THE WHOLE LETTER

THE WHOLE LETTER

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

I Peter

This is from Peter. I am one of the twelve apostles who followed Jesus Christ. I’m writing to all you Christians who were kicked out of your homes and are living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. It was God’s plan, with special intent, for you to follow Jesus and enjoy grace because of his blood. I hope you enjoy a lot of grace and peace! 

God, the father of our master Jesus Christ, is incredible! Because he wants what’s best for us, he gave us new life and the best kind of hope. This hope is alive because Jesus came back to life after he died. This new life is being guarded in heaven for all of us! It’s a new life that can’t run down, it’s brand new, and it’ll last forever. 

We’re protected by God’s power. How? Our faith gives us protection, because we expect to be rescued at the end of our lives. This is exciting for us, even though we’re going through hard times right now. They’re hitting us from every side. 

These hard times have a purpose: we can prove our faith. Our faith is more valuable than gold, which doesn’t last forever. Even gold has to be refined with fire, right? When Jesus comes back, our suffering will gain us praise, recognition, credit, and status! None of you have seen Jesus, but you love him anyway. None of you can seen him right now, but you believe in him anyway. Because you believe and love him, you’re excited beyond words! Your faith will lead to rescue when it’s all finished. 

The prophets who told us about this rescue were very curious about it. They investigated and obsessed over the identity and timing of the rescuer Christ’s spirit was telling them about. He told the prophets that he would suffer at first, but would gain everything after. He told the prophets that their writings were for people in the future, not for them. You are those people in the future! Through God’s influence, people told you about our hope for rescue. By the way, even angels are deeply interested in the hope you have right now! 

Since you have this hope for rescue, don’t ever let it go. Everything you do must be influenced by this hope. Make sure you’re mentally preparing yourself for spiritual combat. Make sure you have self-control going into this. We’ll be rescued when we see Jesus, so hang on tight to hope. 

Don’t go back to your old lives. You had those old, unhealthy desires before you knew any better. Instead, you must live like God wants you to. Jesus did! God’s word said, “You have to be morally pure, just like I am.” You know that God will judge everyone without bias. Live like you know this, and let that give you a healthy dose of fear. He didn’t use an unstable asset like money to secure your rescue. He used the most valuable thing in existence: his own flawless blood. 

Jesus’ plan was in motion before we were even created! He recently made his appearance just for us. Because of him, we believe in God, who brought Jesus back to life and gave him recognition and power. We believe in him. We have hope because of God. 

Since we’ve decided to follow God, we have to love each other unconditionally. We have to love each other without ulterior motives. We do this because we’ve cleaned up our lives. We weren’t born into a new life through natural means (like babies). Jesus gave us new life, and he’s never going to die. You’ve read this before, “Everything alive is like grass. Its impressive qualities are like the flowers that show up in grass. Grass dies, along with its flowers, but God’s word will live forever.” This is what you were taught already. 

Since you know we’re on borrowed time, sustain yourself with God’s words. Babies instinctively crave what they need to stay alive. We must do the same with God’s words. If we decide that God’s words are good for us, we’ll be rescued when we “grow up.” Before we get to this point, we have to get rid of bad qualities. There’s no room for hate, dishonesty, hypocrisy, jealousy, or attacking character. 

We’ve been a nation-in-the-making for a while, a group of people who serve God the right way through Jesus. We’re only in a good place with God because of Jesus. He was the first brick in this house, but no one on earth wanted him. God saw him as the most valuable! Each of us are also bricks being built into a special house by God and for God. You’ve read, “Look, I’m building a perfect foundation with a special stone. If you believe him, you won’t ever be disappointed.” If you believe him, he’s the most valuable thing in the world. For everyone else, “He’s the stone none of the builders wanted to use, but he became the foundation of the house anyway. They tripped over him and couldn’t stand him.” They couldn’t stand him because they didn’t follow his words. They are destined to die. 

That isn’t you, though. Y’all are a select group. You’re valuable servants. You’re a distinct nation. You’re destined to be God’s. We tell everyone about how perfect he is because he pulled us out of darkness. We exist in his awesome light now! We used to be nobodies, but now we’re his people. We used to be hopelessly lost, but he forgave everything. 

I say this because I love you: stay far away from unhealthy desires. They’re the sworn enemies of your souls, and they attack without mercy. Remember, this isn’t your permanent home. You’re strangers and outsiders on this earth. Remember this when you’re around earthly people. Make sure you behave like you’re supposed to. They’ll treat you badly and say horrible things about you since you don’t act like everyone else. Maybe they’ll notice your awesome morality and follow God themselves! 

