Categories
blessings money rich wealth

Some Perspective, Please!

Neal Pollard

–I have taught a Bible study in the hut of a woman in a jungle village of southeast Asia. She had no furniture and only a couple of cooking vessels and utensils. Her one-room house was thatched in a place that averages an inch or more of rain each week. Her lifestyle reflected that of nearly all of her neighbors. 

–I have stayed in the house of a faithful, fruitful gospel preacher in west Africa. One night, the temperature in the house was 91 degrees overnight. The interior walls were made of styrofoam, thin enough to hear the rats scurrying around and scratching behind them. They were actually better off than most in their village. 

–I have stayed not far from the Bay of Bengal in a crowded city across from a leper colony. Taking a bath/shower consisted of using a large cup from a single spigot in a “bathroom” where the water ran a light brown color. Within a hundred miles of there, at least 100,000 people were living under cardboard boxes and old tarps.

–I met a man at a church service in east Africa who made his living working in a gem mine. He and his wife had four children of their own. Their neighbors both died of AIDS, leaving their three children orphaned. This Christian and his wife adopted them. He made $2 per day and Sunday was his only day off. He supported a household of nine on less than $15 per week. 

In every one of the examples above, I was only there for a couple of weeks and returned home to hot water, running water, reliable shelter and automobiles, and a thousand other amenities. 

Many of the people in our world, before the current pandemic, struggled to survive through subsistence farming, poor nutrition, virtually non-existent healthcare, and little access to education. This sets up a cycle of poverty and disease that lowers life expectancy to middle-age at best. Sports, vacations, retirement plans, and insurance are, for many, a pipe dream if even a concept they have ever entertained. I once drove past a slum in a capitol city that was part of 2.5 million homeless people living in what was essentially a trash dump. 

The current crisis is real and impactful. It has required adjustments, changes, and sacrifices. Yet, from a medical, monetary, and material standpoint, we still find ourselves at the top of over 200 nations in just about every earthly way things can be measured. This is a time for us to pause and humbly thank God for His abundant blessings, to ask forgiveness for complaining in the face of such generosity, and to seek His guidance in how we can use this time to focus on others’ needs and helping those who are truly unfortunate. Matthew 25:31-46 is a convicting text, where the Lord tells us He watches how we respond to the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick, and imprisoned among “the least” of the world. Perhaps what we are going through now is a door of opportunity, to sharpen our perspective on what is essential and what is extra. Let it begin with me!

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Categories
consequences indifference Judgment Judgment Day pride

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

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

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

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

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

THE SOURCE OF THEIR SECURITY (3-9)

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

THEIR SIN (10-14)

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

THEIR SENTENCE (15-20)

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

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

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Petra: In the territory of ancient Edom
Categories
complaining criticism negativity Uncategorized

It Isn’t Hard To Find The Flaws

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Neal Pollard

Take a moment to think about what happens in the course of a typical day. The coffee’s too hot (or not hot enough) or it tastes funny. The car in front of me is going too slow. The internet’s malfunctioning. The waitress has forgotten me. My coworker is lazy or undependable. My spouse did that annoying thing again. I can’t believe my child left that mess or didn’t do the simple thing I asked. My friend was thoughtless. Think about how easy it is to become critical of everything and everyone. Basic to human nature is a tendency to point out what’s wrong with something and that tendency spills into our speech (or posts). 

One subject that seems to find its way into the crosshairs of critics is the church. Increasingly, we are given privy to its weaknesses, problems, shortcomings, mistakes, failures, ineptnesses, inadequacies, ignorances, and derelictions. Virtually any facet of the church seems fair game, but church leadership, mission, purpose, and function are predictable among the topics. It might be a lengthy article or a quick, social media rant. Scroll through a news feed and do your own research. Did you find one (or a few)? Or look through private groups you are a member of. Is it even worse there?

In every aspect of church life, regarding the “human side,” there will always be room for improvement. The church is full of people, and people sin and fall short of God’s glory. One does not have to look too far or too deep to find problems. 

