What Happens After “Happily Ever After”?

What Happens After “Happily Ever After”?

Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross

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Neal Pollard

It’s something they never tell you in the romantic movie. The ending of the storyline so full of twists and turns, where he and she might not have ended up together but seemed destined to be together, is so happy and perfect. Both are all smiles, with stars in their eyes, when we see “The End” and the credits roll.

They never tell you what happens after the fairy tale wedding or the long-awaited kiss. He refuses to ask directions as they fade into the sunset. They argue over where to eat that romantic dinner. He speaks without thinking and says something thoughtless, followed by tense silence. 

I am not critiquing one of the sacrosanct principles of romantic movies and books. Happy endings can be a great escape from reality and a feel good experience. Yet, when we hold it up as the unqualified expectation for our own lives, we set ourselves up for trouble. Social media is rife with posts and pictures which can perpetuate the fiction that the people we friend and follow are constantly living out “happily ever after.” Life is always grand, and success and satisfaction is the constant. 

Don’t misunderstand. So much of what we experience in life is shaped by attitude. Being positive can help us negotiate those hairpin curves in the road of life. But, coping through positivity is different from allowing disappointment to make us disenchanted with failing to meet the unrealistic expectation that every problem and adversity can be wrapped up into a pretty, neat package with a frilly bow on top. 

It’s quite the balancing act, isn’t it? Scripture teaches to think on healthy, beneficial things come what may (Phil. 4:8). Or, as Solomon puts it, “All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15). Yet, Job (14:1) and Solomon (Ecc. 2:23) do not sugarcoat the reality that life is often painful, grievous, and full of trouble both day and night. 

May I offer some encouragement?

  • To the newlyweds, neither of you is perfect and there is no way you can always agree and get along without mutual compromise and effort. You will have so many great days, but there will be some mountains to climb and valleys you must pass through. No couple out there is breezing through married life. Turning to one another (and God) rather than on one another when marriage is hard will forge your bond come what may (1 Pet. 3:7).
  • To the new parents, though that baby looks perfect and angelic, he or she will introduce demands, needs, concerns, and challenges you never knew existed before. Each developmental stage will be accompanied by incredible highs and lows. As you look into the faces of your children, you will be looking at eternity and knowing the weight of your decisions and leadership. But, savor those little ordinary moments. You are placing puzzle pieces that will one day become your children’s picture of their childhood. How you handled the hard times will be at least as important as how you handled the fun times (Prov. 22:6). 
  • To the new Christian, it is right for you to relish the feeling of relief and joy over being forgiven and cleansed from sins. The burden of guilt has been lifted. You are experiencing something in Christ that you never knew existed. But, there will be difficult days. The devil lurks (1 Pet. 5:8). Selfish desires can derail (Jas. 1:13-15). Suffering for your faith should be expected (1 Pet. 4:16; Acts 14:22), but by hanging on your eternal destiny is better than you can imagine. Along the journey, you will grow, mature, and develop into someone better and stronger as Christ lives in you (Gal. 2:20). 
  • To the Christian who publicly repents, you had no idea how much support, love, and encouragement you were going to receive. You feel the relief of forgiveness and restored hope. There’s clarity and purpose where there had been confusion and distraction. Things are better now (cf. Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9), but the battles and temptations that led you away are still there. You will still have to face the consequences of bad choices, but you will not regret turning to God and your spiritual family for help. This is the first step of your rededication. Keep walking and never stop (Mat. 7:13-14; 1 Th. 2:12).

There are so many other phases and circumstances deserving the same kind of encouragement. The bottom line for each is the same. When viewed with heavenly eyes, each of us is staring at the ultimate happy ending. Even as our exterior deteriorates, our inner man is renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16). Our momentary difficulties will give way to incomparable glory (2 Cor. 4:17-18).  The best is yet to come (2 Cor. 5). But, between now and then, we all have to negotiate bumps in the road. That’s OK. Keep following Christ on this narrow road and the “ever after” will transcend your greatest hopes (Mat. 16:24ff). 