Speaking of people on earth, God wants us to obey whoever’s in charge of us (as long as it isn’t sinful). If it’s your president, obey him. Anyone acting on the president’s behalf is just as in charge. God uses them to punish bad people and praise good people. By doing what they tell us, we’re doing what God wants. Maybe we’ll even shut down the ignorant things others say about us! 

We’re independent of any human government, but don’t use that as an excuse to disobey your governments. You have to see every person as valuable. You have to love each other. You have to obey your government. Employees must listen to their employers. Be respectful to them, even when they aren’t good to you. We don’t do this for them, we do it for God. He thinks very highly of us when – because we love him – we act like we should, even when we’re being mistreated. You don’t get credit for putting up with mistreatment if you bring it on yourself with bad behavior. If you’re mistreated because you’re trying to do the right thing, though, it makes God happy. 

This is why God called us in the first place! Jesus suffered to benefit us. He intended for that to be example we could follow. He never did anything wrong, he never said anything wrong, he didn’t fire back at people who said hurtful things. He never threatened anyone who put him through suffering. He constantly trusted God, knowing that God judges perfectly. He voluntarily took the punishment for our sin when he physically suffered on the cross. He did that to give us the chance to kill our old lifestyles and live morally pure lives. His injuries healed us. We had no direction, aimlessly wondering around like a sheep. Now we follow the one who leads us and protects us. 

While we’re on this topic, wives must listen to their own husbands. If your husband doesn’t have faith, maybe you’ll win him just through your great example! You wouldn’t even have to say anything. Pure and respectful behavior speaks volumes. Don’t obsess over your physical appearance or fashion. Show off who you are inside! A gentle, easy-going demeanor is timeless; it’s also extremely valuable to God. Remember the women who lived a long time ago? They were considered special because God was their hope, just like he’s your hope. They also expressed their beauty by deferring to their husbands. Sarah did that for Abraham – she considered him to be her leader. You are just like her when you do the right thing without being afraid of anything. 

Husbands, you’re not off the hook. You share a living space with your wife, so you have to be a student of her needs and wants. Don’t treat her like one of the guys. Remember the differences between men and women. Don’t be rough with her. Make sure you show her how valuable she is! She has just as much a claim to God’s promise as you do. If you aren’t good to her, God will block your prayers. 

Finally, you all need to work together. Show sympathy to each other. Be kind to each other. Don’t think too highly of yourselves. Don’t insult people who insult you. Don’t get even with people who hurt you. Do something good for them instead! That’s actually why God called us, and he wants to do good for us, too. You’ve read, “Anyone who wants to live a good life should watch their mouth. They should avoid evil and do good things. They should look for peace and chase it. God watches out for good people and listens to their prayers, but he’s against people who practice evil.” 

Who’s going to hurt you if you’re obsessed with being good to people? Even if someone hurts you because of your faith, you’re ok! Don’t be afraid of their threats, don’t let it shake you up. Put Jesus in the center of your heart at all times. Have a logical answer handy whenever you’re interrogated for your faith. Tell them about your hope, but make sure you’re gentle and respectful. Make sure your moral lives are good so they can’t legitimately attack your character. If you’re doing the right thing, they’ll answer for how they treat you. It’s better to be attacked for doing the right thing than for doing the wrong thing. 

Our lifestyles were hostile to God, but he died for us anyway! Moral perfection died to save morally imperfect people. He wanted to bring us to God! He was killed physically, but his spirit was brought back to life. This is the form he had back in Noah’s day. Even then he wanted to save people who were about to face total destruction! God waited patiently for them to change, giving them chance after chance while Noah was building the ark. They died; in fact, only eight people survived that flood. 

Water saved Noah and his family from those evil people, and water saves us from evil, too. We don’t bury ourselves in water to take a bath. We submerge ourselves in water to ask God for a clean slate. We can only do that because Jesus was brought back to life, sat next to God, and was given total control of every supernatural force. 