Each of us has work to do to be a better soul-winner, steward, visionary, time manager, encourager, servant, prayer warrior, student, etc. But it would be very cool to see a revival of communication (written and oral) that says, “Do you know what I love and appreciate about the church?” That does not mean we bury our heads, ignoring problems and especially sin. Instead, it’s about challenging ourselves to be balanced. Whatever we look for, we typically find. Let’s just spend more time looking for what’s right and great about the Lord’s Bride. 

Categories
perseverance perspective

“Being A Christian Is Hard”

Neal Pollard

The church office receives a monthly publication called Faith Connect. In the latest edition, they include some data from Barna Group on faith in America. In a sidebar of statistics to an interview with Barna’s Vice President, Bill Denzel, writer Kelly Russell reveals what the research organization found in interviewing those who identify themselves as Christians. They report feeling:

  • “Misunderstood” (54%)
  • “Persecuted” (52%)
  • “Marginalized” (44%)
  • “Sidelined” (40%)
  • “Silenced” (38%)
  • “Afraid To Speak Up” (31%)
  • “Afraid Of Looking Stupid” (23%)

These findings accompany the assertion that America is a “Post-Christian nation,” having forgotten or rejected its roots, history, and former culture and practices (Summer 2017, 49-51). The thing that strikes me is how “Christians” report feeling. Barna did not exist in the first-century, and as such there is no record of any polling of the original Christians. But if there was, can you imagine the New Testament church answering the way these respondents did? I’m sure they felt misunderstood and persecuted. How could they not? Reading New Testament books like Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation, along with early church fathers, we’re sure the Jews and Romans sought to marginalize, sideline, and silence them from the marketplace to the temples and synagogues. Our ancient spiritual family members were arrested, murdered, driven from their homes and cities, ostracized, stolen from, ridiculed, and more.

How they responded to such treatment is instructional for us today.  Peter reports their feeling:

  • “Living hope” (1:3)
  • “Great rejoicing” (1:6; 1:8)
  • “Love” and “believing” (1:8)
  • “Joy inexpressible” (1:8)

There are a lot of imperatives and exhortations throughout the rest of this epistle, written to encourage them to hold onto their faith however poorly they were treated by the people around them. Peter wants them living holy lives, but he also wants them to appreciate how great living the Christian life is. That’s a message we need to take to heart.

I hope we never put the focus in our spiritual lives on how hard it is to be a Christian. It can be! But, what will make the greatest adversity bearable is keeping our focus on our purpose, our promise, our privileges, and our peace. There is no better life than the Christian life. May we focus on our opportunities rather than our obstacles!

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Categories
attitude joy Uncategorized

NO SMILE RULE!

 

Neal Pollard

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia, Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana are among the states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from  problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

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Categories
church church (nature) church of Christ church organization optimism Uncategorized

That’s The Church For You!

Neal Pollard

  • Where you can build relationships with some of finest, most enjoyable people on earth.
  • Where the world gets smaller and mutual connections are usually a conversation away.
  • Where God’s Word is honored and imperfect people try to follow it.
  • Where Christ is at the heart of every idea, program, and plan, but also every class period and worship assembly.
  • Where you connect with people throughout the week, from thoughts and prayers to cards, calls, messages, and visits.
  • Where hope is always vibrant whatever in the world is happening, where joy is always possible however gloomy the forecast.
  • Where there’s always room for more members to be added to the family.
  • Where young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated blend together in a harmony that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
  • Where we literally get a foretaste of glory divine.
  • Where you feel a part of something so truly profound in purpose and exciting in destiny that sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s real. And it is.
  • Where you have clarity and grounding in the midst of chaos and confusion.
  • Where you have heritage and history, but just as much hope and hankering.
  • Where truth is honored, and the way, though difficult, is clear.