“Father’s Table Grace”

“Father’s Table Grace”

Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”

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Neal Pollard

In 1960, Otho Jones and Homer L. Sewell wrote a song made popular by Flatt and Scruggs. It’s a song written from the point of view of a man’s oldest son, a son who felt he was old enough to be on his own and leave home. He describes his father as simple and not filled with a formal education, but also as one very devout and the spiritual leader of his home. He describes himself as “young and foolish.” When I listen to this song, I think about the way I could be as a teenager and how I tried my parents’ patience. My dad, a gospel preacher since 1964, has always been a diligent praying man. While I never heard him say these words in my presence, I wonder if he ever prayed them about me in my younger days.

“Our gracious heavenly father we all gathered here today
To give the things for blessings so humble we pray
My oldest son is leaving but I’m sure he knows what’s best
But just in case would you stand by and help him stand the test

Lord he’s awful neglectful about church on Sunday morn
And if he gets with a wrong crowd would you let him hold your arm
And if he flies too high would you clip his wings
But don’t let him fall too hard, I’m sure you can handle things

I’ve tried my best from day to day to teach him right from wrong
And he’s grown to be a fine young man and he always blessed our home
We pray dear Lord for guidance that he won’t build upon the sand
But I won’t worry half as much if I know he’s in your hands

And oh yes Lord it won’t be long till I’ll be coming home
Don’t make me wait too long
We pray dear Lord for guidance please cleanse us from our sins
So we can all be together in heaven in Jesus name amen.”

Those words are neither perfectly autobiographical nor an apt description of my dad (who has much more formal education than I do). But I think a lot of parents who continue to labor over their children in prayer, concerned for their safety as they turn them loose in this world. However large the physical or financial threats may be, what should concern us most are the spiritual ones. We will never outgrow our concern for them. We should never stop being the right kind of example to them. May we never sin against them by failing to pray for them. They need us to be the type of Christians described by James, of whom he writes, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16). 

My Father, From An Early Age

My Father, From An Early Age

Neal Pollard

My father, from an early age you taught me to be true,
But when I wavered on what that was, I could always look at you.

You taught me how the Lord comes first at work, at school, at play
But how much easier that became when you practiced that each day.

Dear child, I may not perfectly that narrow path traversed
But when you see me fail, dear child, I pray I will reverse

For fathers come, they teach us much, and character is fashioned
By what we think and say and do, by each prayer and passion

Dear Father, help me teach my children to walk in holy ways
But let me do that by my living, I have but a fleeting, few days

May Your lessons, Lord, they come to learn at my feet of clay,
Instill a faith that will survive ’til they get to the Judgment Day.

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Selling Children

Selling Children

Neal Pollard

In March of 2007, in Owensboro, Kentucky, a couple tried to sell the woman’s 15-month-old daughter for $3000 and an SUV. The noble purpose behind this attempted transaction was “money to pay off [the boyfriend’s] fines for previous criminal charges.” Surprisingly, they denied the allegations and maintained their innocence, an effort that would eventually be unsuccessful.

How heartbreaking that anyone could act so heinously. Truly, “Children are a gift of the Lord…a reward” (Psa. 127:3). Yet, while they are a gift from the Lord to us, in another sense they still belong to Him (cf. Ezek. 18:4). We cannot sell what ultimately does not belong to us.

What Charles Hope, Jr., and Amber Revlett did in Kentucky was certainly criminal, but they are far from salon among those trying to “sell” their children for one reason or another. In order to give their children popularity, gratification, or material success, some parents are encouraging their children to live a life of sin, worldliness, and selfishness. Secular courts would never convict them, but what they are doing is even more heinous than that attempted by those lowbrow schemers from the Bluegrass State. As Christian parents, we have an obligation to recognize this tendency and not “sell our children” out to anything that could replace their undivided loyalty to serve Christ. We want their hearts centered around Christ and His will (Mat. 6:33).

Let us both teach our children and realize ourselves their intrinsic value as ones made in the very image of God (Gen. 1:27). Within each of our children is a soul, every one of which is more valuable and important than the whole world (Mat. 16:26). May we never do anything that would lead them to exchange their souls. Whatever they gain, they will lose everything! To the extent we, as parents, can influence this, let us do with diligence. God has placed their training and spiritual wellbeing into our hands (cf. Deu. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:1-4).

