and place you should fill.
  9. One who is not chasing the world’s ideals, not being led by its values and expectations.
  10. A companion with whom your conversations constantly involve the spiritual.
  11. One who knows what good clean fun looks and feels like.
  12. One whose orientation is to serve and not to be served.
  13. A spouse who creates trust and confidence that sustains you even when you are apart.
  14. A consort who loves the body of Christ, the church, and who is interested in its members.
  15. One whose greatest beauty (and attractiveness) is to be found beneath the surface.
  16. A partner who will treat you with respect and dignity, not demeaning you or running you down.
  17. One who is more focused on pursuing your happiness than passively waiting for you to cause theirs.
  18. A spouse with whom your most fulfilling moments are spent serving your Lord.
  19. One who looks for opportunities to reach your neighbors and other associations for Christ.
  20. A mate whose emotions are most stirred by spiritual things.
  21. A lover who is exciting and alluring because of her faith and not in spite of such.
  22. One who forms goals with you, short-term and long-term, that point toward eternity and lead toward heaven.
  23. A help-meet you become more desirous of growing older with every day you are growing older.
  24. A partner you like more the more you know her because she’s being transformed more into the image of Christ each day.

What an enjoyable exercise, literally counting the blessings of a life lived with a faithful Christian mate. Please do not interpret this as a suggestion that marriage is trouble-free, challenge-free, conflict-free, and pain-free. It is none of these, but persevering through the troubles, challenges, conflicts, and pain can be one of the forces that strengthen our marriages. Let us build marriages that cause us to celebrate our anniversaries, having a deeper appreciation for the person God gave us to walk through this vail of tears with—a person with whom we can find enormous nuggets of fulfillment and genuine joy in even life’s darkest episodes. Have you let your mate know how much they mean to you? If not, why not stop whatever you are doing and tell them. Even better, show them! They are one of your choicest blessings!

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FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

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THE PATTERN FOR MARRIAGE

Neal Pollard

Matthew 19:1-12 records an incident where, because the Pharisees are trying to test Jesus (vs. 3), He has occasion to reveal His will about marriage.  As we analyze this text, we find several notable facts about marriage. These verses show us the mind and will of God on an institution that is increasingly under assault. Consider four facts about this great passage of Scripture.

This is from the Christ. One of the more common arguments made even by supposed biblical scholars is that Jesus never condemns homosexuality. But what does He do? He defines marriage (4-5). The law of exclusion says that what God doesn’t authorize in His Word is forbidden in doctrine and practice. The Lord has authorized marriage as an institution between man and woman. He did not have to say, “…but not between a man and two or more women” and “not between a man and an animal” and “not between two people of the same gender.” He makes clear what He sees marriage as being.

This is from the creation. Other passages tell us Christ is actually the Creator (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2). So not only does He, as Deity, designate what marriage is—He designed it in the first place. Jesus reaches behind changes made to God’s marriage law under the Law of Moses and cites how God designed it “from the beginning” (4). Anything that does not conform to His pattern in this text runs counter to God’s original intent. You may not that this excludes more than same-sex marriage. It excludes adulterous marriage (vs. 9) as well as sex outside of marriage (this is implied here: “joined to his wife,” not “girlfriend”; of course, “fornication” or “sexual immorality” is dealt with explicitly in many other New Testament passages). Jesus goes back to the creation to state the pattern for marriage as being one man and one woman for life.

This is a command. It is not a command that you have to be married, but if you do get married you must conform to Christ’s will concerning it. We see this in the force of Jesus’ “but I say unto you.” He is exerting His right of authority, even showing His law trumps the Law of Moses. A person who is looking to be married must make sure their relationship conforms to His command.

This is controversial.  It is not just the homosexual community who balk at Jesus’ words here. I have close family members (and so do you, probably) whose marriages are at odds with what Jesus commands in this context. Jesus Himself forewarns that this is a difficult and narrow teaching (10), a rejected teaching (11), and a teaching that calls for extreme sacrifice (12). I dare say there is as much blowback from the heterosexual community as the homosexual community where this passage is clearly taught. In either case, it comes down to whether we will follow the command of the Christ, the Creator. Our submission or rebellion cannot change the immutable (i.e., unchangeable) nature of Divine truth.

Marriage is a beautiful gift given by a loving God. Though society may corrupt it and seek to redefine it, but the will of God stands forever. May we have the courage, humility, and strength to take Him at His word and conform our lives to it—on this and every subject.

Who Can Find An Excellent Wife?

Neal Pollard

An excellent wife, who can find?
Her worth is far above gems.
Rack your brain and search your mind,
To find a brightness that time never dims.

Her husband implicitly trusts in her,
For this he will lack no gain,
She is trustworthy and spiritually sure
For as long as her days remain.

She’s shrewd and savvy, industrious
And constantly on the go,
To the poor and needy she’s generous
Through her deeds others her husband they know

Though out and about, her household she serves
How well she looks to its operation
Her children and husband give the praise she deserves
They claim her with pride and elation

Mere physical charm and beauty do not measure
The excellence of wife or of mother
But her fear of the Lord makes her a true treasure
And crowns her with charm like none other.