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.

Giving Away Your Wedding Ring

Neal Pollard

Brooklin Yazzle, a Mesa, Arizona, wife and mother, apparently handed out her wedding ring with the Halloween candy last week.  She had taken off her ring and put it in a candy jar to help her children carve pumpkins.  Later, things got hectic and she absentmindedly dumped her ring along with the candy into a candy bag to give to children.  Complicating things, among her treats were plastic rings.  She has made an appeal through the news to get it back, stating that while it isn’t worth much monetarily it has great sentimental value (FOX News).

Many of us can relate to such a mindless blunder.  To my everlasting chagrin, I lost my wife’s High School class ring back while we were dating (she married me anyway!).  It is not uncommon for a person to remove their wedding ring to work or play, but removing it in such cases is to protect it from harm or loss.

The American Community Survey and the Daily Beast collaborated to provide a list of the “Divorce Capitals of the U.S.”  The ignominious top ten list, from “top” to bottom, is: (1) Panama City, FL, (2) Sierra Vista, AZ, (3) Charleston, WV, (4) Medford, OR, (5) Reno, NV, (6) Deltona, FL, (7) Pueblo, CO, (8) Palm Bay, FL, (9) Jacksonville, FL, and (10) Grand Junction, CO. In six states, the divorce rate is between 12.64-14.35% per 1,000 people, age 15 and older (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, and Oklahoma). Yet, the best of states still average 6.05-7.65% (Ashley Reich, The Huffington Post, 11/4/13).

This survey is but an example of a trend that is only tempered by a falling marriage rate, as more and more couples are living together without the sanctity of marriage. It shows that the dissolution of marriage is not confined to one area of the country, or more like in a “Red” or “Blue” state.  Are there steps we can take to keep our wedding rings?

  • Spend time together.
  • Have shared interests.
  • Focus on pleasing your spouse more than being pleased by him/her.
  • Make marriage a priority, not an afterthought or a “no thought.”
  • Make spiritual investments together (devotions, prayer, serving, etc.).
  • Spend time with couples whose marriages are healthy and happy.
  • Practice hospitality together.
  • Keep romance alive.
  • Keep Christ King of your home.
  • Avoid pettiness.

This list is not exhaustive, but it already gives all of us areas to work on and improve in.  We should remember God’s feelings, who said, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Let’s hold on to our wedding rings!

CLIMATE CHANGE

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you were aware that New York is hosting the United Nations Climate Summit, a gathering of a staggering 162 nations to talk about the environment and such specific issues as global warming.  While you may find the attendance impressive but the “facts” not so much, this event shows how important the topic of climate change is to some important people—presidents, heads of state, prime ministers, and the like.  The Associated Press fact-checked our president’s speech about efforts he is making and found it wanting in some areas, but there is no questioning that this issue is a high priority to him (Joby Warwic, The Washington Post, 9/24/14).

The big question often swirling around this controversial topic is, “How do you effect climate change?”  What works and what does not? What can be impacted and what is inevitable?  What can one person (or even one nation) do?

Our earth is not the only entity or sphere with a “climate.”  Inasmuch as the word relates to not only the weather, meaning also “the prevailing attitudes, standards, or environmental conditions of a group, period, or place” (“climate.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 24 Sep. 2014. <Dictionary.com) and synonymous with “mood, atmosphere, spirit, tone, and temper” (ibid.), we should give attention to the other areas of life that involve a “climate.”  Our marriages, homes, and congregations each have a climate.  While we may enjoy certain things about each of these organizations, they also each inevitably stand in need of at least some changes.

What can we do to effect climate changes in those all-important areas?  The knee-jerk answer might be to tell the leaders what we think it takes to improve, to advise, criticize, and push.  That may seem like a good way to do things, but experience teaches that these are the least effective ways to promote change.  Do you know the best way?  Be the climate change you want to see!  Many of us find ourselves operating in all three arenas—spouses, parents or children, and church members.  That means each of us have at least one place to primarily concentrate, and that is on our individual role in those spheres.  Can you change your demeanor, attitude, level of effort and involvement, or assistance to the others in that group?

For all of us, it is easier to start with the other person(s) and size up what they need to do.  That’s worse than a hoax! That’s self-delusion.  Far better it is to apply this principle and “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5, emph. mine). There’s the way to meaningful “climate change”!

 

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