Stack Of Cash

Grocery Bag In A Bush

Grocery Bag In A Bush

Scott Phillips

My girls recently modified the game of Slug Bug in order to make it more exciting and faster-paced. A couple of months ago, with the whole family in the car, we were introduced to it when we heard the words “gocery bag in a bush” shouted three times in rapid succession followed by “wow! three in a row” from one of the other girls.

The modification was simple. Instead of calling out VW Beetles, we all began to call out grocery bags that were snagged up in a bush alongside the road. We would also accept “tree.”  A grocery bag caught in a tree was also acceptable. Turns out, “Grocery Bag In A Bush” is much more exciting and fun than Slug Bug. Tons more action! I’ve never seen so many grocery bags in my life! And you should hear the squeals and laughter when one was spotted so far up in a tree that we all knew that it wasn’t coming down until the tree did.

Good times.

I’ve thought about Grocery Bag In A Bush many times since that day, and have made many observations about it. I’d like to share three of them.

Observation #1
The grocery bags have always been, and will always be, there. I just never “saw” them before. I don’t recall seeing a single slug bug while playing Grocery Bag In A Bush, even though they were probably there.

Conclusion #1
I will see that which I look for. Matthew 7:7-8 says,  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Observation #2
Grocery Bags don’t belong in a bush or a tree. It’s not what they were created for, but somehow they have found themselves hopelessly ensnared. They will most likely remain ensnared until someone cares enough to pick them up, or a violent storm rips them away from the unreachable limb where they are trapped. And if no one stops and picks them up, they will most likely drift away until they find themselves ensnared in another bush.

Conclusion #2
While we may excel at “stopping to say hello” when a brother is in the way, we should not let the business of “rolling our gospel chariots along” keep us from our responsibility to the lost to “stop and pick them up”.

Observation #3
We all financially support a vast army of sanitation workers through taxes and fees. We even personally pay for these services out of pocket so that they will come by our house each week to take our trash, and grocery bags, to where they belong. And yet, the grocery bags are everywhere.

Conclusion #3
Christianity cannot be outsoursed. It’s not enough to pay for, or support others, to do the work for us. This world is not our home, but it becomes a more beautiful place when each of us can see those around us who are ensnared in sin, and gently help them get to where they belong.

Feel free to make your own observations from this parable. It’s not perfect, and I’m certainly not equating those trapped in sin with trash. But before we start asking God to provide us with more opportunities, we might first ask ourselves if we are really in the  game. Because once you know what to look for, the opportunities are everywhere.

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[Scott Phillips serves as a deacon at the Bear Valley church of Christ. He and Tammi have a son and 7 daughters!]

MOM’S STEWARDSHIP OF CHILDREN

MOM’S STEWARDSHIP OF CHILDREN

Neal Pollard
Feeding schedules, diaper changes, and runaway toddlers seem to consume a mother’s world for what seems like forever.  It may seem like an eternal duty, but those days very quickly pass.  What you learn in each new stage of your children’s development is that God gives you grace and strength to meet the challenges that accompany it.  Sleepless nights, drained energy, and unfinished housework discourage you.  Unappreciative, uncooperative children at times confront you.  Unsympathetic, clueless husbands may (though surely only rarely) irritate you.  But, you, ma’am, are doing important, yea, eternal work!

You hold more than a baby in your arms.  You lead more than a toddler or small child by the hand.  You mold and shape more than a child’s mind, social skills, and heart.  You, dear lady, are influencing this world and eternity.  As you rise to the challenges and succeed in keeping Christ in the center of your children’s hearts, you are partnering with God.  He can help you cope with the temporary trauma, the short-lived chagrin, and fleeting frustrations of motherhood.  God designed the home, and as such He designed it as a place where mother’s touch and influence would settle deep into the hearts and lives of those eternal souls you helped bring into existence.  You can dedicate them to God like Hannah did Samuel (1 Sam. 2:28).  You can sacrifice for them like Samson’s mother did for him (Jud. 13:13-14).  You can treasure the things about your children in your heart as Mary did about Jesus (Lk. 2:19).

