Remaining faithful during times of adversity

Remaining faithful during times of adversity

 Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

Ohssel Tyson

For the past four years I have been going though what I believe to be the toughest battle I have ever had to face in my life with our warrior princess Kiyomie’s medical condition. God blessed me with my greatest desire and greatest fear as a father; which was to have my daughter; and one of my babies getting sick and me not being able to do anything to make them better.

We decided that my wife would come to the United States in October of 2017 after our homeland was devastated by category five Hurricane Maria. It was a difficult but necessary decision because Kerssel was pregnant and the prenatal care she needed wasn’t available post-hurricane. I joined my wife in February of 2018 and we had flights booked to return home in April of 2018. Before traveling I had set up everything in Kiki’s nursery which was also my office where I did my studies; her crib was right next to my desk, I had so many plans for my baby girl and was ready to bring her home.

What we had no idea of is that we were heading right into another hurricane; one of a different nature. Kiki suffered severe brain injury during birth and this changed our entire life: we could not return home, we had to leave my six year old son Éjiké and our families behind in Dominica which ached our hearts daily. The life we knew was basically over. We had our family’s support but were here all alone, in a foreign land with no one close to come help during the toughest period of our life.

We both had to resign from our jobs. We were forced to sell everything we owned in order to survive here, we went from being one hundred percent independent to one hundred percent dependant on others, we had to seek assistance to pay our monthly bills and purchase the most basic of necessities for our children and ourselves– diapers, wipes, deodorant, toothpaste, bath soap and everything else. We were unable to care for ourselves the way we used to, unable to provide for our children, only going to the doctor or dentist if we were very ill, not purchasing new clothing or undergarments even though we desperately needed them.

Through so many sleepless nights, emergency room visits and hospital stays we managed to keep surviving, by the grace of God. It is hard and lonely but we have no choice other than continuing to be resilient and keep focused on Kiki getting better. (We’ve had so many nights that we got little to no sleep that right now we consider a night of 4 hours of sleep a good night rest)

We didn’t think that our life could have gotten any worse but then on August 10th 2020 we got the dreadful news that my wife’s mom had suddenly passed at only 56 years old. From that day our lives was under a dark cloud; well, that’s how it felt. Mom, as we all called her, was our main pillar of support; our greatest cheer leader and prayer warrior; she sent messages every single day to both Kerssel and I telling us how strong we are and great parents we are and that Kiki will be healed and to remain faithful. That day in August took so much away from us, after mom’s passing everyday just felt like we were going through motions, like robots, just floating around under that dark cloud.

Mrs. Dawn Pitcock had been working with Kiki since she was discharged from the NICU. She and her family became a friend and remained in close contact even after Kiki aged out of the First Steps program. She had mentioned her church and asked if we’d like to visit, but we never did then. We were still under this dark cloud. Sometime after mom’s passing Dawn asked whether we would mind if she and elders from her church come by to visit and pray with us.

Russell, Dana and Dawn came one Sunday after service, we conversed for a while, we prayed and we cried; that blessed Sunday afternoon is one I will never forget as it felt like that first ray of sunshine piercing through the dark clouds. We started studying and getting a better understanding of God’s word with the assistance of Russell, Neal and Greg. Our faith started to grow stronger and we began feeling better, our lives felt a little less cloudy day by day. We started attending Sunday service when we were

able to, Kiki’s condition determines whether we can but we kept studying via zoom.

We had discussed baptism a few times but I didn’t feel fully ready until April 6th, 2021, on that day, I called Neal and told him that we were ready. When we got to church building there were several other members of our Leman Avenue family there to support us. Kerssel and I were baptized on that day and man that felt good, it was a new life in every aspect.

Yes we are still going through tribulations. Kiki still has tons of medical complications and has a long way to go. Yes we still seek assistance to cover every single expense that we have. BUT, because our faith in God, and ourselves have grown, our bond with God is getting stronger and our understanding of God’s word and love for us and his purpose for allowing us to go through what we are going through; we are able to better appreciate our situation. God have been right there with us all along, he continues to supply our every need; he has, housed us, fed us, and clothed us physically and spiritually.