A couple of closing caveats. No, I do not think the church, from the human side, is perfect. We have our foibles, fragility, and faults, but our foundation is flawless. No, the church is not a place, it is a people. “Where” indicates that the church, as a body, is a place where I can fit, belong, and function. No, this is not a Pollyanna-like, rose-colored glasses view of the church that glosses over or is ignorant of times when God’s people do not behave like they ought. But, when too often the diatribe is “what’s wrong with the church” and the mantra is, with negative and sarcastic spin, “that’s the church for you,” maybe it’s time we take a moment to count some of the blessings and perks of membership in the institution bought with the life and blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28). Obviously, there are other items to be added to the list. Feel free to do so! Generously.

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At the end of morning worship at the Katy, TX, church of Christ, 4/10/16.
Categories
attitude example poetry

THE GIRL ON THE WINDOW OR THE AISLE?

Neal Pollard
Two women sitting on a plane
They didn’t seem acquainted
The “aisle one” seemed in anger and pain
The other by cares seemed untainted
“Window woman” smiled with a beam
As past their row I filed
The other was cursing at a full steam
She was ruffled, rankled and riled
After the flight, we all stood to go
I watched as the ladies departed
The grouser was healthy, with youthful glow
But from her my eyes quickly darted
To watch the other one get to the aisle
I marveled at what I could see
Her left arm was mangled from something vile
She was amputated above that same knee.
I heard her, soft-spoken, tell of her surviving
A car fire that happened last June
But she lost her dear husband, who was driving.
They were so in love. Yes, she lost him too soon.
But the twinkle reappeared as thought about him
And anticipated their ultimate reunion
She still had much to live for, she wasn’t a bit grim
For with Christ she said she had sweet communion.
Soberly, I left still thinking about this
As the jet bridge I left for the concourse
There was “aisle girl” causing a scene hard to miss
Yelling until she was almost hoarse.
Apparently the airline had failed to upgrade
Her from lowly coach up to first class
She was special, important, so went her tirade
But her language was lowbrow and crass.
I thought about me in that moment
All healthy, without big losses or trouble
How I handle my blessings or treat my opponent
When I’m tried, am I gold or am I stubble?
Some people’s problems eclipse ours, it’s true
But we all have our crosses to bear
Yet, when you’re under pressure, they see what’s in you
Will they want what you’ll inevitably share?
I went on my way after what I witnessed that day
Resolved to live in true, Christlike style
Every thought, feeling, deed, and think that I say
Is like that girl on the window or the aisle.
Categories
attitude gratitude joy

IF YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT, YOUR FACE WILL SURELY SHOW IT!

Neal Pollard

Oh the stories that song leaders and preachers could tell!  Often, when we sing such standbys as “I Love To Tell The Story,” “Rejoice In The Lord,” or “When We All Get To Heaven,” we do so with little visible enthusiasm or apparent joy.  If we sing devotional songs like “Thank You, Lord,” “Shout To The Lord,” or “I’m Happy Today,” are we conveying what we are saying?  Occasionally, in our humanity, we come into the assemblies burdened down with cares and problems.  There may be a powerful distraction nearby that makes concentrating on what we’re doing in worship more difficult.  No one knows more than me how misleading facial expressions can be as a reflection of what is in the heart.  Yet, I’ve seen some serial sourpusses and perpetual pouters who claim to be Christians.  As James was known to say, “My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”

It’s certainly not confined to when we’re engaged in worshipping in song or listening to the sermon.  It’s discovered in conversation.  Too many times, I’ve encountered Christians who are always disclosing the latest downer in their lives, the problems that pervade them, and the sadness surely saturates them!

Some of the most joyous Christians I’ve known have been more besieged by difficulties than anyone else.  They are even graceful enough to be able to talk about them—and, thus, not concealing their troubles—but with a perspective and positivity that reflects their abiding trust in the Great I Am.  Three times, Peter speaks to Christians who are distressed by various trials, enduring by faith, and sharing the sufferings of Christ and remarks on their remarkable rejoicing (1 Pet. 1:6,8; 4:13). Perhaps it was their “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3).