In the meantime, while you are coping with the daily frustrations of motherhood, remember the words of Jan Dunlap:

Help me remember, when I feel it’s a chore,
The time will come when I’ll hold baby no more,
Asleep on my chest, the crib refused, the blanket,
the pacifier, gone unused.

What better place is there to lay baby’s head
Than against my heart, my arms her bed?

For children grow up and leave us behind
With only memories left to remind us
Of midnight walking and predawn rocking,
Of sweet, crying babies unable to sleep.

So, keep me patient and keep me awake
While I cradle this dear child,
And don’t let me begrudge another long night
With this baby, my darling, my joy, my delight.

The trials of motherhood are a relative moment.  The lessons you leave them last beyond a lifetime.  Thank you for willingly, lovingly, and righteously pursuing this important facet of God’s work on earth!
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The Holiday Blues

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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A Story With Many Points

A Story With Many Points

Neal Pollard

Several years ago, when preaching in Virginia, I spoke with a sweet, 69-year-old woman who had watched our TV program and wanted to speak to me. During the course of our visit, she told me a story I will never forget. Tearfully, she told me of her 14-year-old grandson, Matthew, who locked himself in his room, took a pistol, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He was rushed to MCV Hospital in Richmond. He survived, but the bullet was permanently lodged in his sinus cavity and he was in constant, relentless pain. The greatest pain, however, was not physical. It was emotional and spiritual. Matthew’s mother and father routinely flew to Las Vegas to gamble, dumping him off with anyone who would take him. They might win a few thousand dollars on some trips, but they invariably lost their winnings and then some. The father had told the son, not long before his suicide attempt, “I wish I’d never set eyes on you!” The boy had told his grandmother, “Nobody loves me.” He had also told her, “I want somebody to take me to church.” When she offered, he said, “I want my daddy to come and sit beside me.” This dear elderly woman lamented that he grandson’s parents never showed Matthew love and affection. In the wake of that, a young man with most of life before him, could not bear the thought of continuing one more day in such a topsy, turvy, loveless circumstance.

I felt a flood of emotions: Pity, for the boy; Anger, for the parents; Sympathy, for the grandmother. Upon reflection, there are several lessons to be learned from Matthew’s plight.

  • Bad decisions often carry awful consequences. Matthew learned this by the single squeeze of a trigger. If the parents weren’t past feeling, they might see the connection between their selfishness and his anguish. Galatians 6:7-8.
  • Sin destroys a proper sense of priorities. The parents were, in the grandmother’s estimation, greedy and selfish. They put themselves above their responsibility to their son. They made it clear they loved money (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10), and they made it clear they did not love their own boy (cf. Eph. 6:4).
  • Homes without love crumble. “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand” (Prov. 12:7; cf. 14:11). How our homes need to be filled with love! Without it, how many children will feel like Matthew did?
  • Parents have a vital role to play in the spiritual development of their children. What did Matthew want? His daddy seated next to him “in church.” Was that too much to ask? He was hungry for spiritual guidance from his parents. What a challenge! How are we preparing our children in spiritual matters?

There are too many young Matthews, empty inside, unsupported, unloved, and unaided. What condition is our home in? Is sin in the way? We should be careful how we walk in front of our children (cf. Eph. 5:15). We want them to do more than value their physical life. We want them to pursue and gain eternal life! May God bless us in that needed pursuit.

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Adorable Children

Adorable Children

Neal Pollard

We are blessed to have quite a few young children in our congregation. Little boys and little girls, with unexpected observations, expressive faces, and humorous behaviors, make sure there is not a dull moment when they are around. Inspired writers use terms like “inheritance” (Prov. 13:22) and “gift” (Psa. 127:3) to impress us with their value. Jesus demands imitation of them (Mat. 18:3). Parents get so proud of their children, displaying their cuteness in pictures on social media. While so many kids reflect the good looks of their parents, it’s not looks that most make children adorable.  What makes children adorable?