In our lives on a daily basis we encounter troubles, problems, adversity; no matter how small or complex they are, they always pose a challenge physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

In these moments we feel weak, we feel defeated and are forced to face problems to great for us to handle; so we turn our attention to God and begin questioning him, WHY? Why am I going through this? Why me? What Lord can I do to solve this problem? During these challenges we are unable to continue our tasks like normal; so we stop, evaluate our situation, ask God for wisdom, obey his word, have faith and trust him to bring the help that we need.

The apostle James had a response to adversity which has helped me through my own troubles.

James 1:2-6

 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you are involved in various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But you must let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to everyone generously without a rebuke, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith, without any doubts, for the one who has doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

When going through these challenging times in life the best resort is to turn to Jesus, I can guarantee without any doubt that no matter what the problem is, you will find guidance to a solution within the word of God. Apply the appropriate scripture, faith and the very best effort you can, to every adversity you face and you will be victorious.

In conclusion I say to you, through every adversity, trial and tribulation seek God for he is always waiting to guide us through our troubles and ultimately draw us closer to him.

Have faith no matter how small it is: Faith in God, faith in yourself, faith that God is greater than your problem, faith that God is helping you through the adversity, faith that you will overcome.

Nurture your faith and watch your faith grow. Mathew 17:20 tells us, “…Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

If you can move a mountain with faith the size of a mustard seed, can you imagine the magnitude of power you would possess with faith the size of a tennis ball or basketball or greater?

I’ll close with some words and verses I recite whenever I’m having a moment of weakness during a challenge and the effect that they have on me is miraculous, I recited them right before coming up here; they are:

I believe that God is with me.
I believe that God is helping me. I believe that God is guiding me.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Thank you for listening, thank you for being our family when we most needed one, thank you for the support given to my family in every single way.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN HEART AND ATTITUDE

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN HEART AND ATTITUDE

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Jesus was teaching around the Sea of Galilee when some Pharisees from Jerusalem saw some of His disciples eating bread with unwashed hands. They considered this ceremonial impurity (Mark 7:1-2). Mark gives a short list of examples of rules the Pharisees inherited from their forefathers and pushed as divine law (3-5). This law-making upsets Jesus considerably. In Mark 7:6-13, Jesus rebukes them for confusing tradition and God’s commandments. They were so in love with their traditions that it actually caused them to violate God’s will. 

Then, He uses that episode as a springboard to discuss a related spiritual concern. The central thought was, “The things that proceed out of a man are what defile the man” (15b). The point was probably missed on the crowd because it was missed by the disciples (17). Mark tells us that Jesus was declaring all foods clean (19), but there was a deeper, spiritual point. He makes it plainly when He says, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (20-23).

I wonder how this initially hits the disciples. The Pharisees definitely would not have appreciated it. They considered themselves spiritually superior, but context would suggest they would have been as big offenders as anyone in this. Some of what comes out of the heart that Jesus mentions is “big” enough to make our sin’s “hall of fame” or at least its “all-star” team. Wouldn’t you be quick to put fornication, theft, murder, adultery, and wickedness on the “evil things” list?

But Jesus digs deeper and exposes our hearts further. Look at what makes His “big” list with those other sins: evil thoughts (literally, harmful reasoning), deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness (lack of good judgment). Before we brush these aside, consider some practical application.

What is it when we assume others’ intentions and motives without tangible evidence? What about when we have such a tainted perception of someone that we cannot be civil and peaceable, much less tenderhearted, kind, and forgiving toward them (cf. Eph. 4:32)? What of using opportunities to gossip and slander a brother or sister in Christ? What about the words we say when our pride is wounded or we feel slighted? What about a failure to be discreet about people’s situations we come into the knowledge of? 