Maybe our long faces are not due to any particular problems, and of all people on earth we, especially in America, are spared many of the trials and difficulties of those in poorer countries. It could be that we have disconnected ourselves from the source of joy.  Or, it could be that we have forgotten to practice gratitude and count our blessings.  Perhaps, we’ve gotten spoiled or concluded that being happy is the goal of life, and when this occurs we live with an expectation that others and circumstances should be oriented to make us feel good, content, or satisfied.

Let’s challenge each other to wear a smile, to work more at expressing our joy, and to win the battles in the heart that keep us from being characterized by winsomeness and positivity.  By this, we’ll be a billboard for Christ and a blessing to everyone else.

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Categories
attitude optimism

“What’s Wrong With The Church…”

Neal Pollard

The blogosphere is getting pretty rife with posts about how the church is inept in method or impure in motive on just about everything, from good works to evangelism to preaching to leadership to cultural relevance. It appears that we (the church) have a skewed perspective of the past, we are doing practically nothing now (at least nothing right), and we have a doomed future.  We have no clue how to reach millennials or keep converts (not that anyone’s winning anyone).  We’re losing our young people. We’re full of hypocrites. We have no vision or it’s the wrong vision.  We’re at once too legalistic while too soft on sin and uncommitted in discipleship.

Do such posts draw an elevated number of hits or similar attention?  Do they gratuitously spark or provoke strong emotions from readers?  Do they make good tabloid journalism?

The church faces enormous challenges that require greater service, dedication, faithfulness, and sacrifice.  Being full of sinners, we’re imperfect and have plenty of room for improvement.  I guess my question is what the objective of this “Negative Nelly” approach is.  To better motivate and encourage growth? Or is it to beat down, create guilt, or demonstrate some sort of superiority by the “pundit”? Is it a spiritual approach or does it look more like the world than we might like to admit? May we never be like the ostrich, head buried in the sand and ignorant of reality around us.  Yet, as Christians, may we exemplify a joy and positivity borne of following Jesus.

Because of sin, things have always been bleak–including when He walked the earth.  Yet, rather than lament a falling sky, He came to make a positive difference in this world.  His followers’ writings were rich with words like “hope,” “grace,” “heaven,” “faith,” “unity,” “forgiveness,” and “peace.”

What if we made more suggestions and used less sarcasm? What if we concentrated more on our own example and less on everyone else’s errors? What if we balanced our hand-wringing about what’s wrong with the church with hand-raising about what’s right with it? What if?

Categories
attitude character Christianity

“How’s Your Day Going?”

Neal Pollard

As we go about our day, we often hear that question.  It is an exercise in pleasant politeness, and at times it is asked with genuine, heartfelt concern.  It can also be not only asked mindlessly, but answered in the same manner.  Some are conditioned to say “fine” without stopping to assess.  Others are more curmudgeonly bent and can spout off a litany of complaints without breathing hard, if asked for an assessment of how their day is going.

As we reach the anniversary of certain events in Boston and West, Texas, or as we think back to recent tragedies in South Korea, Malaysia, or Washington state, both those who survived unscathed, who bear permanent scars, or who even perished had no doubt been asked the equivalent of that question.  Probably, some were cheerful and positive and maybe some were more negatively inclined.  Yet, especially for survivors, their view of each day was understandably and permanently altered.

Here in the land of freedom and opportunity, we can easily take for granted how well, materially and physically, things are for each of us.  Catastrophes and tragedies often alter that.  Pain and loss rearrange our priorities and refine our perspective.  Those hard events can help us see that happiness and fulfillment do not depend on external forces applied to us but radiate from within us.

I cannot help but think of the undoubtedly grimy, malnourished, and mistreated preacher scratching out those inspired words from his likely poorly lit and intemperate climes.  Body worn and disfigured from beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, endless road and boat trips, eyesight failing, and heart burdened with concern for churches and individuals, Paul could still say, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).  How could one improve on that general approach to life and each day?  May God help us to appreciate the blessings and opportunities we are given today, and use them as advantageously as possible to achieve the glorification of God! Make today a great day.