Mentally prepare yourself to suffer. Jesus suffered while he was human! When we suffer physically, it’s because we stopped doing bad things. As long as we’re alive, we’re not chasing the unhealthy passions humans have. We do what God wants. You used to chase those unhealthy passions! You craved all things bad, got drunk, partied without restraint, and practiced horrible things while worshipping fake gods. Since you used to do this, your old friends are shocked that you don’t anymore. They hate you and mistreat you now, but they’ll have to answer to God. He’s going to judge everyone who’s ever lived. Remember, the hope for rescue that Jesus gave us was offered to people who aren’t alive anymore. Since everyone’s going to face God, everyone is given the chance to live like God wants. 

Everything’s about to come to an end. You have to be reasonable and self-controlled for the sake of your prayers. Most importantly, don’t ever lose your love for each other. Love hides all kinds of mistakes. Take care of each other without complaining. Use your assets to help each other, since God helps us in so many ways. If your talent is speaking, speak as if you’re talking for God. If helping others is your talent, do it with limitless energy. This way every aspect of our lives gives credit to God by our dedication to Jesus. He gets all recognition and authority forever! 

Family, don’t let these hard times shock you. Don’t feel like you’ve been targeted. You are suffering like Jesus did, so let that keep your spirits up! When he comes back, we’re going to be indescribably happy! If people insult you because you love Jesus, you’re lucky! The full weight of God’s spirit and power is with you. Just make sure none of you suffer because of something you’ve done wrong, like murder, stealing, practicing morally bad things, or sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. If you suffer because of your faith, though, don’t feel bad! Instead, give all the credit to God. 

We’re about to be judged by God. Since we’re going to be judged first, how do you think it’s going to be for people who rejected God? It’s hard enough for a morally good person to be saved, so what’s going to happen to morally bad people who don’t follow God? Since we’re about to suffer, we have to trust God with our lives. He’s going to take care of us if we’re doing the right thing! 

Since we’re about to face difficulties, it’s very important that your elders lead you carefully. I’m an elder, too, and also look forward to sharing in the recognition we have coming to us. Elders, don’t lead people because you feel like you have to. Do it because it’s what God wants! Don’t lead because you want to get something financially out of it. Don’t abuse your power, but lead by example. When the ultimate leader shows up, your reward will be indestructible! 

Younger people, listen to the leaders. Every one of you should think of each other as being more important than yourselves. God stands against prideful people, but he’s very patient with humble people. Stay humble under God’s power and he’ll lift you up when it’s time. He cares about you, so you should always let him handle your anxieties. 

Exercise self-control, and make sure you’re watching carefully. Your enemy (the devil) is on a determined path – like a hungry lion – looking for someone to kill. Fight him with determined faith, he’s not targeting just you. Everyone in God’s family is experiencing the same kind of suffering all over the world. After you’ve suffered for a short period of time, the God who gives so much grace will personally make you strong, give you confidence, restore you, and give you security. He has eternal power. 

I’m sending this short letter to you through Silvanus, my faithful brother. This is all true, and it’s extremely important for you to understand God’s timeless kindness and let it keep you strong. The woman at Babylon sends her greeting; she is chosen, just like you. Mark, my son, says hi. Make sure you greet and affirm each other. I hope all of you who follow Christ enjoy peace. 

How To Win Souls Without Compromising Doctrine

How To Win Souls Without Compromising Doctrine

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

It’s hard to have balance while times change. Some seize current social realities and use them as opportunities to push unbiblical ideas (God’s design for marriage, leadership in worship, leadership in the home, etc.). As a result, our human nature kicks in and we’re ready to swing the other way. After all, we don’t want to be associated with groups who don’t teach or practice what God wants, right? 

Balance is way more difficult to maintain than reactionary practices in either direction. Both are extremely harmful to the church! Compromising doctrine is never acceptable, but gaining a reputation for being old-fashioned or otherwise incompatible with modern culture is equally harmful. 

I Corinthians 9.19-23 is an awesome text for this. We’ll look at a few key points in this passage briefly. 

  1. It’s About Serving Other People (9.19)
  2. It’s About Winning Them (9.19)
  3. It’s About Meeting Them Where They Are (9.20-22)
  4. It’s About the Message (9.23)

We do what we do because we want to save souls. We cannot maintain a church culture based on reaction because it does not save souls. It is not a sustainable culture and has led to many viewing the church as being incompatible with the modern world. This was never God’s design! We must never compromise doctrine, but we must always try to win souls. We need to do what we can to meet folks where they are and show them something better. 

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9.20). 