Scripture tells us how vitally important a good, Christlike attitude is. Philippians uses the word “mind” to admonish proper attitude. A mind fueled by encouragement, love, affection, and compassion lead not only to unity, humility, and high regard for others, but it also reflects the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:1-11). It eliminates grumbling and disputing (Phil. 2:14). It shows us to be above reproach in the middle of a world that lives out the kinds of things Jesus reproves in Mark 7:20-23 (Phil. 2:15). 

If I have a heart filled with the kind of “evil things” in Jesus’ Mark seven list, how can I have the right, Christlike attitude He expects me to have? I will likely be biting, sarcastic, bitter, hateful, negative, complaining, and critical. Whatever that says about the object of my bad attitude, it does not excuse me in His eyes. He would tell me I am defiled. That means unclean and unacceptable. To see it that way convicts me to watch my heart so that acidic content does not spill out and hurt my reputation, my relationships, and my Righteous Ruler! 

Contentment 

Contentment 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

 

“But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6.6 ESV). 

Recently, the battery of our 2014 Chevrolet Impala died while I sat in the local hospital’s parking lot. Of course, we did not realize that it was “just” the battery at the time. The problem seemed worse. As my dad and I were in a difficult situation, stranded in the hospital parking lot, we had the car towed to our local mechanic. Luckily we thought to facilitate everything through our local auto insurance agent, including our car rental. That choice certainly made things smoother. While our mechanic repaired our Impala, we rented a 2020 Toyota Corolla. I will be honest. I really liked the Corolla. I was a little disappointed when the mechanic called to let us know we could pick up our car.  

Isn’t that odd? There is nothing wrong with the 2014 Impala. Cosmetically, it looks good. It has low mileage. It is like one of those mythic cars that little old ladies only drove to church on Sunday. Yet, the Corolla had cool little bells and whistles. An alarm sounded if I drifted over the middle line or the line on the shoulder. (I heard that sound a lot, taking the many curves as I went over the mountain. It can be hard not to approach the middle or shoulder of the road when the road is curvier than it is straight.) The rental also had some driver-assist feature coupled with the cruise control that turned the wheel according to the road surface marking detected by its radar. Consequently, it handled curves well and had a good fuel economy. The only “negative’ was that road noise seemed more significant in this lighter automobile. 

Here is the question. From whence did my sudden discontentment arise?  It is not as if there is a need for a new automobile. Yet, driving a new car for a few days made me feel like I was missing out on something. It may be, too, that I was subconsciously acknowledging my desire to change something (anything) in my life. However, the problem with that thinking is that it reflects a lack of gratitude for my current blessings. Were I to go and buy a 2021 Corolla tomorrow, my happiness would be short-lived. Those elated feelings might last a few months or a year, but the pleasure would fade. What’s worse is that I would end up making myself more miserable by saddling myself with new debt as I paid off the car over several years. Indeed, discontentment is not a problem solved by material gain. 

Our emotions are complex. Indulging the lust of the eyes and flesh and the boastful pride of life may act as a placebo, obscuring the underlying problem. Still, there is no cure for discontentment besides gratitude and acceptance. As Paul reminds us, God supplies our every need (Philippians 4.19). Thus, we should be content with food and covering (1 Timothy 6.8). Should God bless us with more, it is a sign He expects more from us (Luke 12.48). And we are to be looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2.4). Therefore, “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6.10 NASB1995). 

When you realize you are a citizen of another country and have your provisions as you make your way home, you, too, will feel contentment. It will certainly give you greater peace of mind. Then comes the realization that salvation and a loaf of bread are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. Yes, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” 

 

Four Ways to Cope With a Day Gone Awry 

Four Ways to Cope With a Day Gone Awry 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

Thursday, October 29, 2020, proved to be a day gone awry for me. I was supposed to have a follow-up appointment with one of the many specialists my health problems require. The day started with a bang. That banging was the screen door repeatedly smashing the side of the house, driven by the wind in Tropical Storm Zeta. The power was out, but our backup generator was on, providing electricity. No problem, correct? No, our community well does not have a backup generator.  So, though I had electricity, I had no water. What was going to make me presentable to the public? Baby wipes to the rescue.  