  • Obedience to parents
  • The practice of good manners, courtesy and respect for others
  • A pleasant demeanor and general good mood
  • Avoiding the pattern or habit of tantrums and ill-temper
  • The ability to speak and make eye contact when spoken to
  • Laughter that reflects a genuine joy of living
  • Engagement and interest in worship and Bible class
  • Serving especially the elderly—visiting them, making cards or little presents for them
  • Speaking respectfully to adults

The qualities above reflect an attractiveness of godly parenting and an appreciation for biblical principles of conduct that will make them adorable adults one day.  It reflects the “others before self” mentality Christ wants to see in God’s children (Phil. 2:1-4). It reflects the humility and service that causes greatness in His Kingdom (Mat. 20:25-28). It reflects the thoughtful consideration that ought to typify Christians (Col. 3:12; Rom. 15:1ff). It reflects the spiritual mindset necessary to be winsome, attractive ambassadors for Him (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20; Rom. 12:17ff; etc.). Sometimes, much greater emphasis is given to the style of their clothes than to the strength of their character. We cannot put fashion before faith, image over integrity, or sophistication above spirituality.

I want to thank so many parents who get this ideal and are striving toward it. No one’s children are perfect, just like none of their parents (or critical adults) are. But, parents who are trying to instill quality inner qualities in their children deserve highest honor! Keep rearing adorable children. You’ll have a lifetime to be grateful that you did.

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LESSONS I WANT MY SONS TO CARRY INTO ADULTHOOD

LESSONS I WANT MY SONS TO CARRY INTO ADULTHOOD

Neal Pollard

I preface this simply by saying that I have far too imperfectly modeled these lessons far too often, but I maintain their worthiness. The world is rooting for our children to fail and fall, but the Word is written to counteract that! Prayerfully consider the following:

–Character Is More Important Than Charm And Charisma
–Hard Work Is Its Own Reward
–Be Honorable In Every Relationship—The World Sees Too Little Of This
–Conduct Yourself As A Gentleman, No Matter What Society Preaches
–Have The Courage To Stand Up For What’s Right, Even If You Stand Alone
–Notice The “Little” People—Those Who Cannot Advance Or Help You
–Trust Divine Principles Over Cultural Practices…Every Time!
–Purity Of Heart Is Directly Connected To Cleanliness Of Life
–Do Not Leave Devotional Time Out Of Daily Living (There Is No Day You Don’t Need Him)
–Stewardship Is A Whole Life Concept
–Serve God Faithfully And Forever, Whatever Your Profession
–The Church Needs You Now—Procrastination Here Is The Devil’s Delight
–Stay Humble, Especially When You Succeed Or Do Something Well
–Volunteer For Jobs No One Likes To Do
–Who You Marry Has The Most Impact On Where You Are Going—Choose Wisely!
–“Count Your Blessings, Not Your Crosses” (A.U.)—There’s Equal Opportunity To Do Either.
–Love And Respect The Church’s And Society’s Eldest Members
–Realize There Are People Watching You When You Least Expect It—Shine!
–There Will Always Be Those Who Are Led By Your Actions—Be Wise!
–Happiness Is Self-Determined, Not Externally-Driven
–Appreciate The Gravity, Value And Importance Of Your Word
–Never Outlive Your Love For Christ
–Don’t Allow Your Negligence To Cost Other People (Whether Time, Money, Trust, Or Good Will)
–Do Not Let The World Rob You Of The Profundity Of Your Purpose
–Honor The Name You’ve Been Given By Living A Godly Life
–A Moment’s Passion And Indiscretion Can Destroy A Lifetime Of Godly Living
–“Never Do Anything In Your Mate’s Absence You Wouldn’t Do In Her Presence” (Wendell Winkler)
–Appreciate The Preciousness Of Life Every Day
–Make Spreading Cheer A Conscious Priority (And Involve Your Face).
–Choose Compassion Over Cruelty
–Keep A Song On Your Lips
–Lead As Many People To Heaven As You Can And Know That Your Life Will Open More Doors Than Your Lips.
–Integrity Trumps Image… Every Time!

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Psalm 127:3