The Difference Between Current And Relevant

The Difference Between Current And Relevant

Neal Pollard

Relevant—Appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest
Current—Belonging to the present time; happening or being used or done now

I think most of us would find the above definitions of these words to be satisfactory. In the context of the church, we are often concerned with both the matter of being current and relevant. The degree to which and the ways in which to achieve currentness may differ from congregation to congregation, but every congregation, to some degree, wishes to be current. It’s what drives members to arrive in automobiles, to paint and remodel the building, to use powerpoint for lessons and songs, have wifi access, a (hopefully) updated website, and the like. So long as the tool, idea, or method for being current is in harmony with Scripture, including proper stewardship as well as adhering to God’s pattern and authority, we should be as forward thinking as possible.

Relevance is, perhaps, a more subjective matter. With the maturing of each succeeding generation, we tend to obsess about whether or not our planning, actions, communication, and the like are sufficiently relevant to each generation. In other words, we might ask, “Are we relevant to millennials?” or “Will this resonate with iGens?” There are tools, ideas, and methods we should use to be “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances.” But, may we not lose sight of the fact that Scripture could not be more relevant, and it is never more relevant than when it is countercultural. The world’s ideas for how we should dress, talk, think, act, or respond to God may be the very definition of what’s current, but such is not relevant to God’s objective right and wrong on those specific matters. What we teach may be relevant to those areas of concern, but may seem old-fashioned or not what is being used or done now by the majority. 

We must emphasize that in our current circumstances, God’s Word, with its precepts and principles, is what is relevant! It’s what the world needs, and it’s what we each need. The church, so long as it boldly, lovingly declares those things, is the very essence of relevant. Let’s just let God’s Word and not the world define that for us. 

relevant

 

Could You Survive A Medieval Winter (Or An Ancient Persecution)?

Could You Survive A Medieval Winter (Or An Ancient Persecution)?

Neal Pollard

How would you like to try and negotiate a Russian winter the way our Medieval forbears did, sans electricity, modern food conveniences, and Netflix? The Middle Ages, an approximate 1,000 years from about the time of the fall of the western Roman Empire (in Rome, Italy) to the time of the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire (in Constantinople, Turkey), also had a “Little Ice Age” from 1300 to “about 1870.” Sandra Alvarez writes, “Winter was a frightening time for many people; if there was a poor harvest, you could starve to death, and there was always the chance of contracting illnesses that could easily kill you, like pneumonia…. Winter was the most dangerous time in the medieval calendar year” (medievalists.net). A few years ago, a medievalist reenactment group (who know such existed?) selected one of their own “to live on a farmstead, with only ninth century tools, clothing and shelter for six months” (ibid.). Once a month they checked on him to make sure he was still alive.  The volunteer was undoubtedly hearty, but he could have left if he needed or wanted to. His more ancient counterparts could not.

I find it interesting to think about how people lived in the past, throughout the different periods of history. Dave Chamberlin is the master of transporting his students back to Bible history, describing the housing, diet, habits, and mindset of those in Old and New Testament times. It is incredible that people who lived so starkly different from us had the same feelings, needs, desires, and thoughts that we do today. How masterful that God wrote a book as ancient as the beginning of time and as modern as the morning news. It guides and directs us more adroitly than the best-selling survival guide by the world’s finest team of experts could.

As a Christian interested in restoring New Testament Christianity, I think about my first-century forbears. I assemble to worship in a much different style of clothing, singing songs with different tunes and illustrating sermons with different current events. As Christians visited at the conclusion of worship, did they have ancient equivalents for our talk of football, medical procedures and doctor visits, children’s and grandchildren’s social, athletic, and educational activities, and the like? Often, their pressing problems centered around surviving in a culture that, at times, detested them even while they enjoyed the great benefits of their godly lives. Their thoughts and prayers periodically centered around losing their jobs and possessions for being Christians (cf. Heb. 10:34) and even their homes, safety, and the threat of death (Acts 8:1ff; 12:1ff).

In some ways, our times are decidedly different. We enjoy many advantages and suffer a few disadvantages compared to our physical and spiritual ancestors. The time may come when we must face a winter without cars, electricity, and store-bought food. The time may come when we must face a culture so hostile to our faith that it costs us in a way none of us has yet experienced. The way to cope then would be the way we must cope now, by trusting a God whose provisions we often take for granted, whose love for us is greater than we could fathom, and whose promises are more enduring than life, death, and the grave. In the greatest trials, we can say with Paul, “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32). Nothing can separate us from His perfect love (Rom. 8:35-39). That, my friend, is timeless!

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