The thought had occurred to me that if I were having a hard time because of the weather that the doctor’s office might as well. I called. No answer. Perhaps, I should stay at home? No. One incurs a fee for missing an appointment without prior 24-hour notification of a missed visit. So, there was no turning back from this point. I checked Georgia 511 to ensure the roads I was traveling was clear. My route checked out. There were reports of debris on secondary roadways in the areas I would travel, but none affected my trip. Everything looked great. 

In Union County, the highway was passable. The Notley River overflowed its banks, flooding the surrounding lowlands, but the road was in no danger because it is above the water-engorged river. In Lumpkin County, just beyond the Appalachian Trail crossing at Neel Gap, I noticed that the leaf and pine needle debris increased. The winds must have been worse further south.  I began seeing evidence of trees that had been cleared from the roadway in the hours before I arrived. In White County, the power was out, rendering stoplights inoperable. I discovered that most of the drivers I encountered did not know that you treat a useless traffic light as a 4-way stop. In Hall County, I drove over two or three dead, downed powerlines. A flagman stopped me briefly before directing me around a large tree, still covering half of Clarks Bridge Road.  

But I arrived at the doctor’s office safely. I was even early for my appointment. I couldn’t help but notice the parking lot was empty when I arrived, however. Yes. The office was closed because of the power outage. Had anyone thought to contact those having to drive “over the mountain” from over 50 miles away? Of course, they had not. I heard a sigh slip out.  

 

There is a large Dollar Tree in Cleveland, Georgia. So, I called my parents to let them know I arrived safely but would be returning home sooner than they expected. The Dollar Tree excursion went well. I returned to Walmart in Blairsville, Georgia, since dad had some medicine I needed to pick up. Before doing so, I stopped to take a picture of the raging Trahlyta waterfall at Vogel State Park 11 miles outside of Blairsville. It was beautiful, even if it looked like the observation deck might be washed away. Once at Walmart, I found the pharmacy was closed. The “system” had “gone down.” Despite saying they hoped they would have it back up in thirty minutes, they did not. I went home, minus dad’s medicine.  I fixed a cup of coffee and sat down to write my article. I spilled some of it on my desk. Fortunately, I did not get the keyboard wet. However, my workspace now smells like coffee. (But that is a good thing.)  

Do you want to know something interesting? I wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation at several points during the day but refused to do so. I pulled out four tricks to help me cope with a day gone awry. And here they are. 

  1. RELAX. As Cain discovered, when we become agitated, sin crouches at the door desiring mastery over us (Genesis 4.7). I could be upset that my doctor’s office was discourteous to me, but that was no excuse for sinning (Ephesians 4.26). Hence, I needed to “be still” so I could acknowledge God (Psalm 46.10).

 

  1. REJOICE. That day was a day made by my Lord. So, I needed to rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118.24). I had a say over how I would feel about things. It was a beautiful day, despite its raucous start. I was happy to be alive. Despite sounding trite, I knew others that day faced actual challenges, potentially imperiling their life. The pointless trip only inconvenienced me.  

     
  2. REFOCUS. After telling us how to find indescribable peace through prayer, Paul tells us to meditate (think) about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,” and anything excellent or worthy of praise (Philippians 4.8). Now that I calmed down, I needed to think about what I would do to salvage the rest of the day, filling it with superlatives!

     
  3. REPURPOSE. So, I was not seeing the doctor. Even so, I needed to find something productive to ensure that I could make the most of my time (Ephesians 5.16). I immediately scrapped my previous idea for my Biblical Byte to a lesson on coping with days gone awry. I meditated upon it during my trip and read through the Scriptures after returning home. And this is the result.

It may be that one needs to throw in a fifth “R” also. Repent. If you allow a bad day to make profanities escape your lips or harbor hatred in your heart, you need to make that right with God and any other parties that may be present pronto. In that way, you can turn the day around and make it something good. I trust, though, that with practice, you can better deal with your days gone awry too. Let us strive to do all to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10.31).    

 

“Making Our Defense In The Darkness”

“Making Our Defense In The Darkness”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

 
Gary III
Gary Pollard
 
One night Chelsea and I were walking the dog before bed and came across an enormous armadillo. We were in a rural area and it was pitch black outside except for her flashlight. I had a rifle with me, so I took a shot at the armadillo. Instead of falling where it stood (as they had usually done), this one jumped a couple feet into the air and then ran off with surprising speed.
 
We thought that was the end of it, so she walked the opposite direction with the flashlight and the dog. In the pitch black, I heard the angry armadillo heading towards me full-steam.
 
Being rushed by an armadillo in the dark is terrifying, no two ways around that. The darkness accentuates our helplessness and makes defense a lot harder. I John 2.11 makes it very clear that if we hate our church family, we’re walking in darkness and don’t know where we’re going because the darkness has blinded us. If we’re in darkness, we have no fellowship with Jesus and we’re liars (1.6).
 
2020 has given our mortal sides quite a bit of strain. We’re so divided as a nation that a person’s political party alone is enough to preclude their value in the eyes of their opposition. The church has to be different.
 
Had the moon not come out just a little and the laser on my optic not worked, I would have been cut up pretty good by that armadillo. Light gave me the means to save my skin!
 
If we show love to our church family and are walking in the light, we have been given the ability to be saved. If we live and die in the light, we gain an eternity where there is no night or darkness in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21 ). As November 3rd looms ominously over us, let’s remember that our eternal destination hangs – at least partially – on how we treat one another after this stressful election.
Perspective

Perspective


WEDNESDAY’S COLUMN: THIRD’S WORDS

Gary III

Gary Pollard

 
Owners of small dogs are familiar with how easily they can be made to bark. Small noises to us are great potential threats to them. A small ladder may be Mt. Everest to an ant, but is a way to reach the top of the pantry for us.
 
Our perspective drives our perception. A very large, very strong person likely does not feel threatened by anyone. A small, weak person may feel threatened by many.
 
Our problems in life seem massive. If we weigh them against the past, with its billions of lives and many cultures, our problems seem smaller. Compare them further to the infinite nature of God, and our problems are inconsequential.
 
James tells us that when we face difficulties in this life we must appeal to the One who has infinite wisdom and power, the God of the stars, the source of every good and perfect gift (1.5-8, 17). We ask Him for the ability to understand our trials. They refine us and make us mature and well-rounded. With that wisdom we can have perspective, seeing our massive trials as the small ladders they are.
 
Keeping Eternity Nearby

Keeping Eternity Nearby

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Eternity is a topic that many of us have heard taught many times. We have Sunday classes on eternity, and we hear sermons about heaven and hell. We learn about the life that comes after this one, but sometimes it doesn’t feel real. I’ve known about eternity for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t truly grasp this idea until later in my life. The extent of my knowledge was that heaven was where I wanted to go, and hell was for sinners. 

It didn’t seem very real. I found myself thinking, “I have my entire life ahead of me, I’ll worry about it later down the road.” I saw eternity like any other young guy. It was a place that I knew was coming in the future, but failed to live with this knowledge in mind. Lately I’ve noticed a few things that need to be said.

Eternity is so much more than what I believed it to be. It can be an eternity filled with life, or an eternity filled with torment. John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” The Word of God has the ability to make our eternity be one that is filled with life and joy. But then we read verses like Romans 6:23 that say, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse before, but I was failing to grasp what Paul is really saying. We deserved punishment. We were lost and consumed with sin, and we should’ve been punished for what we had done. Instead of punishing us or giving us what we deserved, God offered us eternal life. 

Paul describes eternal life as being a free gift. He uses the Greek word “charisma” which translated means “that which is freely and graciously given.” I have major trust issues when it comes to car dealerships. They say a bunch of words that they apparently don’t understand. Things like, “no interest” and “zero down” or “totally free.” But I have a hard time believing that something could be completely free with no strings attached. Eternal life was given to us. God wasn’t forced to do it. He wasn’t pressured into giving it, instead He chose to give it to us. No strings attached. 

In the church, some have failed to see eternity for what it is; a place that is very real. It is a place that everyone will end up going to. If we live with eternity in view, we will begin to focus on what is truly important. Living with eternity in mind gives us the clarity we need to make the right choices, knowing that our actions will impact our final destination. 

If we live with eternity in mind we will realize the importance of time. I’ve been preaching at the Hebron church of Christ in Grant, Alabama, for two years and it feels like I just moved here. Every year seems to slip away faster than the one before it. James 4:14 tells us that our life is a vapor. We weren’t meant to be here forever. When I was younger I failed to see how quickly life will pass by. Without eternity in mind we won’t see each day as an opportunity to share the Gospel or a chance to tell the world about a loving God that longs for everyone to be saved. We would find ourselves spending less time on the insignificant. 

As a teen I was horrified at the thought of hell. And while hell is still very real, the longer I live, the less I fear hell, and the more I long for heaven. I long for the day when I will be in the presence of God. I long for the day when God will give me a comfort and peace so powerful that it will completely remove all sorrow and pain. I long for heaven because I’ll never have to say a painful goodbye, but instead I’ll be with faithful and likeminded men and women for all eternity. The longer we live the more pain and heartache we go through. The stronger our desire becomes to be with God in that perfect home. 
Life has a way of changing our outlook on eternity. Let life’s issues be the motivation to reach eternity, and not the reason we lose eternal life. 

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). 

The Eternal Optimist

The Eternal Optimist

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Wiley Miller is the creator of the comic strip, Non Sequitur. When apolitical, Miller’s strip can be enjoyable. I cut one of his strips from a daily edition of The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC) back in the early aughts featuring “the eternal optimist.” In the one-panel comic, the grim reaper stands before a man in business attire. This eternal optimist calls to his wife in another room: “Well, honey, it doesn’t look like I have to worry about that long commute anymore.” I kept that strip until it yellowed with age and crumbled into oblivion. I did so for another reason than having a dark sense of humor. I hope I am an optimist on the order of the businessman finding something good to say even in the face of death.

Paul had such a character. He told the Philippians that he had everything to gain in death, as a Christian, and needed only remain for the sake of the brethren (Philippians 1.21-26). Nearing the end of his life, a confident Paul told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.7-8 NASB). Why was Paul an eternal optimist? It was not because he was free of sin. Indeed, Paul considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15). However, Paul was full of faith and understood God’s grace.

We cannot afford to live in fear, whether that fear is of death or whether we are “good enough.” We must do the will of God. John says, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB). That faith may not always take us to places providing comfort. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had their faith put to the test. Nebuchadnezzar had instructed everyone to bow to his golden image in worship. The young Hebrews refused because they remembered the Law of Moses and their covenant relationship with God. Nebuchadnezzar was angry with the young men and told them they would perish in a fiery furnace. They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3.16b-18 NASB).

Did you notice why they did not fear? Can you see why they were optimistic? They understood their God was more powerful than a king and could deliver them. Yet, even if God did not deliver them, they still realized they had an obligation to serve Him regardless. These days the world seems scary. There is so much bad news on TV. But our God is more powerful. Thus, we can even say, “If I do catch COVID-19, God will deliver me. But even if He does not, I know Heaven will be my home.” Other scenarios would likewise suffice as an example. However, this is one of the things that seems to be on the minds of many today. Build your faith and become an eternal optimist as well. The world, in turn, will become a less daunting place.

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A different Non Sequitur sampling

Some Perspective, Please!

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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